We all have guilty pleasures. Things that we are sort of afraid to admit but deep down we thoroughly enjoy. For some, it may be listening to an old Backstreet Boys CD (let’s be honest, that’s most of us). For others, it may be riding down the road rocking out to Nickleback. For me, it’s having Carmelo Anthony as one of my favorite basketball players of all-time. Carmelo is a polarizing figure. He burst onto the scene early with a prolific high school career at Oak Hill Academy, won a national championship at Syracuse, and then became one of the best scorers of all-time in the NBA. But Melo consistently let us down. Instead of turning into an efficient scoring wing (Olympic Melo) that could lead a team, he turned into a ball-dominating, high usage player that always cared more about his stats than winning. But today we are going to change that narrative. We are taking another dive into the past to a place where Carmelo is not a superstar that is dragged through the mud, but is now considered one of the top 25 best players of all-time. Welcome to Round 2 of “What If” NBA where Carmelo Anthony never began his career with the Denver Nuggets, but instead was drafted by the Detroit Pistons.
2003 NBA Draft
A small man with a villainous smile walks to the podium to a chorus of boos and welcomes us to the 2003 NBA Draft. In the real world, this was one of the most important drafts of all-time and gave us LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony. We walk past LeBron and see him wearing a suit that was at least six sizes too big for him and give him a head nod. Tonight, he will be drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers and will begin a new era in the NBA. David Stern announces the pick and we move on to pick #2, held by the Detroit Pistons, a team that was swept in the Eastern Conference Finals by the New Jersey Nets. The Pistons have a solid young core with Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince. In the real world, they made one of the worst draft decisions of the decade by taking Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade. In our world, we sneak into the Pistons war room and burst through the door. As security charges at us to send us to jail, we make eye contact with Larry Brown and with tears running down our eyes tell him that we are from the future. He seems intrigued and motions the guards to pause without making a sound. We exclaim to him that Darko is a soft big that will never develop in the league. He asks us who will be better. We reach into a bag and in a moment that will change history, we lay a hoodie down at his feet. He looks perplexed and asks us what it means. We respond with one word, Melo. The Pistons send their pick in and with the second pick draft Carmelo Anthony from Syracuse University. History is now changed, but not just for the Pistons. This will change history for the Nuggets, the Knicks, the Heat, the Cavaliers, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade.
2003-2004 NBA Season
Carmelo begins the season behind Tayshaun Prince as the 6th man for the Pistons. Early on in the year, Larry Brown realizes that Melo is a great scorer and moves into the starter’s role at the 3. The Pistons, an excellent defensive team, now have a great scorer and a defender coming off the bench in Prince. In the real world, the Pistons traded for Rasheed Wallace during this season and won the championship. In our new world, both of those things would have still happened. Carmelo, not known for his defense, would have understood how hard he had to work on the defensive end because he would have constantly been worried that Ben Wallace may kill him if he did not. He would average 15.2 ppg as the Pistons would run through the playoffs, beating the Lakers 4-1 in the NBA Finals. Carmelo is now considered in the same breath as LeBron and the Pistons are seen as a dominant force for the future. The Nuggets, who instead drafted Dwyane Wade because they needed a scorer would lose 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Heat, who ended up with Darko Milicic, would fail to make the playoffs.
2004-2005 NBA Season
In the real world, the Pistons lost in the Finals to the Spurs. But this is Melo’s world. So things turned out differently. The Pistons would have brought back the same team going into year 2. Carmelo would have been the centerpiece of this team on offense while the rest of the guys could have anchored down the defense. Honestly, could you imagine Melo posting up, missing a shot, and then Ben Wallace gets the tip back dunk? Perfect. Anyways, the Pistons once again dominate the Eastern Conference and end up in the Finals, playing the Spurs. With no one on the Spurs to guard Melo, the Pistons win a tight 4-2 series. The Nuggets, led by Dwyane Wade, fight valiantly against the Spurs in the first round, but lose 4-2. The Heat fails to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year, as Pat Riley considers fist fighting Darko Milicic. The Heat win the lottery in the offseason and have their sights set on Utah big man, Andrew Bogut (this is turning out horribly for the Heat).
