LeBron James is pretty much the “GOAT” of today’s generation of NBA players. Jordan is still widely considered to be the top dog in basketball history, but a lot of fans in the younger generation will quickly take LeBron’s side in the debate.
Pistons legend and Portland Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups believes LeBron wouldn’t be nearly as dominant as he’s been in his career had Pistons GM/President Joe Dumars not bypassed Carmelo Anthony in 2003.
Billups appeared on the “All The Smoke Podcast” with former NBA small forward Matt Barnes, and 2003 champion Stephen Jackson and began discussing his belief that LeBron James’ career would’ve been massively different had his Detroit Pistons drafted Carmelo Anthony.
“We all thought we were taking ‘Melo. We all were on deck. We all were on board. We all thought ‘Melo was ‘Melo. We excited. It was perfect. Obviously, we had a team. We took Tayshaun [Prince] the year before, but Tay would have been the perfect sixth man, Swiss Army knife, he’ll do whatever. I thought we were perfectly built to have ‘Melo.
“Here’s an interesting question, I say this all the time: If we do get ‘Melo, when was ‘Bron ever going to take over? … We’re in the same division. … [Anthony’s] going to get raised right in the game. He ain’t coming in and shooting 25 times,” Billups said.
Anthony and LeBron James both came into the league together in the famed 2003 draft class, which also featured legends Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, players Bron eventually teamed up with in Miami. The two forwards were already best friends coming into the draft, and these two plus Wade were three-quarters of the memed Banana Boat Crew with Chris Paul, who came into the league in 2005.
James went first overall to Cleveland in the draft, while Melo was taken third overall by the Denver Nuggets. He was infamously passed up by the Detroit Pistons, who chose to take Serbian phenom Darko Milicic.
Needless to say, Darko Milicic didn’t pan out as Detroit planned, as evinced by the fact that his name is only bought up today because fans like to talk about the Pistons’ blunder when they missed out on getting Melo. Meanwhile, Melo went on to become a 10-time All-Star, a member of six All-NBA teams, and one of the greatest scorers of all time.
A scorer of his magnitude would have fit in nicely with the Pistons, who had a core of very good players and clutch playoff performers, but no All-NBA talents to speak of. During the 2005–06 season, the Pistons had their best regular season record in franchise history (64–18). Under Dumar’s executive leadership, Detroit made it to the Eastern Conference Finals six straight years (2003–2008).
So even after not drafting Melo, Dumars did a damn good job in his tenure with the Pistons. The franchise hasn’t come close to that success since.
Why Not Melo?
It’s understandable how Joe D, the first African American executive to lead a team to an NBA title, didn’t want to mess with the chemistry by bringing in a young, ball-dominant superstar into a veteran-laden team that was successful because of their unselfishness and team-oriented nature.
The Pistons, who were coming off of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, went on to win the NBA Finals in Melo’s rookie year with the Denver Nuggets. They took down the Los Angeles Lakers, who at that time were a juggernaut led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. It was the kind of dynasty the Pistons were in pursuit of, and the thought is that Melo, who led Syracuse to an NCAA title as a freshman, would’ve been the key piece to an unprecedented run.
The Pistons would make two finals appearances, only capturing the one against the Lakers. Point guard Billups, along with plenty of other basketball fans argue that if Detroit takes Melo in that draft, he becomes that superstar that they surround their championship squad around. In the 2006-2007 season, LeBron and his Cavaliers knocked the Pistons off in the Eastern Conference Finals, repeating this the next season.
With a young developing Melo, Billups asserts that his Pistons championship window extends, and that team is too dominant for LeBron to conquer the East as he did.
Though this claim has good reasoning, it’s very unlikely that LeBron’s dominance is hindered by that Pistons team for long. Once LeBron gets to Miami in 2010, they become the most dominant team in the East, and there’s almost no way a Pistons team, even with Melo on it is taking that Miami team down. But with Melo on that Detroit roster, its highly likely they do win at least two more championships while Melo develops into the superstar he became.
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