What if the Detroit Pistons had drafted Carmelo Anthony in 2003?

Carmelo Anthony recently said he would have 2 or 3 rings if he was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 2003. He isn’t wrong.

Late last week, Carmelo Anthony took to Instagram live with Dwayne Wade to have a conversation for their followers. Many of the topics of discussion were NBA related, but one in particular garnered the most debate, and for Detroit Pistons fans it cut deep.

When talking about their memories in the NBA, Anthony said, “Everything all played out the way it was supposed to be….I ended up in Denver. I was doing what I was doing.”

He then went on to say, “I don’t know what I would have been if I would have went to Detroit…I know I would have had…uh…maybe 2 or 3 rings.”

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To which Wade’s response was, “Had 2? You would have definitely had 2.”

This has long been conversation among fans and even members of media, but it lands a little differently hearing it from Anthony himself.

Wade’s response echos what the general consensus is among NBA circles, but this one decision by the Pistons actually had an even bigger effect on the league than most realize.

Coming off an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2002-2003, the Pistons were fortunate enough to still have a chance at a top draft pick.

As a result of the Otis Thorpe trade in 1997, they owned a pick from the Memphis Grizzlies that just had a No. 1 overall pick protection. This met that unless the Grizzlies won the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery (and the rights to drafting generational prospect LeBron James), the pick would convey to the Pistons.

On lottery night, the ping pong balls fell in favor of Cleveland. It was revealed that the Grizzlies had pulled the No. 2 overall pick – thus finally conveying the pick and giving the Pistons that spot in the draft. The Cavaliers would pick first, followed by Detroit, Denver, Toronto, and Miami.


We all know how the draft went. The Cavaliers selected homegrown superstar LeBron first overall. The Pistons then drafted 7’0 Serbian center Darko Milicic second – a move that at the time didn’t seem completely out of left field.

Denver took Anthony third. Chris Bosh, Georgia Tech freshman big, landed with the Raptors at four. Fifth, the Heat were left to draft Wade, a breakout guard form Marquette.

Fast forward 17 seasons: the combination of LeBron, Carmelo, Wade, and Bosh have accounted for 50 All-Star team selections, 8 championships, 4 Finals MVP’s, and 3 scoring titles.

Darko played for 6 different teams in 10 seasons, averaging just 6 points per game.

As we all know now, the juxtaposition is glaring. However, what we are really focused on is the big “what if” and its immediate aftermath.

If the Pistons had drafted Carmelo Anthony, he would likely of been immediately plugged into the starting line-up. This would move then starting small forward, Tayshaun Prince, to play the sixth man role.

It is possible Carmelo would have started the season on the bench, but his offensive skills would have been quickly realized.

During his rookie season with Denver, Anthony averaged 21 points per game. This type of scoring player is exactly what the 2004 Pistons would have needed to be even more dominant than they already were.

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Assuming that the Pistons still trade for Rasheed Wallace at the trade deadline, the Pistons’ rotation would have been incredible. A frontcourt of Rasheed, Ben Wallace, and Carmelo, to go along with a backcourt of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton. That is as solid as it gets.

We can assume that the Pistons would still win the 2004 Championship over the Lakers, giving Carmelo a championship in his rookie season. As for 2005, he may have given the Pistons the boost they needed to take down the Spurs. That’s back to back titles.

How long would Detroit’s run have went? Would they have then beaten Miami in Eastern Conference Finals in 2006 and go on to win third straight championship? All variables aside, drafting Carmelo would have guaranteed that the Pistons title window would have been extended.

As for the man himself? Carmelo’s legacy would have drastically improved for the better. He would have been seen as a flat out winner at every level.

With the NCAA Championship at Syracuse followed by back to back championships in the NBA, Carmelo’s place in history would have been solidified very early on.

It’s also safe to say that he would have benefited from the guidance and support of the Pistons’ veteran players and savvy coaching. Anthony would have likely developed better on the defensive end and wouldn’t have needed to rely on “iso-ball” so much on offense.

There is no way of knowing how Carmelo’s time with Detroit would have ended. He could have played out most of his prime with the Pistons as they retooled every year to build a roster around him.

It could have ended in dramatic fashion with him forcing his way out like he did in Denver. Who knows, maybe he would have still found his way to the New York Knicks.

Then Pistons’ GM Joe Dumars has been pretty adamant over the years that Detroit was set on drafting either Darko or Carmelo, but the other options would open up an even bigger rabbit hole to go down.

What if the Pistons had drafted Chris Bosh? Would they then have not traded for Rasheed and lost in the Finals in 2004?

What if they went with Dwayne Wade? Does that mean Shaq is never traded to Miami and the Pistons win three straight?

The hypotheticals can go on and on. The Pistons drafting Darko at No. 2 in 2003 is one the biggest “butteryfly effect” scenarios in the NBA history. The Pistons won the championship in 2004. Change one thing, maybe that doesn’t even happen? Who knows.

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Carmelo said it best, “Everything all played out the way it was supposed to play out…when you look back at it.”

 

 

 

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