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Suspension Journal: Playing the “What if” game, featuring Jalen Rose and Kevin O’Neill

We pass the time by looking in on a parallel universe where Jalen Rose didn’t break his hand in 2004.

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Toronto Raptors What if... Jalen Rose didn’t break his hand? Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

As you are aware, we here at RaptorsHQ — like many of you, I suspect — have some time on our hands. And what better way to pass the time than by playing the old “What if...?” game?

For Raptors fans, there are a couple of big ones in our 25-year history: “What if Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady stayed together?” or “What if Vince hit that shot?” certainly top the list.

This time out, I’ll try and avoid the familiar classics, and come up with some less-heralded or perhaps more recent ones. I’ll write as many of these as pop into my head, and I would love to hear your suggestions (hit me up in the comments or on Twitter).

To start, let’s go back to those halcyon days of... 2004.

What if... Jalen Rose didn’t break his hand?

What actually happened? On February 8, 2004, the Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors to improve to 24-25. But Jalen Rose, acquired in December 2003, broke his hand, and the Raptors finished the season 9-24, with losing streaks of nine and seven games.

What happened in a parallel universe? Rose doesn’t break his hand, the Raptors finish the season somewhere around .500 and make the playoffs (the Heat were the fourth seed... at 42-40!), maybe even win a series.

Most importantly, though, this means Kevin O’Neill — who, of course, infamously broke a lamp in his hotel room after hearing the news about Rose’s hand — does not get fired at the end of the season, and comes back to coach in 2004-05.

O’Neill, famously prickly with, uh, everyone, and singularly focused on defense and slowing the game down (despite having significant offensive firepower in Rose, Vince Carter, Donyell Marshall and Morris Peterson) wore out his welcome and never coached in the NBA again. But if the team had made the playoffs, he surely would have been back. Which has all kinds of dominoes:

  • GM Glen Grunwald doesn’t get fired (Grunwald actually got axed before O’Neill, which never made sense to me)
  • Sam Mitchell doesn’t take over as coach, and Mitchell and Vince Carter never spar (uh, literally)
  • With a successful playoff push and no Mitchell, Carter doesn’t get disillusioned and later demand a trade
  • The Raptors avoid the draft lottery, and avoid bungling the eighth pick on Rafael Araujo (maybe they still take him, but he isn’t as much of a reach, at, say, 20th overall) (or perhaps they draft a much-needed PG in Jameer Nelson, who went 20th that season?)

To be honest, what’s most likely is that, despite the successful playoff push in 2004, it still wouldn’t take O’Neill long to push the wrong buttons, either with players or management, or both (seriously, this guy couldn’t help himself) and he ends up fired at some point in the 2004-2005 season. And then let’s say assistant Jay Triano finishes out the season as interim coach, and maybe the Raps make the playoffs again but don’t get far... but are good enough to convince ownership to spend some money on a name coach in the summer of 2005.

And you know who was available in the summer of 2005? Don Nelson, my friends. Don Nelson coaching Carter, Rose and Bosh? Maybe they re-sign Marshall that summer? Sure, the team had no centre, but since when has that ever bothered Nellie? This would be a beautiful Nellie Ball team! Imagine the 2005-2006 Raptors becoming the forerunners of the three-point revolution, with Carter, Rose, Marshall, Peterson and Matt Bonner all firing away from downtown, and Chris Bosh operating out of the post, and a competent PG in Nelson running the show?

Sure, that all seems a little far-fetched. But it’s a world of possibilities out there!