A Look at Each NBA Team's Franchise Centerpiece (Updated)
The centerpiece of an NBA franchise is either the team's best player or their hope for the future (or perhaps both). Being able to call the centerpiece of your franchise an "alpha dog" who could lead your team to a championship in any given year is what every front office strives to achieve.
Although most teams in the NBA don't have that luxury, if the front office of each franchise builds around their centerpiece in the correct way, they could also compete for the Larry O'Brien Trophy at season's end.
Here's an in-depth look at every NBA team's franchise centerpiece with what we'll call the "Alpha Dog Test." In a nutshell, I'll decide whether or not an NBA franchise could win a title with said player as their franchise centerpiece.
Update: The article has been edited to reflect the blockbuster Dwight Howard trade. Slides for the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers have been changed.
Atlanta Hawks: Josh Smith
Now that the Atlanta Hawks' new general manager, Danny Ferry, hypnotized the Brooklyn Nets into trading for Joe Johnson's gargantuan contract, the Hawks' centerpiece is no longer the shooting guard from Arkansas.
Instead, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of "J-Smoove," Josh Smith.
Unfortunately for Hawks fans, Smith is entering the final year of his contract and will be a free agent at the end of next season if he doesn't agree to terms on an extension.
Not only is Smith the Hawks' best player at the moment, but he's the team's biggest hope for the future due to one key player: Dwight Howard.
Howard is also entering the final year of his contract because he foolishly decided to opt in with Orlando and create this summer's "Dwightmare" situation.
According to Sporting News, not only is Howard from Atlanta, but Smith is one of his good friends.
If Howard ends up as a free agent next summer (meaning he'd either not be traded from Orlando or wouldn't sign an extension immediately following a trade elsewhere), the Hawks will no doubt be in the running for his services.
Although the Hawks had a successful offseason as far as the "addition by subtraction" mantra is concerned, they're still not going to be in the hunt for a championship this season.
Adding Howard beside Smith and Al Horford not only would make them a championship contender, but they'd easily have the best frontcourt in the entire NBA.
Atlanta will only go as far as Smith and Horford take it next season, but that will be a good measurement of how mature Smith can be as the team's first option.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (We don't know how Smith will play as the team's No. 1 option, but the fact that the Hawks probably need Dwight Howard for championship aspirations doesn't help his case.)
Boston Celtics: Rajon Rondo
It would not be difficult to make a case for either Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett as the Boston Celtics’ franchise centerpiece. However, now that they’re approaching the final chapters of their careers, it’s fair to say that the keys to the Celtics’ well-oiled machine have been handed over to Rajon Rondo.
The former Kentucky Wildcat is nothing short of an NBA superstar. Out of the point guard spot, he has amazing court vision, rebounds incredibly well for a guard and is a very talented player on defense.
However, although Rondo is a solid finisher at the basket, he often shies away from contact to avoid going to the foul line (where he’s a career 61.9 percent shooter). Because of this, Rondo makes his layups more difficult than they need to be, which sometimes leads to two points wasted.
Even though Rondo has been improving, his gigantic hands have prevented him from being a prolific outside shooter, making him a liability. Considering the size of Rondo’s hands, shooting a basketball for you or me would be like shooting a water polo ball for him (chalk that up to an analogy I wouldn't make if not for the Olympics).
If Rondo could vastly improve his shooting range and free-throw shooting, he’d be virtually impossible to guard. As it stands, opposing defenders can sag way off Rondo and dare him to shoot (something that has frustrated Celtics fans for a long time).
Regardless, Rondo is a fantastic NBA player. With him as the floor general in Boston, surrounded by future Hall of Famers like Pierce and Garnett, they’re a threat every season to win it all.
Will the Celtics continue to be elite when Pierce and Garnett retire? That task falls squarely on Rondo’s shoulders.
Alpha Dog Test: Pass (The Boston Celtics were one win away from making the NBA finals last season with Rondo as their best player. It's safe to say you could win a ring with him as your team's best player.)
Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams
Thankfully for the new-look Brooklyn Nets, Deron Williams snubbed the hopeful Dallas Mavericks this summer to re-sign for the move to Brooklyn.
D-Will is a top five NBA point guard who can shape a franchise with his presence. Williams showcased his evident offensive skills by notching a 57-point performance last season while connecting on all 21 of his attempts from the charity stripe.
