There is the odd moment in the NBA where things can change. With the entire basketball world balancing delicately at these crucial moments, small changes can create completely different universes, all of which henceforth exist parallel to one another.

These moments are rare and sometimes seem insignificant, but we can’t possibly claim we understand quantum hoops, yet – they may seem insignificant, but maybe they are the most significant.

This NBA season had one such moment. This NBA season, we all enrolled in Remedial Chaos Theory. Since many are unversed in travelling between alternate basketball realities, allow me to be your guide.

November 21, 2012
The Charlotte Bobcats lead the Toronto Raptors 98-97 in what is almost unanimously considered a meaningless, throw-away game.

As Andrea Bargnani receives the ball on the right side of the floor, he rises for a jump shot that could win the game.

At this exact point in time, the basketball universe is at a fork in its multiverse.

Bargnani lets it fly…

The possible results from this sequence will split the NBA into three different timelines, all existing parallel to each other from here on out.

Scenario 1: The Darkest Timeline
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist fouls Bargnani but the ref does not make the call. Bargnani air balls the shot and basically falls apart from there. The Raptors struggle, trade for Rudy Gay, and are where they are now. Yes, sadly, the Raptors entered The Darkest Timeline in this instance. All around the NBA, stars are injured, the playoffs are excellent but have an injury cloud hanging over them, and Bryan Colangelo appears to survive another year until Tim Leiweke can find a suitable replacement for 2014.

But, it didn’t have to be this way. Luckier fans in a parallel universe (likely with goatees) got a different result and have went down different paths.

Scenario 2: Il Mago-verse
Michael-Kidd Gilchrist fouls Bargnani and the ref makes the call. Bargnani hits both free throws, giving the Raptors the victory. This invigorates the mercurial franchise players, finally giving him a confident swagger to be “the closer.” While his numbers don’t soar to career highs, he is far more efficient and plays a full slate from then on, adding a few wins to the Raptors total.

Perhaps more importantly, the Raptors don’t pull the trigger on a Rudy Gay deal. Instead, with Bargnani’s value high and the Lakers sputtering, the Raptors send Bargnani and Jose Calderon to the Lakers for Pau Gasol.

Changes
Raptors: They still hire Tim Leiweke in the offseason but the fan-base is less upset with allowing Colangelo to stick around a year. After all, Gasol was a great partner in crime with Jonas Valanciunas, allowing Amir Johnson to continue to thrive in a bench role and narrowly miss the Sixth Man of the Year award. The Raptors still have a hole at the three, as Terrence Ross didn’t come along quite as hoped with extra playing time later in the season. With little cap space and no draft pick, the Raptors have a healthy core in the paint but need DeMar DeRozan to continue to evolve and hope Landry Fields has a better season in order to complements the bigs and Kyle Lowry, who was up-and-down all year but found a nice chemistry with Gasol late in the season. The Raptors finished ninth in the East, just two games back of the playoffs.

Grizzlies: With the Raptors unwilling to take on Gay’s contract, the Grizzlies dealt a few lesser pieces to try and trim their luxury tax bill rather than get under the line. Jerryd Bayless and Tony Wroten were jettisoned for picks, leaving the backcourt a bit thin. Still, the Grizzlies handled the Clippers in the first round, but ran into a solid Thunder team in the second round.

Rockets: Picked up Bayless for a second round pick, which meant Patrick Beverley wasn’t on the floor in the first round playoff series.

Thunder: With Bayless a less active defender than Beverley, Russell Westbrook goes un-injured in the first round of the playoffs, leaving the Thunder a strong Finals favorite.

Lakers: The addition of Bargnani and Calderon helped stem the tide while other injuries hurt the team. That added manpower was enough that the Lakers clinched a playoff spot with three games to go, finishing with 47 wins (Golden State, coincidentally, won 48 in this scenario due to the butterfly effect, so the seeding didn’t change). Without a playoff spot to fight for, Kobe Bryant was rested down the stretch, leaving him healthy for the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Lakers still came up short against the Spurs.

Pistons: Don’t get Calderon, nobody notices.

Scenario 3: The Wiggins Huskies
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist fouls Bargnani, the refs call it, and Bargnani splits a pair of free throws to send the game into overtime. In overtime, Bargnani gets in a shouting match with Lowry, who had chastised Bargnani for poor help defense as Kemba Walker drove the lane for a late bucket.

After the game, the team announces Bargnani hurt his elbow and will miss a substantial amount of time. When beat writer Eric Koreen asks too many pointed questions of Bryan Colangelo following the alleged “phantom” injury announcement, Colangelo loses it and tries to choke Koreen out.

MLSE, now owned by media powerhouses Bell and Rogers, act swiftly to deny the option year on Colangelo’s deal due to this public relations fiasco, later bringing in Leiweke to clean it up.

Changes
Raptors: With Colangelo handcuffed by his lame duck status, the board freezes on adding any salary to the roster. Instead, the board elects to keep Calderon as an expiring contract and further mentor Lowry for the season. Bargnani does not play a game the rest of the way, and the team’s first announcement of the offseason is that they will use the Amnesty Provision on Bargnani with the aim of “starting fresh” with a new management group, ownership and team identity. This is followed shortly by the announcement that the team will revert to the Toronto Huskies name starting in the 2014-15 season, a move to once again aimed at reseting the brand image while also making the colors of the Toronto-based teams streamlines (#BlackAndYellow -> #BlueAndWhite).

With Calderon off the books and a Bargnani amnesty, the Raptors have ample cap space. Leiweke indicates the team is hoping to build flexibility in its roster construction and won’t spend just to spend, instead accepting another down year or two to add a “major piece through the draft” to accompany the Valanciunas-Lowry-Johnson-Davis-DeRozan core that, Leiweke indicates, the organization feels can make up five of a contender’s top seven or eight players. The Raptors may be bad, he suggests, but there is a giant, Maple-flavored, Jordan-esque prize if the ping pong balls bounce right. (Meanwhile, Raptors Republic kidnap Adam Silver in hopes of getting an “envelope freeze” in the 2014 draft lottery).

Grizzlies: With the Raptors unwilling to take on Gay’s contract, the Grizzlies dealt a few lesser pieces to try and trim their luxury tax bill rather than get under the line. Jerryd Bayless and Tony Wroten were jettisoned for picks, leaving the backcourt a bit thin. Still, the Grizzlies handled the Clippers in the first round, but ran into a solid Thunder team in the second round.

Rockets: Picked up Bayless for a second round pick, which meant Patrick Beverly wasn’t on the floor in the first round playoff series.

Thunder: With Bayless a less active defender than Beverly, Russell Westbrook goes un-injured in the first round of the playoffs, leaving the Thunder a strong Finals favorite.

Lakers: Are unable to make a move, and their fate plays out more or less the same.

Pistons: Don’t get Calderon, nobody notices.

But here we are
The basketball multiverse didn’t give us any more desirable a timeline. In fact, you could argue that none of these timelines were great for Raptor fans, although there are certainly varying levels of hope attached to each. Maybe there was no way for the Raptors’ season to “break right” and give us a clearly more desirable outcome. We might not know for years which of these universes is the “best one” and which is truly the “Darkest Timeline.”

This is also, of course, just an exercise in Remedial Chaos Theory, and is completely a work of fiction. But it’s fun to play what-if, and it’s fun to create a scenario where Kobe and Westbrook are healthy in the playoffs (sorry, Derrick Rose, couldn’t help you). After all, one of the benefits of cheering for a perpetually inept franchise is the “right” to second guess.

What are your “what ifs” for the season, moments that you feel might have created parallel basketball universes? Be elaborate…we need content.

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