When Kevin Garnett went down with a right knee injury in February, Celtics fans saw this year's title hopes go down with him.
That's hardly news. Sportswriters around the country have been milking the "Is This the End of the Celtics?!?" story for months.
What you may not have considered is that said knee injury dramatically changed the fate of five other franchises for this season and years to come.
Don't believe me? Let's consider the following five teams:
1. Boston Celtics
This one's a no-brainer. If KG never got injured, he and the rest of the Celtics would still be playing right now. On the flip side, maybe we don't get to see the brilliance of Rajon Rondo in the playoffs. Big Baby Davis never gets a chance to shine on the big stage either.
Also, Brian Scalabrine stays glued to the bench.
So while the C's would still be in the playoffs, maybe their up-and-coming young guys don't develop quite the same. Maybe they don't sign Big Baby to that big contract extension. Maybe Rondo takes a back seat to KG.
Did KG's injury actually extend the championship window rather than shut it? Hard to say this early, but there's a fair chance the injury was actually a good thing.
If anyone should have been leaping for joy at the news of KG's knee, it should have been the Cavs.
They were expecting to see the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, and while they would have had home court advantage, that still would have been a beast of a series.
Now? Orlando has them backed into a corner.
Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, Cleveland probably wishes they were playing the C's.
The series probably would have gone all seven, but something tells me the Cavs would have pulled it out in the end. As I wrote yesterday, I don't expect the Cavs to win again against Orlando. If KG is still playing, Cleveland wins the championship.
How does that affect the future? Let me put it this way: if Cleveland doesn't win a championship this year, do you think LeBron is going to stick around town past 2010?
3. Orlando Magic
Here's another easy one. With Boston at full strength, Orlando was a clear third in the Eastern Conference pecking order. The C's probably dispatch the Magic without too much difficulty.
Instead, we see Orlando break through to the ECF and have Cleveland up against the wall. That's night and day.
There's no way Orlando gets this far against a healthy KG, and there's probably no way they keep all the pieces together for the future. Hedo Turkoglu was a prime candidate to be sold off after this year. Now, I'm not so sure.
The Lakers spent their whole year preparing to play either the Celtics or the Cavs in the Finals. Who could blame them? Orlando was nothing more than an afterthought.
Now, it looks like a Lakers-Magic finals isn't all that unlikely. And I like that matchup if I'm the Lakers.
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol can keep Dwight Howard in check. The Lakers have excellent perimeter defense. You can kiss Orlando's two major assets goodbye.
If KG never has that injury, you could expect the Lakers to crumble against either the Cavs or the Celtics, just like last year. Once that knee gave, the Lakers' title chances improved dramatically.
What? The Bulls? You're kidding, right?
Actually, I think the Bulls gained the most of any of these teams from Garnett's injury.
If KG was at full strength coming into that Bulls-Celtics series, how many games do you suppose it would have lasted? Six? Five?
Do you think there would have been a single overtime?
Instead, we see a relatively weak Chicago team gain a lot of experience and a lot of confidence for their young guys. Players like Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah have to feel confident that they can get it done under the bright lights now.
If I'm a Chicago fan, I have to feel a lot better about the future than I did just a few months ago. This is a team that's going places. If they meet a full-strength Boston squad, they're headed right back to where they were in 2007.
It turns out that knee injury had surprisingly far-reaching consequences. Personally, I kind of like them. If Garnett never gets hurt, we'd see everything going according to plan.
Now? Everything's up in the air.