Of course, you can take this impressive performance with a grain of salt because he was playing against the lowly, seven-win Charlotte Bobcats. If the Bobcats were to square off with last year’s NCAA champion Kentucky Wildcats, led by Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, it wouldn’t be shocking if Las Vegas favored John Calipari’s former squad.
In addition, Nets fans should be worried that Williams’ presence last season was met with a 22-44 overall record.
Meanwhile, Williams’ former team, the Utah Jazz, managed to grit out the eighth seed in a tougher Western Conference.
The fact that the Nets didn’t improve with Williams (although they did have notable injuries, mainly to Brook Lopez), while the Jazz still made the playoffs, works against Williams’ case as an alpha dog.
Williams may embrace this season with a great deal more motivation now that he’s surrounded with an underrated supporting cast of Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez.
Whether or not Williams can help this team compete with the Eastern Conference elite like the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, however, won’t be decided until the season is in full swing.
Alpha Dog Test: Pass (This is an extremely tough call. Given how poor the Nets were last year with Williams is a concern, even with the sub-par supporting cast.)
Charlotte Bobcats: Rich Cho
Do the Charlotte Bobcats even have a franchise centerpiece? My answer at this juncture is no.
As a result of that, since it's too cliché to blame owner Michael Jordan, the responsibility for adding a franchise centerpiece falls on the shoulders of general manager Rich Cho.
Don't get me wrong, I believe that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could be the third, possibly even second-best player on a championship team in the future, but the Bobcats have a long way to go before they're thinking of titles.
Although there’s very little that Cho can do at this moment to make the team competitive, he needs to continue making savvy, level-headed decisions to turn this team’s fortunes around.
The NBA community has learned that even cellar-dwellers can become a winning product. Just look at the success story of Sam Presti with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Granted, team success (especially at Presti’s level) is a rare feat to achieve.
The Bobcats missed out on their franchise centerpiece this summer when they didn’t win the top spot in the NBA draft lottery. Anthony Davis is now a member of the New Orleans Hornets, but MKG is not a bad consolation prize.
With that said, Cho needs to continue to draft well and try to bring in a franchise cornerstone that the front office can build around.
Alpha Dog Test: Pass (Let's brighten the day of all Bobcats fans out there and say you can win a championship with general manager Rich Cho calling the shots. Because hey, why not?)
Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose
When will the Chicago Bulls' centerpiece, Derrick Rose, be ready to play again next season following surgery for an ACL tear? December? January? April?
The outlook for Chicago basketball is bleak at the moment considering the team’s best player will be on the shelf for perhaps the majority of the season.
Although the former MVP is without question this team’s leader and alpha dog, the Bulls banded together quite well in his absence a season ago.
During the regular season, the Bulls had an 18-9 record when D-Rose was sidelined due to injury. First time All-Star Luol Deng, along with Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and the Bulls’ great depth banded together to win games without their floor general.
It could be possible that the Bulls’ success without Rose was a fluke, but 27 games is a considerable sample size when you consider that was more than a third of the lockout-shortened 66-game season.
Chicago may have troubles locking up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference again next year while Rose misses time, but it’ll more than likely still be playoff-bound.
No logical NBA fan would want to wish ill-will on a player, especially one as talented as Rose.
He’s truly a special player who is fun to watch. You can tell that the guy lives and breathes basketball.
Hopefully, Rose can return strong from his injury, but if he can't, the Bulls’ championship aspirations may be dimming.
Alpha Dog Test: Pass (The Chicago Bulls were among the championship favorites before D-Rose went down with injury. A team can certainly win it all with Rose as its best player, but now, health is an ugly factor.)
Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving
Of course, if you actually thought that heat of the moment promise made any sense in the first place, you should probably follow a different sport.
While the Cavaliers’ franchise centerpiece is no longer one “King” James, Kyrie “Uncle Drew” Irving showed while winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award last season that he’s prepared to be this team’s new leader.
What Irving needs however, is the Robin to his Batman.
Dion Waiters, the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, may not be that guy. According to Bob Finnan of The News-Herald, referenced by ESPN, Waiters showed up overweight to the Summer League and couldn’t shoot the ball efficiently from the perimeter.
Finnan explained that Waiters is more comfortable as a guy who penetrates to the basket, which, in his mind, wasn’t the team’s biggest offseason need.
What the Cavaliers sorely needed was time for Waiters and Irving to get acclimated to one another out on the court before the season started. They won’t get that for some time after Irving slapped a padded wall in frustration, breaking his hand, which required surgery.
