Injuries prevented Yao Ming (with ball) and the Houston Rockets from reaching their full potential in the first decade of the new millennium.
Have you ever heard of the East Coast bias in media?
Well, RegalMag.com might have a “Dirty South” bias, more specifically a Houston bias.
Therefore, forgive Regal if its list of the 10 biggest what-ifs in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA) has an H-Town slant.
But hate it or love it, forgive or not, here is RegalMag.com’s 10 biggest what-ifs in recent NBA history.
Let Regal know what we got right and what we got wrong!
- What if Chris Paul (CP3) never pulls his hamstring with the Houston Rockets up 3-2 against the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 Western Conference Finals? Despite never winning the MVP in his career, Paul played like an MVP during the 2017-18 season. But even with two MVP candidates (James Harden won the MVP), the Rockets knew they would eventually run up against their old nemesis if they wanted to make it out of the Western Conference. That year, the Rockets boasted the best regular season record (65-17) in the league, along with a 3-2 lead over Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the Warriors. But when Paul’s hamstring gave out, the Rockets hopes evaporated. If Paul stays healthy and the Rockets win the West that year, many believe they would have beaten LeBron James and the Cavaliers for the NBA title.
- What if the Philadelphia 76ers drafted Jayson Tatum instead of Markelle Fultz? Can you imagine Joel Embiid in the post, Tatum on the wing and (maybe) Ben Simmons running the point? Tatum would have been the second option on offense and maybe Simmons does not have as much pressure to step up scoring wise. Would the team still have Tyrese Maxey at the two though? A team with Embiid, Tatum and Simmons might have been too good to pick number 21 overall in the 2020 draft. It is interesting to imagine the 76ers with that much talent. They probably would not be suffering like they are today after Harden’s disappearance against Miami.
- What if Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady did not suffer injuries during the 2008-09 season? When the Rockets traded Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato to the Orlando Magic for Tracy McGrady, Reece Gaines, Juwan Howard and Tyronn Lue in 2004, Rockets fans began to immediately think of a third championship. Before the 2008-09 season, despite past disappointments, the Rockets traded for the controversial Ron Artest only amplifying expectations within Rockets nation. Although Yao and Artest played extremely well, injuries limited McGrady throughout the regular season. And when Yao went down with a hairline fracture in the semifinal series against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, the team became a huge what-if for Rockets fans.
- What if injuries and drug abuse did not upend the Houston Rockets of the late 1980s? How would the Rockets have done against the Boston Celtics in the 1986 Finals if they had a true point guard like John Lucas running the offense? How would the Rockets have done the next year if Lewis Lloyd and Mitchell Wiggins did not get suspended for drug use like Lucas the year before and Sampson did not eventually get hit with the injury bug? Could they have prevented the Lakers and Pistons from winning championships in the late 1980s? Rockets fans will never truly know.
- What if Nick Anderson hit one free throw in game one of the 1995 NBA Finals? Would the Magic have used that momentum to beat the much older Houston Rockets? Would Orlando have been more inclined to pay Shaquille O’Neal what he wanted in free agency? Do they have a dynasty? Maybe Penny Hardaway does not get hurt trying to shoulder more of the load after Shaq’s departure. Without Shaq, would the Lakers have traded for Kobe Bryant? If not, what would Bryant’s future have looked like as a Charlotte Hornet? Do the original Hornets ever move to New Orleans with a star like Bryant bringing fans to the arena?
- What if Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant do not get injured during the 2019 playoffs? Unless a person is a fan of the specific team, many do not feel sorry when super teams do not win a championship. Just look at the celebratory tweets when Brooklyn’s super team of Durant, Kyrie Irving and Harden ended without a ring. But if Thompson and “K.D.” did not go down with injuries, would Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors have won a title north of the border?
- What if the Rockets would have traded Ralph Sampson to the Trailblazers for Clyde Drexler and the second pick in the 1984 NBA Draft? If they would have done that, the Rockets probably would have had Hakeem Olajuwon at center (with the first pick in 1984) and Michael Jordan (with the second pick in the 1984 draft) at shooting guard and Drexler at small forward for well over a decade. Sure, Jordan won six championships with Scottie Pippen, But as great as “Pip” was, he was no “Dream.” And sure “Clyde the Glide” eventually joined his Phi Slama Jama teammate to win a championship in 1995. But who could have stopped that young trio over the next decade or so? The starting five in 1984 could have been John Lucas at the point, Jordan at the two, Drexler at the three, possibly Rodney McCray (or Jim Petersen) at the four and “Dream” at the five. That would have been a true Dream Team.
- What if Richard “Pee Wee” Kirkland accepts a contract with the Chicago Bulls? Back in the early days of the NBA, fame and fortune did not always come from playing in the league. Back in the day, many NBA stars had summer jobs to augment their NBA paychecks, so it was not uncommon to see NBA stars selling insurance, or something, during the offseason. So when the Bulls offered streetball legend and former Norfolk State point guard a contract, he balked because it was probably peanuts compared to what he was making in the streets from the drug game. A life of crime eventually led to a life behind bars (two prison stints between 1971 and 1988), where his legend on the court continued to grow because of his ability to score over 100 points in prison league games.
- What if Maurice Lucas and Darryl Dawkins never fought during the 1977 NBA Finals? That year the Philadelphia 76ers might have had one of the first super teams in NBA history, except for the Celtics of the 1950s and 1960s. How does a team with Julius Erving, George McGinnis, World B. Free, Doug Collins, Henry Bibby and Caldwell Jones not win a championship? Well, after that fight, the Portland Trailblazers found a new gear, and thanks to Bill Walton, “Rip City” won its only NBA title.
- What if Len Bias did not pass away in 1986? Bias always wanted to play for the Celtics. Celtics general manager wanted Len Bias to play alongside the greatest frontcourt in NBA history (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish). And the Celtics had just won the 1986 NBA championship on top of that. That Celtics dynasty ended in 1986, while the Lakers continued to dominate the Western Conference and the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls began competing for Eastern Conference supremacy. But while Jordan and the Bulls dominated the 1990s, Bias was often the only player seen as Jordan’s equal with their battles going back to their days as high school standouts at Five Star Basketball Camp and extending to their days battling it out in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference).