One of the NBA’s all time best players was almost traded to the Detroit Pistons in 1987.
Detroit Pistons fans are often playing the “what if” game. It most notably happens when looking back on the 2004 NBA Draft, when Detroit passed on Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. But if we’re talking about “what ifs” that you almost never hear about, here’s a pretty interesting one:
The Pistons could have traded for Charles Barkley in 1987.
Barkley was one of the greatest power forwards the NBA has ever seen. He was one of just four NBA players to ever record 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists. His ability to bully players that were bigger than him went unmatched.
Barkley was a dominant rebounder, defender, and play maker. The physicality with which he played would have been a seamless fit inside of the Pistons “Bad Boy” mentality at the time.
In a story written by Bob Sakamoto of the Chicago Tribune back in May of 1987, the following was said:
Trade rumors circulating around the league have the Pistons considering packaging John Salley, free-agent guard Vinnie Johnson and a No. 1 draft choice for Philadelphia`s Charles Barkley.
That’s all that’s ever mentioned about it. I tried to do as much digging as I could and never once was anything like this brought up again. It’s entirely within the realm of possibility to think that I missed something, but for most, this is a pretty interesting revelation.
Now if you begin to play the “what if” game here, you’ll begin to give yourself a headache. It’s safe to assume that the draft pick being sent to the Sixers would have been for a draft in the coming years.
The good news there is that the pick never turned out being a detrimental piece to the Pistons championship runs, so we can relax on the “what if” there. Detroit drafted John Salley in 1986 and after that, didn’t have much luck until 1993 with Allan Houston.
Both Salley and Vinnie Johnson were core pieces of the Bad Boys prime years. Johnson was a major factor in the Pistons’ ability to overcome the Celtics and the Bulls in the East. His scoring in the 1989 Finals against the Lakers helped pave the way to their first ever championship.
Through the first three games of the series he had scored 19, 18, and 17 points respectively. His value and overall impact on the game cannot be overstated. They called him The Microwave for a reason.
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So naturally, this trade shakes things up quite a bit. It changes the entire course of history for the NBA throughout the 80’s and 90’s.
Players would have been put in different situations at different times, and it could have allowed Detroit to win a few more championships instead of everyone flaring out and the team blowing up. Alternatively, the experiment could have failed and we could’ve gone ring-less.
The one thing that actually may have stayed the same was the Pistons trading away Adrian Dantley in exchange for Mark Aguirre. Had that been the case, the starting lineup could have looked like this:
Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Mark Aguirre, Charles Barkey, Bill Laimbeer.
When you put it in writing, it’s pretty difficult to imagine this team doesn’t make multiple championship runs. At the very least, they’re making conference finals runs on a consistent basis.
It’s unknown how legitimate those rumors ever were, or how much the Pistons actually considered them. For all intents and purposes if we’re assuming they were accurate, did Detroit make the right call by not pulling the trigger? Yes.
At the end of the day, rolling the dice with what they had gave us two championships. It cemented their place as on the of the NBA’s all-time best teams. In this case, playing the “what if” game seems to only miss the point.