Ranking the Top 10 Best Locker Room Presences in the NBA

Dave Leonardis@@FrontPageDaveContributor IIISeptember 15, 2012

Ranking the Top 10 Best Locker Room Presences in the NBA

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    The ability to make your presence felt in an NBA locker room is a unique quality that very few players possess. In many ways, the ability to be your team's voice is as important as having a great jump shot or a quick first step.

    NBA champions are built on having the kind of "glue guys" that keep teams from falling apart and who promote good chemistry. They are a vital part to any successful franchise. Every team needs a leader to keep them in line. Most of the time, that leader is the best guy on the team. The Spurs have been successful for years thanks to the leadership of a guy like Tim Duncan.

    Still, some of the best examples of a commanding locker room presence are simply role players with a great grasp of the team concept. As great of a leader as a guy like Tim Duncan is, he's also had the help of some great voices in the locker room like Steve Smith, Robert Horry and David Robinson.

    Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are two of the best players of their era. Their competitive drive and will to win compelled their teams to numerous championships. However, their aggressiveness and overwhelming need to win grated on the nerves of their teammates. Bryant's demeanor helped end of one of the greatest duos of this generation: Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.

    Perhaps it's the clearer sense of the big picture and less of a desire for personal achievements that make role players such great locker room guys. They have an excellent sense of self and know that they don't possess the abilities to be bigger than the team. It's a concept that took a guy like Bryant years to master.

    Today, we will rank the 10 best locker room guys in the NBA. These are gentlemen who excel at getting the ears of those around them to listen to their words. Some of these men are household names, while the others may not be who you would typically think of when you are considering the best locker room generals.

10. Jerry Stackhouse, SG, Brooklyn Nets

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    Jerry Stackhouse isn't a name that rolls off your tongue when you are talking about locker room leaders. For the early part of his career, he was a gunner with the innate ability to score points in bunches.

    However, it's been a long time since Stackhouse was a key cog in a team's offense. Long past his prime, the former North Carolina Tarheel is still able to find work because of his veteran savvy. He still has enough left in the tank to be a suitable backup shooting guard, but it's the respect young players give him that makes him so vital.

    The Brooklyn Nets could have found any number of guards to caddy for high-priced starter Joe Johnson. Instead, they opted for Stackhouse because he's the kind of voice you need in a locker room filled with big names.

    Stackhouse is 37 years old. He's been in the league for 17 years and Brooklyn will be the eighth team he's suited up for his career. He's a guy with experience both as the lead dog and as a role player. He will be Avery Johnson's veteran voice in the locker room, as will be small forward Gerald Wallace.

    If the Nets are going to be successful this season as a newly-minted "super team", they are going to need someone who can help keep all the egos under control. With his days as a top scorer over, Stackhouse can be that guy.

9. Joakim Noah, C, Chicago Bulls

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    Dating back to his days at the University of Florida, Joakim Noah has been an energetic and animated big man who has always put the team ahead of his personal numbers. On the court, he leads with a tireless motor. He hustles for every rebound and contests every shot within his range.

    Off the court, he takes the responsibility of being the team mouthpiece that unassuming star point guard Derrick Rose isn't. While the Chicago Bulls are undoubtedly D-Rose's team, Noah is their voice. He has no problem getting in the face of an opponent to defend his mates, be it Ben Wallace or LeBron James.

    While Noah has had maturity issues that led him to getting benched by his teammates in January, Noah will gain their trust and respect by becoming their enforcer on the court. In the locker room, his high energy and personality will come in handy to lighten the mood for a Bulls team with high expectations.

    With Rose expected to miss a good portion of the season as he recovers from a knee injury, it will be on Noah to keep this team on track. Noah will also have to find a way to stay healthy himself. The injury bug has plagued Noah throughout his career, and he missed time last year with an ankle injury.

    Avoiding injury and bouts of immaturity are key for Noah in this upcoming season. Their star player is going to be out awhile and nobody knows what kind of player Rose will be when he does come back. Noah's hustle and energy are going to be the key components that gets the Bulls through this time without their former MVP.

8. Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    The only thing that kept Kevin Durant from being higher on this list is his lack of experience. As Durant gets older, he will stake his claim as one of the best leaders in the NBA. Entering his sixth season, Durant has shown great command in leading a young Thunder team to the NBA Finals last year.

    Durant is a quiet and soft-spoken guy, so it's easy to overlook his impact in the locker room. In a sport filled with guys who pound their chest after dunk and yell after every big play, Durant is the antithesis of the modern athlete. He handles his business calmly and without much bombast.

    He's also shown the ability to be selfless. Despite being the scoring champion for the past three seasons, Durant has shown a willingness to defer to fellow star Russell Westbrook. At just 23, he is more mature and humble than many superstars his age.

    As the years go by and the Thunder continue to be an upper echelon contender, Durant's reputation in the locker room will continue to expand. On a team with no real veteran presence, it's impressive that a kid with just five years of NBA tenure under his belt can take command so quickly.

    Time will tell if Durant gets the championship ring that eluded him last year. With LeBron James finally winning a title, Durant becomes the best player without a championship. He'll have a tough time getting back to the Finals with a revamped Lakers team threatening Oklahoma City's reign on the West's throne.

    In the meantime, Durant will continue to be Oklahoma City's steady hand. His ability to stay grounded despite his stature as one of the game's best will continue to gain him the respect of his peers. That will pay off dividends down the road when Durant isn't as able to let his game do the talking.

7. Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers

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    From the moment he stepped on the court for the New Orleans Hornets, Chris Paul established himself as the leader of that team. He was the consummate team player and floor general. He delivered the ball to teammates in the best position to score. He chided them when they made crucial mistakes.

    Even at just 27 years old, few players have the kind of respect around the league that Paul has. Paul's ability to take charge and elevate those around him was evident after he was traded to the Clippers last December. CP3 took over a floundering Clippers team and brought them to the playoffs.

    He led the way by showing an uncanny combination of toughness, court vision and stellar defense. When the team needed someone to take over in the fourth quarter, Paul was the guy. The same can be said about Paul's role on Team USA. With an All-Star cast around him, Paul was respected and trusted enough to be the guy down the stretch when they needed him.

    This season, Paul is a leader in a Clippers locker room filled with veteran presence. A number of the guys the Clippers have brought in over the summer are either on the list or could have just as easily made the cut. Even with all that veteran savvy in the locker room, the team knows that Paul is the guy.

    The key for Paul and the Clippers is the health of their star point guard. Paul was troubled by knee woes during his tenure with the Hornets. He played through a hip injury in the playoffs and battled a hurt thumb throughout the Olympics. The thumb injury required surgery and he could miss up to eight weeks.

    The Clippers have enough respected voices to pick up the slack if Paul's sore thumb keeps him out for the start of the season. When he returns, his command of the court and the locker room will be on full display. He will be a key piece to the Clippers' potential championship hopes this season and going forward.

6. Steve Nash, PG, Los Angeles Lakers

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    It was a toss-up between Chris Paul and Steve Nash for this spot. Inevitably, Nash got the nod because he's been around much longer. The list of guys who want to play on the same team with Steve Nash is pretty extensive. When Nash hit free agency this past summer, it was pretty much a who's who of NBA pros vying for his services.

    The reason for all the clamor over the two-time MVP is Nash's long-standing reputation as a guy who makes his teammates better. Every night, Nash willingly sacrifices his own numbers for the greater good of the team. For most of his career, that kind of selflessness has lead to team success.

    Nash was a vital part of a Mavericks team that was very successful, along with Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki. When Nash left Dallas to return to Phoenix, his teams kept winning even as his star role players became interchangeable.

    No Joe Johnson? No problem. The team trades away Shawn Marion? No problem. Amar'e Stoudemire skips town during free agency? Just leave it up to Steve Nash.

    The only problem is, for all of Nash's success, it never lead to any NBA jewelry on his fingers. He came close over the years with the Suns and Mavericks, but always came up short. In the last couple of seasons, Nash has seen Phoenix's window for contending shut but still remained stoic while the team was rebuilding.

    That kind of patience paid off over the summer. Nash was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that was desperate for a top notch point guard. Nash will go from dishing passes to Marcin Gortat to throwing alley-oops to Dwight Howard. Nash's supporting cast in Hollywood is an embarrassment of riches.

    While the Lakers have been led for years by Kobe Bryant, Nash is a more respected voice and he'll be able to be the steady hand the team needs. "The Black Mamba" will still provide the scoring and be the most visible member of the team, but Kobe would be wise to defer to Nash as the leader.

    This year could be the year it all comes full circle for the NBA's favorite Canadian. He's in the best position to win a championship he's ever been in throughout his entire career. There will be a ton of egos for the Lakers to manage. However, if there is anyone who can handle a star-studded locker room, it's Steve Nash.

5. Chauncey Billups, PG, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Perhaps it is that they initiate the offense every time they come up the court that makes point guards such great locker room guys. Over the past decade, there haven't been many locker room guys better than Chauncey Billups.

    It was hard to notice Billups' absence on last year's Clippers team after he got hurt because Chris Paul handled the ship so well. However, think back to Billups' days on the Detroit Pistons. He was crucial in maintaining a team concept on a Pistons team that didn't have many prototypical stars. The result was an NBA championship in a surprise Finals upset over the star-studded Lakers.

    Billups has spent the better part of the last few years in the mentor role. He was the kind of level head that George Karl needed to guide a young Nuggets team. He was equally vital in keeping things in order when he was sent to the Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony trade.

    When he signed with the Clippers last year, he and CP3 were the kind of solid locker room guys the team needed. A team with a long history of losing like the Clippers needed a guy with a championship mentality like Billups.

    As mentioned before with Paul, Billups returns to a team filled with great locker room guys. Forward Lamar Odom returns to the Clippers and he's the kind of veteran jack-of-all-trades that teams need to be their "glue guy". The team will also benefit from the return of Billups, who went down late last year with an Achilles injury.

    Billups is even influential in helping players on other teams. Billups' endorsement of former coach Rick Carlisle helped sway free agent guard O.J. Mayo to sign with Dallas, where Carlisle now coaches.

    Chauncey Billups has a spot as an NBA head coach somewhere in his future. If ever there was a need to bring back the idea of a "player-coach", it would be now with this Clippers team. It remains to be seen how much Billups has left in the tank. What we do know is that, so long as he's in an NBA locker room, his team will be better off.

4. Kevin Garnett, PF, Boston Celtics

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    There is nobody in the NBA who epitomizes the word "intensity" more than Kevin Garnett. Garnett is a vocal leader who can command attention with just a simple stare. He is infamously hard on young players, as evidenced by the time he made former teammate Glen Davis cry. However, Garnett's tough love ends up paying off in the end.

    Unlike the rest of the guys on this list, Garnett didn't have the benefit of molding his leader persona in college. Garnett came into the league straight out of high school and made his presence felt on a young Minnesota Timberwolves from Day 1. He put the Timberwolves on his back for years and carried teams with not a lot of talent much further than they should have gone.

    However, the lack of a bona fide star in Minnesota crippled Garnett's championship hopes. Once he came to Boston, Garnett benefited from a lightened load and a chance to feed off the energy of a raucous crowd. Those elements led to Garnett's first ring in the 2007-2008 season.

    With 17 seasons under his belt and his body pushing 40, Garnett's days of carrying a team may be over. He did his best to will this Celtics team to another finals appearance last year but fell short in the Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.

    Garnett returned to the Celtics this year and he will be vital in mentoring young big men Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo. Their presence will allow Garnett to rest his aging legs while Garnett's veteran wisdom and drive will make both rookies better players in the long run.

