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The Book of Basketball and That Little Incident in 2004

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If you haven’t read Bill Simmons’s The Book of Basketball, I recommend it as a very nice NBA reference guide and an enjoyable read. I’d probably wait on the paperback given the additions and changes that are sure to be made (curses!), but it’s still a book any self loving NBA fan owes themselves. I actually read it around Christmastime, but I recently had the pleasure of recalling the book with someone who asked how I liked it, which reminded me: I had two very large problems with this book!

Basically, one is only worth mentioning because of the stage, which is in regards to Simmons’s fictional Space Jam series. A seven game series at Madison Square Garden, if you could time travel any player at any time, who would you choose? At the end of his bench, he places 2001 Ray Allen as his "throoler" (three point specialist/free throw closer) on his excellent playoff numbers for Milwaukee. The issue I have is he specifically mentions Allen getting the nod over Reggie Miller. The issue I have is…if this fictional series takes place at Madison Square Garden with mankind on the line, why wouldn’t you want Reggie Miller in that position? Why wouldn’t you want 1994 Miller or 1995 Miller to help close out games on the biggest stage at MSG? That seems like a real missed opportunity in my opinion. But then again, Simmons doesn’t shy away from his distaste for Miller throughout the book or in various discussions about him, so maybe that’s another reason why.

Alas, that’s only a personal quip, but I really think the book missed out on a deeper analysis regarding the Malice at the Palace. Now, I know we’re all a bit tired of it, and it’s in the past, so let’s leave it there, but a part in Simmons’s book focuses on logical "What if?" questions that could’ve changed the landscape of the NBA. Obviously, the events of the brawl changed the immediate landscape of the league (like the Pacers not winning the 2005 NBA Championship), but I believe it actually shaped the league to a degree that still is very relevant today.

Simmons clears it up in his preface that he doesn’t look at draft what-ifs unless the pick was obviously wrong at the time (like questioning Marvin Williams over Chris Paul), but given Simmons’s draft ticker history, I think it makes sense. In short, he makes the case that while he believes the Pacers team was premeditated to explode anyway, he thinks the 2004-05 Pacers were the best team in the NBA that year, saying that the brawl ruined the 2005 NBA Finals and killed professional basketball in Indiana (true and true), also noting the trades to clean up the image of the team.

But I personally believe there’s more to it than that. If we assume the best, that is of course Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson not killing the franchise and Reggie Miller getting his ring, I think it’s safe to assume the Pacers win close to 60 games for the second straight year, and likely pick in the 27-30 range, though that’s not important at all, really. After the confetti dropped, and after we all cried our eyes out watching an "Anything is Posssibbbllleeee!!"-esque Reggie Miller tear-up, we shift focus to the NBA Draft.

Danny Granger was predicted to go somewhere late in the lottery. The New Mexico senior had some injury issues, but no one could’ve had the foresight to know the freefall he would suffer on draft night (need I remind you that Joey Graham went a pick before him?). Danny ended up here in Indiana, but without the brawl, obviously, that’s not going to happen. There’s no way a lottery talent of Granger’s ability drops another 10 spots to land here (if he did though, that’d be pretty sweet). If we assume the draft order doesn’t change around that area (which is impossible, since we’re giving the Pacers another 15 wins – but pretend with me), the Celtics move up from 18 to 17 in the 2005 draft. This circles back around to Simmons for his annual NBA Draft diary, which featured a lot of Granger love in the 2005 edition.

Simmons showed a lot of surprise for Danny and Gerald Green in the running diary, confused as he didn’t go to Toronto at the seventh pick, leading him to be dumbfounded constantly as the Warriors, Lakers, Clippers, and Raptors (again) passed on him, leading him to wonder aloud: "Apparently Granger either committed an armed robbery last night, or he recently contracted Hepatitis A-thru-M. There’s no other explanation." He and his father had already shifted into "Granger at #18!" mode. With their disappointment of him going to Indiana, they got over it quickly as they landed Green (well…hindsight doesn’t always tell the whole story…), but the fact remains:

Bill Simmons was excited about Danny Granger’s prospects in the 2005 NBA Draft, calling him one of two players who could’ve played in the 2005 Finals.

