San Antonio Spurs: What if Zaza Never Injured Kawhi Leonard?

Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, Zaza Pachulia
Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, Zaza Pachulia / Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers
Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers / Harry How/Getty Images

San Antonio Spurs' 2020-21 season

Finally, we reach the present day. In the offseason, LaMarcus Aldrige, a two-time champion, is diagnosed with Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome. He fails to pass medical protocols and is forced into early retirement. The Chinese Basketball Association allows him to sign with the Shanghai Sharks as a player/coach, which he graciously accepts. A week into his CBA career, Chinese doctors, no longer occupied with COVID-19, develop a cure for Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome, and Aldridge returns to San Antonio.

With a healthy Embiid, Simmons, and Durant, the 76ers are the favorite to win the East. The Spurs are favored in the West. After his health crisis, Aldridge decides it’s time to try and bring the city of Portland a title and requests a trade. The Spurs, thankful for all he’s done, agree and send Aldridge to the Blazers for Carmelo Anthony. 

After a single practice with Anthony, the entire Spurs’ roster charges into Popovich’s office and demands that Carmelo be shipped out. Popovich agrees and sends Carmelo to the Nets in exchange for a first-round pick swap and the copier the Nets received when they traded away Kyle Korver. NBA writers proclaim the Spurs the winner of the trade. 

With a starting five of Kawhi, Danny Green, Dejounte Murray, rookie center Isaiah Stewart (who the Spurs drafted with the Nets’ pick), and Rudy Gay, the Spurs are poised to take the West again. A bench unit of Lonnie Walker IV, Derrick White, Drew Eubanks, Keldon Johnson, and Patty Mills help propel the Spurs to a 68-win season. They finish first in the West, sweep the 8th-seeded Lakers (led by Paul George), beat Portland in five games (sorry LaMarcus), and eventually topple a healthy Dallas Mavericks team to advance to the Finals.

For those of you wondering, Luka Doncic scored two 50-point games against the Warriors in round one to advance, and fueled entirely by spite, he single-handedly sweeps Porzingis and the Rockets to reach the Conference Finals.

Luka has no beef with any Spurs, so his spiteful motivations are quickly erased. The Spurs make easy work of the up-and-coming Mavericks and meet a star-studded Philadelphia team in the 2021 NBA Finals, who made light work of the older Cavs and undertalented Bucks.

In the Finals, there is no clear favorite. While Durant, Embiid, and Simmons are a terrifying team to face, at this point the Spurs are absolutely stacked. Kawhi and Durant are headlined as the premier matchup, although Dejounte Murray is widely regarded as Simmons’ rival as the best defensive point guard in the league.

Kawhi holds Durant to subpar performance, but Durant steps up his defense and his length is too much, preventing Kawhi from scoring in massive quantities. Simmons and Murray play tough and physical basketball and are also equally matched. 

The Spurs’ main issue is containing Embiid. Stewart was in the Rookie of the Year race but is no match for the best center in the league. With Kawhi on Durant, the 76ers can’t score from the outside, so Philly pounds the ball inside while Mills, Green, and White rain threes from behind the arc. 

In a grueling and physical series, the Spurs manage to push the overpowered Sixers to seven games. Game 7 is in Philadelphia, so San Antonio does not have the chance to win one in front of their home crowd. 

Game 7 of these Finals is very much like game seven of the 2018 Western Conference Finals. The two teams play the best basketball they are capable of, and no winner seems clear. Once again, the Spurs find themselves up with seconds remaining. The Sixers inbound the ball down 112-111 with nine seconds left.

Simmons receives the pass at the top of the arc. He offers up a fake pass to Embiid, which Murray bites on. Simmons has a clear path to the basket. He takes two strong dribbles and brings the ball to his chest. The only thing standing in the way of a Finals-winning dunk is Patty Mills. 

I’m sorry, but what the hell is Patty Mills doing on the court? The Spurs need a defensive stop, and Patty Mills is protecting the rim? I know this is all fake and I’m responsible for all choices made, but what is Popovich thinking?

Anyway, the sight of Mills--somehow--is too much for six-foot eleven-inch Ben Simmons, who, with three seconds left, whips the ball to the corner to Kevin Durant. In a state of shock, Durant barely corals the ball and manages to load up for a last-second shot. Kawhi blocks it. It is the greatest block in Spurs’ history, right before Manu blocking Harden from behind. The San Antonio Spurs win their eighth Finals ever and are still in the midst of the greatest run in all of sports. 

There’s just one unanswered question. Who wins Finals MVP? Kawhi can’t, he and Durant both had underwhelming performances. Murray played well, but not well enough. The Sixers had no answer for the deadeye shooting the Spurs used to win. Derrick White and Lonnie Walker both averaged more points, but none other than Patty Mills shot 60% from deep over seven games.

Thanks to the inaction of Zaza Pachulia, Patty Mills retires as a four-time champion and an NBA Finals MVP. He retires after the 2021 NBA season and is inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2024 as the greatest Australian athlete ever. 

If Zaza Pachulia does not injure Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs win nine Finals in 22 years with two separate casts. It is more than a dynasty. Those end. The Spurs enter the great beyond still as title favorites year after year.

Top 25 players in franchise history. dark. Next

Gregg Popovich is widely regarded as the greatest coach in all of sports. Kawhi cements himself as a top ten player ever, giving the Spurs two on that list. It’s 2021. Kawhi is 30, a perennial champion, MVP candidate, and Defensive Player of the Year. He has an excellent supporting cast, bench unit, and front office. All is well in San Antonio and there is no end in sight.