NO SURE THING?

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.

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The Houston Texans loss another heartbreaker on Sunday, and Davis Mills came up short in the fourth quarter once again. But there's plenty of blame to go around. The defense kept the team in the game, but gave up historic numbers on the ground.

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