The 2003 NBA Draft is recognized as one of the strongest in league history, as it was ripe with transcendent talents such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony.
In addition to the aforementioned superstars, quality players like Kirk Hinrich, David West, and Boris Diaw were selected in 2003 as well. The Detroit Pistons had the second overall pick and elected to go with Serbian prospect Darko Milicic, who ultimately far from panned out. As a result, Carmelo Anthony was picked third overall to the Denver Nuggets.
In an in-depth history of the relationship between Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck quoted former Pistons point guard and 2004 Finals MVP Chauncey Billups, who gave his thoughts on what would have been if the Pistons drafted ‘Melo:
“That ball-stopping mentality that Carmelo has? He wouldn’t have had that if he was a Piston,” Billups said. “We wouldn’t let him play like that. He would have been a much better player than he is now—and he’s a great player now.
“This guy would have been,” Billups said, pausing to chuckle for a moment, “he would have been an absolute icon, because winning takes you there.”
The gears keep turning in Billups’ head, and the alternate endings keep unfurling.
“Who even knows if LeBron would have ever gotten through us?” he said. “We probably would have had three championships…What would LeBron have been at this point? Great player, but at what point would he have been able to get through the Pistons, if Carmelo had the supporting cast of us, of this team?”
One thing is for sure, Carmelo’s competitive atmosphere would have been drastically different in Detroit, as opposed to in Denver where he was tasked with being the superstar right away. Not that Anthony wasn’t ready for that limelight, he thrived in it, but you could say he was robbed of an instant winning atmosphere by not going to Detroit.
Billups mentions another important note — Carmelo would have been battling with LeBron James in the Eastern Conference all of this time. The paradigm shift would have been immense for Detroit, as they went on to win the NBA title in 2004 with hard-nosed defense and toughness. Carmelo Anthony would have introduced a whole new dimension of offensive firepower.
Anthony and Billups had a chance to play together during their time in Denver in the late 2000’s. They could have been a tandem earlier in their careers, but the basketball gods didn’t allow it.