The best part of a good NBA 'What If' is all the ripple effects that come as a result and this one right here from Bradley Beal certainly qualifies. You could make the case that this almost trade ended up shaping NBA history. Sounds crazy right? I can understand why you might think that, but grab a seat and allow me to explain. You might just think this deal impacts both the Thunder and Wizards, but it goes so much deeper than that.
They year is 2012. James Harden had just won the 6th Man Of The Year and the Thunder had just won 47 games and lost to LeBron in the NBA Finals. At the time we thought we were witnessing the next big thing in the NBA with the KD/Russ/Harden trio. Little did we know what would happen later that summer in regards to James Harden and where he would be playing the next season. If OKC knew that they had to move Harden, it's not surprising that they threw out this draft day trade. The 2012 Draft took place on June 28th, 2012. Harden was eventually traded to Houston on October 27th, 2012. The Wizards would have been allowed to reach an extension with Harden or he would have entered RFA, so at the very least he was going to be there 5 more years. You'll remember that the Rockets extended Harden before he reached his RFA year, and the rest is history. So how does this almost trade impact the course of NBA history? Let's start with the Thunder
Oklahoma City Thunder
OK, this about this if you're the Thunder. You just lost in the NBA Finals and are facing a harsh reality of having to make a big time financial decision because you need to pay Harden and Ibaka. You trade Harden for Beal you're now getting a stud that will be on his rookie deal for years to come. Suddenly your financial pickle looks a lot better. The million dollar question would be if Beal would slide into that Harden role and develop into the player he is today, or if he would slide into the starting spot held by Thabo Sefolosha. Given Beal is on his rookie deal, that means you have him locked up for at least 4 seasons. This was a team that was making regular trips to the WCF, so adding a player of Beal's caliber, is it crazy to say they maybe could have gotten over the hump and back to the Finals, and maybe just maybe win the whole thing? Fast forward to what would have been Beal's 4th season, 2015-16. The Thunder blow a 3-1 lead, Kevin Durant leaves for GS. Does that still happen if Beal is in the mix?
If having Beal keeps KD in OKC, then this team ultimately doesn't trade for Paul George and doesn't have to move Westbrook. Do they still trade for Oladipo in 2016? If so, since they have KD they most likely don't flip him for Paul George. Do the Pacers then trade George to the Clippers or something? Maybe the Lakers?
Remember, Paul George made it clear that he wanted out of Indiana in 2017. The rumors at the time was he wanted to end up in LA. If OKC was off then table, maybe George ends up a Laker in the summer of 2017. If that's the case, do they even have cap space to throw at LeBron? The Pacers return of Oladipo/Sabonis looks good now, but how do they look if they have to make a different deal?
Golden State Warriors
Which brings us to the Warriors. With no Durant, they are still the force we saw during that run, but do they win back to back NBA titles? Remember, LeBron had just pulled off the biggest comeback in NBA Finals history. If they don't add KD, that dynasty probably looks a whole lot different.
If Kevin Durant doesn't show up in GS, think of how his narrative changes. He might not have a ring to this day, but people wouldn't hate him. Would we talk about Steph being an all time great the way we do if he only had one ring and zero Finals MVPs? Probably not.
Then you can't forget about the Rockets, who traded for Harden in 2012. If he's in Washington, what superstar do they choose to build around? That brings on its own sort of ripple effect that we can't even consider since we don't know who it would be. That means there's probably no Chris Paul trade in 2017, in other words the current Clippers don't have Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, and Lou Williams, three guys who are big time rotation players in 2020. Maybe they then don't end up with Kawhi and Paul George because their roster isn't as strong. You get the idea of how NBA history is changing?
With no Durant in GS and LeBron still making the Finals every goddamn year, does he have one or two more titles in him as a Cav? Think of how his GOAT narrative changes with 5 rings instead of three. Let's say at the very least they win the 2016-17 Finals, making them back to back champs. Does Kyrie still demand a trade, setting off that move with Boston? What does that mean for Isaiah Thomas and his contract situation, do they hold onto that BKN pick and maybe draft Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at 8? If so then there's no need to give Kemba max money.
More importantly, if LeBron is winning all these titles in CLE, does he still make his way to LA? Maybe he was always going to go there, but if he had a chance to keep winning titles with Kyrie in CLE, I'm not so sure that's a slam dunk. That means there's most likely no Anthony Davis trade to the Lakers. Do they still make that trade with no LeBron on their roster? Maybe, but you get the sense they were accumulating those assets to pair with a big fish they land in free agency. If LeBron is off the table, who is that player?
Now would the Wizards be all that much better with Harden over Beal? Most likely not. I think he'd probably look a little different than the Harden we see today, because a large reason for that is the system Houston built around him. That wouldn't exactly happen with the Wizards, so would John Wall maybe demand a trade and go somewhere else? A healthy John Wall is a big time problem for opposing defenses and could easily change the balance of a team if it's the right fit.
So just think of all that. OKC might have actually had the dynasty we thought they would have with KD/Harden/Russ, Durant never goes to GS and that whole dynasty doesn't happen. The Rockets as we know them look nothing like they do today, maybe LeBron has a few more rings to his name and isn't a Laker, the Clippers might not be the title favorites in 2020 because of the pieces they needed from the HOU deal, the Kyrie era in Boston maybe never happens which means the new duo in Brooklyn most likely doesn't exist. All shit you can trace back to a 'what if' trade on draft night in 2012.
Man, there has to be a bizarro universe where this all played out and I would love to see what happened.