Every Wednesday, Pick and Popovich will dive down the rabbit hole and explore a different NBA “What if.” The only rule is that the scenario must come from a place that is somewhat realistic and grounded in at least somewhat believable rumor or hearsay. Otherwise, anything goes.
Miami operates with a firm “best player available” rule. Michael Beasley may be a better fit as a forward next to Dwyane Wade, but through the draft process it becomes clear that Memphis point guard Derrick Rose is the better prospect. So when their No. 1 pick comes up in the 2008 NBA Draft, they don’t hesitate to take Rose and figure out the fit a bit later.
That hastiness doesn’t do Rose or the Heat any favors. He looks good when given the chance to attack the rim as he’d like, but with Wade monopolizing the ball those opportunities are few and far between. The tension is so thick that Rose’s hometown team, the Chicago Bulls, eventually calls Miami to make an offer for Rose. The Heat refuse, and Chicago winds up very thankful that they did. After all, had they acquired Rose they never would have entered the 2009 NBA Draft in position to draft a far better point guard, but coach Vinny Del Negro’s frustrating year and Chicago’s roster without scorers gives them the league’s seventh worst record and a desperate need for playmaking. So they grab Davidson’s Stephen Curry and never look back.
Year 2 of the Rose era is more of the same, and by season’s end the team becomes determined to deal him if their lofty free agency goals are met. So to clear the cap space necessary to sign Chris Bosh and LeBron James to join Dwyane Wade, they trade Rose to Minnesota for a future draft pick.
Minnesota is thrilled with the return on their meager investment. Rose turns his career around playing next to Kevin Love and even competes for an MVP award in Minnesota. It is eventually won by James, who goes on to win a total of five straight, but the Rose-Love combination finally gives the Timberwolves some hope in the post-Kevin Garnett era.
As his five MVPs suggest, LeBron wins quite a bit in Miami. They win the Eastern Conference in his first season with the team and the championship in his next two. But eventually, the Curry-Tom Thibodeau combination overcomes the old and worn down Heat in 2014. They lose to San Antonio in the NBA Finals, but in asserting themselves as the new conference leaders they essentially force LeBron’s hand in leaving Miami for Cleveland.
James, Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins on one side, Curry, Jimmy Butler and Thibodeau on the other. No one can imagine a more intriguing Eastern Conference rivalry, especially with the winner likely to take on Rose and Love’s Timberwolves in the NBA Finals.