NBA: Top 10 ‘What ifs’ from the 2010s

NBA Oklahoma City Thunder James Harden #13, Kevin Durant #35 and Russell Westbrook #0 (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
NBA Oklahoma City Thunder James Harden #13, Kevin Durant #35 and Russell Westbrook #0 (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
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NBA Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images) (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images) /

2. What if David Stern never vetoed the Chris Paul trade?

1. What if the Oklahoma City Thunder never traded James Harden?

Much has been written about and discussed these two watershed moments in NBA history, but here are my thoughts:

Even without Odom and Gasol, the Lakers go to at least one Finals with a CP3/Kobe pairing. I cannot say whether they beat the Heatles in a long-awaited Kobe vs. LeBron playoff dual. (3-4 years after 2009). It was a blessing for the Rockets that they never got Gasol because otherwise they likely would not have had the assets to acquire James Harden.

Where does Harden get traded then? Washington, Toronto, or Utah seem like logical destinations, but who knows. New Orleans likely is better with Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and Goran Dragic (not Lamar Odom), instead of 9 games of Eric Gordon, washed Chris Kaman, and Al-Farouq Aminu, so Charlotte wins the 2012 draft lottery, (and with it the crown jewel in Anthony Davis). The Clippers remain extremely fun around young sensation Blake Griffin but never become a championship contender. The Lakers never become a sad-sack franchise in the 2010s.

I believe that James Harden was never long for Oklahoma City, even without a trade. It was simply not sustainable to have him, Westbrook, and Durant all on the same team given how they viewed their own personal standings in the league. The 2013 Thunder likely win the Western Conference even with Westbrook getting injured, since Harden is there waiting in the wings. People forget how dominant they were in the regular season. (Kevin Martin was solid for them too, however). Given their stylistic and coaching limitations, I say that the Thunder lose to Miami in the 2013 Finals.

So how does the rest of the league change after this? Harden says he would rather sign the qualifying offer than return to Oklahoma City on a long-term deal. Sam Presti calls his bluff, but in the middle of the season, the situation becomes untenable. Harden gets dealt in the middle of the 2013-14 season, to…? Who knows, but Oklahoma City gets far less of a return on the deal since he can leave after the season.

dark. Next. Andre Drummond’s modern fit and place in today’s NBA

The Thunder may still win the conference again, however, building on the momentum of going to two straight finals. With the Rockets never acquiring a star, Daryl Morey eventually gets fired. Dwight Howard signs in Dallas in 2013 and the Spurs never win their last championship. Without the Harden/Morey partnership, the NBA “sprawlball” revolution gets put on hold. The league looks much different today, in both makeup of rosters and style of play.