Re-Drafting LeBron James' Star-Studded 2003 Draft Class
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On this, its 10-year anniversary, the draft class is best known for greatness at the top—along with one notorious colossal blunder.
But it's also jam-packed with guys who could have gone higher and guys who proved themselves after never being drafted.
In reordering the picks, I'm considering stats over the course of players' careers, sometimes the circumstances that went into those stats, longevity of career…and of course, my overall opinion of each player.
Hop with me into the DeLorean, and let's set it for June 26, 2003. The Theater at Madison Square Garden is packed, the room is filled with anticipation and Cleveland is on the clock.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Old pick: LeBron James
New pick: LeBron James
Should Cleveland still make this pick? After all, James abandoned his Cavaliers in a decidedly graceless way for a collusion-based instant contender in the Miami Heat.
But there is no saying that any other rookie wouldn't have left as well—though it's doubtful another player would have been as hurtful doing it.
All in all, James put Cleveland back on the NBA map and brought his city excitement the likes of which the NBA franchise had never seen.
The Cavs stick with their pick.
2. Detroit Pistons: Carmelo Anthony
2. Detroit Pistons
Old pick: Darko Milicic
New pick: Carmelo Anthony
Pistons general manager Joe Dumars went through the gamut of emotions with this pick. First, the joy of climbing in the lottery all the way to the No. 2 spot—then, the agony watching Milicic be a stellar player in practice but at best a mediocre one when the games actually counted.
Dumars made this pick for two reasons. First, back in 2003, believe it or not, a sizable number of scouts were saying Milicic was the next once-in-a-generation center.
Second, Tayshaun Prince had a coming-out party of sorts in the 2003 playoffs, almost singlehandedly rallying the Pistons from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Orlando Magic. Had Prince stayed on the bench, as he had all season, the Pistons would still have believed they needed a small forward. But because of Prince's showing, Dumars believed he was set at the three.
Milicic, as the Pistons found to their dismay, had a soft style and shied away from contact. Perhaps his most physical play was the night in Memphis when he ripped his jersey open, Incredible Hulk-style. (Or Hulk Hogan-style, whichever you relate to more.)
Anthony has been a superstar since entering the league. A six-time All-Star, 'Melo has been in the top 10 in points and points per game in eight of his 10 seasons—including this year, when he led the league with 28.7 points per contest.
That's not the only reason this is arguably his best year ever. Although his Knicks fell short of expectations, 'Melo has shed his "selfish" reputation and become a true leader.
3. Denver Nuggets: Dwyane Wade
3. Denver Nuggets
Old pick: Carmelo Anthony
New pick: Dwyane Wade
The Nuggets would have been directly affected by the Pistons' move and would have drafted a similarly exceptional player in Wade.
Why do I have Anthony going before Wade? There's no question D-Wade is the better defensive player, and the rule changes in 2004 allowed him to become an effective scorer in the paint.
Yes, the Pistons wouldn't have known at the time about the rule changes, but hindsight is what this article is about, and hindsight always gets a perfect score from the optometrist.
Bottom line is, the Pistons in 2003 needed offense more than defense. I consider Anthony to be even more talented than Wade offensively.
Further, Wade's skills have eroded, while Anthony is still at the top of his game.
In Wade, however, the Nuggets would have had a remarkable talent on both sides of the ball—an NBA Finals MVP who has made the All-NBA first, second or third team every year but one since his rookie season. He's also been in the top 10 in points per game six times since his rookie campaign and even led the league in 2008-09.
Until recently, Wade was the premier off guard in the NBA—outside of one Kobe Bryant.
4. Toronto Raptors: David West
4. Toronto Raptors
Old pick: Chris Bosh
New pick: David West
Forget that Bosh never accomplished anything of note in Toronto. Forget that Bosh dropped Toronto like a hot potato when the opportunity came to pair up with James and Wade—two guys he could hide behind to make him look better.
Focus on West and his surprisingly remarkable career.
West was the 18th overall pick in 2003, but he's had a steady, impressive string of seasons. Even when he lost his lobmeister, Chris Paul, and moved to Indiana, it took him only a season to once again put up the numbers he has quietly become known for.
This season, per 36 minutes, he scored more points than Bosh, hauled in more boards than Bosh and dished more assists than Bosh. He has no problem being labeled what Bosh in fact is: a very good player, not a superstar.
His attitude and willingness would have been a valued part of many Raptors squads.
5. Miami Heat: Chris Bosh
5. Miami Heat
Old pick: Dwyane Wade
New pick: Chris Bosh
How ironic: Bosh chosen by the Heat.
Bosh, when he was in Toronto, had higher point totals than West. But one has to take into consideration that, after Vince Carter left in the middle of Bosh's second season, Bosh became the team's first and only major option. So I'm of the "of course he's gonna get his points" mentality.
Once Bosh left for Miami, his numbers fell and have never climbed back up. West, after losing Chris Paul, took only a season to regain his form.
No, I'm not a Bosh fan. I'm one of the many who think he's soft and overrated. But he's definitely talented, and the eight-time All Star, who spent three seasons among the top 10 in points per game, should go no lower than fifth.
The good news for Bosh: You'll save all that money on moving vans from Canada to Florida.
6. Los Angeles Clippers: Mo Williams
6. Los Angeles Clippers
Old pick: Chris Kaman
New pick: Mo Williams
I always root for the underdog. Mo Williams was a late second-round pick (47th overall) who's been consistently productive. Per 36 minutes, the guy is a value contract year after year after year.
I thought he would be the point guard that would take LeBron to the promised land, but it was not to be. However, Williams is an excellent floor general, with an All-Star appearance and a season where he was in the top 10 in three-point shooting.
If not for an injury that sidelined him last year, he would've had his Jazz in position to nab a playoff spot.
7. Chicago Bulls: Kirk Hinrich
7. Chicago Bulls
Old pick: Kirk Hinrich
New pick: Kirk Hinrich
The Bulls got it right the first time.
Hinrich's first four seasons with the Bulls were terrific. He started to fall off after that, but he can still contribute and is a tough perimeter defender.
Hinrich is a solid three-point shooter—his .379 career average ranks 99th all-time in the NBA—and a respected leader, serving as captain of the Bulls for multiple seasons.
Despite a rash of injuries, Hinrich came through big time in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals this year, pouring in 18 points and handing out 14 assists while playing 60 minutes in a triple overtime win.
8. Milwaukee Bucks: Josh Howard
8. Milwaukee Bucks
Old pick: T.J. Ford
New pick: Josh Howard
This one's tricky, because both players' careers were significantly impacted by injuries. Overall, though, Howard was the more dominant player and contributed for longer. On the Bucks, he likely would have been a first option.
Howard, the 29th pick, was a fine player for the first six years of his career, making the NBA All-Rookie second team as well as one All-Star game. He also was a tenacious rebounder in his heyday, especially for his size.
Howard was a pleasure to watch, and the fact that his career was abbreviated was a real shame.
9. New York Knicks: Chris Kaman
9. New York Knicks
Old pick: Mike Sweetney
New pick: Chris Kaman
You could argue that Kaman is injury-prone. You could argue that he turns the ball over too often. I get it.
But I still remember his monster rebounding year in 2007-08 for the Clippers. The truth is, he hauled in a bunch of boards and scored a bunch of points for L.A. over the course of his career there. Per 36 minutes, his stats (other than turnovers and steals) stack up with some of the better centers in the NBA.
I admit to having a soft spot in my heart for Kaman, who played his college ball in my home state. But I can say without hesitation that the Knicks would have been thrilled to get Kaman instead of Mike Sweetney, who was a decent role player for two years before being traded to Chicago and falling apart.
10. Washington Wizards: Leandro Barbosa
10. Washington Wizards
Old pick: Jarvis Hayes
New pick: Leandro Barbosa
I may not see Barbosa accurately. I admit to being a fan of his Phoenix Suns during that era, and he was awfully fun to watch.
Barbosa put up some really impressive numbers back in the day. He doesn't play many minutes anymore and was hurt last year, but he's still got a little something left in the tank.
Barbosa is mostly offense, but hey, it's not like offense isn't important. When he was on, the guy poured in points. He ranked in the top 10 two straight years for three-point shooting percentage, hitting an incredible 44 percent and 43 percent of his treys.
He also was Sixth Man of the Year in 2006-07.
11. Golden State Warriors: Jose Calderon
11. Golden State Warriors
Old pick: Mickael Pietrus
New pick: Jose Calderon
Talk about an underdog.
Calderon went undrafted in 2003, but you could argue that he should be taken as high as sixth.
He dishes like Joan Rivers, ranking in the top five in assists per game four times in five years. He also is a very efficient shooter, leading the league in three-point shooting percentage in 2012-13. His effective field-goal percentage is ninth among active players.
Further, as a floor general, he's calm, cool and collected.
Everybody passed on this guy, and virtually every team could have upgraded its point guard spot with Calderon. He'll get a nice contract this year, and he deserves it.
12. Seattle SuperSonics: Boris Diaw
12. Seattle SuperSonics
Old pick: Nick Collison
New pick: Boris Diaw
Diaw is another Phoenix Sun who I perhaps don't see accurately, because I loved that team.
But in his day—and his day lasted until two years ago—he could score, rebound and find the open man. He could also play every position on the court.
Diaw is a valuable asset on every team. He's not a first option, but he's a player who keeps defenses honest.
His skills and minutes have declined, but this would have been a solid pick at No. 12. He's superior to Collison, who I have at No. 19.
13. Memphis Grizzlies: Kendrick Perkins
13. Memphis Grizzlies
Old pick: Marcus Banks
New pick: Kendrick Perkins
Perkins is perhaps not the player we thought he was going to be when he first hit the scene in Boston. But he's a terrific defender in the post and a solid rebounder, and his attitude set a tone for the Oklahoma City Thunder when they were on their way up.
Perkins has been in the top 10 in blocks and blocks per game in two seasons and has been in the top five in defensive rating two years as well.
Since being traded to OKC his numbers have gone down, but he's still an important contributor.
14. Seattle SuperSonics: Kyle Korver
14. Seattle SuperSonics
Old pick: Luke Ridnour
New pick: Kyle Korver
Korver has carved out quite a career for himself.
For his career, Kyle has hit 41.9 percent of his three-pointers, a sparkling total that ranks sixth among active players and 12th all-time. He led the league in three-point shooting percentage in 2009-10 and was second last year.
Korver, a late second-rounder in 2003, found his niche and made the most of it. I'll never figure out how he, Samuel Dalembert, Andre Iguodala and Allen Iverson were never were able to do much together. On paper, that was an interesting team.
15. Orlando Magic: Marquis Daniels
15. Orlando Magic
Old pick: Reece Gaines
New pick: Marquis Daniels
Much like when a good shooter gets a so-so shot to fall—it's called a "shooter's roll"—I give Daniels the underdog's roll here. In other words, he ranks higher than he might have were he not undrafted the first time around.
Daniels had about six good years and three really good years. He never had much range, but he was crafty with the basketball in his hands and was a good defender and solid player overall.
He deserved better than not being selected at all, and he was far better than Gaines, a historic bust for the Magic and later the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks.
16. Boston Celtics: Udonis Haslem
16. Boston Celtics
Old pick: Troy Bell
New pick: Udonis Haslem
I give props where they're due. The undrafted Haslem has lasted a long time in this league and has been an important complementary piece on several championship rosters.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only undrafted players since the common draft began in 1966 to have grabbed more rebounds than Haslem are Ben Wallace and Brad Miller.
The Miami Heat's all-time leading rebounder—at 6'8", no less—Haslem gives maximum effort every night and plays hard-nosed defense, in the style of Pat Riley's New York Knicks of the 1990s.
17. Phoenix Suns: Carlos Delfino
17. Phoenix Suns
Old pick: Zarko Cabarkapa
New pick: Carlos Delfino
Carlos Delfino is a flashy player in every sense of the word. He plays a freewheeling style of offense, he gambles on steals and he's never met a three-pointer he didn't like.
But that makes for an incredibly fun-to-watch player. I cannot even begin to imagine how well he would have fit in on coach Mike D'Antoni's Suns.
It could be said that Delfino has been underutilized and underappreciated for most of his NBA career. By taking him 17th, instead of 25th where he actually went, we're showing our appreciation.
18. New Orleans Hornets: Steve Blake
18. New Orleans Hornets
Old pick: David West
New pick: Steve Blake
For a guy who went 38th overall, Blake has had a heck of a career.
Yes, he's been an on-again, off-again starter. Yes, outside of a proficiency with the three-ball, there's no one aspect of his game that's particularly impressive.
Yet he plays nice perimeter defense, performs with poise and professionalism and always seems to step in when needed and perform above expectation. Never was that more apparent than last season, when Blake stepped in for a fallen Kobe Bryant and guided the Lakers, averaging 23.5 points, six rebounds, 5.5 assists and a steal in two wins that pushed L.A. into the playoffs.
His performance had some folks whispering that he was the answer at shooting guard. He's not. But he sure does well when called upon.
19. Utah Jazz: Nick Collison
19. Utah Jazz
Old pick: Sasha Pavlovic
New pick: Nick Collison
This guy is so good at taking charges, they oughta call him Nick Collision.
One of the two remaining Thunder players who took the court for Seattle (Kevin Durant is the other), Collison has spent his entire career with the same franchise and frequently leads his team in plus/minus, making the most of his limited minutes.
He's on a value contract. The Thunder are both lucky and grateful to have him.
20. Boston Celtics: T.J. Ford
20. Boston Celtics
Old pick: Dahntay Jones
New pick: T.J. Ford
Had he stayed healthy, Ford would likely have been the best point guard in this draft class.
I wish I remembered the rest of his career as well as I remember his spinal cord injury, which was scary beyond description. Ford had to sit out a season but came back and had several very productive years for Toronto and Indiana before the injury bug sidelined him for good.
In 2006-07, arguably his best season, Ford was fifth in the league in assists and sixth in assists per game. The swift Ford was a pleasure to watch. It's too bad we didn't have him in the NBA for longer.
21. Atlanta Hawks: Mickael Pietrus
21. Atlanta Hawks
Old pick: Boris Diaw
New pick: Mickael Pietrus
Pietrus wasn't good enough to deserve his 11th position in the draft, but he's been a solid role player and sometime starter for many years now.
Athletic and versatile, Pietrus hits the three well and plays sparkling defense. He's not offensively gifted, but he's an asset in an uptempo offense.
Pietrus was a solid player on a team—the Golden State Warriors—that had very little spotlight on it during his tenure. As a result, many fans never saw him play. But they missed out on quite a tenacious defender.
22. New Jersey Nets: Keith Bogans
22. New Jersey Nets
Old pick: Zoran Planinic
New pick: Keith Bogans
Ironically, we have the Nets, which is where Bogans is winding down his career in real life, picking him to start his career in the re-draft.
Another player known for his defense and tough, physical play, Bogans, in his second stint in Orlando, was a role player on the contending Magic squads featuring Dwight Howard. Originally known for not being able to shoot, Bogans developed a pretty decent three-point stroke and last year lurked in the corner for the Nets—not a spot where anyone would have expected him to be when he started his career.
Bogans is unsigned for next season but proved valuable to the Nets. Don't be surprised if they re-sign him as a contributor off the bench.
23. Portland Trail Blazers: Matt Bonner
23. Portland Trail Blazers
Old pick: Travis Outlaw
New pick: Matt Bonner
The Red Mamba (the nickname given to him by the Black Mamba, Kobe Bryant) is as deadly at three-pointers as anybody in this draft. He led the league in three-point field goal percentage in 2010-11 and must be accounted for on the perimeter when he's in the game.
A truly unique player, which has made him a fan favorite, Bonner is the only player in the NBA to buck the trend and wear New Balance sneakers. He's one of Sporting News' 20 Smartest People in Sports. Bonner graduated from the University of Florida with a business degree…and a 3.96 GPA.
In this year's NBA Finals, Bonner, now playing for the San Antonio Spurs, reunited with former Florida teammate and longtime Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem. Little was expected of either of them, but 10 years later both dueled for a championship, with the undrafted Haslem emerging the victor.
24. Los Angeles Lakers: Jarvis Hayes
24. Los Angeles Lakers
Old pick: Brian Cook
New pick: Jarvis Hayes
Hayes, originally selected 10th overall, is a what-if story.
His career started well—he was selected to the second-team All-Rookie squad—but he missed a number of games in both his second and third seasons because of knee injuries. By the time he was fully recovered and the dust had settled, Hayes was a bench player.
He made the most of it, playing an important role off the bench for the Detroit Pistons in their 59-win 2007-08 campaign and landing himself a nice contract with the Nets as a result. But in increased minutes with New Jersey, Hayes was less productive and lasted just two more seasons.
Without the injuries, Hayes, a player with good spot-up range and a tendency to make few mistakes, might have been a star at the point.
25. Detroit Pistons: James Jones
25. Detroit Pistons
Old pick: Carlos Delfino
New pick: James Jones
Jones has lasted a long time in the NBA without being exceptional at any one facet of his game.
I guess that's not entirely true: Jones did rank among the top 10 at three-point shooting percentage in two different seasons. Although he was always good from long range, he developed his killer trey five years into his career. It certainly helped his longevity.
Jones also plays top-notch defense and is always ready to spot up and shoot if one of his more prominent teammates passes to him. In addition, he does a nice job guarding his man on the perimeter.
He's one of those low-cost, good-value guys the Heat, with little salary-cap room, are keen on and grateful to have in the fold.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves: Dahntay Jones
26. Minnesota Timberwolves
Old pick: Ndudi Ebi
New pick: Dahntay Jones
Jones has toiled in relative obscurity, playing for the Grizzlies before they got good, the Sacramento Kings after they were good and the Indiana Pacers before they got good again.
Jones' bread and butter was getting to the rim. As players age, especially if they're not exceptional athletes, this becomes harder to do as they lose their elite quickness. That's been the case for Jones.
But he's a far cry better than the T-Wolves' real draft pick, Ndudi Ebi, who played a grand total of 86 minutes in the NBA before being waived by Minnesota and then the Dallas Mavericks. Ebi was last seen playing overseas. If he'd gone higher, as some projected, he'd rank among the greatest busts in the history of the league.
Were Minnesota to get a do-over, it'd be beyond overjoyed to wind up with Jones instead.
27. Memphis Grizzlies: Brian Cook
27. Memphis Grizzlies
Old pick: Kendrick Perkins
New pick: Brian Cook
A solid spot-up shooter, Cook had very few tricks up his sleeve, but his reasonably reliable jumper allowed him to hang on in the league for nine years.
In his best season, 2005-06, he played 19 minutes a game, averaged just less than eight points a contest and hit a stellar 51.1 percent of his shots. That year, he started almost half his games.
With below-average defense and limited range, Cook could never be a consistent starter. Lasting nine years in the NBA, though, is an accomplishment.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Travis Outlaw
28. San Antonio Spurs
Old pick: Leandro Barbosa
New pick: Travis Outlaw
Now doesn't that sound perfect: an outlaw on the Spurs?
Outlaw has a nice jumper and is a good athlete. But he never started more than 11 games in a season in his career—until, stunningly, he was pressed into full-time starter duty during his only season with the New Jersey Nets in 2010-11.
Unfortunately, Outlaw responded with his worst per-36-minute season of his career. He relied too much on his speed, which no longer takes him past his man.
After playing in Portland during its Dark Period, half a season with the Clippers and one year with the Nets, he landed on the Sacramento Kings, which until their sale had been the NBA's version of purgatory. He's played 10-12 minutes a game but has been an insurance policy for the most part.
Outlaw is signed until 2015, though, so under new management and ownership, perhaps he'll get one last chance to shine.
29. Dallas Mavericks: Zaza Pachulia
29. Dallas Mavericks
Old pick: Josh Howard
New pick: Zaza Pachulia
A hard worker down low, Pachulia would have fit in well with the Mavericks in their prime.
Pachulia is an NBA version of a Frank Tanana: a wily veteran who knows how to milk maximum results from his limited skill set.
No one will ever question his effort, which is deeply appreciated on an NBA roster. His techniques are uncomplicated, and they're what a prototypical big man ought to be: a guy who lives in the post, keeps himself between his man and the basket whenever possible and hits his shots with reasonable consistency.
Pachulia was even fifth in the NBA one season in offensive rebounds.
After having his minutes reduced for a few few years, Pachulia averaged 28.3 minutes per game in 2011-12 and 21.8 in 2012-13. After a decade in the league, getting rewarded with increased minutes is something to be proud of, to be sure.