If it weren't for Kobe Bryant's return and the Miami Heat's quest to three-peat, Derrick Rose would be the unrivaled top story of 2013-14. Pound for pound, it doesn't get any better than a hometown hero whose moment has come.
In a world where roots only go down so far as the next big payday or chance at a title, playing where you come from is as anomalous as it is gratifying. Even when a city somehow holds on to one of its own, career prospects and nostalgia are two very different things.
For all the sentiment attached to Ohio's LeBron James, all the rings wound up with Miami's.
But what if the NBA's finest actually got to rep their hometowns in more than words alone?
Some of those finest—like the Gasols—come from Spain or any number of exotic theaters to which the NBA can't come soon enough. Others like Rajon Rondo come from Kentucky, which—while less exotic—may trail even Spain in chances at an NBA franchise.
But there are a heaping handful of stars who wouldn't have had to stray far from the (literal) crib in order to find NBA glory. Some would even have some company.
The Chicago Bulls That Could Have Been
There was a time in 2010 when Dwyane Wade actually contemplated life as a Chicago Bull, a temptation surely made compelling by his roots and idolization of Michael Jordan. But not compelling enough, not with the opportunity to team with LeBron instead.
From an X's and O's standpoint, Wade probably made a wise move.
From any Chicagoan's standpoint, it hurt.
Despite the overlap in Wade and Rose's skills and tendencies, they would have made an awfully lethal backcourt capable of breaking opponents down off the dribble and scoring from anywhere in the mid-range.
Though Kevin Garnett only played one year of high school ball in Chicago, we might as well throw him in the mix. Given a solid complement of role players, that core could do all right. It's not the best "Big Three" the NBA has to offer today, but it's awfully close, especially if it's younger KG a few years ago we're talking about. They'd be good enough to "get things done in the postseason."
Kobe Bryant's Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia area hasn't exactly given birth to a pantheon of NBA greats, but it did give us Tyreke Evans.
Oh, and Kobe Bryant. He's done OK for himself too.
Just not in the eyes of most 76ers fans. His stated intent to "cut their hearts out" in the 2001 NBA Finals ruffled a few feathers, and spending some of his youth growing up in Italy hasn't helped the hometown vibe.
In an imaginary world where Kobe became the face of the Sixers, all of that would be different—and much of the franchise's history along with it. That's not to say Philly would be five titles richer. Indeed, the most intriguing thing about all this is whether Bryant's career would have flown quite so high if he'd had what Allen Iverson had to work with.
It's good to be a Laker.
The Strangely Familiar Cleveland Cavaliers
Uhh, er, hmm...well, this is awkward. But not awkward enough to stop the speculation about LeBron James' return to the team he Decided against.
But imagine if he'd never left (Cavs fans are excused for this part). Even if you weren't a fan of how the roster looked in 2009, it's hard to imagine Cleveland having trouble surrounding James with talent once the cap flexibility emerged. Maybe it's naive to think Cleveland could host a legitimate superteam, but all it really takes is a couple of other guys making the same Decision.
Miami knows all about how that works.
I'll let you decide whether we're talking about the Lakers or Clippers, but who are we kidding? We're talking Lakers.
On the other hand, there's enough talent coming out of L.A. to get a couple of stellar rosters off the ground. Much of that talent hails from the broader Los Angeles County—including Paul George's stomping grounds on the other side of the San Gabriel Mountains and James Harden's Lakewood.
So take George and Harden, then add Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, Paul Pierce, Brook Lopez and maybe even Brandon Jennings (if we're sold he's truly a star or at least one in the making). You're left with half an All-Star team or—again—enough star power to split among two very good teams.
Besides the satisfaction Angelenos would have just watching an unprecedented juggernaut, the real thrill would be seeing Paul Pierce in purple and gold—one less legend on the other side of the NBA's historic rivalry.
Deron Williams Signs With the Dallas Mavericks After All
Nor would you know it by their free-agent choices, at least in Williams' case. He gave the Mavs some thought in 2012 but left without enough assurances to his liking—and perhaps more damningly, without a face-to-face with Mark Cuban.
With fellow Texans Aldridge and Bosh at his side, you could certainly argue Williams would be playing with the two next-best things to Dirk Nowitzki, and younger versions to boot. With that kind of foundation in place, Dallas might even keep the same guys together for a few years.
The Small-Ball Bobcats
Our hometown version of the Charlotte Bobcats wouldn't necessarily have all the fun, but it would pretty much have all the point guards. Maybe even all the best point guards.
Simplifying matters, I've allowed the Bobcats anyone from North Carolina. They could use the break.
That would entitle them to Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and John Wall—a trio that might be hard to fit on the same court at the same time. We've all heard of three-guard lineups, but three point guards is a different—albeit fascinating—story. With Paul actually running point, Curry could handle the shooting while Wall carved up defenses off the dribble.
Crazy enough that it just might work...so long as there were a couple of big guys around to actually grab the rebounds.
The Brooklyn-New Jersey Nets
If you combined Brooklyn native Carmelo Anthony with New Jersey's own Andrew Bynum, Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith, you'd have a well-balanced team that—like the real-life Cavaliers—would be all the better should Bynum stay on the floor.
With or without Bynum, though, Anthony and Irving would make one heck of a one-two punch. Most teams would take out a second mortgage just to have one of those guys closing in the fourth, but both of them just wouldn't be fair.
For the sake of a little patriotic fervor, let's give the Washington Wizards the benefit of drawing from Maryland's talent base. Patriotism aside, the prospect of Kevin Durant, Ty Lawson and Rudy Gay together is imagination-worthy.
Besides length on the wing that never stops, there's no better little engine that could than Lawson. He could do a lot of good things with a couple of hyper-athletic scorers on his flanks, and he's unselfish enough to actually do them.
Dream on, D.C.—John Wall will have to be enough of a good thing for right now.
The Atlanta Hawks That Will Never Happen
Even if he warmed to the idea of living out his old age quietly, it's hard to imagine Hawks fans—wherever they're hiding—warming to the idea of Howard. He had the chance to grace Atlanta in his prime, and he didn't take it—didn't even come close.
Suffice it to say, this is where the thought experiment approaches absurdity, and that's probably a good thing for the Hawks. Pairing Josh Smith and Howard together would be just as bad as it sounds.
While a number of cities haven't produced enough stars to make things interesting, the idea of Blake Griffin playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder is nothing but interesting. Durant's proven superstardom can flourish in any market, but there's something different about Blake.
He almost seems more at home away from home, a perfect fit for a Clippers team that's firmly established itself the hottest ticket in town (for the time being).
And as warm and fuzzy as the league would be with everyone keeping it close to home, there's something to be said for those homes away from home—the final destinations guys like Griffin would never discover without drafts, trades and enough free-agent commotion to make "Woj Bombs" an actual thing.
Besides, the Derrick Roses of the world wouldn't be so compelling if they were on every street corner. There are more than enough aspiring heroes to keep the NBA interesting, but only enough real ones to keep it amazing.