Modern NBA What-Ifs

Modern NBA What-Ifs

How would the NBA landscape be different if teams went a different direction?
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What if Michael Jordan got drafted by the Trail Blazers? Would Portland, and not Chicago, have owned the 1990s? What if Kobe Bryant would've been drafted the New Jersey Nets? Would we remember him as an East Coast basketball savior instead of the Hollywood Icon? These are old NBA questions that still haunt fans of all teams to this day. However, I want to take a look at more recent history. What if the modern NBA wasn't what it was today?

What if ... Damian Lillard fell into the lap of the Pelicans?

Going into the 2012 NBA Draft, the New Orleans Pelicans (then the New Orleans Hornets) were sitting pretty with two first-round picks. Following an abysmal campaign (21-45, last in the Southwest division), New Orleans lucked into the first overall pick. They went with the consensus top pick, prized Kentucky big man Anthony Davis (side note: I was not a big fan of Davis' as he was coming out of college. He was too tall and lanky to me and seemed too much of a project on offense. I turned out to be way wrong, but as someone who grew up watching Stromile Swift, Robert Swift, Darko Milicic, and Hasheem Thabeet bust their way out of the league, you couldn't blame my caution).

With their second first-round pick, there was indecision on what to do with it. Ultimately, the Pelicans settled to draft Duke point guard Austin Rivers at tenth overall. After underwhelming in New Orleans, Rivers was traded to the Clippers for pennies compared to what the Pelicans invested in him, and he became the first player in NBA history to play for his dad.

However, rumors came out after the draft that the Pelicans coveted a smaller-pedigree player: a point guard out of tiny Weber State in Damian Lillard. Lillard was selected four picks earlier by the Trail Blazers, but if he had fallen to the Pelicans, he would have been the perfect complement to Davis. Lillard has blossomed into a perennial top-25 player and a massive upgrade over what Rivers had given them. A Davis-Lillard duo would have stricken fear in the rest of the league, creating a near-unstoppable pick and roll game.

What if ... the 76ers made the right choice and selected Kristaps Porzingis?

Another NBA draft what-if: the 76ers devoted their entire roster creation behind building through the draft, leading to the moniker "Trust the Process." Following years of deliberately losing to increase their odds at a high pick and therefore landing a superstar, the process looked to be bearing fruit.

Philadelphia possessed a second straight third overall pick in 2015, a year after drafting Joel Embiid in the same draft slot. With that selection, the 76ers selected offensively-gifted (but frustrating defensively) Duke center, Jahlil Okafor. After a year of putting up bad stats on a bad team, Okafor's lack of shooting and rim protection caught up with him, and he's rarely played since. One pick after Okafor was Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis, who was considered an extremely raw player at the time of the draft.

However, after three years of seasoning, Porzingis has transformed himself into a do-it-all player that has earned the label unicorn for his uniqueness. After the two most recent drafts, a 76ers lineup of Markelle Fultz-Robert Covington-Ben Simmons-Kristaps Porzingis-Joel Embiid would have been the most talented young team the NBA has ever seen.

What if ... Harden had stayed in OKC?

The second-most talented team behind that hypothetical 76ers' squad? The Oklahoma City Thunder of the early 2010s. After being expertly put together by GM Sam Presti, (and having many teams attempt to copy his draft success) the Thunder has an embarrassment of riches on their team, with a lineup of Russell Westbrook-Thabo Sefolosha-Kevin Durant-Serge Ibaka-Kendrick Perkins and Sixth Man of the Year James Harden. Sefolosha and Perkins were the veterans of the group, but with those Core Four young players, the Thunder had made the NBA Finals and fell in five games to the LeBron James-led Miami Heat.

Despite that sobering loss, it was clear that OKC was on the rise and excitement was flooding through the franchise. However, Presti had a hard choice ahead of him: the young players were beginning to get off their cheap rookie deals and needed to be paid to their talent level. OKC was and is a small market team and could not afford going over the luxury tax line by taking on too much salary, and made the decision to cut bate with Harden and sign Ibaka to an extension. Many since have screamed, "How could the Thunder choose Ibaka over Harden?!" However, I defend their choice.

There is only one ball to go around, and while Harden has blossomed into the likely 2018 MVP, three ball dominant players simply would not work. Ibaka rounded out the team more with rebounding and defense and gave the Thunder a better chance to win.

The modern NBA landscape can be changed with one decision. One move results to another team making a responsive move, and soon a ripple effect starts to take place. These teams can't go back in history to change their decisions. Hindsight is 20/20 and may have cost these teams a title.

Cover Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Everything The Student Athlete Loses When They Move On From Sports

Enjoy it while it lasts.