Despite the setback, Irving should be poised to improve upon a fantastic rookie campaign where he logged 46.9/39.9/87.2 percent shooting splits (field goal, three point and free-throw shooting).
Irving’s efficiency as a scorer, especially as a rookie, was very impressive. He’ll need to build upon that regardless of whether Waiters fits in as a core piece.
Alpha Dog Test: Pass (Few NBA players have as successful a rookie year as Irving had a year ago. I bet a team could win it all with Uncle Drew as their star.)
Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki would have had every right to be grouchy earlier this offseason.
Mark Cuban and the rest of the Dallas Mavericks front office decided following a championship run a year ago that Tyson Chandler wasn’t worth the money to bring him back. All Chandler did in his first season with the New York Knicks was win Defensive Player of the Year.
The decision to let Chandler go was an effort to free up cap space for a run at Deron Williams and Dwight Howard. That plan, however, didn’t pan out.
Williams re-signed with the Brooklyn Nets as the Mavericks watched Jason Terry and Jason Kidd leave town in the meantime. This could not have thrilled Nowitzki, the franchise’s star player.
Thankfully for Nowitzki’s mental health, the Mavs salvaged their offseason by signing Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo and Elton Brand. The team also swung a deal for Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for backup center Ian Mahinmi.
What appeared to be a disastrous offseason for the Mavericks turned out to be one of the most impressive around the NBA. Perhaps they were simply trying to build tension.
Anyway, this Mavs team, regardless of the supporting cast, will only go as far as Nowitzki can take them. He’s already proven that he can win a championship as a team’s alpha dog. If he gets hot at the right time of year, he can be a matchup nightmare.
Last season was a disappointment for Nowitzki, though. He entered the lockout-shortened year with an evident lack of motivation and had to take time off to strengthen his legs (and perhaps get his head on straight).
As one of the league’s best players, we’ve come to expect that Nowitzki will assert his dominance on a nightly basis. I personally never got the feeling that he was poised to do so last season.
Even so, Nowitzki is the face of the Mavericks, and they’ll be a threat to win it all as long as he's on the roster.
Alpha Dog Test: Pass (He's already proven that he can. Let's just move on.)
Denver Nuggets: Andre Iguodala
On an extremely well-balanced team like the Denver Nuggets, it would be easy to make a case for just about anyone on the roster as the franchise centerpiece. Ty Lawson got the nod from me in the original article as the team’s floor general, but the addition of Andre Iguodala could change the team's outlook.
The Nuggets were an offensive juggernaut last season. As a team, they ranked first in the NBA in points per game and first in the NBA in assists per game. Unlike when Carmelo Anthony was around, there are no “me-first” players on the roster. Everyone accepted their role and played accordingly.
Despite being smooth operators on offense, however, this Nuggets team ranked 29th in the NBA a season ago in points allowed per game.
The addition of Iggy, who is known as one of the league's best perimeter defenders, could instantly change the mantra of how the Nuggets play basketball.
As a veteran presence and an Olympic gold medalist, Iguodala brings a new dynamic to this Nuggets team.
George Karl has a reputation as being an offensive-minded coach, so there’s little surprise that the team plays the way they do. With Iguodala added to the roster, Karl may be able to inspire his troops to follow the talented swingman's lead on the defensive end of the floor.
The Nuggets have a lot of above-average role players, but no bona fide star. They’ve been able to win games by moving the ball efficiently on offense and trusting their teammates and coaches.
Can they win an NBA championship with Iggy as their alpha dog after orchestrating a trade that helped land Dwight Howard in Los Angeles? Well, they certainly made winning the Western Conference much tougher.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (There's a reason why the Philadelphia 76ers didn't make much noise with Iggy as the franchise centerpiece. Even so, this revamped Nuggets team could come alive as a hyper-athletic underdog, a la the 2007 Golden State Warriors.)
Detroit Pistons: Greg Monroe
The 22-year-old Greg Monroe may be poised for a breakout performance with the Detroit Pistons next season.
Now that he’s been paired down low with Andre Drummond, Monroe could reap the benefits of having a partner in the post.
However, the Pistons still have a distinct lack of perimeter threats, especially now that last season's best three-point shooter, Ben Gordon, is gone. It’s safe to say that opposing defenses won’t even have to think twice about double-teaming the big man when he gets the ball in good position to score.
Monroe learned to make some adjustments last season when those double-teams happened, but not being able to pass out to any dead-eye shooters is a concern.
Could Monroe emerge as a possible 20 and 10 guy next season with another year of experience under his belt, or will he regress now that Drummond will get some inside touches?
