No Darko, No Title: Revisiting the Detroit Pistons passing on Carmelo Anthony

June 26, 2003, is a date that lives in infamy for Detroit Piston fans. It’s the date that defined the legacy of the Pistons’ President of Basketball Operations at that time, Joe Dumars.

It is the date of the 2003 NBA Draft.

That’s when the Detroit Pistons took Darko Miličić with the number two overall pick over Carmelo Anthony. For nearly 17 years, the story of the Pistons taking Miličić over Anthony has been told from different perspectives. It doesn’t matter whether it’s former Piston players or sports journalists across the country, the thought of “what-if” is always the core of the conversation.

Retired NBA legend Dwyane Wade and Anthony, now with the Portland Trailblazers, gave the conversation new life several days ago during a video chat on Instagram Live. When it came to the topic of what could have happened if the Pistons took Anthony at number two, the 10-time NBA All-Star was very candid.

“I don’t know what I would have been if I had went to Detroit,” Anthony said during the Instagram Live chat with Wade. “I know I would have maybe two or three rings.”

What If?

Those remarks garnered the attention of sports journalists and radio shows across the country including ESPN’s First Take.

On First Take, Stephen A. Smith, Jay Williams, and Max Kellerman also held the “what-if” conversation in regard to Anthony’s career if the Pistons took him. The topic, which was great for conversation during these times, lacked some context. So here lies the question at hand.

What REALLY would have happened if the Detroit Pistons had drafted Anthony?

Well, that’s pretty simple. They don’t win the 2004 NBA title.

When discussing Anthony’s remarks on First Take, Stephen A. Smith misspoke. It’s an error that many make outside of Detroit when speaking on the 2003-2004 Pistons roster. Some journalists speak as if Pistons starting five was already made of Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace (Sheed), Richard Hamilton (Rip), Tayshaun Prince, and Chauncey Billups. It’s spoken as if Anthony would have been an addition to that particular roster.

That’s flagrantly incorrect.

Sheed was not a member of the Pistons, yet.

Landing Sheed

Detroit acquired Sheed via a three-team deal before the 2004 NBA trade deadline. He started the 2003-04 season with the Trailblazers, the organization Anthony currently plays for.

His scoring, defensive presence, intelligence, and bravado gave the team the edge it needed to compete for an NBA championship.

There is proof of this fact.

Observe that impressive run where the Pistons held opponents to under 70 points for 11 times during that season.

Sheed was a part of eight of those victories, which included a five-game streak of this feat.

If the Pistons took Anthony with the second pick over Miličić, there is no guarantee that the Pistons still swing a deal to land Sheed. Furthermore, it’s safe to surmise that Anthony would have been a role player that year, and not in the starting lineup. Larry Brown, who was the head coach of the Pistons that season, came with a notorious reputation. Brown was known for giving veterans more playing time over rookies.

Along with that, Tayshaun Prince was coming off an impressive 2003 NBA Playoffs run. With those facts in mind, there is no way of knowing if Anthony would have become a prolific scorer had he started his career as a role player off the bench.

Everything Happens For A Reason

When Anthony and Wade decided to switch topics during their Instagram Live chat, Anthony said maybe things happened for the best.

There is some truth to Anthony’s remarks.

In his rookie season, he averaged 21 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 36.6 minutes per game, playing and starting in all 82 games. That same season, he also led the Denver Nuggets (who drafted him) to a 43-39 record, giving the Nuggets the eight seed in the Western Conference. Also, Anthony became the first rookie since David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs) to lead a playoff team in scoring. This helped Anthony earn NBA All-Rookie First Team honors that season as well.

That’s just his rookie season. Just observe the rest of his career.

During his legendary career which is still in progress, Anthony has won the NBA Scoring title (2013), earned six All-NBA Team honors, and has won three Olympic gold medals as a member of the USA’s men’s basketball team.

He currently sits at 17th on the NBA All-Time scoring leaders list with 26,314 points.

Anthony could have led the Pistons to future NBA titles at some point in his career had they taken him at number two. Looking back, there is an argument that can be made that it would’ve been the better long term decision.

There is only one thing that certainly doesn’t happen if Anthony comes to Detroit in 2003.

The memory of the 2004 championship run with that unique Pistons squad doesn’t exist.


Contact Kory Woods:

Follow him on Twitter: @koryewoods


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