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We used to call it "flipping the switch." You would go through eight hours of school (somehow) and then your mentality would automatically change. The worries and stress from the school day would dwindle as you put on your cleats and begin to warm up. Anything that was going on in your life didn't matter when you hit the dirt. You create lifelong friendships with the girls you spent every day with for months at a time. Teammates who see you susceptible after a bad game and on cloud nine after one of your bests.

You develop a routine and superstitions. Hitting your bat on the inside of your cleat before you hit, chewing a certain type of gum on the volleyball court, how many times you spin the ball before you shoot a free throw, whatever your quirk was, you 100% believed it would make you play better. You practice in your free time with your dad, devote three to five months of your school year to a team, and play all summer long with your travel team as you live off hotel breakfast. Then one day, it's all over.

It is a feeling that nobody can prepare you for. They say enjoy it while it lasts but you never really understand what you'll be walking away from when you play your last game and hang it up for good. You lose a part of yourself when you're no longer an athlete. I forgot what it feels like to be competitive and be a part of something that is bigger than myself. It has been two years since I've played my last softball game and not a day goes by when I don't miss it. I didn't play because I wanted to go pro or even to the collegiate level, but I played because it was an escape and helped me become who I am.

You begin to forget what it felt like to hit the sweet spot on a bat, what it sounded like to have an audience cheer for you as you stand alone on second base and see your family in the stands, to hear the metal spikes of your cleats on concrete when walking in the dugout. It's simple things about the game you love that brought you pure joy and an escape from the world and the thoughts in your head. Batting practice was always mine. Focusing on nothing but the next pitch and how hard I could hit it.

When you have to watch the game from the other side of the fence, you realize how much pressure you put on yourself when you played. It's just a game. Make as many memories as you can and enjoy every inning because when you leave sports behind you have to find your inner athlete in other things. Create a workout routine, joining a club sport or intramurals, or even becoming a coach. As much as I miss the sport, I am thankful for everything it brought me. It taught me how to be a good friend, respect others around me, and to push myself to discover what I was capable of.

So, enjoy it while it lasts.

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The Excitement Of The NBA Playoffs Without Lebron James

The NBA playoffs are among us and it is my favorite time of the year. The time for the NBA to shine is the playoffs, but this year's rating has seen a bit of decline.

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The NBA playoffs are a very exciting time for the typical NBA fan and I sure love nothing more than to kick back and watch the action. The excitement and the number of games on are unreal and they start one after another so every game can be watched without another one interfering with the other. The games have so much more than typical basketball and people are disappointed this year because Lebron James missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005. The last 14 years he has been dominating the NBA playoffs and this year was different so the ratings are plummeting.

The series are a best of 7 making it a long fun series of games with so much on the line. I have watched many of the games and highlights and have truly appreciated the greatness I am watching. The lower seeded teams have been doing well against the best teams and are giving them a run for the money. We have had a few fun blowout games that are interesting because you are seeing a team dominate the entire game and hit many great shots and make big plays. The good teams are still winning most of the games, but at least we have some close games that come down to the buzzer to make for great competition.

We then have young stars like Damian Lillard and Ben Simmons who have been giving us some amazing stat lines and leading their team to big first-round wins and both making huge highlights so far. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and James Harden have been the big stars having great games and contributing heavily to both their teams and the ratings to make the playoffs fun. Even without Lebron, these guys are still showing us how fun basketball is to watch and play.

The style of team basketball many of these guys are playing with is amazing to watch. I am all about teamwork and there is a new player doing something spectacular and having a standout game every night with the help of their team. The Los Angeles Clippers rallied for the biggest playoff comeback in NBA history by coming back from 31 down against the defending champions the Golden State Warriors. It is nice to see teams like the Clippers, Magic, and Pacers who do not have a standout star play great team basketball. These teams are losing most of their games, but they do not have the talent these other teams have. They are going out and playing well as a team every single night and working to make sure everyone is contributing on offense and defense to have a chance to win.

Damian Lillard even hit a buzzer beater to win the series over the Thunder the other night and it shows us how much of an impact one player can have on the whole game. The excitement of the upcoming free agency period is vastly hyped, but the current teams are so well set up for success that the next 2 rounds of the playoffs will be the ultimate tests for all teams to see who will play each other for the championship.

Everyone thinks the Warriors will once again host the NBA Larry O'Brien Trophy and be the top team in the league for the next year, but there are a few teams that have been quite impressive all season and have the momentum in their favor just as much as the defending champions. There will be plenty of big games to come and I am positive the players will put on a huge showing to make these playoffs memorable for all true NBA fans. Lebron is my favorite player of all time and I love watching him play especially in the finals for the title, but the ratings should still be high due to the great competitive game of basketball and the amazing moments we get to enjoy all throughout the playoffs. I encourage any basketball fan to tune in for these games and I promise you will not be disappointed with any of the games.

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