Only time will tell, but Monroe/Dummond could be a pairing we’re talking about fondly five years from now.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (I like what Monroe brings to the table, but he hasn’t shown that dominating post presence often enough to be considered for alpha dog championship status. As a second banana though? I think so.)
Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry is, without question, one of the league’s best pure shooters. His career 44.1 percent three-point shooting clip is nothing short of stellar, especially when you take into account that Ray Allen’s career percentage from deep is an even 40 percent.
Despite Curry’s pedigree as a sniper from downtown, the young guard’s ankles appear as if they’re made of Silly Putty. Curry played just 26 games last season due to nagging ankle problems that kept him sidelined, which crippled the Warriors’ chances at a playoff spot.
In addition, Curry may fit better in the NBA as a shooting guard, at least in my opinion. I may be in the minority with this thought process, but by slotting Curry in the lineup as the team’s point guard, Curry may be being asked to do too much.
Curry is a shooter, and a phenomenal one at that. So why should the Dubs insist upon playing him as the team’s floor general with passing duties when all he should really be focused on is putting the ball in the basket? This is head-scratching considering that Warriors head coach Mark Jackson was a pass-first point guard in his playing days.
Wouldn’t Jackson be more comfortable coaching a system he basically ran when he was a player?
The Warriors' offseason acquisition of Jarrett Jack was a tremendous pickup in this regard. I assumed Golden State was ready to start Jack at the point, move Curry to shooting guard to take some of the pressure off his playmaking duties and utilize Klay Thompson as a sort of uber sixth man.
Early indications insist that Jack will be the backup point guard, though, so I suppose that’s why I’m not a coach.
Anyway, the Warriors' success hinges on the health of Curry moving forward, regardless of what position he plays.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (It all depends upon Curry’s health, but even if he gets surrounded by the right group of players, Curry would be better suited as the sharpshooting role player on a champ, a la Ray Allen when he was in Boston.)
Houston Rockets: Jeremy Lin
His critics will say that "Linsanity" was an unsustainable fluke. His supporters will say he never got a legitimate chance in the NBA and seized the opportunity when it was finally presented for him.
The final answer on Jeremy Lin may lie somewhere in between.
The youngster out of Harvard certainly had a fantastic run of stellar basketball that included a seven-game win streak for a reeling New York Knicks team.
J-Lin did have a tremendous stint, scoring the ball and leading his team to victory on a regular basis. However, he’s very turnover-prone and has limited NBA experience.
Lin will be yet another young and inexperienced player on the Houston Rockets next season, but he’ll come in and have to lead the plethora of rookies on the roster.
If nothing else, Lin will be a marketing gold mine for Houston moving forward by helping sell T-shirts, jerseys and—most importantly—tickets.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (I simply can't see a scenario where a team could win a championship with Lin as their best player. Lin's destiny may simply come down to being an irrationally confident sixth man on a title winner, a la Jason Terry.)
Indiana Pacers: Roy Hibbert
Danny Granger may in fact be the Indiana Pacers' best player, but signing Roy Hibbert to a max contract this summer hints that he’ll be the franchise centerpiece as we move toward the future.
Hibbert hasn’t convinced me that he’s worth a max contract considering his best season to date sported averages of 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, two blocks and three fouls per game. However, had the Pacers not made the decision to match the Portland Trail Blazers' offer sheet, they would have taken a lot of heat for letting him go for nothing.
The 7’2” skyscraper showed signs of becoming a star player with his postseason performances. Hibbert notched 13 rebounds and nine blocked shots against the Orlando Magic in Round 1 and 19 points, 18 rebounds and five blocked shots against the Miami Heat in Round 2.
The problem with Hibbert is consistency and foul trouble. He’s never finished a regular season averaging less than three personal fouls per contest, which has hindered the amount of minutes he can play on any given night.
If Hibbert can show some discipline and quit fouling as often as he does, he could become an elite center in the NBA.
Even so, it’s taken Hibbert four NBA seasons to get up to his career highs of 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Does that mean he has maxed out his potential? Could he continue to improve? We’ll have to wait until next season to know the answers.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (Replace Danny Granger with LeBron James or Kevin Durant on the Indiana Pacers, and you’ll have a championship squad. As it stands, the Pacers may have handcuffed themselves into having yearly playoff disappointments by locking up too many questionable contracts, much like the Atlanta Hawks when Joe Johnson was captain of the ship.)
Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul
Before adding Chris Paul via trade, the Los Angeles Clippers weren’t even a playoff team. With CP3 on the roster, they’re now a championship contender. What more needs to be said?
Paul is the best point guard in the league right now. The fact that his presence turned the Clippers from laughingstock to playoff contender has solidified his alpha dog status.
Unfortunately for Paul, he’s never played on teams with enough pieces around him to make an NBA finals appearance. David West and Tyson Chandler were solid teammates in New Orleans, but West may be showing his true colors in Indiana and Chandler didn’t peak until his time with the Mavericks.
Blake Griffin is a young, talented wingman for Paul in Los Angeles, but “The Blake Show” needs to become more than just a highlight reel if the Clips are going to make the NBA finals.
CP3 is entering the final year of his current contract, so there’s an outside chance that this could be the last chance the Clippers have at winning a title with the Paul/Griffin tandem.
It would be surprising if Paul ended up leaving Los Angeles next summer, but many thought Steve Nash would never go to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Alpha Dog Test: Pass (Paul has a boatload of talent and a killer instinct in the clutch. All it takes is solidifying the right supporting cast.)
Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant
Even though the Los Angeles Lakers just acquired Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic, a well known shooting guard will keep his role as franchise centerpiece for at least one more season.
Although an aging Kobe Bryant is arguably no longer the Lakers' best player, he's still the veteran leader who will take charge and lead this team's championship run. Howard's role in Los Angeles (should he choose to stay past this season) will undoubtedly shift to franchise centerpiece and alpha dog when Bryant retires or shows diminishing skills, but for the moment the leader of the Lakers is still Bryant.
The mantra in L.A. has been that Bryant leads and everyone else follows. This strategy worked perfectly well when Pau Gasol came to town. He became a great wingman for Bryant, and the pair won two titles together in 2009 and 2010 (Kobe’s first championships with the alpha dog role).
How will Bryant, a notorious ball-hog despite his fantastic skills, adjust to having the first true point guard the Lakers have had in a over a decade?
Steve Nash is one of the best distributors in basketball. He plays an unselfish team game by setting up his teammates to score and making everyone around him better.
In order to do that, however, Nash has to be permitted to handle the ball. Bryant has made a pretty good living in the triangle offense with isolation sets to this point in his career, so whether or not he and Nash can coexist won’t be proven until we have a considerable sample size.
The addition of Howard is a bit more cut and dry. D12 can step in immediately as a defensive presence who doesn't need a ton of offensive touches to make a huge impact. Nash will get everyone involved, so Bryant's offensive role will be largely unchanged.
Whether or not Bryant can remain the alpha dog while Nash has the primary ball-handling duties and Howard is doing his thing in the post is entirely up to the Black Mamba.
Alpha Dog Test: Pass
Memphis Grizzlies: Marc Gasol
The trade that sent Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers seemed grossly one-sided in the Lakers’ favor at the time, but Pau’s younger brother, Marc Gasol, has shown that he’s more than capable of following in his brother’s footsteps.
Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley are all solid role players around Gasol that complement him well. The team has had some admittedly unexpected postseason success with their great frontcourt, causing matchup problems.
The Memphis Grizzlies aren’t going to be a popular choice to win the NBA title next season, but they need to be in the conversation if they can stay healthy.
Despite his youth, the now 27-year-old Gasol has grown into a leader both on and off the court.
Alpha Dog Test: Pass (It's possible that the Grizzlies are just one or two pieces away from being a championship contender, but like so many other teams, their success is dependent upon their health.)
Miami Heat: LeBron James
As a three-time NBA MVP and newly crowned NBA champion, LeBron James is the best player in the league right now.
As my friend Mikey likes to say, nobody can win a championship by himself. So although James’ decision to take his talents to South Beach was ridiculed at the time and still generates animosity today, it appears as if he made the best decision as far as winning rings is concerned.
He got his first ring as the team’s alpha dog and appears poised to win more.
Alpha Dog Test: Pass
Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis
As was the case in Golden State before the trade that sent Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks, the tandem of Ellis and Brandon Jennings appears to be a case of dueling banjos.
Both are score-first guards who put up points in bunches, and they both have some point guard skills in their repertoires.
Ellis and Stephen Curry couldn’t coexist in California, so management made the decision to ship Ellis away and open up a spot for Klay Thompson.
The same scenario could soon play itself out with Ellis/Jennings.
