Carmelo Anthony recently spoke about what would have happened had he been drafted by the Detroit Pistons instead of Darko Milicic. Anthony believes he would have won at least 2 rings with them, and he has every right to feel that way. The Detroit Pistons won the championship during Anthony’s first season, one in which Darko Milicic averaged 1.4ppg and 1.3rpg in 34 games. The next year, the Pistons were a game away from possibly winning a second championship. Milicic was again, a non-contributor on that team as well. What makes this interesting is that Ben Wallace, who was as integral to those teams as anyone else, believes that the Pistons would not have won any championships had they drafted Carmelo Anthony. His belief is that coming off of a national championship at Syracuse, the hyped, heralded, and confident Anthony would have wanted more playing time. Wallace thinks that would have broken the team chemistry that the Pistons had, something that they thrived off of. While we will never know what would have happened, let’s take a look at what might have happened had the Pistons went with the more obvious choice.
Starting with Anthony’s rookie year, 2003, most people believe that the Pistons would have still made the finals and won the championship. The Pistons already had Tayshaun Prince who they relied heavily on and was a huge fan of. Regardless, if they were to pick the freshman that led his team to a national championship just months earlier, Anthony is sure to get playing time somewhere. The starting lineup of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, and Ben Wallace may not change. And that’s fair. Those teams boasted some of the best defenses of all-time and had an offensive attack that, while it was not prolific, did enough. Richard Hamilton was and will probably always be one of the best off-ball and mid-range shooters of all time, Rasheed Wallace was a stretch 4 who could get his own shots down in the paint, and Chauncey Billups picked up the name Mr. Big Shot for his numerous clutch shots during his tenure in Detroit. And yes those Pistons teams had role players that were good at what they did and fit the identity of those teams, which again, was defense. But would Carmelo Anthony really not be able to crack the rotation?
Well, let’s look into who made the decision to not play Darko Milicic. Larry Brown. Larry Brown is known for a lot of good, and some bad. He has been known to be someone who is not easy to work with and is regarded as a strict, defensive-minded, old school coach. He won a championship in college while coaching at the University of Kansas, and attempted to become the first coach to a championship at the college rank, as well as the NBA when he led a 76ers team to the finals only to have his attempt stopped by Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and the Lakers. On that team, he took the finals, was Allen Iverson. A hyped, heralded, and confident player that had his own thoughts on how to game should be played. While Iverson now credits Brown for helping him mature on and off the court, the two often were at odds.
The 76ers were winning most of the time, and Iverson was considered one of the best offensive players at the time, he was not always efficient and defense was not particularly his strong suit. That, along with some of Iverson’s antics, led to the two outspoken men holding their ground.
We bring this up because Allen Iverson, who actually ended up playing with Anthony in Denver, has similarities to Anthony in mindset, deficiencies, and attitude. With this in mind, Ben Wallace’s opinion does not seem too impossible anymore. It’s very easy to see a situation where Anthony comes in, does not get as much playing time as he thinks he deserves, and Brown goes with more veteran and defensive-minded players. After all, Brown and Anthony did get into it at the Olympics when they wound up teaming up for Team USA in 2004. After bowing out of the Olympics without winning a gold medal, something Team USA was accustomed to and expected to do, the frustrated coachcalled Anthony out to the media claiming that he hadn’t bought into what the team was trying to do. Anthony, who was already frustrated for being benched at one point, was surprised and felt attacked. But it is also possible that the 2004 Olympics was a time for all members of the USA basketball team was upset, frustrated, and pointing fingers.
What makes all of this interesting is that Brown actually thought that the Pistons were going to draft Anthony and not Milicic. Brown who had recently gotten the job, was told by the Pistons themselves, that they were intending to pick Anthony. Brown had wanted to bring in some of the other projected top picks, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, or Anthony to work out with Milicic to get a better look at where these players stood. That never ended up happening, and Brown claims that they brought Darko in, and “he couldn’t go through a workout with [Brown] without getting totally exhausted,” This may be a reason that Darko never played. Had the Pistons taken Anthony like they told Brown, Anthony surely would have gotten more playing time. So how would it have worked out then? Mehmet Okur, Lindsey Hunter, Corliss Williamson, Mike James and, Chucky Atkins all averaged more than 18mpg. You take away 2 minutes away from each of these guys, that’s 10 minutes right there, and then you take away a guy like Bob Sura or Darvin Ham, who averaged 13 and 9 minutes per game respectively. Given the necessity, I’m sure Larry Brown would have found a way to give Anthony some time. Would he get the 36.5mpg that he averaged in Denver, no, but it seems like he would be able to get enough time as a rookie, especially if they were winning. And while Carmelo is not a great defender by any means, if he is replacing the likes of Bob Sura, and Darvin Ham, he would surely be able to give them the offensive boost here and there that could have not pushed them past the Spurs as well. I do believe that at a certain point, the Pistons have some tough decisions to make.
Anthony had a higher ceiling than anyone else on those Pistons teams and with each passing year, Anthony would have wanted to play more. Tayshaun Prince was more important than his stats ever showed because of his versatility on defense so taking him out of the starting lineup would have been a tough task for Brown. But does the front office step in and pressure Brown into playing the young up and coming star more? If Anthony is inserted into the starting lineup, now the chemistry issues may arise. Anthony’s ball-dominant style would not have synergized well with the balanced and team-oriented attack of the Pistons and the lack of defensive effort on Anthony’s end would have upset teammates and Brown. But this is all also assuming Anthony does not buy into the team and defense more. Maybe winning those championships turns him into a better defender and willing passer earlier in his career. Something we couldn’t see in our version how things turned out.
Regardless, it is hard to predict what happens especially after a couple years since there are so many variables. But it just seems so unlikely that Anthony does not win at least 2 rings in Detroit given they were just a few minutes away from doing it without him. Say what you want about chemistry and Anthony’s play style, and Brown’s coaching, but Anthony would have played and he would have been an upgrade over the pieces he would have taken over for. Does he win 3 rings? Does he end up in New York? Maybe, maybe not. But by not drafting Anthony, the Pistons cost themselves an additional ring or more, and now we are all here thinking about what Anthony’s career and legacy could have been. He ends up being the first of the banana boat crew to win a ring and the narrative on their careers could be a little bit different.