One of the best things about being a sports fan is the endless possibilities of hypothetical scenarios. A different trade here or an alternative draft selection there could completely alter the history of the league in a tremendous way. In the NBA world, there are so many examples of these “what ifs” that are just impossible to ignore. These different scenarios that could have happened in the NBA are mind-boggling to say the least and certainly worthy of conversation.
Not to give anything away just yet, but these “what ifs” could seriously alter things like who the greatest of all time is, who would have won the most championships, and other important items like these in the league. There is a lot of pressure in the NBA, as one moment could completely change your franchise’s future for years and years to come. Player or not, there have been many times the fate of the team has been totally altered by something that seemed virtually insignificant at the time. That is why every move made in the association is critical to a franchise’s success because as you will see in this article, a decision that didn’t seem incredibly vital at the time could really end up being one of the more important decisions made in the basketball world.
In this article, we will be looking at the 15 greatest “what ifs” in NBA history. This article was very fun to write, as every scenario is incredibly intriguing. Ranging from missed draft opportunities, trades, and so much more, any moment that had other fans thinking “what if?” is probably on this list.
Here is the top 15 greatest “what ifs” in NBA history. As always, feel free to drop any other scenarios in the comment section below, as we would love to hear some more awesome “what if” moments.
15. Kobe Wasn’t Traded To L.A.
Man do the Hornets regret this decision. After choosing Kobe Bryant with the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Hornets traded Kobe for Lakers center Vlade Divac. Bryant’s agent did make it pretty clear Kobe didn’t want to play for the Hornets, but Charlotte also had no interest in Bryant except for using him to acquire Divac. Obviously with some persuasion, Kobe would have been playing for the Hornets if Charlotte actually wanted him to play. Imagine a young Kobe Bryant joining the the solid Hornets team, which went 54-28 in the 1996-97 season. With a franchise player such as Kobe Bryant on the team, the original Charlotte Hornets would have been one of the best teams in the league for years and years.
14. Derrick Rose Doesn’t Tear His ACL
Derrick Rose was on top of the basketball world. At only 22 years of age, Rose won the MVP and led the Chicago Bulls to over 60 wins, a feat that wasn’t done since Michael Jordan was on the team. During Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs against the Sixers in 2012, Rose tore his left ACL while trying to jump for the ball. Rose was never the same player after the injury. Relying heavily on his explosiveness and quickness, the constant threat of injury has really hampered Rose’s NBA career.
Derrick Rose was the greatest player in the entire world, at only 22 years old…22! Poised for a legendary NBA career, the ACL injury stopped Rose from possibly becoming one of the best players of all time.
13. 76ers Pick Dirk Nowitzki To Join Allen Iverson
As a Sixers fan, this one really hurts to talk about. In the 1998 NBA Draft, the Sixers had the 7th pick in the draft. The Sixers went with Larry Hughes, as they passed up on the 7-footer from Germany named Dirk Nowitzki, who was picked with the 8th selection. Larry Hughes never made an impact like Dirk did. If the Sixers went with Nowitzki instead of Hughes, the team would be adding Nowitzki to an already talented team, which included one of the best players ever: Allen Iverson.
Iverson and Nowitzki in tandem would have been completely unstoppable, as it would have brought some of the greatest scorers of all time together on one team. Do I hear a dynasty? Yes I do.
12. James Harden Stayed With OKC
I can’t believe the Thunder featured Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden at one time together. Harden asked for $60 million from the Thunder to re-sign, but the Thunder only offered $54 million and gave Harden just an hour to decide between them and the Rockets. With Harden choosing the Rockets, it has now created one of the greatest “what ifs” in NBA history. With Harden blossoming as an NBA superstar soon after his departure from OKC, the Thunder would have included three of the best players in the league. The question wouldn’t have been if the Thunder would have won a championship by now, it would be how many.
11. Kevin Durant Picked Before Greg Oden
Even though Greg Oden was poised for a great NBA career, his serious injuries led the Blazers to make a mistake similar to #11 on this list, as they chose a big before a scorer. Greg Oden didn’t have a successful NBA career at all, as it was riddled with injuries. Kevin Durant, on the other hand, is one of the best players in the world right now. Durant would have joined up with LaMarcus Aldridge, Zach Randolph, and Brandon Roy, making a seriously dangerous team. Another one the Trail Blazers are still kicking themselves about.