I won’t jump to conclusions because the two haven’t played all that much together, but given the past backcourt failure, the Bucks front office could easily pull off an insanity plea. And by that, I mean they’re putting together an extremely similar backcourt and expecting a different result from what happened in Golden State.
Individually, both of these players are very talented and score the ball better than most guards in the NBA can say. Whether or not these two can coexist on the same team, though, is an entirely different matter.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (In the end, I’d label both Jennings and Ellis as a poor man’s version of Allen Iverson. If AI couldn’t win a championship in his prime as Philly’s alpha dog, I don’t see either of these two players doing it either.)
Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Love
Kevin Love is a walking double-double. He’s a rebounding machine and can even shoot the three-ball efficiently as a 6’10” power forward.
He’s arguably the best power forward in the game today and the best player to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves since Kevin Garnett was traded.
However, Love’s commitment to Minnesota may not be all that their fans hoped it would be.
In an interview with Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears, Love voiced his growing frustration with the franchise for their lack of playoff chops. Love even said, “My patience is not high.”
If you’re a Timberwolves fan, you must be biting your fingernails with that news, especially with the infamous David Kahn running things.
Love is a fantastic player and a stat machine, but does he have the winning pedigree of guys like Tim Duncan or Bill Russell?
Duncan didn’t have a great supporting cast when he entered the league with the San Antonio Spurs, but he went about his business and carried his team to a championship.
K-Love may not have that killer instinct. The T-Wolves have a great supporting cast for him next year that appears to be playoff-bound on paper, but Love’s patience, as he’s said himself, is wearing thin.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (This probably won’t be a popular assessment, but Love hasn’t proven that he can lead a team to the playoffs, much less a championship. He’s a great player who fills up the stat sheet, but he’s closer to being Pau Gasol than he is to being Tim Duncan.
By that, I mean if you give Love an alpha dog like Kobe Bryant, he’d be a solid passenger to a championship team. As a team’s best player though, he may not have a championship in him.)
New Orleans Hornets: Anthony Davis
You could easily make a case for Eric Gordon as the New Orleans Hornets’ franchise centerpiece, but considering he would have rather played with the Phoenix Suns next season by his own admission, we’ll give the nod to the true future of the franchise, Anthony Davis.
The first overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft is drawing early comparisons to Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. He’s a defensive-minded shot-blocking fiend who has a great feel for the game of basketball.
His offense isn’t great at the moment, but it’s still decent and will improve moving forward.
As far as next season is concerned, comparing Davis to Marcus Camby in his prime appears to be a fair assessment. He’ll probably average around 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game as a rookie on a young and inexperienced club.
Davis is an early favorite to win next season’s Rookie of the Year award and could help lead the Hornets to more wins than they had a season ago.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (No disrespect to Davis, who could develop into the next Kevin Garnett for all we know, but I’ve seen enough draft busts over the years to know not to over-hype someone before they’ve played an NBA game. Even if that player is a can’t-miss prospect like Davis.)
New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony, even with all his negatives, is a dynamite scorer in the NBA.
Yes, he’s a selfish black hole on offense at times who also ostracized one of the greatest offensive NBA minds on earth last season in Mike D’Antoni, but his talent often makes up for his attitude.
The New York Knicks, with Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, have two talented offensive players who continue to prove just how incompatible they are as teammates.
Even so, if those two guys can figure out some semblance of team chemistry by putting their egos aside (don’t hold your breath) they could become one of the best offensive tandems in the game.
Anthony is once again showing in the Olympics this summer exactly how electric he is as a pure scorer. If nothing else, Anthony can single-handedly keep you in any game with his scoring prowess and he isn’t afraid to take clutch shots.
Alpha Dog Test: Pass (I still think that a team could win an NBA title with Carmelo Anthony as their best player. The supporting cast in this situation is everything, but I doubt that Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler are the names that make it a reality.)
Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant
While Oklahoma City Thunder fans have to worry about the futures of both James Harden and Serge Ibaka, who are entering the final year of their contracts, they certainly don’t have to worry about Kevin Durant.
The 23-year-old star is an unassuming, loyal kid who truly seems dedicated to winning with the Thunder. Durant has explained that he loves the college-style atmosphere of the fanbase and signed on long-term as a result.
The Thunder made a relatively easy run to the NBA finals before losing to the Miami Heat.
Although you could feel the disappointment the Thunder were feeling, it’s hard to believe they won’t be back in the same position.
Durant and Co. are still a young and hungry team looking for that first championship. The Heat, Spurs and Lakers may stand in their way, but I can’t imagine they won’t make another deep run next season.