2005-2006 NBA Season
Since the Heat never drafted Dwyane Wade in our world, this also means they never traded for Shaq. Shaq was instead traded to the Mavericks for Dirk Nowitzki (LET’S GET CRAZY! Also, this seriously almost happened). In the real world, the Heat won the title by beating the Mavericks. In our world, the Pistons look for a three-peat and have no real competition in the East. In the NBA Finals, they go up against the Mavericks with Shaq. Shaq, hungry to get a title and to prove that Kobe was wrong, dominates the Pistons. A young Steve Nash becomes a star for the Mavericks as many believe that his pairing with Shaq will be the best duo for years to come. Dwyane Wade and the Nuggets lose 4-1 in the first round to the Clippers. Pat Riley challenges Andrew Bogut and Darko Milicic to a fatal three-way at Wrestlemania as things are getting rough in Miami.
2006-2007 NBA Season
This was the year that had one of my favorite LeBron games of all-time when he single-handedly defeated the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Spurs wound up beating the Cavs in the Finals of this same year. In our world, the Pistons and the Cavs meet up in the Eastern Conference Finals, but this time the Pistons win because Carmelo Anthony is too much on the offensive end for the Cavs. The Pistons go on to the NBA Finals from the Eastern Conference. On the Western Conference side, the Mavs run back their Steve Nash and Shaq pairing, but end up losing in the Western Conference Finals to the Spurs. The Spurs with Tim Duncan are too much for the Pistons to handle as the Spurs win 4-3. The Nuggets lose in the first round again as Dwyane Wade begins to become frustrated with his situation. The Heat are still an abomination as Darko Milicic fades out of the league and Andrew Bogut becomes injury-prone. The Heat secure the #3 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and draft Mike Conley from the Ohio State University. LeBron James and the Cavaliers still have a bright future, but many whispers come out that LeBron may be thinking of moving on to greener pastures.
2007-2008 NBA Season
This season in the real world was the new-look Boston Celtics championship season with Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett. In our world, the Boston team still forms and is a formidable foe for the Pistons. The Western Conference is led by the Lakers with Kobe and Dirk Nowitzki as they become more comfortable together and form a scoring duo that takes over the league. The Dallas Mavericks realize that Shaq is on the tail end of his career and trade him to the Phoenix Suns at the trade deadline for an aging Grant Hill and defensive forward, Raja Bell. The Cavaliers have a difficult time bringing anybody to join LeBron in Cleveland as whispers intensify that LeBron is going to be looking for a different team. The Heat improve from their previous season record with Mike Conley leading the way. They are a borderline playoff team and have hope for the first time in many years. The Denver Nuggets bring along an aging Allen Iverson to help out Dwyane Wade with the scoring load, but lose to the Lakers in the first round, 4-2. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics narrowly edge out the Pistons 4-3 in a tight Game 7 led by a hungry Kevin Garnett. The Lakers and Celtics meet in the NBA Finals in a very tight series, but the Celtics edge them out with Garnett’s tough defense on Dirk.
2008-2009 NBA Season
This was the weird Lakers beating Magic in the Finals season. In our world, Carmelo Anthony raises his game to another level as he realizes that his Pistons team needs him to improve. He leads his team through the Eastern Conference and beats the Magic 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Nuggets, now a real contender in the West, push the Lakers to six games in an amazing battle between Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant. The Lakers return to the Finals for a second consecutive year, but lose to the Pistons 4-2. Carmelo Anthony wins his third ring and is now considered the best basketball player in the world. Kobe Bryant is stuck at three rings while Dirk is still yet to win his first. LeBron and the Cavs sputter out again in the playoffs as he continues to take a backseat to Carmelo. The Miami Heat make the playoffs for the first time in years, but lose in the first round to the Atlanta Hawks. The Dallas Mavericks bring back the core of their team, led by Steve Nash, but lose in the second round to the Denver Nuggets. David Aldridge breaks the news that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony have discussed playing together when their contracts are up after next season. The main focus of their new team? The New York Knicks.
