The term franchise player gets tossed around pretty easily these days. I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point a few general mangers, some members of the press as well as some fans lost their mind and started giving the title to a bunch of less than worthy players. You might think I’m exaggerating but look at the list of players that were once given franchise player type of money because they overstated the talent of these guys:
- Vince Carter
- Tracy McGrady
- Joe Jonhson
- Baron Davis
- Ray Allen
- Elton Brand
- Al Jefferson
- Danny Granger
- Stephon Marbury
- Gilbert Arenas
And then people wonder why the owners want some significant changes to the collective bargaining agreement. Nonetheless, there really aren’t that many franchise players in the NBA. But then again, it depends on your definition of what a franchise player is. So here is my list of criteria that a player must meet in order to be considered a franchise player:
-The Tim Duncan Requirement: Barring an injury to him, his team can only miss the playoffs once after his first three years in the league (no excuses are tolerable).
-The Shaquille O’Neal aka Diesel Test: If he ends up with a contract of $20 million per year, you can’t even second guess the contract because he’s actually worth it (no the argument that he means more to his team than other teams won’t fly)
-The Kareem Standard: Multiple All-Star appearances
-The Karl Malone Rule: If the team is going to put all of their hopes and money into one player, that player has to be able to suit up for at least 85% of the NBA season (including playoffs).
-The Magic Johnson Provision: Whether we’re talking about the 20th game of the regular season or game 6 of a pivotal playoff series, a franchise player always stands out in a basketball game because he has stage presence. It might be rebounding, scoring, defense , passing or just being a great teammate; the franchise player just stands out no matter what..
Now that we’ve established the requirements needed to make the cut, perhaps it’s time we started talking about current franchise players. I have a list of the best 10 NBA franchise players. However, I decided that I would do this piece of writing a bit different. Instead of just listing all of the players in order, I’m doing it in Star Wars fashion. So I’ll profile a few players within the next few days (possibly weeks), but I won’t give them their ranking just yet. Once all 10 have been profiled, we’ll proceed to make a poll to rank them. That good? With that, let’s move on to our featured player of the day…..
The Oklahoma City Thunder are now finally capturing the attention of every NBA fan. Their young nucleus as well as their rising star (Kevin Durant) have made them “must see TV”. Back in 2000, that’s exactly what the Orlando Magic were. Tracy McGrady had just signed with the team and so had Grant Hill. The plan was for them to be an exciting team that would rise to the top of the Eastern Conference’s standings. But then Grant Hill’s ankle failed to hold up which meant that T-Mac would be left alone to carry the franchise on his back. And you know what? The kid was good, real good. At the time, there was an actual debate based on which player was better: Tracy McGrady or Kobe Bryant? T-Mac filled the seats and kept performing admirably for three straight seasons, only to see his team lose in the first round. With criticism and pressure mounting on him, McGrady blasted the GM and the franchise and refused to play through injuries during the 2003-2004 season as the team finished the season with a 21-61 record. At the time, it never occurred to us that McGrady’s career might follow Penny Hardaway’s. By the way, allow me to go on a quick tangent: I was watching Godfather II this weekend and Fredo reminded me of McGrady. He always carried himself with a sense of entitlement as if he was unable to stand the fact that others around him were having success while he wasn’t (quite understandable). But when he was given the chance to do good, he still couldn’t (the Rockets only made it out of the first round when he was injured). Rick Adelman this season basicallyplayed the part of Michael Corleone; after McGrady clashed over his role with the team, Adelman took out the big guns:
“From now on Fredo, you’re dead to me. You’re not my brother (franchise player), not my friend (role player), you’re nothing to me (not even bench player). If you want to visit our mother, I want to know a day in advance so I don’t see you.” As Adelman exits the room, he’s still in full Corleone mode and says to general manager Darryl Morey: “Make sure nothing happens to him as long as our mother is alive (Yao Ming).” The team was basically winning despite Yao being out for the season, so the Rockets sent T-Mac out to fish on small boat where his career as a Rocket player now ends.
All of these events led to……
After managing a 21-61 record after the 2003-2004 season, the Orlando Magic was fortunate enough to land the #1 pick in the NBA Draft. They faced the dilemma of having to pick between two good big men.
- Emeka Okafor – He had just teamed with Ben Gordon to win a national championship at Connecticut. Look at Okafor’s numbers from the 2004 NCAA season regular season: 18.5 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 4.5 BPG, 60.3 FG%. Needless to say, Okafor was seen as the best big man in the draft. But Okafor had two knocks on him at the time. The first one was his injury history; the word around the league was that he was injury prone and that he had a bad back. The second knock he had on him was that his play slipped in the NCAA tournament, have a look at his numbers: 13.5 PG, 11.3 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 57.1 FG%. Nonetheless, the consensus was that Okafor should have gone #1.
- Dwight Howard – I was unable to find any form of statistical data pertaining to Howard’s production in high school, however all the scouts who had seen him play in high school raved about his size (6’10 and 225 lbs.) as well as his athleticism. Howard’s body was tailor made for the rigors of the NBA schedule and he displayed great character in his interviews with general managers. Howard was already as big as Okafor, but he had more upside and no injury concerns. The biggest knock on Howard had absolutely nothing to do with him. Insiders, media members as well as fans main argument against picking D12 #1 overall can be summed up in to words: Kwame Brown.
The rest as they say is history. Orlando selected Howard watched him turn around the franchise. From the 1999-2000 season to the 2003-2004 season (five year span before Howard’s arrival), the Magic produced 191 wins and 219 losses, good for a 46.6% winning percentage. Since Dwight Howard joined the Magic in 2004, Orlando has won 36, 36, 40, 52, 59 and 36 games (this year). That translates into 259 wins and 205 losses, which represents a 55.8% winning percentage. A franchise that was known for losing iconic players such as Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway and Tracy McGrady now has arguably the most feared big man in the NBA.
I previously listed the criteria required to be considered a franchise player; let’s see how Dwight stacks up.
-TD Requirement: The last time Dwight missed the playoffs was in his third season. CHECK.
-Diesel Test: Would you think that Dwight was overpaid if he were making $20 million? I say no. CHECK.
-Kareem Standard: Four All-Star appearances. CHECK.
- Malone Test: Dwight has played in 461 out of 464 regular season games. CHECK.
-Magic Johnson: Look at what I wrote last week about Dwight Howard:
“Several people seem to think that we have already seen earlier versions of Dwight Howard. Some see a little bit of Shaq in him because of his size, strength, agility and his ability to finish at the rim; while others see some shades of Ben Wallace in him because of his willingness to be a great defensive anchor despite being an undersized center. Indeed, Shaquille O’Neal at his most devastating was a great offensive force that occasionally blocked his opponents’ path to the basket. Ben Wallace on the other hand refused to give his adversaries an inch when protecting his basket but his offensive contributions were very limited. Mix both of those guys together, and you have Dwight Howard. Put it in perspective, the thought of seeing a Shaq clone that actually cares on defense has to be somewhat terrifying.”
After analyzing his case, it’s clear that Dwight Howard is one of the top franchise players in the NBA and he will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. His rebounding, shot blocking and ability to finish with authority make Howard a can’t miss stud. He’s obviously one of the best in the NBA, but how does he stack up against the rest? Time will tell as we start to draw up our list of the best NBA franchise players…..