In the fall of 2002, Syracuse University welcomed several thousand Freshmen to campus. Two of those students were Carmelo Anthony and me.
Now one could argue Carmelo and I had varied degree of success and notoriety compared to each other during those two semesters, but as fate would have it, Carmelo and I found ourselves at the same party one evening.
To set the stage, this was your typical college party where it took place in a dark room (it might have been a basement) in a kind of a dumpy house (it likely was a frat house). The room was surprisingly not that crowded, and Carmelo was not really that mobbed either. Now, even though it took place before the season had really gotten underway and his star really took off, people still knew who he was.
Carmelo was shirtless. I was not.
My friends and I noticed Carmelo and I proceeded to do what most drunk 18-year-olds do; I made a great decision. I approached what was essentially a stranger (I surely was to him) and gently slapped him on his bare arm to get his attention (great job by me) and felt it was appropriate to give life advice to a kid 3 months younger than me who I’d known for five seconds.
“You gotta stay in school, man!”
And that was it. I walked away and stayed in school for 3 more years and while Carmelo didn’t have a signature moment like other NCAA greats, he led the Orange to a title and then left for the NBA that spring.
Obviously, Carmelo chose not to take my advice, but even he seems to be thinking about how things could have happened differently. And what I want to look at here, is what might have happened if he had just listened to that guy in the basement?
One more year!
Obviously a Freshman season where you lead your team to win the first NCAA Tournament in the school’s history would be a tough act to follow.
While I think Carmelo and the team would have had a great year, I don’t think there really would have been that much difference in terms of the overall result. I think best case is the Orangemen advanced to the Elite Eight (one game further than they actually did) before ultimately losing to UConn, who would have still continued to win the title that year.
My thinking is UConn was REALLY good and beat Syracuse by double-digits twice during Carmelo’s Freshman year.
In terms of the draft, I think this would have worked out fairly similarly as well with Dwight Howard going #1 to the Magic and Emeka Okafor (still coming off a national title) going #2 to the Bobcats.
Then, I think the Chicago Bulls draft Carmelo Anthony #3, and that’s where we start our story.
Starting a career in the Windy City
I’m going to assume the Bulls still trade for #7 in the 2004 draft but select Ben Gordon there (instead of at #3 as they actually did). This would set up a timeline where Carmelo’s WAR is replacing Luol Deng’s (who the Bulls actually drafted at #7) and that’s how I’ve looked at the potential difference for the team’s record.
By making that switch, things aren’t incredibly different for Carmelo’s first three seasons in terms of where the Bulls would go or who they would draft.
- 2004-05 = 1 game better
- 2005-06 = 5 games worse (Deng was awesome this season, Carmelo not as good)
- 2006-07 = 1 game worse (Deng was a 10.5 WAR player, Carmelo was 9.5)
- 2005 draft = Didn’t have a 1st rounder
- 2006 draft = Would still take Thabo Sefolosha (but wouldn’t have to trade up for him)
- 2007 draft = Would still take Joakim Noah as that was with a pick from NYK
So heading into the 2008 season, the Bulls probably look fairly similar and Carmelo’s career probably does as well.
The big left turn
This is where things get interesting. The Bulls were not good in the 2007-08 season, and Deng took a big step back this season (Only 3 WAR). Carmelo also took a step back (6.8 WAR) but still had a season better enough than Deng’s to severely change the trajectory of the franchise.
The 3+ game difference in WAR takes the Bulls to only missing the playoffs by one game, and the larger effect is this decreases their amount of ping pong balls in the 2008 draft lottery. This makes it almost a certainty the Bulls would not win the lottery anymore and would not select Derrick Rose. The player they likely would have had to select instead is Jerryd Bayless.
This is the summer Carmelo also would sign his max extension with the Bulls (we’ll get to why that matters in a bit).
The Rose-less Bulls
For the next two seasons I looked at WAR differences between Carmelo & Bayless and Deng & Rose. Here’s how that would have gone for the team and draft.
- 2008-09 = Same record
- 2009-10 = 8 games worse (Deng/Rose = 12.5 WAR, Carmelo/Bayless = 4.4, yikes)
- 2009 draft = Would still take James Johnson
- 2010 draft = Would only move from 17 to 11 and would likely still trade this pick with Kirk Hinrich for cap space (Why? We’re getting there)
This doesn’t spell great things for the Bulls or Carmelo after these two seasons, but that does not matter considering what could happen next.
Talents taken to Chi-Town
This is where we were always heading. The Carmelo-Chicago Bulls go into the summer of 2010 with the following roster:
- Carmelo Anthony
- Joakim Noah
- Taj Gibson
- Omer Asik
- James Johnson
- Jerryd Bayless
They would also have over $31 million dollars in cap room, allowing them to give LeBron James and Dwyane Wade matching deals that begin at $15.5 million in the 2010-11 season ($1 million more than their actual Heat contracts paid that season).
Would this 100% happen? Who knows, but the point of all this is that it would be possible.
The rumor is the Heat plan was hatched by those three guys at the 2008 Olympics. Carmelo was on that team but because he had signed an extension with an extra year his free agency didn’t match up with his friends and the Nuggets wouldn’t have the cap room, so he couldn’t be a part of this. The real-life equivalent is your friends got fake IDs in high school and the weekend they plan to use them is the same as your family reunion in Denver.
If Carmelo was an option of being included, I think he becomes the third piece over Bosh and I defer to the banana boat picture as evidence. Carmelo is an inner circle guy with Lebron, Bosh never was.
And while Miami is lovely, there is the allure of the Jordan legacy with the Bulls (and maybe the goal of winning more than 6 championships there). Plus, Dwyane Wade did sign with the Bulls in reality too, so he has to like it somewhat!
I also don’t think the idea of joining “Carmelo’s team” would be an issue when you think of what the other two had accomplished and how little Carmelo had. It’d be more like bailing out their buddy and I honestly think they would just be valuing the idea of the three of them teaming up more than anything else.
Finally, I think the supporting roster here would be better than the Heat’s with a big man in Noah who would basically be a billionaire’s version of Udonis Haslem. They likely could also still get Mike Miller (or Kyle Korver, who actually did sign with the Bulls that summer) to come along for shooting. The PG spot obviously needs help, but they could find some ring-chasing vets there and it’s not like Mario Chalmers was a world beater.
This is the future Carmelo walked away from when he ignored my advice.
To sum up, my belief is I gave Carmelo Anthony some of the best advice he has ever received, and he chose to forge for his own path.
Carmelo gets a bad rap because of how the latter stage of his career has looked, but he’s a sure-fire Hall of a Famer.
However, if he had stayed one more year in school (like I told him), he could have been part of an all-time dynasty and likely have some hardware on his fingers that’d go great with a hoodie.
- / 11 months ago
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.