An NBA general manager was breaking down the unusual and thus unpredictable nature of this NBA season and what to expect in the playoffs when he paused, then changed direction.
"Everyone likes to tell the happy story of Isiah Thomas and the Pistons breaking through, of Michael Jordan doing it with the Bulls, of K.D. [Kevin Durant] when he finally broke through and won, when Steph [Curry] broke through," he said. "There's a less happy story of the Utah Jazz never doing it because of Jordan. Of that Sacramento Kings team. Of the recent Rockets team who couldn't get through.
"The history of the league has been as much about those that never did it as those that got there."
The failed teams and failed players, the GM pointed out, fade from our memory even though their title failure was often tantalizingly close to the ultimate victory, the kind that changes legacies and history forever.
"And this year," he said, "with the injuries we've seen, anything could happen. There's an opening for teams that normally wouldn't have a realistic chance."
Those chances have historically been few and far between. From Mike to Kobe to Duncan to LeBron to Steph, a small cadre of greats have walled off rings from much of the games' would-be winners. And of the 21 NBA championships won this century, four teams -- the Lakers, Spurs, Heat and Warriors -- have won 16 of them. The Celtics, Cavaliers, Raptors, Pistons and Mavericks have one each.
This year could be different. The Nets are an unpredictable mess of injuries and personalities, and the dangerous Kevin Durant-James Harden-Kyrie Irving trio has yet to be tested in any real way because they've hardly played together. The Lakers haven't seen Anthony Davis and LeBron James play together in more than two months, and LeBron's high ankle sprain injury, in particular, sources say, remains slightly disconcerting.
Those teams aren't alone. This weekend, a who's-who of the NBA were either already out or left games with injuries: LeBron, A.D., Durant, Harden, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Kawhi Leonard, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, LaMelo Ball, Jamal Murray, Jaylen Brown, Zach LaVine, John Wall, Gordon Hayward, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam ...
Chaos, we've heard, can be a ladder. And this upside-down year could be a last, best chance for several teams and players to climb it and rewrite their history.
Here are 10 such players, teams and coaches with that chance.
1. Chris Paul
CP3 may be the most talented, traditional point guard since Thomas led his Pistons to back-to-back NBA championships three decades ago, but he has only a single conference finals appearance to show for it.
Win a ring, and the story of Chris Paul is that of one of the great point guards in NBA history: A fierce and fiery competitor who made teammates better, played remarkable (and remarkably underrated) defense and hit clutch shots when his team needed a boost. A Hall of Famer worthy of your respect. A winner for the ages.
Lose, though, and those same attributes are seen through a different lens: The win-at-all-costs star whose light burned out and divided his teammates. The great talent who could not do it when it counted. The closer who often couldn't even close out the opening-round playoff series.
This Phoenix Suns team is a legit title contender because of CP3. Irascible, focused, gritty and at times divisive in a locker room, he's found the instrument for his possible opus with the Suns. As with Jimmy Butler and Miami, Phoenix (and its young core) seems tailor-made for its testy and talented veteran. The Suns, so far, have fed off all of Paul's greatness and style without any of the consequences that helped fell his Rockets and Clippers teams.
With a top 10 offense and defense, a young scorer in Devin Booker, shot-makers and a team that's looked legit all year long, Paul surely knows this team, and this year it could be his best real chance at a championship.
2. Doc Rivers
He is an NBA champion. He sits at the helm of, arguably, the East's best team in the Philadelphia 76ers. He's a coveted coach who is recruited from one top job to another. But he desperately needs a second ring to prove that his Celtics title (one that, in retrospect, feels too few) was more than a celebrated underachievement.