As we recently noted, Stephen A. Smith advocated for Jerry West to be removed as the the NBA logo for, among other reasons, his record as a player in the NBA Finals. What Smith and others do not realize is how different the NBA would look without West and fellow WVU alum Rod Thorn's contributions as executives. Between the two of them, they have been responsible for three of the most dominant franchise runs in modern NBA history resulting in ten, going on eleven, championships of the past 26 years. Without the moves Thorn and West put in place, the entire landscape of the NBA would look wildly different over the preceding three decades.
What if Rod Thorn had not drafted Michael Jordan?
The G.O.A.T of the NBA is unquestionably Michael Jordan. And it was Rod Thorn, former WVU and NBA player, who pulled the trigger on Michael Jordan with the third pick in the 1984 NBA Draft in the process delivering six championships to the Chicago Bulls. Everyone talks about the Blazers whiffing by picking Sam Bowie before Jordan, but picking Jordan with the third pick was far from a no brainer at the time. Unlike today's game, the NBA at that time was all about the big men. Hakeem Olajuwon was a lock for the first pick, and the Blazers had drafted Clyde Drexler the year before meaning they were looking for a big man and not another wing player. Thorn and the Bulls could have trended towards big men and drafted Jordan's college teammate Sam Perkins, who was selected with the fourth and next pick by the Dallas Mavericks. It has been widely reported that the Bulls were not sold on Michael Jordan's ability to become a star in the NBA, and had even shopped the pick for other big men around the league. With that organizational doubt, Thorn would not have been faulted at the time for selecting Perkins over Jordan. However, Thorn stood fast and avoided making the biggest blunder in Chicago Bulls, and possibly NBA, history by drafting Jordan.
But what if the Chicago Bulls had passed?
Michael and the Mavericks? The Dallas Mavericks were next on the clock and they could have selected Jordan. The Mavericks had a solid team at the time with players like Mark Aguirre and Rolando Blackman, and in 1985 drafted Detlef Schrempf who went on to be named to the NBA All Star team multiple times. Jordan and the Bulls and their legendary battles with the Bad Boy Pistons would have been replaced with Jordan battling the Lakers, who the Mavericks were never able to topple to reach the NBA Finals. Would Jordan have been able to find the same success without the likes of Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, and (in the future) Toni Kukoc? He would have without a doubt still been one of the best of all time, but winning six championships may not have happened, and the balance of power in the NBA would have been in the Western Conference not the Eastern Conference.
Would Mark Cuban still have been able to buy the Mavs?
Cuban bought Mavs for $285 million in 2000. The franchise would undoubtedly have been worth multiples of that had Jordan played his career there. Would Cuban have still got in on a franchise? If not, then maybe Dirk Nowitzki never gets a title in Dallas and maybe Lebron James has one more ring. The Denver Nuggets were sold in 2000 also, but Stan Kroenke bought the Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, and the Pepsi Center for a deal estimated in the $450 million range. The next franchise to go was the Suns who sold for $400 million, a record at the time. Its possible Cuban could have been priced out of the NBA, and with no Cuban ownership would people still care about Shark Tank?
A Philadelphia Dynasty?
There is another scenario where the Mavs pass on Jordan and he falls to the fifth pick where the Philadelphia 76ers would have had the next opportunity to draft him. The 76ers roster at the time would have paired Michael Jordan with Dr. J (Julius Erving), Moses Malone, and Maurice Cheeks. The 76ers rivalry with the Boston Celtics would have been the preeminent rivalry of the time as Jordan's addition would have likely lifted the 76ers past the Celtics for supremacy in the Eastern Conference. Also, would Dr. J still have been able to beat up Larry Bird without Charles Barkley holding him back?
What if Jerry West didn't trade for Kobe Bryant?
Kobe Bryant was originally drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, and if not for Jerry West orchestrating a trade Kobe would have remained in Charlotte. Instead, West convinced the Hornets to trade Kobe for Vlade Divac. West was also responsible for getting Shaquille O'Neal to leave Orlando to become a Laker. Shaq and Kobe went on to win three straight NBA championships and engaged in a bitter feud, part of which included Shaquille O'Neal infamously asking about Kobe's taste buds. But what if Kobe had remained in Charlotte? Would he have won any rings? He certainly would have raised the franchise's value far beyond what it was worth in 2010 when Jordan became part owner, raising some question as to whether Jordan's millions would have been enough to become part owner (he bought the team for $275 million). If the money was enough it is still intriguing to speculate how a Jordan-Kobe owner/player pairing would have fit in Charlotte.
The Splash Bros. and the Minnesota Timberwolves
If not for West, one half of the Splash Brothers would be a Timberwolf and Kevin Love would be a square peg in the round hole of the Golden State Warriors. Prior to the 2014 season, the Warriors were all set to ship Klay Thompson to Minnesota for Kevin Love. West intervened, threatening to resign if the trade happened. West's power play resulted in the Warriors keeping the historic backcourt together, and so far that has led to one NBA championship and the league record for most wins in the season.
But what if Thompson had been traded? Would Lebron have brought a title back to Cleveland in his his first year back with the club? Would we be watching a Lebron-Durant NBA Finals? How good would the Timberwolves be with a lineup consisting of the reigning back-to-back slam dunk champion (Zach Lavine), the last two NBA Rookies of the Year (Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins), and Klay Thompson?
The possibilities are endless but one thing is certain - without two great Mountaineer legends bizarro NBA looks a lot different.