What if . . .





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What If ... these four pivotal draft moments had happened differently?

by Jacob Feldman

The entire course of a franchise can be altered by a single draft pick. What if these superstars ended up in a different zip code on draft night?

WHAT IF ... Top Reds scout Gene Bennett pounds his fist, and the Cincinnati brass actually listens and drafts Derek Jeter, not Chad Mottola, No. 5 in 1992.

NEW ENDING: With Barry Larkin at shortstop, Jeter moves to centerfield, opens a nightclub, starting a Queen City nightlife boom. Bennett becomes widely accepted as MLB’s brightest mind.

WHAT IF ... Pistons nab Carmelo Anthony (as some project) over Darko Milicic in 2003.

NEW ENDING: Detroit still wins ’04 Finals, with Melo coming off the bench. He emerges in ‘05 as Pistons beat Spurs in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Two years later Kobe Bryant doesn’t veto trade to Detroit; era's first superteam forms.

WHAT IF ... Niners and Patriots can’t agree on a draft-day trade in 1985 and Jerry Rice slips one pick to Cowboys at No. 17.

NEW ENDING: Rice starts his career hot before Danny White breaks wrist in ’86; Aikman takes over in ’89, goes on to tie Montana and Bradshaw with four Super Bowl wins. Michael Irvin ends up in San Diego, where he beats Rice and the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXIX.

WHAT IF ... First-year Nets coach John Calipari ignores Kobe Bryant’s bluff that he'd rather play in Italy than Jersey in 1996 and drafts him at No. 8.

NEW ENDING: One month later FA Shaquille O'Neal chooses his hometown, Newark, instead of Los Angeles. Nets add Jason Kidd in '01, and the three take over the NBA. Calipari stays in the NBA while Coach K becomes face of one-and-done recruiting, luring the likes of John Wall and Anthony Davis.

WHAT IF ... Andrew Luck enters 2011 draft as a junior—surprising no one—and goes No. 1 to Carolina.

NEW ENDING: No. 2 pick Cam Newton (to the Broncos) inspires a groundbreaking two-QB system in Denver alongside Tim Tebow. Luck builds budding friendship with Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly and agrees to go hunting on Saturdays as long as Luke plays Settlers of Catan on Friday nights.