Here's why even a Rockets "Dream" scenario doesn't guarantee a thing

Composite image by Jack Brame.

Have you seen this show on NBA TV, What If? It's an old series that, like history, keeps repeating itself. Each episode poses a hypothetical question and former and current NBA players and so-called experts speculate what would have happened … if only.

Last night’s episode asked, how many NBA titles would your Houston Rockets have won if they had accepted the Portland Trail Blazers alleged trade offer in 1984 of the No. 2 draft pick and Clyde Drexler for Ralph Sampson?

That was the year that the Rockets already had the No. 1 pick and took Hakeem Olajuwon. Portland, holding onto No. 2 selected Sam Bowie, which turned out to be one of the biggest blunders in NBA Draft history. Of course the Chicago Bulls snared some guy named Michael Jordan with the next pick and the rest was history - for the rest of the league.

The Rockets supposedly turned down Portland’s offer because management had heightened expectations of teaming Olajuwon and Sampson as the “Twin Towers.”

If the Rockets had taken up Portland on the trade, it would have meant The Dream, Air Jordan and The Glide on the same team for the next 10-15 years. How many titles would the Rockets have won? All sorts of crazy numbers were tossed around, up to 10 championships.

Please stop.

Nobody is worse at predicting the NBA than the NBA.

The favorites to win the East this year? The Brooklyn Nets with Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving colluding to wreck the league. Who was going to beat a team boasting perhaps three of the Top 10 players in the whole league? As it turned out, the Nets had an often-injured but undeniable superstar, a petulant spoiled brat with a wandering eye, and an anti-vax oddball who played a cameo role this season by choice. The Nets barely made the playoffs and were promptly dispatched in a 4-0 sweep by the Boston Celtics.

The favorites to win the West this year? The Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook who also dictated where they’d play. It turned out the Lakers’ Big 3 was a Magnificent 1 (LeBron), with Davis getting nicknamed “Street Clothes” and Westbrook labeled “Westbrick.” The Lakers didn’t even make the playoffs and the coach was fired before the final buzzer stopped buzzing. It was enough to make you feel sorry for LeBron James.

You don’t have to look past the NBA Draft to see how awful the NBA is at predicting its own future. This year’s favorite to win MVP is Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid. He was picked No.3 in the 2014 behind Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Wiggins is a nice third option with the Golden State Warriors. Parker is out of the league.

Last year’s MVP was Denver center Nikola Jokic. He was taken No. 41 in the second round of the 2014 draft.

Two-time MVP (2019 and 2020) Giannis Antetokounmpo was drafted No. 15 in 2013. The No. 1 pick that year was Anthony Bennett. He lasted only four years in the league, played for four different teams, and averaged only 4 points for his “career.” Then he was four-gotten.

What do the following players have in common: Zion Williamson, Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons, Andrew Wiggins, and Anthony Bennett?

Answer: they were No. 1 overall NBA Draft picks within the past 10 years. NBA teams who spend millions on scouting college and European players miss half the time on who’s the best available player in the draft. Half the time!

And it’s not “too soon” to hang bust on Zion. He's fat. And the New Orleans Pelicans marketing department isn’t using Zion in its sales pitch for next season. Meanwhile former No. 2 pick Ja Morant is dropping 47 against the Warriors this week.

Other topics debated on the NBA TV series ask what if the Minnesota Timberwolves had drafted Steph Curry in 2009 when they had two shots at the 3-point deadeye? By the way, two years later the Timberwolves passed on Klay Thompson, the other Splash Brother. Minnesota, do better.

Also, what if the Seattle SuperSonics had kept their No. 5 draft pick Scottie Pippen instead of immediately trading him to Chicago for Olden Polynice in 1987?

The answers to all these questions is … nobody knows. If they did, Nike would be selling billions of Air Bowie sneakers, there’d be 10 championship banners hanging in Toyota Center and the NBA would be drooling over a Nets-Lakers finals this year.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
The Astros are utilizing a 6-man rotation. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros should schedule an Old-Timers Game, if not annually maybe every other year. Only the Yankees have regularly played Old Timers Games and it’s a highlight in the Bronx every season. The Astros have plenty enough history to welcome back an ample number of guys to make for a fabulous event. Maybe they could tie it into their now annual Hall of Fame Weekend. Anyway, don’t you feel that if Jose Altuve took part in an Old Timers Game in 2050 he’d bang out a couple of hits, and then if the Astros played him in the regular game he’d line one more hit somehow, at age 60?

