Portland Trail Blazers head coach and former NBA star Chauncey Billups appeared on the All The Smoke podcast with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson and said he believes the trajectory of LeBron James' career would have been far different if the Detroit Pistons had drafted Carmelo Anthony.
"We all thought we was taking 'Melo. We all was on deck. We all was on board. We all thought 'Melo was 'Melo. We excited. It was perfect. Obviously we had a team. We took Tayshaun [Prince] the year before, but Tay would have been the perfect sixth man, Swiss Army knife, he'll do whatever. I thought we was perfectly built to have 'Melo.
"Here's an interesting question, I say this all the time: If we do get 'Melo, when was 'Bron ever going to take over? ... We're in the same division. ... [Anthony's] going to get raised right in the game. He ain't coming in and shooting 25 times."
It's an interesting thought exercise.
James and Anthony were each drafted in 2003—the former No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers and the latter No. 3 by the Denver Nuggets. The Pistons famously passed on Anthony, No. 4 overall pick Chris Bosh and No. 5 overall pick Dwyane Wade to instead take Serbian center Darko Miličić.
Heading into the 2003-04 season, the Pistons were coming off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. Around a core of Billups, Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton and midseason addition Rasheed Wallace, the Pistons went on to shock Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers in five games to win an NBA title in 2004.
It was their first of two Finals trips, though the only title that group would win together. Wade's Heat knocked them out in the conference finals in the 2005-06 season and James' Cavaliers knocked them out in the conference finals in 2006-07 and the first round in 2008-09.
Would a young Anthony have extended that group's title window? Seeing as he averaged over 21 points per game across his first six seasons, the Pistons would have been formidable with his scoring ability on the roster.
Granted, James' period of dominance didn't come until he departed for the Heat to join with Wade and Bosh. During his first seven seasons with the Cavaliers, he only reached the NBA Finals once and didn't win a title.
By the time James made his Heat debut in 2010, Billups was in Denver, Rasheed Wallace was retired for the first time, Ben Wallace was back in Detroit for a second go-around (and well past his prime) and Hamilton was entering what would be his final season with the Pistons and also on the decline.
James, meanwhile, made the NBA Finals in eight straight seasons between the Heat and Cavaliers, winning three championships, before adding a fourth with the Los Angeles Lakers in the bubble.
Would Anthony on the Pistons have changed that particular trajectory? It seems unlikely. But perhaps the Pistons would have added another banner or two to their collection.