10. Pistons Pass On Darko Miličić
The 2003 NBA Draft was incredibly stacked, but the Pistons still couldn’t cash in with their 2nd overall pick. With LeBron James going 1st, the Pistons picked Darko Miličić instead of Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. Any of those players would have completely changed the Pistons franchise for the better, which Miličić failed to do. Instead of a single championship in 2004, the mid-2000s Pistons could have built a dynasty.
9. David Stern Doesn’t Veto Chris Paul Trade
In 2011, the Hornets, Rockets, and Lakers came to a trade agreement, wherein Paul would be moved to L.A., Gasol to Houston, and Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. However, the three-team trade didn’t go down, as David Stern vetoed the trade. Pressured by other teams’ owners and advisers to veto the trade, Stern declined the deal. Adam Silver has since banned the ability for a commissioner to veto a trade, so we won’t see something like that happen again, thankfully.
Now, can we talk about the possibility of Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul on the same team?Who wouldn’t have loved to see that? This trade might have bolstered Kobe to a few more championships most likely, as he definitely would be getting a lot more greatest of all-time credit.
8. Grant Hill Stayed Healthy
I’m saying it right now, if Grant Hill could have stayed healthy over his career, he would be discussed as one of the greatest players ever. After an incredible beginning to his career in Detroit, nagging injuries, which began when he moved to the Magic, totally stalled his immense success. Hill could really score, but injuries ruined a course that was set for greatness. It’s not as big a stretch as you think to say Hill was that good.
7. Shaq Stays With Penny
What if Shaquille O’Neal didn’t go to the Lakers and stayed with Penny and the Magic in Orlando? Shaq and Penny were absolutely dominant together, and O’Neal’s departure from the Magic was a big blow to the franchise. Now Shaq’s situation in L.A. was pretty good, but Penny and the Magic would have probably won a few championships with Shaq still on the team. If the Magic kept this incredible duo, they probably would have stayed at the forefront of the NBA for years and years.
6. Timberwolves Don’t Pass On Steph Curry…Twice
The Timberwolves had both the 5th and the 6th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. The Wolves passed up on the skinny shooter from Davidson, later to become the greatest players in the NBA, for Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn. Neither of these players turned out to be franchise players, unlike Steph Curry who is a back-to-back MVP. Steph would have been an amazing addition to the Wolves, who already had Kevin Love and Al Jefferson on the team, making the Timberwolves a total contender. The Wolves would still probably be at the top of the standings today.
5. Shaq & Kobe Feud Never Happened
Shaq and Kobe couldn’t get along. With both players wanting the spotlight, the two clashed constantly, which led to them parting ways after the 2003-04 season. They were able to win three consecutive championships together, so it is sad to think they couldn’t just make it work. With so much talent on the Lakers, I think three championships would have been just the beginning for that duo.
4. Benji Wilson Isn’t Killed
Benji Wilson was regarded as the best high school player in the nation in 1984. He was 6-foot-8 and was said to be a “Magic Johnson with a jumpshot.” He was sadly killed in an altercation near his high school while he was a senior. He was considered the best player Chicago has ever produced, but he died at the young age of 17. Benji was on track for one of the greatest careers ever, and it is a shame we never got to see him play in the NBA.
3. Michael Jordan Is Picked Before Sam Bowie
The 1984 NBA Draft was one of the best the league has ever seen. It also includes one of the biggest busts we have ever seen with the Trail Blazers picking Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. As we all know, Jordan went on to win six championships with the Bulls, but would he have been able to do it with the Trail Blazers? Probably. The Trail Blazers definitely regret passing up on the “G.O.A.T.” It must have especially hurt Portland in the 1992 Finals when Jordan and his Bulls beat them.
2. Michael Jordan Doesn’t Retire Early To Try Baseball
In the prime of his career, Jordan decided he wanted to go try and dominate the baseball world like he did the basketball world. With Jordan playing in the minor leagues for the White Sox, it was quickly determined he wasn’t as talented at baseball as he was in basketball. The question that arises from Jordan’s decision is, how many more championships would he have won? Splitting up two three-peats with his two-year retirement, I really believe he would have won eight straight championships with the Bulls.
1. Len Bias Doesn’t Pass Away
Scouts have always said that Len Bias was going to be one of the greatest players of all time, with a skill set similar, or possibly better, than Michael Jordan’s. Len was picked by the Celtics in the 1986 NBA Draft, but just two days later, died of a cocaine overdose. He would have joined one of the best teams ever assembled, with Bird, McHale, and Parish. That team would be absolutely unstoppable, like championship after championship after championship unstoppable. The battles between Bias and Jordan also would have made one of the greatest rivalries the NBA has ever seen.
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