Speculation involving free agents often boils down to a familiar battle: Common Sense vs. The Internet.
Common Sense would dictate that Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady - all once great stars - are washed up. All three are defensive liabilities now. All three demand the ball more than their diminished skills warrant. All three have proved to be locker room cancers.
But the Internet will not be assuaged by the presence of mere facts. The Internet is impressed by the fame of these players. The Internet points to their former talents, neglecting the prominence of the word former. The Internet says that most title contenders would be well served to pick up one of these three; that they could be the "missing piece!" The Internet claims that at the very least, these Stars could draw fans to the seats.
In countless, breathless blog posts and comments, the Internet has made its opinion clear.
I'm sorry, Internet, but you're wrong.
At only 6'0", Iverson doesn't have the height to guard anyone but point guards, but at 35 years old, he no longer has the quickness to stay in front of them. Because he's not a great outside shooter, his game has always been dependant on dribble penetration. He no longer has the speed to consistently do this. All of this leads to a player that isn't an efficient option on offense and is a liability on defense.
That's before we take into account how he disdains practice, gambles on defense and managed to quit on the only two teams to give him a chance last year. Iverson should be done in the NBA.
Tracy McGrady is only 31, but played in just 65 games the past two years. His numbers have been in sharp decline over the past four years. The Knicks didn't trade for him, they traded for his expiring contract. More than Iverson, he may be worthy of a chance to see if he can recover his health. He has enough size, skill and youth that if he puts his health problems behind him (like Grant Hill managed to do) he could contribute.
But that's a big if. And a bigger if is whether he can buy into a team concept and accept a smaller role. It's natural to want to be a starter, but he's got to earn it at this point.
Shaquille O'Neal is 38. He clogs the lane for his own offense. He's turnover prone. He can't defend the pick and roll. His free throw shooting makes him a liability when his own team is in the bonus. He's injury prone. He demands the ball. He doesn't like setting picks, which is a shame given how big he is. It's no wonder Cleveland was better with him off the court last year than on.
Could Shaq still contribute? Sure, I suppose. People always need big bodies, and for 15-20 minutes a night for the right salary on the right team, he's certainly more talented than a replacement level player.
But this is a player who was unhappy with his role last year while playing on a title contending team. A player who whined out of Miami and badmouthed the team on the way out. A player who wants a multi-year deal at $8 million a year! None of that suggests that Shaq is willing to reinvent himself as a role player.
So what should these stars do? No, none of them are going to the Heat, Internet. Give it up. In fact, any contender should be wary of bringing in any of their over-sized egos. But on the other side of the coin, non-contending teams should be concerned that they might stunt their young players' development.
So I say that if these fading stars really want to prove themselves, they should try to team up. After all, Big Threes are all the rage now!
But where to go? I vote for....the Indiana Pacers.
Let's face it, the Pacers are just the right mix. They're terrible, but also without much young talent. They've got nothing to lose. Picture the starting lineup...
C Shaquille O'Neal
PF Troy Murphy
SF Danny Granger
SG Tracy McGrady
PG Allen Iverson
With Murphy and Granger, the Ex-Stars would be teaming up with two solid three point shooters to help space the floor, and a go-to option in Granger that means they don't have to carry the team.
Who really loses out on minutes in this scenario that deserves them? Hibbert would get plenty of run as the backup C. Foster, Hansbrough, and Dunleavy are all coming off injury plagued years. Ford is completely in the doghouse and they're doing everything they can to get rid of him. Rush and Jones just aren't really good.
Now if the Internet is right and if the Ex-Stars still have it, this team would be dynamite. And if they're wrong (which by the way, they are) it would rank as perhaps the greatest single season train wreck ever.
I know I wouldn't be able to look away. They could even make a reality show so we can see their behind the scenes exploits. Call it "the Surreal Life, Basketball Edition."
Indiana still has their mid level exception. Sure, they're dangerously close to the luxury tax, but who cares? Make this happen Indiana. The Internet demands it!