NBA's What-Ifs of the Decade

Hoops4life Analyst ISeptember 15, 2008

It's the summer. Things are slow for us hoopheads.

Free-agent signings have come and gone. The summer leagues are over.

Which means now is the time to imagine what could be...or what could have been.

We will never know what would have happened to the league if a certain player had inked a certain contract, or a GM had said yes to a certain deal. Everything could be different!

So here are some of the biggest 'what if' situations of this millennium, ranked in no particular order, with what almost happened, what would have occurred if it had gone down, and some kind of verdict on whether this is a good thing or not.

5.  Kobe almost signing with the Clippers in 04.

The Skinny:
The Lakers had just had it handed to them by the Pistons, being destroyed in the finals in just 5 games, winning a single game on a buzzer-beater from none other than Mr. Bryant himself.

The Bryant-O’Neal fiasco had reached its peak and the franchise recognized that one of them was going to go. Kobe could finally sign with another team; it seemed inevitable that he would be nabbed by the rival Clips and leave the Lakers in the lurch.

Of course, Dr.Buss chose the younger of the dynamic duo and ended the latest Lakers Dynasty by shipping O’Neal to Florida. Phil Jackson had already left, leaving simply Kobe, and the Clips with nothing.

What would have been:
If Kobe had signed on the dotted line four years ago, things would be very different in this league.

Firstly, Shaq’s entire career would be very different. He would not have won a ring in Miami, Dwayne Wade legendary finals performance would have never existed; Pat Riley probably wouldn’t have coached again. The Big Diesel wouldn’t be in the desert now. Could Shaq have carried the Lakers alone? Would they have been able to attract another top player?

And then there is Kobe himself, though he didn’t have to leave his own L.A, he would have been the franchise’s main man, and he would have been teamed with Elton Brand. Could this duo have been any better than Kobe-Shaq? Could Kobe have possibly made the clips relevant?

Personally, I think that certain players are just supposed to play for a specific franchise. And I always think it's a shame when they get traded away. Allen Iverson and KG were some of these players; Michael Jordan will be remembered as a Bull. Tim Duncan is a Spur. Paul Pierce is a Celtic. LeBron might not always be a Cavalier. Maybe Chris Paul will always be a Hornet.

Kobe Bryant should be a Laker. He’s this decade’s Magic. He’s ShowTime. He’s the best. I’m glad it stayed that way.

4. 2003 - Jkidd almost being a Spur.

The Skinny:
Was there a year when the finals were more boring than last years, when the Spurs swept Lebron and some other guys that turned up?

The answer is yes!  In 2003, when the Spurs beat Jason Kidd and some different guys that turned up. This was way back when Tony Parker was just a foreign sophomore who people were just realizing wasn’t actually that bad.

Then, a few weeks later, something weird happened. With Jason Kidd up for free agency, rumors started circulating that San Antonio were interested in the main man of the very team they had just defeated.

Many were surprised, and for good reason. With a point guard of Kidd’s calibre, exactly what would happen to Parker?

What would have been:
Jason Kidd is one of the best point guards to play the game. In many people’s opinion, Tim Duncan simply is the best power forward to play; I am one of these people. Obviously, they would have been quite formidable together.

But I don’t actually think they would have managed as many titles as the actual Spurs have, mainly because the styles don’t match.

Do you remember Kenyon Martin as a Net? How he would finish those oop’s from Jason with such ferocity? You have that image in your head? Ok put Duncan in Martin’s place.

Doesn’t really work does it?

3. 2002 - If it had been a fair game in the Western Conference finals.

The Skinny:
The 2002 Western conference finals between The L.A Lakers and the Sacramento Kings are shrouded in controversy.

The two teams were in the middle of a bitter rivalry, and while the Lakers had the titles, on the way to completing their three-peat in fact, the Kings were definitely one of the only teams that could hang with them and there was absolutely no love lost between the players. We all know how this series ended, with Robert Horry’s possible best highlight ever. In a hugely symbolic play, Kobe drove baseline and missed a floating lay-up. Shaq was able to grab the rebound, but missed the tip-in. With both franchise players having missed, Vlade Divac smacked the ball away...into the hands of a waiting Robert Horry. He calmly lifted a three which sank through the net as the buzzer sounded.

The entire series was called into question; the referees showed the Lakers unbelievable favoritism and allowed them to come back from a large deficit in Game 7. Of course there is no way to tell this, the Kings may have simply committed a lot of fouls, but the difference in the calls was evident, and the chance for the Kings to advance to the finals was gone.

What would have been:
First, the Lakers would have suffered.

There would be no three-peat, and this would have resulted in one of two things...

The relationship between Shaq and Kobe could have boiled over much earlier due to the frustration of losing a championship, as it did in 04, leading to one of the two stars to leave even earlier, as well as Phil Jackson, which would potentially change the landscape of the NBA we know today.

The Lakers, wanting revenge, put the media storylines behind them and played motivated basketball, making them champions for even longer and eventually earning more trophies.

The Kings status would have been more elevated, the Sacramento teams of the early 00’s are massively under rated and easily could have won a championship. They would not have imploded the way that they did and may have stuck around much longer.

I would love to have seen that.

2. 2004 - Chris Webber’s shot falls.

The Skinny:
Yes the Kings are here again, in what turns out to be their last year of contention, the last time they get past the first round. This was the year that Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves ruled the West and were seemingly unstoppable, until they met the Kings in the second round. Though the Wolves did seem to dominate, especially in an embarrassing game 5, the Kings dominated in game 6 and pushed it all the way to a decisive game 7.

The game was evenly matched, thought most remember it as a Wolves blowout because the Kings played so bad, it actually came to a second left on the game clock, with Chris Webber firing a game winning three, that went halfway down before bouncing out.

The Kings were eliminated and the Wolves went on to face the Lakers in the Conference Finals.

What would have been:
The Kings died on that missed shot.

Though the Kings had been dominating all year long, leading the Western Conference for most, it had been without Chris Webber, whose knees were beginning to fail. They had re introduced Chris when the playoffs had started, and it had been a surprise that he had played so well, especially against the new MVP Kevin Garnett. But the shot missed, and the Kings saw their window as closed.

Webber, the main staple of the team, was traded the following year, and the entire makeup of the team was gone.

Within a year, only Mike Bibby and Brad Miller remained of that team, now it is only Miller.

I loved that Sacramento team and hated the way they were split apart.

If just that one shot had fallen, the Kings would have advanced, and the 02 conference finals would be replayed, giving the Kings a chance for revenge against the Lakers.

They at least would have had a shot at a championship, whether they missed or not is irrelevant.

1. 2004 - If Ron Artest hadn’t gone into the stands.

The Skinny:
This is it, the biggie.

The ramifications of this event were so huge it twisted the NBA unbelievably, in a way that we can still see today.

I barely even need to describe what happened, the images are sketched so firmly into our memories. After a fight with the Piston’s Ben Wallace, Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers was trying to calm while lying on a scorer’s table, when a beverage was thrown at him from a member of the crowd.

Ron Artest went into the stands. And the palace erupted.

I need not go into further detail, we know what happened. Artest was suspended for an entire season. Stephen Jackson and Ben Wallace also missed about ¾’s of it. Almost every other player on both teams earned suspensions in some way.

This was without doubt the worst thing to ever happen to the NBA.

What would have been:
In 2004, the Indiana Pacers won a league-high 61 games, narrowly missing out on a spot in the finals. They were easily the best team in the league, and had an extremely bright future. The brawl destroyed that. The Pacers haven’t been out of the first round since.

Ron Artest was shipped out immediately.

Stephen Jackson followed soon after.

The core of the team had been torn apart, and only now, almost have a decade after the event, are the Pacers beginning to be seen as a new team.

They could have been a great team, if the core had stuck together, they could still be dominant now.

Ron Artest could have been one of the most respected players in the league, he was one of the best in 2004, even an MVP candidate along with Jermaine O’Neal, but after the brawl no one wanted to go near him. Stephen Jackson, although he has recovered well from the incident and has successfully started afresh, went through a couple of very bad years. O’Neal, although not affected in the same way as Artest and Jackson, watched his championship calibre team crumble around him, and was never as good with the remnants. If that was because of injury or a lack of motivation we don’t know.

The Pacers, would also be viewed entirely differently. In the following years, there were so many headlines of Pacers being in trouble with the law; they became the new Jailblazers of the early 00’s. Yes, these headlines could have appeared even if the brawl never happened, but the fact that it did magnified them.

Rick Carlisle was a great coach, but the tatters of a team he was left with couldn’t achieve anything, and he was fired because of it. Only now has he managed to get back in the coaching game.

The brawl was a serious taint on the NBA’s history, and to imagine just what it would be like if it hadn’t happened is almost impossible, with so many of its consequences still having an effect today, seen and unseen.


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