In the fall of 1983, unbeknownst to many, the world came perilously close to a nuclear war.
Decades later, it doesn't have the same sex appeal of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but a perfect storm of things happened and it's safe to say a few decisions and inches in time saved the world. Google "KAL 007," "Stanislav Petrov" or "Able Archer '83" for further information.
What does this have to do with basketball, you ask? Absolutely nothing.
I bring it up is because I was on a grand tour of the Internet once and came across a site where folks had created a disturbing, post-apocalyptic alternate history in which planet Earth had come out on the short end of things in 1983.
The first thing that popped into my head? The Toronto Raptors
Yes, it's highly first-world-problem of me to compare the potential collapse of civilization to the silly travels and travails of an NBA team. But given the Raptors' gong show this season, it once again raises the question of what could have been.
Coming off a 0-5 West Coast swing, with the franchise unwilling and unable to rid itself of the now-banged-up Andrea Bargnani
, and with its incompetence this season very likely to go unrewarded when the top-3 protected pick traded to Houston in the Kyle Lowry deal comes out not in the top 3), things are looking very bleak.
So why not live in a fantasy world and devise an alternate history?Loved Toronto
It begins with the Dec. 17, 2004 -- eight years next Monday -- trade of Vince Carter
to the New Jersey Nets. Perhaps you heard recently that then-Raps coach Sam Mitchell appeared on a Toronto radio station and dropped the bomb that the night before then-GM Rob Babcock's horrendous trade, Carter told him he didn't want to be dealt and was backtracking on his exit request.
Those of us with memories know that Carter loved Toronto, and that his trade demand was childish behaviour resulting from the Raptors not heeding his requests -- be it, depending on who you believe, not hiring Julius Erving as GM the previous summer, or the team's cancellation of his mother's free parking spot.
It was not the good ol' "nobody wants to play in Toronto" pity party (Carter had put that to rest three years earlier when he signed a six-year contract extension). And given Babcock's early ineptitude (drafting Rafael Araujo, for example) Vince might have had a point when he felt the team was directionless.
So suppose for a minute there was a truce after Carter body-slammed Mitchell on a massage table
, and the deal to the Nets for Alonzo Mourning, Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and two picks never happened. While Carter had completely tuned out the Raps and was no longer giving his usual 65 per cent, perhaps he could have altered his attitude and given 85 per cent. In truth, his game surged and he did show flashes of his old brilliance after a change of scenery to the Jersey swamp.
If you also assume -- the entire point of this ridiculous exercise -- that Chris Bosh would have gradually assumed more control by default, then the Raps improving in this made-up scenario would have been entirely plausible.
The 2004-05 and '05-06 Raptors still would have been bad. And Babcock still would have drafted Charlie Villanueva in '05, given he was a stretch at his actual No. 7 slot. But would not trading Carter for such a pathetic return have saved Babcock's job? No.
The hiring of Bryan Colangelo would still have been looked upon as a saving grace. Colangelo had been looking for a way out of Phoenix since Robert Sarver bought the Suns. You have to assume the Raptors may have been a few games better than what they actually achieved, but Colangelo was a brand name in 2006 and would have been too good to pass up. So Babcock would have been fired and Colangelo hired at the same time it really happened.
As easy as it is to criticize Colangelo now, you have to remember what a genius he looked like ever so briefly. By erasing the Araujo mistake by trading him to Utah for two living, breathing human beings in future tabloid staple Kris Humphries and Robert Whaley, he gave birth to the phrase "In B.C. we trust."Vince + Bosh = ?
Dealing Villanueva for T.J. Ford worked at the time too. Let's even concede he would have selected Bargnani first in that year's draft (LaMarcus Aldridge was too much of a Bosh clone) because we can't change everything -- Colangelo's affinity for Euros would still have existed. Add his other signings -- Anthony Parker, Jorge Garbajosa, etc., prior to the '06-07 season and you have the team that won the Atlantic on a 20-game improvement from the previous year.
It's worth betting that Colangelo would have fired Mitchell as early as possible given the rocky relationship with Vince. It's also plausible to believe he would have promoted Jay Triano even then, given Colangelo's historical preference from hiring from within. You could never accuse Triano of being a bad coach as you could Mitchell. You wished he had more talent to work with. In this fantasy scenario, he would have had another big piece.
The 2007 Raptors were a decent, albeit flawed, team led by Bosh, an effective-at-the-time point guard rotation of Ford and Jose Calderon, and role players in Parker, Garbajosa, Morris Peterson, Rasho Nesterovic and Humphries.
What if they had Vince?
These are the actual Eastern Conference playoff seedings from that '06-07 season:*division winner
New Jersey 41-41
Yes, the East was weak then. But let's say we add the caveat of Carter still being with the Raptors and apply something close to his 21.8 Player Efficiency Rating from that season. Assuming that and other intangibles might be worth three more wins, take some W's away from the Nets and try this:
New Jersey 39-43
In the first round of the playoffs, the Raptors beat Orlando and second-year centre Dwight Howard. In the second round, they get a showdown with the Cavaliers. Looking back, that Cleveland team was the worst Finals team in NBA history. If LeBron doesn't go off in Game 5 in Detroit, they never get there. Look at these stats
to get a true appreciation of how much of a one-man show they were.
Still, they were 4-1 against Toronto that year, outrebounding the Raps every time with the likes of Anderson Varejao and Drew Gooden. But who's to say having Vince in the backcourt with Ford and Calderon doesn't free up Bosh to focus more on the glass? James would have got his 30 no matter what, but would Toronto's home court have made a difference? Would facing LeBron bring out the best in Vince like Allen Iverson did in 2001? Sure, the Raps probably would have lost to the Pistons in the conference finals. But again, what if Vince was totally on point like he was in '01 or even at times during the 2010 playoffs with Orlando?Back to reality
This fantasy ends abruptly with the absolute fact that the Raps would have been swept by the Spurs in the Finals, just like the Cavs were. Yet the truth remains that 2007 was their best chance had they had Carter and Bosh together. After the Celtics became the first modern-day superteam by adding Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, true contention would have become less likely.
Unfortunately, this story still probably leads us to where we are today, albeit on a different path. To appease Calderon, Colangelo would have still traded Ford in 2008 (along with Roy Hibbert) for Jermaine O'Neal, who may or may not have been traded for Shawn Marion, who made way for Hedo Turkoglu. The way the NBA works, Vince would have likely been traded or walked away from a declining team as an aging free agent in 2010 or '11, depending on his extension status. Bosh would have left, as he did in reality, for Miami in '10.
And we'd probably be right here, calling for Colangelo's job and shouting about Bargnani. It's just that we'd have a little bit more success to show for it all.
Yes, dreaming about what could have been. That's where we are.
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