Now what if we take Indiana out of the equation for the 17th pick and Boston sits in that spot? Simmons was set to be pleased with Granger or Green, but from the looks of things, he and his father would’ve rather the Celtics taken Granger. And if the Celtics take Danny Granger? Doesn’t that change the outlook of the NBA in a way that would still be felt today?

First off, the Pacers would likely be around the same spot (for better or worse, man, that sucks), but with a different outlook I’m sure (knock on wood). After all, Walsh likely still makes the dumb Al Harrington trade and Stephen Jackson probably still gets run over by a car. Jermaine O’Neal is still a vocal leader and Jamaal Tinsley are still nursing injuries and getting in shootouts. Ron Artest probably still bolted this past offseason, if we didn’t trade him already. Think we still have Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy? It seems like a real possibility, doesn’t it?

But we’re without Granger, our cornerstone for the next 10 years or whenever he’s fed up with the management and leaves or demands a trade. The Celtics are not. Let’s look at it a second. The Celtics suddenly have young talent in Al Jefferson and Danny Granger. I don’t expect either make an impact to pull the Celtics far above their 05-06 33-49 record, so it may still land them Rajon Rondo. What happens with Pierce? With Granger waiting behind him, maybe they move him, maybe they keep him, it’s hard to say.

One thing I’m pretty certain on, the Celtics’ now infamous 18-game losing streak in 2007 doesn’t happen, nor does the Boston locals’ complete overreaction of not landing the 1-2 pick in the 2007 draft. They’re probably not much better than the 24-58 record (though putting the 06-07 Granger in Pierce’s injured/shut down place…), but they aren’t in complete "My God, the Red Sox and Patriots are invincible, and now even the Bruins are improving!?" freak out mode. Let’s assume a modest top ten pick in the "Well, it was supposed to be stacked" 2007 Draft (hit or miss not withstanding), and put the 07-08 Celtics into focus. Do they trade for Ray Allen?

The first rounder (5thJeff Green) was key in getting the Sonics to make the deal, is Seattle as interested if Boston picks in the 8 to 10 range? Is Boston as motivated to immediately improve? If Allen doesn’t come to the Celtics, would Kevin Garnett? Garnett had some reservations about going to Boston before the draft (for one, he was loyal to Minnesota to a fault, also adding in Boston’s sports history), but was on board once the Celtics had Allen to go alongside Pierce. Do they trade for Kevin Garnett? Is Paul Pierce still disgruntled? Do the Celtics feel more obligated to give up on Pierce and move forward with Granger at the SF or give up Jefferson in an attempt to coax Garnett?

I would almost think the Celtics wouldn’t have pulled off the number of franchise altering moves they did that summer, but given the pressure of the Boston Championship Dynasty, it’s really a bit difficult to say. But it creates an interesting scenario. What do I think happens? Boston takes their first round pick and looks towards the future. The development of Rondo likely isn’t halted too much by lack of The Big Three (we might actually give him more credit than we’ve given him to this point), Jefferson still has some injury issues, and I’d take Granger’s developmental curve at the same rate (still busting out his teeth in Indianapolis).

Garnett stays disgruntled in Minnesota, who knows what happens with Allen (does he tutor the young Durant?). The Celtics trade Pierce for value and assets, and hey, I’d say they’re well on pace to be a 50-32 second round team in 2009-10. Interesting. That’s where they are now. But the outlooks are completely different. The Celtics are a team on the rise, with a great core that could compete for a long time in the East. In that sense, I think the brawl affected the NBA on a much larger scale than sweeping reforms to suspensions and fan/player relations.

If what I believe to be true were to become truth, what it ultimately boils down to is this: The brawl took a banner from Indianapolis in 2005 and put one in Boston in 2008. Somehow, I think Boston fans are all right with that trade off. Would we be okay with that trade off? Either way…thanks, Ron Ron.