5 NBA Greats We Wish Were Playing Today Instead of Their Era

Jeremy Gottlieb@@jmg2776Contributor INovember 16, 2012

5 NBA Greats We Wish Were Playing Today Instead of Their Era

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    Ever wish your favorite player from a bygone era could just magically grow bionic legs, get all the skills from his heyday back and go out on the court and absolutely crush it?

    It's probably at least somewhat of a common fantasy among die hard NBA-heads. Picturing the best of the best from your favorite teams hopping in the DeLorean and rocketing into the future to play alongside the current issue's best.

    Naturally, there a a truckload of former greats who would look tremendous in 2012-2013. But there are some, a few, who would bring fans rushing to their TVs to get a look at what they can do now more than most others.

    Here's an educated guess at who those might be.

Tim Hardaway

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    When Hardaway was unleashed upon the NBA as Golden State's first-round pick in 1989, he made his presence felt almost immediately.

    Hardaway was the point man for what would become known as Run TMC, a triumvirate of high-octane scorers made up of himself, Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond.

    He was a blur, flying up and down the court while looking as though he was barely moving. His crossover was ridiculous and as a rookie, he posted excellent numbers to the tune of 14.7 points and 8.7 assists per game as Mullin and Richmond handled the bulk of the scoring load.

    But in 1990-1991, the year he made his first of five All-Star teams, he really took off. Hardaway upped his scoring average to 22.9 per game to go with the first of four double-digit assist seasons for his career. The Warriors won 50 games that season only to be dispatched from the playoffs in the Western semis by the Lakers, who would go on to reach the Finals.

    Hardaway overcame multiple knee injuries during his five-and-a-half seasons with Golden State, even missing a full season in 1993-1994. But he bounced back from his surgeries to team with Alonzo Mourning and coach Pat Riley to lead the Miami Heat to their first great stretch, a run that included six straight playoff appearances, one all the way to the Eastern finals and a 60-plus win year.

    Tim Hardaway was one of the most exciting and versatile players of the last 20-25 years. His career had two almost entirely different incarnations: one as a speedy, flashy, scoring point guard and the other as a wizened, tough, defensively superior floor general.

    Watching him today would be a real treat.

Hakeen Olajuwon

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    The Dream Shake.

    Hardly ever has there been a better, cooler moniker for a signature move or play than the one Hakeem Olajuwon received for his sensational, pretty much automatic post play.

    One of the greatest post players in league history, Olajuwon went from college superstar to NBA No. 1 overall pick to franchise icon, surefire Hall of Famer and world champion over the span of his 18-year career.

    If you tried to stop Olajuwon in the paint, you did so at your own risk. He had every low post move in the book in his repertoire and if he didn't, chances were he'd just invent a new one. 

    Playing in an era of great centers along with the likes of David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and at the end, Shaquille O'Neal, Olajuwon was unquestionably the best of the bunch. And he would probably still dominate the post today.

Charles Barkley

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    If you can't imagine a 6'4" power forward swallowing up every rebound in sight, watch some highlights of Charles Barkley in his prime. It's unbelievable.

    Barkley averaged 11.7 rebounds per game for his career, grabbing double digit boards in all of his 16 seasons but for one, his rookie year. In 1986-1987 at age 23 and in his third year, he averaged 14.6, a career high.

    Did we mention he was just 6'4"?

    Barkley was incredibly strong, jumped very well for a player of his build and benefited from being so wide, it was tough to get around him despite his height. He used that width on offense too, dominating in the post and not only scoring between 23 and 28.5 points per game for a stretch of 10 consecutive years but never shooting below 50 percent from the field save for once over that period.

    Barkley, who shot 60 percent in 1989-1990, was the premier power forward of his generation alongside Karl Malone. But Malone was build like a brick house, the quintessential 4. Barkley was arguably better despite being shorter than some of his guard teammates.

    The current generation of NBA fans mostly knows Barkley for his TV work. He's great on TNT.

    He was also great as a player for even longer. Watching someone with Barkley's size and game would be something else in today's league.

Scottie Pippen

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    One of the more revolutionary players in NBA history, Pippen was the jelly to Michael Jordan's peanut butter and has six championship rings to show for it.

    Pippen was a 6'8" forward with the skill set to play four positions. He could handle and distribute the ball and see the floor like a point guard. He scored from the perimeter and got to the basket like a shooting guard or small forward and would even occasionally post up and rebound like a 4.

    There were also few players in Pippen's era who played defense the way he did. If Pippen had you, you were locked down and there was nothing you could do about it. Scottie Pippen was ferocious at the defensive end.

    An eight-time All-Defensive first teamer, he's also first all-time in steals by a forward in both a single season and in a career. And he joined Olajuwon as one of two players in history to block five shots and record five steals in a playoff game.

    In today's NBA, Pippen would be a 4, much like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have become. He'd still be especially dangerous from the power forward position in that he was skilled enough to take his man out of the paint and abuse him on the perimeter if needs be.

    He was also strong enough to get his down low against bigger opponents, something he'd probably still be able to do today. Given his incredible ball skills, Pippen was also a tremendous passer out of the post.

    There haven't been many players like Scottie Pippen in the NBA ever, either before he played or after he retired in 2008. And there probably never will be.

Michael Jordan

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    Probably the biggest no-brainer of them all. Jordan is the best player of all time.

    To see him in his 1988-1998 form today would be a real treat. Imagine Jordan at his peak facing the current incarnation of the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron would be in tears.

    As we all know, Jordan won six championships, five MVP awards, Rookie of the Year and even a Defensive Player of the Year trophy. He was the ultimate assassin and he coldly reveled in it. There's a reason no one has ever truly talked trash like Jordan did.

    Because no one could back it up like him.

    It's hard to know whether Jordan would find the same kind of success playing with this era's Bulls as he during his time. He and Derrick Rose overlap in a fair number of ways, though Rose has more pure point guard in him. Whether Rose would happily fit in behind Jordan in simple alpha dog terms as Pippen did is tough to say. 

    Regardless, since he was the best ever, he's easily the top name on this list. The game has changed a lot since he called it a career for the final time in in 2003. Michael Jordan was so good though, that he'd probably still rule the league today.