Alpha Dog Test: Pass (You can most certainly win a championship with Kevin Durant as the team’s best player.)
Orlando Magic: Aaron Afflalo
Now that the Orlando Magic have traded Dwight Howard and Jason Richardson for a quantity over quality bunch that includes Aaron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, Josh McRobets, Christian Eyenga, three protected first-round picks and two second-round picks, the outlook of their franchise centerpiece has drastically changed.
Although there is no true centerpiece for the Magic to build around, Afflalo is the best player they got back for Howard, so he'll have the responsibility for the time being.
If the Magic have any hope of returning to the NBA playoffs, that future success will likely hinge on their own draft picks (considering the three first rounders they got in the trade are all lottery protected).
For now, their best player is Afflalo. He's a defensive-minded shooting guard who may be one of the most underrated players in the league. Behind Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson, Eric Gordon and James Harden you could argue that Afflalo is one of the top shooting guards in the league (of course, you'd have to value defense more than offense to pick Afflalo over guys like Monta Ellis and Klay Thompson, but still).
Orlando probably could have got much more talent in return for D12 if they shipped him to the Brooklyn Nets or the Houston Rockets. Instead, the Magic settled for the recent four-team trade that seemed to help every team but Orlando.
Needless to say, Magic GM Rob Hennigan has a lot of work ahead of him.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (Afflalo's defensive skills make him a valuable asset, but as a team's alpha dog and team leader he'll have to vastly improve his game before he's able to lead a team to a championship. He'd be better suited as a championship team's third best player who worries more about shutting down opposing stars with his defense.)
Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Bynum
The Philadelphia 76ers were able to turn Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless and a protected first-round pick into Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson. Considering they never won anything significant with Iggy and were due for a change, that's a great trade haul.
Bynum had a breakout year last season with the Lakers. He was consistently healthy for the first time since 2007 and put up huge numbers as a result. He'll immediately step in as the new franchise centerpiece in Philly following the trade.
As the team's No. 1 offensive option, a role Bynum has desired while playing third wheel behind Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in Los Angeles, the 25-year-old big man could put up massive numbers.
He appears to have all the tools he needs to succeed in his new home, but there should be some concerns for Sixers fans.
First of all, Bynum has been extremely injury prone over the course of his seven-year career. He didn't put up star numbers until last season and still has maturity issues.
While most NBA players seem to go through some growing pains, both mentally and physically, Bynum's reputation as a headcase may not fit all too well in Philly.
Doug Collins is a fantastic NBA coach, but he's also a no-nonsense type of guy. Former Sixer Marreese Speights spent a year in coach Collins' doghouse before being traded to Memphis.
Could the same situation play itself out in Philly if Collins and Bynum butt heads and fail to see eye-to-eye? Considering that Bynum is only under contract for one more season and the Sixers organization will have to convince him to stay, that's an interesting storyline to watch.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (I'm not about to crown a guy who still has notable maturity issues, injury troubles and has never been more than a team's third best offensive option. Don't sleep on Bynum though; as Philly's new alpha dog, he could embrace the role well and lead this team for many years down the road.)
Phoenix Suns: Goran Dragic
Losing Steve Nash via free agency this summer stung the pride of Phoenix Suns fans even more than it should have when he left to join the rival Los Angeles Lakers.
Although Phoenix lost the face of its basketball franchise, the front office made some quick moves to replace Nash moving forward.
Goran Dragic, who was meant to be the successor to Nash before he was traded with a first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for Aaron “I’d rather play in China” Brooks, is back to fill the point guard spot once again.
Dragic has shown flashes of being a brilliant NBA player. Even before his time spent starting in place of the injured Kyle Lowry in Houston, Dragic had some memorable performances in a Suns uniform; namely, his performance against the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs when he scored 23 points in the fourth quarter alone to seal a win for Phoenix.
It’s fitting that “The Dragon” is making a return to Phoenix to take the job he always should have been conditioned to have. He’s a great point guard and he’ll probably have a breakout season, but the Suns may still be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (As a team’s second or third-best player, I think Dragic could be a fantastic contributor to a championship team. As a team’s No. 1 option, however, he’ll simply be asked to do too much.)
Portland Trail Blazers: LaMarcus Aldridge
The Portland Trail Blazers are obviously taking steps to rebuild their franchise from the ground up, but the one constant has been LaMarcus Aldridge.
As one of the more underrated power forwards in the NBA, Aldridge always seems to put up respectable numbers.
