What if Sprewell Didn’t Choke P.J.?
By: Jesse Taylor/ @GSW_JesseTaylor
Chris Webber would have become the greatest power forward of all-time; that’s what
I recently posted a fake Oral History about Latrell Sprewell choking P.J. Carlesimo. While writing it, I wondered, what would have happened to the Warriors if Spree never choked his coach?
“What ifs” are always fun exercises to conduct, so here goes: What if Latrell Sprewell never choked P.J. Carlesimo?
First, the only way Sprewell doesn’t choke Carlesimo is if Carlesimo never becomes the Warriors coach. Why? From the day P.J. was hired on June 5, 1997, there was no way around it. It was not a matter of “if” Sprewell was going to choke him, but “when.” A mix of a bully coach pushing on a crazy bully of a player on a terrible team with no leadership? Crazy bully player was bound to bite.
So to imagine this “no choking” scenario, we first have to get through a huge mess. I mean seriously, look what I have to erase to get to a decent point with this team. In an historically awful 4-year stretch, the Warriors named Chris Cohan as sole owner of the team, traded away Billy Owens, Chris Webber, Tom Gugliotta (just three months after he was acquired for Webber), drafted Joe Smith with the #1 overall pick and traded him less than three years later, fired Don Nelson and Rick Adelman, traded Tim Hardaway and Chris Gatling, drafted Todd Fuller over Kobe Bryant, traded Rony Seikaly, drafted Adonal Foyle over Tracy McGrady, traded Chris Mullin, B.J. Armstrong and Mark Price, and watched as their best player lost his mind en route to choking his head coach.
Let’s start with the choking and move backward. First, let’s just eliminate P.J.’s hiring. This means Rick Adelman was never fired on April 28, 1997. But he won just 66 games in two seasons? He has to be fired right? Well, he had two abysmal rosters. Even great coaches need great players.
So now we have to take it back even farther when the Warriors had decent players. You know who was really great under Rick Adelman? Chris Webber. What if Webber connected with Adelman in 1994 following his rookie season with Golden State instead of 1998 with Sacramento?
This means the Warriors choose Webber in his feud with Don Nelson. Meaning Nelson is let go before Chris Webber’s holdout to begin the 1994-95 season. And hey, guess who had just been let go by the Trail Blazers and is available for a job? That’s right – Rick Adelman.
Now we’re set. Let the games begin.
The Warriors open the 1994-95 season with a starting five of Tim Hardaway, Latrell Sprewell, Chris Mullin, Billy Owens (no need to trade him for Rony Seikaly two days before the season because Webber is the big man) and Chris Webber, coming off his rookie of the year season in a great mood with Nelson out of the picture. Backing up that group are Vic Alexander, Chris Gatling, Keith Jennings, Carlos Rogers, Clifford Rozier, Ricky Pierce and the legendary David Wood.
That is a strong lineup. No Seikaly, no Tom Gugliotta and no Donyell Marshall.
Like in Sacramento, Adelman runs the offense through Webber. This takes pressure off an injured Hardaway. They get into the playoffs, but lose in the first round. Now they don’t get the #1 pick in the 1995 NBA Draft. Instead they get a late first-rounder and take Travis Best to back up Hardaway.
They finish the 1995-96 season with one of the best records in the NBA, but injuries to the aging Mullin and Hardaway keep them from going far in the playoffs. The team is winning, so Hardaway and Sprewell are getting along and Timmy is not traded to Miami.
The Warriors have a late first round pick in the 1996 draft and don’t get much. But hey, at least they didn’t draft Todd Fuller.
Like he did in Miami, Hardaway comes back strong in 1996-97. Webber and Sprewell are All-Pros. Mullin and Owens are strong role players. David Wood is the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. Too much? Okay, sorry. Can he at least win the dunk contest that year?
The Warriors lose to the Jazz in the Western Conference Finals.
The same team comes back in 1997-98. They have been together for four straight seasons now. The chemistry is off the charts. Five years in, Webber has turned into the greatest power forward of all time and the greatest passing big man ever. Sprewell is second only to Michael Jordan at shooting guard. Tim Hardaway is league’s second best point guard behind Gary Payton.
The Warriors take out the Jazz this time around and make it to the NBA Finals. They take Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls the full seven games but MJ won’t let go of his third straight title.
Say what? Jordan retired to play baseball?
The Warriors come back stronger than ever in 1998. They steamroll through the league en-route to the NBA’s best record. In one of the great Conference Finals in NBA history, Webber outduels Tim Duncan as the Warriors reach the Finals for the second consecutive season.
Miami has no Hardaway and the Knicks don’t have Sprewell. So who do the Warriors meet in the NBA Finals? The Indiana Pacers. Like Jack in Lost, Chris Mullin feels as if something is off in this alternate reality.
Sprewell dominates Reggie Miller and the Davis brothers have no shot against Webber. The point guard matchup between veterans Hardaway and Mark Jackson is one for the ages. Jackson gains an appreciation for the Warriors that just may lead to something down the road when he retires.
But this version of the NBA Finals belonged to Chris Mullin. With Webber and Sprewell serving as the focal point of the Pacers defense, Mullin finds himself wide open for shots the entire series. He breaks both the NBA Finals record for three-pointers in a game (hitting 9 in Game 3 – sorry Ray Allen, your 8 in 2010 won’t cut it) and in a series (27 in 6 games – Ray’s 22 in ’08 won’t cut it again).
Webber averages 28 points and 15 rebounds to take home the Finals MVP. But during the ceremony he walks over and hands it to Mullin, who averaged 21 points and 6 assists. In true Mully fashion, he refuses to take the trophy, leading to a memorable scene where the MVP trophy is handed to every member of the Warriors team.
I can’t go on any more. It’s becoming too painful. Sprewell not choking his coach is just a beautiful dream, leaving utter disappointment during all waking hours.
Why did the Warriors trade Webber again?