    His intensity may rub people the wrong way at times but it's the kind of attribute you want in a franchise guy. KG wears his love for the game on his sleeve and he brings it every single night. That kind of passion tends to inspire young players more often than not, even if it does scare them into tears at first.

3. Shane Battier, SF, Miami Heat

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    While Shane Battier was a star at Duke, his NBA career has seen him mold himself into the prototypical role player. He plays hard on defense, makes the extra pass to the open teammate and motivates his team when they need to be lifted up.

    Battier's presence in the locker room and standing as one of the best "glue guys" in the game was the edge that got the Heat over the championship hump. Two years ago, the Heat were a "super team" that fell short in the finals because it leaned a little bit too hard on its Big Three.

    When they signed Battier last summer, the dynamic in Miami changed. All of the intangibles that Battier brings to the table rubbed off and he had many big moments in the playoffs. In the finals, Battier benefited from open looks on offense and provided hustle on defense.

    Battier may not be a star but he can carry a team in other ways. He is the kind of elite role player that teams need on their roster to win championships. To be successful in the NBA, you need guys like Battier who are meticulous in doing the little things.

    The Heat are the overwhelming favorite to at least represent the East in the finals again this year. With Battier on the team, they have a guy who can keep the team level-headed coming off winning a championship.

    Guys like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will get all of the credit but they wouldn't be NBA champions without a glue guy like Shane Battier.

2. Grant Hill, SF, Los Angeles Clippers

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    On the list of NBA players who will be fine NBA coaches, Grant Hill is among the top of the list. There must be something about guys who play at Duke that makes them into fine NBA role players. Hill brings a welcomed mix of professionalism, veteran savvy, talent and smarts to any team he's on.

    He started out his career as one of the game's biggest stars as a member of the Detroit Pistons. After signing with Orlando Magic, injuries threatened to end Hill's career prematurely. Most young players would be happy to take all of the money Hill earned and hang 'em up early.

    Instead, Hill persevered through all of the injury setbacks and has recreated himself as an excellent role player. Hill has averaged double digits in scoring throughout his entire 17-year career. However, his scoring numbers the last few years in Phoenix are nearly half what they were when he was a star in Detroit.

    Even at a couple weeks shy of his 40th birthday, Hill felt he still had something left to give to the game of basketball. Hill is still in pursuit of his first NBA championship. That's why he signed on to be a part of a Clippers team with a ton of potential.

    With a cast that includes Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, Hill joins a group of veteran role players such as Chauncey Billups, Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom. It will be tough for the Clippers to overcome Western powerhouses like the Thunder and the Lakers. However, what the Clippers lack in star power, they gain in veteran savvy with guys like Hill.

    The window may be closing on Hill's championship aspirations as a player, but his presence will keep those hopes alive as a coach somewhere down the line.

1. Tim Duncan, PF, San Antonio Spurs

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    For me, Tim Duncan's work last year in willing a Spurs team that looked to be on the decline to the top seed in the West is what solidified the top spot for him. Duncan's days as a dominating power forward are pretty much over, but he'll continue to be a solid player thanks to unmatched fundamentals.

    Duncan's textbook technique makes him a blueprint for any aspiring basketball player. His excellent leadership is another quality that should be instilled into more young players. Duncan comes off as a very quiet and gentle giant. He doesn't lead with theatrics or any big speeches.

    He just goes out there and does his job with the utmost grace. He is savvy technician who knows how to dissect a defense and put his teammates in the proper place. Watching Tim Duncan operate on the basketball court is like watching Bobby Fischer play chess. There is a quiet brilliance to how everything falls into place.

    Last year should have been the start of the end for Duncan's Spurs. The team was getting older and the belief was that San Antonio couldn't hang with the younger and more athletic teams in the game. The Spurs proved the doubters wrong and rattled off a 20-game win streak before losing to the Thunder in the Conference Finals.

    This year, it would be unwise to count out the Spurs again. As long as Duncan is present, the team has a chance. He won't put up the same MVP numbers as he did in his younger years, but he'll continue to be a vital piece to the puzzle both on and off the court.