This is the part where all of our knowledge is turned on its head. The Pistons are a year older and Carmelo can only lead his team so far. They lose to the Celtics in the opening round of the playoffs 4-1. In the postgame press conference, Carmelo Anthony opens up and tells the media, “We struggled this series. Maybe everything must come to an end.” Rumors are that Carmelo immediately goes to the parking lot and calls LeBron James on his Motorola Razr. The Lakers, hungry for a title, have their best season to date and dominate the Western Conference. They march to the title to face the Eastern Conference representative, the Boston Celtics. Kobe and Dirk are too much for the Celtics as they win the title 4-2, which gives Kobe his fourth ring. After a frustrating series against the Celtics, LeBron James pulls off his Cavaliers jersey walking to the locker room. He refuses to speak to the media and goes straight to his car. Rumors are that he calls Dwyane Wade on his Blackberry. Dwyane Wade and the Nuggets are ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Utah Jazz. In the midst of all of this chaos and confusion, the New York Knicks work to clear three max spaces for the upcoming offseason. Rumors intensify that the Knicks may be in the lead for all three young superstars.
This was the offseason with the LeBron James Decision. This is where our journey ends. In our world, this is the day that the NBA as we know it would be changed forever. With Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade all becoming free agents, they meet together at a local banana boat store to discuss their possibilities. Carmelo is ready to move on from the Pistons after winning 3 titles because he has always wanted to be a Knick. Dwyane Wade is ready to move on from Denver because he realizes that they may never have a chance to win a title. LeBron James is ready to orchestrate a super team which would be mutually beneficial for all three. The three have all of their free agency meetings together. The Bulls get the first meeting and promise a legacy that those three could carry in the post-Michael Jordan NBA. During the Heat meeting, Pat Riley pushes his rings across the table to the three young men. Carmelo Anthony laughs and holds up the three rings on his hand. LeBron informs the Heat that he can’t see a future with Andrew Bogut and Mike Conley. In the last meeting, the Knicks promise the three superstars that they can bring the first title back to New York since the 70s. The trio believes that MSG is the only arena that deserves to see the top three players of the decade on the same team. They verbally commit to becoming Knicks during that meeting. Television host Jim Gray calls the three to pitch a show with them announcing their choice on ESPN titled The Decision. The three decide it is not in their best interest to rub it in the face of their prospective teams. They instead use the startup app, Twitter, to announce their intentions of joining with the Knicks by simultaneously tweeting out the word, KNICKS. The league goes into a frenzy. The three lead the Knicks to 4 championships in the next 8 years as the Knicks become the feature organization in the NBA.
And that’s where our journey ends. Thanos uses the time stone to snap us back into the present day. We are now back in the world where the Knicks have 16 power forwards and are a disgrace. We are back in the world where Carmelo Anthony can’t even get on an NBA roster and spends his days hitting jumpers with a hoodie on against high school players. If Carmelo Anthony gets drafted by the Pistons, our whole view of him as a player changes. He prolongs the Pistons championship window and is forced to become a better defensive player and a more efficient offensive player. With a couple of titles under his belt, he would have been the premier player in the league. Kobe would have only ended up with 4 titles, Shaq and Nash would have won one together in Dallas, and Dirk would have gotten his title one season earlier in Los Angeles. The Knicks would have been the major beneficiary in this scenario because they would have lured Carmelo, Wade, and LeBron to NYC to start up their big 3. Dwyane would have never had ties to Miami and would have taken them out of the picture. It bothers me to this day when people undervalue Carmelo Anthony and his talent on the court. He is a prolific scorer and one of the best Olympians of all-time. Just think of how close we were to his whole career being different.
Andrew Williams is a Contributor for the Unwrapped Sports Network website. Follow him @Andrew_W8 on Twitter.