The butterfly effect suggests that even small changes in the course of the universe can have profound effects. There have been several ‘What If’ scenarios throughout NBA history that have driven the course of the sport. Those what-ifs impact the players and teams involved and alter the landscape of the NBA and what we know about the current matches in the league forever.
If Derrick Rose hadn’t succumbed to injury
As a result of Rose winning the MVP award that season, they were matched against LeBron’s Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat needed a big fourth-quarter push to win Game 3; Bulls led with one minute left in Game 4, but Heat gained an overtime victory, and Bulls choked up a seven-point lead with 1:30 left in Game 5. Heat won their fourth consecutive game. The Bulls gained a moral victory, even though they lost in five games. A season-ending injury rendered Rose unable to play in Game 1 of the playoffs in 2012, as another ECF was inevitable. Could the Bulls have beaten Miami in the third round if his knee held up? Perhaps. No matter what, LeBron’s closest rival out East would’ve been Rose’s Bulls for the next decade.
Kawhi Leonard not being traded to the Spurs
The Indiana Pacers selected Kawhi Leonard with the 15th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Nonetheless, Erazem Lorbek and Davis Bertans were traded to the San Antonio Spurs for George Hill. After failing to advance beyond the second round in each of the previous three seasons, it appeared that the Spurs’ days of contending were over.
Adding Kawhi, and his subsequent emergence, helped the Spurs reach consecutive NBA Finals (2013–14), and Kawhi won the Finals MVP award in 2014. As a result, Duncan’s era ends with a whimper, but Kawhi’s Indiana tenure holds the greatest potential. As a result of the trade, the Pacers matched up against LeBron’s Heat in three of the postseasons following the trade, including back-to-back Eastern Conference finals (’13 and ’14), in which they lost in seven and six games, respectively.
In the crunch-time, five for Indiana, Kawhi, Lance Stephenson, David West, and Roy Hibbert would’ve been: Paul George, Kawhi, Lance Stephenson, David West, and Roy Hibbert. Of course, if Kawhi had to share reps with George and Stephenson in Indiana, he wouldn’t have developed into the player he is now, but the point is moot. With Kawhi, the Pacers might have been able to go the distance if they had won one more game in 2013.
If Carmelo Anthony went to Detroit
In the unlikely event that the Pistons don’t overthink things and pick ‘Melo with the No2 pick, let’s assume they will. In that case, the 2004 Pistons would’ve been among the deepest teams in the NBA. There would’ve been three dominant reserves on the bench, in addition to a strong starting five – Billups, Hamilton, Prince, Elden Campbell, and Wallace – including ‘Melo, Corliss Williamson, and Mehmet Okur.
As far as the blunder on draft day is concerned, Rasheed Wallace is the first major fumble. When Rasheed was acquired at the trade deadline, he was the sole reason Detroit won the 2004 title. So, if they had drafted ‘Melo, it’s not conceivable that they would have signed him.
The 2004 title team with Wallace was better than a Billups-Hamilton-Prince-‘Melo-Wallace five in crunch time? Not likely. Nevertheless, to see what Detroit’s ceiling might have been with ‘Melo, you need to look beyond 2004. A handful of veterans would’ve gradually pushed ‘Melo into the front seat for the Pistons as the mid-to-late ’00s progressed. If Rasheed Wallace had not been there, would the Los Angeles Lakers have beaten Miami in 2006 (vs. Miami), Cleveland in 2007, and Boston in 2008 (vs. Boston)?
If Kobe was traded to the Pistons
Kobe claims he never signed off on the 2007 trade to the Pistons, accusing the team of giving him preferential treatment when he owned the no-trade clause. Some people, however, claim that the deal was done, such as one who was directly involved in the negotiations.
Amir Johnson, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and a first-round pick were reportedly included in the deal for Bryant. Detroit’s Kobe would have formed a Big 3 to rival Boston’s newly-assembled trio of KG-Pierce-Allen with Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace. In other words, the West was up for grabs for the 2008–10 NBA Finals.
Despite losing to them three times in the WCF, the Lakers beat the Spurs, Nuggets, and Suns in consecutive years. If the Celtics made it to the WCF in 2008, what would have happened in 2009 and 2010? After KG’s injury in 2009, Boston’s season ended, which opened the door for the Pistons. But, of course, things aren’t so straightforward. During each of those years, LeBron’s Cavs had won more than 60 games and seemed destined for the East before getting upset by Orlando in the 2009 ECF and by Boston the following year; what if he wins a championship in one of those years? What happens if he leaves Cleveland?
If Durant went to Portland
What if the Blazers ignored Oden’s potential in 2007, selecting Durant with the No. 1 pick and pairing him with Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge? At the time, Roy still had years to go before he would suffer the injuries that would end his career, so he and Durant would have had the opportunity to dominate for three years at the very least.
Imagine what they could’ve accomplished with Durant, given that Roy and Aldridge led the Trail Blazers to back-to-back 50-plus-win seasons in 2009 and 2010. The Warriors are likely to reach the conference finals, and overthrowing the Lakers would not be out of the question. As well as OKC during the first half of the decade, Durant-Roy-Aldridge was the future of the Western Conference.