Tayshaun Prince joined CBS Sports Digital Thursday and told host Nick Kostos on the Crossover that the Pistons could have won as many as four championships if they had drafted Carmelo Anthony with the No. 2 pick instead of Darko Milicic.
"I think if we did take Melo, maybe two, maybe three, maybe four championships," Prince said. "And then after my fourth or fifth year, now you have to decide what you want to do. But at least you know going in, if you take Melo we got a guy. And who knows, he comes off his bench the first year or two, or maybe they insert him into the starting lineup, whatever.
"But we knew coming in, if he could come in off the bench and accept that sixth man role, we'd be pretty awesome for the next five or six years before they make the decision if they're going to keep me or him."
CBS NBA analyst Rip Hamilton said part of the process that drove Detroit into taking the infamous bust was the big drive to find the next great versatile European player after the rise of Dirk Nowitzki.
"You had a guy like Dirk Nowitzki on the Dallas Mavericks, and everyone was trying to find the next Dirk," Hamilton said.
Anthony instead went No. 3 to the Denver Nuggets, and after the arrival of George Karl the following year, Denver would make the playoffs every season until 2014, three years after Anthony forced his way to New York via trade. The more East Coast-minded, urban-focused Anthony might have been more comfortable in Detroit, might have had more opportunities to go deeper in the playoffs in a weaker Eastern Conference while building an on-court rivalry with his friend LeBron James. The Pistons would also have had a go-to offensive weapon, which they desperately needed despite making the Eastern Conference finals eight seasons in a row, the Finals twice in 2004 and 2005 and winning it all vs. the Lakers in 2004.
However, it seems too obvious to just assume everything would work out. After all, there's just as good a chance that Anthony, always prideful and stubborn as a mule, especially when he was younger, would balk at having to come off the bench, upsetting the chemistry of a group whose success was defined by it. Or that Melo's defensive liabilities would diminish what made that Pistons team so great, even with Chauncey Billups, Hamilton and multiple-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace around him. It's an unknowable counter-factual, but it is fascinating to think about.
Just as interesting to consider is what happens to the other teams. Does Denver take Milicic, and after we assume he still busts out, is there anything left of the Nuggets? Do they take Chris Bosh, pairing him with Marcus Camby, and do they still hire George Karl, then? What if they drafted Dwyane Wade, who went fifth, instead? Miami never gets Shaq, Pat Riley's legacy is severely impacted, LeBron never leaves to go to South Beach, and Wade isn't known as the king of Miami. Denver might have been absolutely incredible with Wade, especially if they'd still hired George Karl.
These hypotheticals show how the draft has this massive domino effect for franchises. It's a crapshoot process, most GMs will tell you, but not just for what the individual decision means for that team, but how one decision impacts the legacies of players down the line, and all the teams that draft after that moment.
As it stands, the Pistons are remembered as a great team, that could have been greater ... we think.