He’ll have a tough task ahead of him this upcoming season, though.
As the Trail Blazers’ franchise centerpiece, Aldridge will have to put up with growing pains from rookies Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard. Nic Batum is a solid role player to place alongside Aldridge, but for the money he’s making the Trail Blazers may not have room to add much else.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (Again, like Pau Gasol, if you put a bona fide scoring alpha dog beside Aldridge, I could see him playing second fiddle on a championship contender.)
Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins has perhaps the most potential of any young star in the NBA today.
Even so, Cousins is still immature and has had an attitude problem that led to the firing of head coach Paul Westphal.
Cousins is a stat machine, but unless Sacramento gets a veteran presence to place alongside the big man moving forward, it’s hard to see him taking the game all too seriously.
As a basketball fan, I wish that Cousins would put aside all the baggage and just go out and dominate, as he’s certainly capable of doing. Unfortunately, petty issues between teammates and coaches have him stifling his own potential.
He could be poised for a breakout year next season, but unless he matures and understands how transcendently great he could be, it’s unlikely that he’ll tap into all of his potential.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (I believe that if Cousins can grow up and embrace his role as the team’s best player and leader, he could make some noise in this league. However, as is the case with Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge, Cousins may need someone to lead by example before he can lead by himself.)
San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan
Spurs fans, you don’t need me to tell you the alpha dog status of Tim Duncan. As long as he’s still going about his business in a Spurs uniform, he will have the franchise centerpiece role simply by matter of respect.
Duncan has always proven himself to be a winner in this league. He’s been leading the Spurs for over a decade and is even playing at a high level at the tail end of his career. By my estimation, he’s the best power forward to ever play the game of basketball.
As long as you have Duncan, you’re a threat to win championships. Oh, and having Gregg Popovich as coach doesn’t hurt.
Alpha Dog Test: Pass (And then some).
Toronto Raptors: Andrea Bargnani
Andrea Bargnani is a great offensive big man. As a seven-footer who can shoot the three-ball, he’s certainly a lot of fun to watch.
With that said, Bargnani will never be ranked among the league’s best defenders and would be better suited as a team’s second or third best option.
As the Toronto Raptors’ franchise centerpiece, they likely will never make noise in the playoffs (if they even make the playoffs).
There is hope for Raptors fans, though. If Jonas Valanciunas can step in and dominate (or at least show some promise) as a 20-year-old rookie, the Raptors could be looking at a formidable foreign one-two punch.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail
Utah Jazz: Al Jefferson
Al Jefferson has been underrated in the NBA for many, many years. The main reason for that is because Jefferson has never played for a team contending for a championship.
The Boston Celtics teams that he started his career with were dreadful. Then he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves to endure more mediocrity as Kevin Garnett soaked in the spotlight of Boston by winning his first championship.
Jefferson then joined the Utah Jazz and had continued statistical success, but it’s only led to an eight seed and a first-round playoff ousting at the hands of the Spurs.
Big Al is one of those NBA players that you root for. You simply want to see him on a winning team after enduring so many hardships, whether those be injuries or playing on lackluster teams.
The problem with Jefferson is staring him straight in the face: He can’t be the alpha dog on a champ. If it hasn’t happened after eight NBA seasons, the chances are as close to zero as they can get.
Jefferson would be a tremendous second option for a team that had a bona fide star, but he’s never been lucky enough to find himself in that situation.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (for evident reasons)
Washington Wizards: John Wall
John Wall has yet to live up to the hype of being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
His numbers showed nearly no improvement from his rookie year to his sophomore year, which is alarming considering he was outperformed by Kyrie Irving in nearly every way despite having another year of NBA experience under his belt.
Wall was supposed to be a promising young star when he entered the NBA, but has struggled when you remember he was the first player taken in the draft.
The guy shot 7.1 percent from three-point range last season. He went 3-for-42 shooting from downtown. I guess you could pat him on the back for attempting 72 fewer three-point shots last season when compared with his rookie year, but why shoot them at all if he's that inept?
Wall has a long way to go if he's to prove he belongs with the likes of Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving as far as being a star point guard taken first overall. He still has a ton of time considering he's just 21 years old, but the sputtering start out of the gates is a concern.
Maybe a better supporting cast in Washington this year will light a fire under the young floor general.
Alpha Dog Test: Fail (Has the best player on an NBA champion ever shot lower than 10 percent from three-point land? We'd probably have to go back to the days before the three-point line was invented to get that answer.)