The King of Detroit.
The King of Detroit. This is truly a "what if" article- but maybe the biggest what if of the last 20 years. There was once a franchise that went to 6 straight Conference Finals, only winning 2 of them. No not the mid 2000s Mavs. As a Dallas sports fan, it felt like it but they only went to the Finals twice, sadly. I am referring to the the Detroit Pistons. Let me go to the first of six seasons they were a top 4 team in the NBA- 2002-2003.
Coached by Rick Carlisle (let's go Mavs), they won 50 games and beat 2 of my boys- Tmac and then Iverson- in the first 2 rounds of the playoffs. They were down 3-1 to the Magic and responded by winning the next 3 by 61 combined points. They eventually got swept by Kidd and his Nets in the Conference Finals- but things were looking very bright.
The roster consisted of one all-star- Ben Wallace, who averaged 7(!) points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks and was the best defender in the league. Other them him, their best players were their guards- Billups and Hamilton, who combined for about 35ppg on efficient shooting. The East was weak. No team had numerous stars, like todays NBA (Sixers, Raptors, Celtics). It was pretty different because each team had a STUD. Kidd led the Nets. Pierce led the Celtics. Iverson carried the Sixers, Tmac carried the Magic, and then there was Detroit. Their forwards were Corliss Williamson and a 36 year old Clifford Robinson. They combined for 24 and 8 per game. So it is safe to say the Pistons needed a forward to get them over the hump, to provide offense. They had great guards and the Defensive Player of the Year as their center.
Thanks to a trade five years earlier in which the Pistons dealt Otis Thorpe (Otis- I immediately think of Otis Day and The Knights from Animal House) to the Vancouver Grizzlies for a future first-round draft pick, the Pistons had the second overall pick to add to their very solid squad. Cleveland was definitely taking LeBron. Detroit already had great guards- they needed a forward of some kind. And they loved Darko Milicic. He was 7'1 and could nail the three. He was the next Dirk- maybe better some scouts said, more agile. The Pistons thought he could spread the floor. Tayshaun Prince would start at the skinny forward and the team would have 4 offensive weapons, all long, and Ben Wallace. Good stuff, right? Wrong. As everyone knows, Darko was the biggest bust in the history of the NBA. He was drafted purely on potential and a few
amazing workouts/tryouts before the Draft. The next three players drafted were Melo, Bosh, and Wade. Olympians. The Pistons in the next few years would not have a player average 20+ ppg. Let's look at Carmelo's lone season in college. He averaged 22 and 10, played 36mpg, and led Syracuse to the title. He was a star, a proven scorer and winner. But the Pistons loved Darko.
Melo came out in his rookie year and averaged 21 and 6. He was averaging 26 by his third year, a legitimate top 10 player in the NBA. That same season, Tayshaun averaged 14, and the Pistons went 64-18.
Let's insert Melo into the Pistons real quick. They still reach the Finals in his rookie year, playing the Lakers. They still win. Melo "chips in" 17 ppg on this championship squad.
The next season, the Pistons beat the Heat to reach their second straight Finals. They lost to Duncan and the Spurs. Insert Melo. They play the Heat. This begins a Wade-Melo rivalry in just their second seasons. The Pistons beat the Heat and then defeat the Spurs in the Finals. There are talks of a dynasty, with their charismatic 21 year old forward as the face of the franchise and the future of the entire NBA. He doesn't have bad habits or a bad attitude at this point... The next season, the Pistons reach the conference finals and once again defeat the Heat. This would be the third straight season Melo defeats Shaq very deep into the playoffs...legendary. The Pistons then play the Mavs in the Finals and beat them for their third straight title. Melo is averaging 22, is 22 years old and has 3 rings. They come back in 2006-2007, ready for their
fourth straight title. Without Melo, this team won 64 games. They advance to the Conference Finals and set up a historical matchup with Lebron and his Cavs. They win in 5 and play Duncan and the Spurs for the second time in three years. They win again. Melo has four titles. People are calling him one of the best players to ever play. Lebron is looked at as a more talented TMac. A guy who can put up 30/10/10 but cant lead his team to the Finals. And Melo has defeated Wade a few times in the playoffs. He has defeated Kobe/Shaq, Wade/Shaq, Duncan, Dirk, Lebron, and Duncan again in is first four years.
The Pistons go for their fifth straight title in 2007-2008. The Celtics big 3 still get together and win 66 games. But the Pistons are still strong and defeat them in the Conference Finals, instead of losing as they did in actual history. Melo squares up against Kobe in the Finals for the 2nd time in his first five years. The 24 year old prince vs the 29 year old King. Ratings are through the roof. Just as the Celtics did in real life, the Pistons defeat the Lakers in 6 games. Five titles in five years. Melo could retire and be considered top 25 ever. His career averages of 23, 6, and 4 and his five rings do the trick. While Kobe is
named captain of the 2008 Olympic team, Melo has the most rings on the roster at age 24. LeBron and Wade come to Melo and they formulate a plan to join forces in 2010. Melo considers it, and the Pistons add some pieces for their 6th title run. They defeat Lebron in the playoffs again. The play Kobe again and lose. 4-1 in the Finals. Melo comes back hungrier than ever, averaging 27 in his seventh year and winning MVP. The Pistons and Celtics meet yet again in the Conference Finals, and Melo gets the best of Pierce and the Celtics, leading his squad to their seventh straight Finals appearance. They play Kobe for the third straight year and they win. Six titles in seven years. People are calling Melo a top 15 player of all time. He is 26.
The Summer of 2010 rolls around. Billups and Prince and Hamilton leave/get traded. Lebron and Wade fill their spots, hoping to win a title with the ultimate NBA winner, Carmelo Anthony. There is no Heat big 3. Do these Pistons defeat the Mavs? The Thunder? The Spurs two straight years? I don't know. No one does. But in this scenario, in which the Pistons pick a proven scorer, leader, and winner over a European teenager that has proved nothing, the Pistons could have reached at least five titles, even up to 9. Carmelo would not be known as the scorer who cant win, who just cares about money, who would rather score 40 than win the game. Carmelo instead is known as the fortunate Hall of Fame talent who was drafted into a great team, helping and then leading his team to numerous titles, up to 8 titles in his first 11 years. He is the face of the NBA. He was on three Olympic teams. Lebron comes TO HIM wanting to join forces. His defense is much better, as Ben Wallace and Billups taught him in his rookie year. He learns a ton from the Pistons as a teenager. He is a complete player. The Nuggets did not have these vets to help him. Not like the Pistons did. The Pistons have 8+ titles in their history. Kobe does not have 5. Duncan and the Spurs do not have five. They maybe have three. Wade is not considered top 30 of all time. Shaq does not have four. Lebron is not as popular as he is today. Melo is King of Detroit. King of the NBA.
But this did not happen. The Pistons won one title. Kobe has 5. Duncan has 5. Shaq has 4. Lebron is the most popular athlete in the last 30 years not named Michael Jordan. And Melo will never win a title. He is potentially done. Darko no longer plays the game of basketball. Oh my, what if.
I am nowgoing to construct a Terminator to go back in time and wipe out Darko's mother (kidding). Have a nice January watching to see if the Lakers pick him up in the last year of his NBA career. He is hoping it happens. In the alternate reality, Lebron would have hoped to join with him. Oh Darko...