After missing the first 43 games of the season while recovering from his broken thumb, Altuve went 0 for four in his first game back, but has since been generally fantastic with his OPS through nine games played at 1.013. It won’t stay that high, but Altuve is a direly needed upgrade to the Astros’ offense which has been utterly mediocre. Offense is the reason the Astros continue to look up at the Texas Rangers in the American League West. The Rangers’ offense has been fantastic, outscoring the Astros by a whopping 100 runs through the first third of the season.

As the regular season entered its middle third this week, the Astros are in the middle of playing a game in 17 consecutive days. It’s their longest stretch of the season without an off day. They are inserting Ronel Blanco as a sixth starting pitcher in the rotation for a couple of turns. The point of mixing in a sixth starter isn’t that the Astros are teeming with guys who belong in a big league rotation. The 29-year-old Blanco is not a notable prospect. This is about lightening the load a little on two guys: Cristian Javier and Hunter Brown.

In becoming a rotation mainstay last season, Javier blew past his previous biggest season workload by nearly 50 innings. He’s on pace to go another 25 innings beyond that this year without even accounting for the playoffs. Hunter Brown last year set his professional high with 130 innings pitched encompassing work with the Space Cowboys and Astros. Brown is on pace for about 170 innings this regular season. That’s a significant jump, and of course the Astros are hoping for another postseason of multiple rounds. Javier, Brown, and Framber Valdez are the three most critical pitchers on the staff, and the Astros hope they remain healthily so for several more years.

Lance McCullers’s latest recovery setback makes his plight increasingly sad. Well, except for him on payday. The odds now lopsidedly favor McCullers never again pitching a near fully healthy and effective season. His only one to date was 2021 (until he broke down in the playoffs), the year before his five year 85 million dollar contract kicked in. McCullers pulls down 17 mil this year (And again next year. And in 2025. And 2026), exactly two and a half times what Framber Valdez makes. I reckon Framber’s representation is aware of this, as it is of the five year 63 million dollar deal the Astros struck with Cristian Javier. Framber is more than three years older than Javier, but has been better, and can hit free agency after the 2025 season, the same time Javier could have gone to market.

Timing isn’t everything but it darn sure can matter. The Astros’ two best relief pitchers through May were Hector Neris and Phil Maton. Neris enters June with a 1.19 earned run average, Maton even better with a teeny-weeny 0.68 ERA. Maton has been especially amazing, given that last year while not pitching very well he posted his career best ERA at 3.84. His 2022 ended ignominiously when after giving up a hit to his brother Nick in the regular season finale, Phil took the ding-a-ling of the week award by breaking his pitching hand punching his locker, sidelining him for the postseason. The Hurt Locker won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2010. Now Maton is up for Best Pitcher (per inning worked). Both Neris and Maton were James Click acquisitions. Both become free agents after this season.

Up next

Four games with the Angels at Minute Maid Park through the weekend mean the amazing Shohei Ohtani is in town. It’s “Sho-time” on the mound Friday night in a doozy of a pitching matchup with Framber, with Ohtani batting in at least three of the four games. In one player the Angels have a pitcher as good as Cristian Javier and a hitter better than Kyle Tucker. And the Angels will probably miss the playoffs again anyway. And then lose Ohtani in free agency. After the Angels series the Astros are on the road next week. They start with four games at Toronto against the Blue Jays’ very potent lineup, then it’s three at Cleveland vs. the Guardians whose offense has been pathetic so far this season.

Walk this way

Geek Astro factoid of the week: Jeremy Pena drew two walks in Tuesday’s win over the Twins. In his rookie season, Pena had only one two walk game, also in May, also against the Twins. Tuesday’s bases on balls finally got Pena into double digits for the season. He has just 11 walks drawn (largely explaining his weak .307 on-base percentage) vs. 50 strikeouts.

Catch our Astros podcast every Monday!

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it goes up at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

Apple Podcasts


Google Podcasts






SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome