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Fantasy what ifs
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The DVD/Blu Ray Era in entertainment has given us plenty of new thrills. HD, 3D, behind the scenes, outtakes, gag reels, director commentary ... the possibilities are near endless.

My favorite invention of the new cinema age has to be the alternate ending. I just wish we could apply the same concept to sports.

Some stories don't need a new ending -- I wouldn't trade Boise State's hook and lateral for the world -- but more often than not, the script written by professional sports leaves us shaking our heads.

Imagine how differently the course of NBA history would look if Portland had drafted Michael Jordan at No. 2 overall instead of Sam Bowie.

The thought of Jordan leading the Trail Blazers to a championship is almost mind numbing to me. But 29 years ago, it was a real possibility.

This collection of "what ifs" occurs every season in every sport.

Come on, has this NBA season really turned out the way you thought it would? Who could have envisioned the Lakers fighting for an eight seed or James Harden averaging 26 points per game?

Let's suspend disbelief for a minute and wonder aloud what could have been. Here are my top eight "what ifs" from the 2012-13 NBA season.

1. What if Dwight had stayed with the Magic? Implausible, I'll admit. But hey, reality is overrated.

Orlando was a sinking ship even before Howard was dealt. Aside from Howard, only Ryan Anderson had been averaging more than 12 ppg and he split for New Orleans at the beginning of free agency as part of a sign and trade for Gustavo Ayon. Howard's lack of production in L.A. this season has had more to do with his ailing back than Mike D'Antoni's new system.

If anything, the Howard trade has had the most impact on Denver and Philadelphia. Andre Iguodala (12.9 ppg, 5.1 apg, 5.3 rpg) could have helped the Sixers stay relevant in the Eastern Conference, but instead he's now part of a contender in the Mile High City.

The Howard swap has also allowed fantasy owners to stumble upon Nikola Vucevic. A benchwarmer in Philly, Vucevic has been a rebounding machine for the Magic this season (11.4 rpg, fifth in the NBA).

2. What if D-Will had signed with Dallas? The Mavericks have gotten virtually no production out of their point guards this season, so Deron Williams, who is a Dallas native, could have filled a huge need for Big D.

The real victim here, however, is Joe Johnson. After leading the Hawks in scoring for half a decade, Johnson has become a third wheel to D-Will (18.0 ppg, 7.6 apg) and Brook Lopez (18.8 ppg) this season.

Nets fans aren't complaining, though. Williams has had a monster second half (23.3 ppg since the break) and Brooklyn is closing in on first place in the Atlantic Division.

3. What if James Harden was still in OKC? The simple answer is that the Thunder would be better and the Rockets would be a whole lot worse. But that's not what fantasy owners care about. Certainly the boost in minutes has benefited Harden greatly (38.5 minutes per night in Houston versus 31.4 per game in OKC in 2011-12) but I think his breakout season would have happened anyway.

Kevin Martin, meanwhile, has seen his fantasy production go down the tubes in the wake of Harden's rebirth. In Houston, he was the go-to scorer (17.1 ppg last season). In OKC, Martin is just a role player (14.3 ppg in 2012-13).

4. What if Eric Bledsoe played somewhere else? Bledsoe is like the Matt Flynn of the NBA. If you're not familiar, Flynn was Aaron Rodgers' backup in Green Bay before signing a big contract with Seattle ... only to watch from the sidelines again as Russell Wilson had a rookie year for the ages.

Bledsoe sat behind John Wall in college and now he's riding Chris Paul's coattails with the Clippers. He has enough talent to be a starter in this league (9.0 ppg in just 21.1 minutes per contest) but with L.A.'s crowded backcourt (Paul, Chauncey Billups, Willie Green and Jamal Crawford), the opportunities just haven't been there.

5. What if DeMarcus Cousins wasn't DeMarcus Cousins? Any Entourage fans in the building? If so, you'll get this reference. Cousins is a lot like director Billy Walsh -- I'm talking seasons one through five before he cleaned himself up. Walsh and Cousins are incredible talents. They're also complete head cases.

Cousins should be averaging 20 and 13. Instead, fantasy owners have been forced to settle for 17 and 10 with the next suspension or benching usually only a couple of games away. Maybe Cousins will grow out of this Rasheed Wallace "mad at the world" phase, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen anytime soon.

6. What if New Orleans had drafted Damian Lillard? Somehow, five teams passed on the best player in last year's draft, allowing Lillard (19.1 ppg, 6.5 apg) to fall into Portland's lap at pick No. 6. Maybe it was the basketball gods' way of making up for the Sam Bowie fiasco in 1984.

Hindsight would tell you that the Hornets should have taken Lillard No. 1 instead of Anthony Davis. In reality, not picking Lillard has worked out okay for New Orleans. Former Maryland standout Greivis Vasquez has been terrific as the starting point guard this season, producing career highs in every major category (14.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 9.4 apg).

7. What if Danny Granger had stayed healthy? I could have asked the same question about Kevin Love, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo or Andrew Bynum. The reason I chose Granger is because his replacement, Paul George, has played out of his mind this season (17.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 7.9 rpg). If Granger's knee hadn't limited him in 2012-13, we might not have seen George's ascension from role player to fantasy superstar happen so quickly.

8. What if the Heat hadn't won it all in 2012? The Heat are building a dynasty, folks. LeBron and the Big Three have barely broken a sweat during their soon-to-be 22-game win streak. It seems like all the pressure has just melted away.

That's because it has.

Now that the first championship is out of the way, the Heat can finally breathe again. Erik Spoelstra's job isn't in jeopardy. LeBron has gotten rid of his "me against the world" attitude and is starting to have fun again. Even Chris Bosh (career-high 54.2 percent from the field) and Dwyane Wade (24.3 ppg since the All-Star break) are starting to feel more at home.

These guys are better than ever and I think a lot of that has to do with getting that giant championship monkey off their back.

Some doors open and others close. It's all part of the topsy-turvy world that is fantasy basketball.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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