LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the two best players in basketball. Now just imagine if they were on the same team. And we're not talking the Olympics either. The same NBA team.
ESPN's pre-preseason circus, its ranking of the 500 "best" players in the NBA, is about the closest thing we have to a classic barbershop debate online. This year LeBron James and Kevin Durant ranked #1 and #2 in the rankings surprising exactly zero people. Durant is the league's finest scorer, a legitimate long-term threat to become the all-time leading scorer in the history of the game (pending health and productivity) and a player whose overall skill set truly has the sky as its limit. LeBron James is - for lack of a better description - the most complete basketball player in the solar system.
The 2012 NBA Finals were so dope not because it pitted the league's two most exciting teams, but rather it was the first Finals since (maybe) Jordan vs. Barkley when the league's two best talents met on the game's highest stage. And sure, Miami hit Oklahoma City with a "delayed sweep," but the possibility of the showdown for years to come is what has many (non-Lakers) fans drooling at the mouth. Then, there was K.D. and Bron becoming the two best players for Team USA in London. And then, from there, it was their re-up of offseason workouts which had the moral police yelling at the top of their lungs from both sides of the fence how great and horrible the concept was at the same time.
That's just it though. Be thankful James and Durant worked out as competitors attempting to fine-tune each other's game. Because listen to me when I tell you this, they could have very well been teammates.
(Now is about the time when Portland fans stop reading. Trust me, stop reading. No seriously, stop. It's for your own good.)
Here we are on the evening of June 28, 2007, in the heart of New York City. The San Antonio Spurs are the world champs after making quick work of a LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers team who had no real business being in the Finals aside from the fact they had LeBron. Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" and Rihanna's "Umbrella" were two of pop music's biggest records while UGK and Outkast combined for their modern-day classic "International Players Anthem." Transformers and Superbad had not yet hit theaters. Meanwhile, for the Portland Trailblazers - on this day in 2007 - their choice was simple.
They're going to select Kevin Durant with the number one overall selection. Sure, seven footers like Greg Oden don't come around too often. And sure, Brandon Roy appears as if he'll spawn into something worth coveting. And sure, Durant can't bench press a pillow. But so what, there's something about this Durant kid that screams "rarity." So Portland does. Suddenly, their nucleus of Roy, LeMarcus Aldridge and Durant paints a picture of hope for the Pacific Northwest. Oden falls #2 to then-Seattle, and what happens with his career from this point forward is anybody's guess.
The Trail Blazers enter the 2007-2008 campaign filled with potential, and for the most part exceed expectations and character for such a young team. Durant shows flashes of offensive greatness. Roy continues to thrive as one of the league's up-and-coming two guards, not yet on the level of Kobe and Dwyane Wade, but a suitable neophyte. Aldridge continues to develop his back-to-the-basket game as well as mid-range jumper. For the next season and a half, Portland moves forward developing its young nucleus of talent hopefully injury-free - in the hypothetical world of the NBA, Portland's medical staff is as reliable as Chick-Fil-A on any day not named Sunday. Portland spawns itself into the taste of the league. The Blazers' offensive games take strides, and they all eventually become all-stars by the time the midseason classic is held in Dallas in 2010.
It's following the game, however, that sends shockwaves throughout the NBA community. Clearing cap space for an impending Durant extension, Portland trades Brandon Roy in a move flooring everyone league-wide despite the '06-'07 Rookie of the Year's knees made of rumored bendable straws. The trade sends Roy to - wait for it - Orlando in exchange for first-year man Ryan Anderson, maybe Brandon Bass and a second-round pick. Not that it matters though. Both sides get what they covet. Orlando puts a legitimate shooting guard alongside Dwight Howard, creating the perfect reason to ship Vince Carter away from Disney World. Portland's plan to cut cap space is working like a charm, putting the Blazers in position to make a serious run at the summer's crowned jewel: LeBron James.
Following a disappointing second-round loss to Boston heading into the offseason, the media firestorm begins and speculation of where LeBron ends up reaches as far east as New York City and as far west as Los Angeles. It's Portland, having said all that, standing at the front of the pack because of two simple, yet important reasons.
1. Portland has the most ready-win team to place around him, a luxury not afforded in Cleveland. With the Trail Blazers, LeBron not only has Aldridge to dump it down to, but he also has one of the league's finest young scorers in Kevin Durant to play off of. And with those two former Longhorns, LeBron would be the eldest statesman at a whooping 25 years old coming off back-to-back MVP awards.
2. Nike's mothership is right down the street. If you think this wouldn't play an issue in a deal like that, you've finally succumbed to hip-hop peer pressure and popped a molly. Signature KD's and LeBron's would be created at the speed of light. Or at least at the speed of an impending LeBron-KD fast break, which sounds about as frightening as if this replacement ref thing had lasted until the Super Bowl.
In this parallel universe, LeBron signs with Portland in the summer of 2010, giving the Trail Blazers a starting five of LeBron, Durant, Aldridge, Phil Knight and the ghost of Arvydas Sabonis playing in front of the loudest crowd in the league not named OKC (which may or may not be loud given the fact they have Greg Oden now). When, where and against whom this Portland team wins its first title is too much inception for one post to handle. Just know, if this happens and the injury demons somehow forget Portland's mailing address, we're looking at a younger, possibly even scarier version of what's seen in Miami now.
Let me repeat that last sentence if I may. Just know, if this happens and the injury demons somehow forget Portland's mailing address, we're looking at a younger, possibly even more scarier version of what's seen in Miami now. LeBron James and Kevin Durant. On the same team. In their primes. Same Bowie over Michael Jordan in 1984, what? OK, maybe not, but it'd be a damn good start in erasing what would become the worst draft decision in NBA history. The next time watching LBJ and KD train in the offseason and you say to yourself, "This sucks so bad. They should never train together. This is corny," you better find solace in the fact they're training to hopefully meet in the Finals again. Not get there as teammates.
Because it damn near happened. Well, almost. Greg Oden doesn't seem so bad now, does he?
@JustinTinsley is stuck halfway between a dream and reality. The plan? To make that dream a reality.