The Memphis Grizzlies ‘Almost Drafted’ LeBron James; What Could Have Been?
The 2003 NBA draft class is one of the most stacked draft classes of all-time. It features all-time greats such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, among others. While the class definitely was top heavy, the rest wasn’t too bad either, with players like Chris Kaman, Kyle Korver, Kirk Hinrich, David West, Boris Diaw, Kendrick Perkins, Leandro Barbosa, Mo Williams and some other quality starters and reliable role players.
When it still was up for grabs, lottery teams knew they wouldn’t want to miss out. In the 2003 NBA Draft Lottery, two of the worst teams in the NBA at that time had the chance to win the lottery – the Cleveland Cavaliers who were represented by Gordon Gund, and the Memphis Grizzlies who were represented by Jerry West.
The Grizzlies finished the 2002-2003 NBA season with a 28-54 record. They were bad, and even went 0-8 to start the season, leading to a coaching change. The Cavaliers though were even worse with a 17-65 record.
The Grizzlies ended up losing and only getting the second pick. However, they didn’t retain it, due to a 1997 trade with the Detroit Pistons. A draft exchange would not have happened, had the Grizzlies gotten the first pick.
Memphis eventually turned the franchise around, but missing a top pick still was a big blow for the franchise.
“When you get down to these situations with a player of the magnitude at one or two in the draft, it would have been an enormous addition to our team — enormous,” West told SI in 2003 after the lottery. “I think there are three or four kids in this draft that are going to be tremendous NBA players, and more importantly for the city of Memphis and the Grizzlies coaching staff, if we’d have gotten the number one pick we would have gotten a real special player.”
What could’ve been if the Memphis Grizzlies had gotten the first pick and drafted LeBron James in the draft? The Grizzlies won 50 games and made the playoffs in 2004 with the emergence of Pau Gasol with additional help from sharpshooters Mike Miller and James Posey.
LeBron would’ve been a perfect fit for the Grizzlies, with him being surrounded by shooters and a top big man in Gasol. He wouldn’t have had to shoulder all the responsibility and would also not have had the huge burden he did have with the Cavs.
The Grizzlies were already a good team without him, adding him would’ve made them a contender. If things had went differently on the lottery, there might have been a championship banner hanging from the ceiling in Memphis.