The 2003 NBA Draft is one of the most memorable ones in history, as it featured an unbelievable class. Names like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were picked in the top five and built Hall-of-Fame-worthy careers. But the thing most people remember about that Draft is the only guy in that top five that didn’t fulfill expectations, and that is Darko Miličić.
The Serbian big man was a raw prospect with a lot of promise but never delivered on the expectations set for the #2 pick. But after what was apparently the best individual pre-draft workout in Pistons history, the tables turned, as what seemed to be a sure landing spot for Carmelo became a question.
LeBron was the consensus #1 pick, no matter what team was choosing, as the only once-in-a-generation type of talent. But right after LeBron, Carmelo had by far the best resume. Coming off his freshman year at Syracuse, in which he led them to an NCAA Championship, Melo was a wanted asset and the unquestioned second-best player in the class. The Detroit Pistons having the #2 pick would have been an unbelievable team to join.
At the time, the Pistons were emerging as one of the best teams in the league with a group of players like Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace, and other savvy veterans. Later in that year, they would eventually get Rasheed Wallace and complete the core group that got them the championship. Brining a rookie Carmelo on board would have brought them another dimension and an elite scoring punch from the bench. It would be beneficial for both sides, as Melo could have entered the league as a winner, won some hardware, and learned the game from some of the best mentors you could have before eventually becoming the star of the team.
But Darko’s impressive workout persuaded the Pistons to go in another direction, as they decided to shock the world and take him with the second pick, leaving the door open for the Denver Nuggets to snatch Carmelo. The Pistons would still be an excellent team for years to come, winning the championship in 2004 and making the Finals in 2005. But if they had Carmelo, maybe the success would have been even more extensive.
Carmelo joined Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes on the “All The Smoke” podcast and talked about how the Pistons promised to draft him, only to switch their decision last-minute:
“Changed the course of my career. I’mma tell you what, man: To this day, I still think about that… because I’m like, they promised me. ‘We taking you, we taking you.’ I’m talking about all the way up to draft day…So in my mind, I’m going to Detroit.”Carmelo Anthony, SHOWTIME Basketball
What hurts Carmelo the most today is the fact the Pistons would win it all already in his second year while he is still waiting for his first ring to this day. In his mind, if he was there, Detroit would have had even more banners in the arena:
“I think if I was there, they win another. I wouldn’t jump out there and say we three-peat. I think we’d go back-to-back if I’m there. … They were all vets, I would have learned from those guys. And that second year coming back, I would have been a totally different player coming back.”Carmelo Anthony, SHOWTIME Basketball
It’s hard to argue with Carmelo’s points, as those Pistons teams were a force to reckon with in the Eastern Conference for a good part of the 2000s. Adding a young Carmelo to such an elite group of veterans would have made the Pistons and Carmelo so much better. But Melo’s career had a different path, and he still achieved an amazing career that could have the perfect ending in LA, winning a title with his friend LeBron. A storybook ending to an illustrious career. If someone deserves it, it is Carmelo Anthony.