NBA Living Legends: 15 Active Players Who Are Hall of Famers in-Waiting
The level of depth in the NBA right now is the best I've seen in over a decade. All-Star talent can be found all around the league.
We'll look back at a decade or two, and remark at how amazing it was that we got to see so many future young Hall of Famers in this year's All-Star game.
But this isn't about them.
This is about those players who have peaked and are on their way out of the league. This is about looking back at the remarkable careers of 15 (and one) players, and speculating on their place in NBA history.
So, let me preface all this by saying that:
1) I only looked at NBA players who had either reached 30 years of age, or who had played 10 seasons—either one.
2) All players must have played in the 2010-2011 season. So, early spoiler alert: You may see a recent retiree on the list.
3) My verdicts fall under three categories: Lock-in, Eventual HOFer, and On the Fence.
A "Lock-In" is someone who is a first-ballot HOFer. An "Eventual HOFer" is just that—he's going, if not in his first year of eligibility. Someone who is "On the Fence" may or may not make it depending on extraneous factors.
4) This list, by its nature, is likely to be very controversial. So I ordered the players from who I believed to be least deserving of a HOF spot, to most deserving (to be fair, everyone on this list deserves a spot; the rankings are relative). So, have fun
Honorable Mention: Allen Iverson
I was absolutely going to make this the last slide in this presentation just to get your panties in a bunch. I apologize for that mental image.
Iverson is not eligible, though, because he did not play for an NBA team last season. So what? My article, my rules. And I reserve the right to break those rules just this once.
Before Allen Iverson was in the headlines for arguing with police over his celebrity status and complaining about riding the bench in Memphis, he was, well, complaining about riding the bench in Detroit.
But before that, he was the NBA's most prolific scorer. He won four scoring titles, and now ranks sixth all-time in points per game.
Beyond that, he had one of the most dominant individual seasons in NBA history in 2000-2001, where Iverson won the scoring title, All-Star MVP, and league MVP honors. His phenomenal individual performance nearly single-handedly got his Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals, where they were defeated by the Lakers with two all-time greats in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
He will go down as one of the all-time greats—an athlete who played with more heart than just about any other player ever. Everyone will remember that all those injuries late in his career were due the fact that he was a little guy willing to drive in and go pound-for-pound with guys a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier.
And everyone will remember the bad headlines as mere afterthoughts to a stellar career.
Verdict: HOF Lock-In
There are plenty of great players in the NBA right now, but not all of them are elite. Most players in the league will never be All-Stars. Most All-Stars won't sniff the Hall of Fame.
For this presentation, I really want to focus on players that have a high probability of getting into the Hall, even if it's not on the first ballot.
But I do want to address a few players that I think are phenomenal, but are currently on the wrong side of the fence when it comes to getting in.
Pau Gasol: Great player. All-time great? I'm not sure. He has absolutely earned his All-Star selections, and without him, Kobe would have two fewer rings.
But he hasn't had enough years where he has played at an "elite" level; moreover, his most recent post-season works against whatever HOF resume he has developed.
On the bright side, he has time to build up the resume.
Manu Ginobili: I like the guy, but has he ever played like an all-time great? His career stat line is 15-4-4. No doubt he meant more to the Spurs during their championship runs than the stats suggest.
But still: there's no doubt that he was the third wheel when the Spurs captured three titles in the 2000s.
Chauncey Billups: I really don't want to believe he won't get in the HOF, but Mr. Big Shot probably won't. His stat lines are great for any player, but HOFers aren't just any players. He's never been "the man" on any team he's been on.
He's been playing second fiddle to Carmelo (and now third to Amar'e) for the last couple of seasons. Before that, he was part of an ensemble lineup with the Pistons. He's never had to put the team on his back.
But you have to respect his ability to lead his teams, and act as field general even when there were bigger egos on the court (We're looking at you Melo).
Grant Hill. You guys remember him, right? The NBA's good guy.
On a recent episode of 24 Hours With:, Grant Hill discussed how Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings recently texted a picture of Jennings, when he was no more than eight or nine years old, wearing a Grant Hill jersey. So, yeah, the guy has been in the league for a while.
Hill has had an outstanding career by any measure. He has been an All-Star more than half a dozen times, averages 17-6-4 for his career, and was responsible for keeping his Pistons and Magic teams afloat.
Since Detroit, though, he has never been head honcho on a team. Nowadays, he is mostly relegated to offering some support for the younger players out in Phoenix, and watching Steve Nash run the show.
To be honest, I'm not sure his credentials are good enough to get him in the Hall of Fame, but it would be cool if we could see more nice guys without an over-inflated sense of self-worth walk across the stage in Springfield.
Verdict: On the fence
He is one of the best pure scorers I remember. At least, he was for a bit.
He won the scoring title twice. He dropped an astounding 62 points on the Wizards once as part of the Orlando Magic. As a part of the Houston Rockets, he once scored 13 points in 35 seconds to beat the Spurs in one of the most amazing comebacks in NBA history.
But, he's had it rough since then.
He has been plagued by injuries throughout his career. For his entire career, people have criticized him for being unable to lead his team anywhere in the playoffs. And now, he's stuck trying to make the best of a situation as the leader of a mediocre Pistons squad.
I honestly hope he's inducted, but his career has been shaky. He doesn't really seem in a solid position to reach the Hall of Fame, despite a remarkable first half to his career.
Verdict: On the fence
I think everyone's collective mind was blown when we first saw the Vinsanity put his whole arm into the hoop and hang off the rim.
But Vince Carter was much more than a dunk contest fiend.
With the last few years, many people have forgotten what an offensive powerhouse he was in New Jersey and Toronto. He hovered around 25 ppg for his peak years, and currently averages about 22 ppg (career).
He helped Dwight Howard and company make the Eastern Conference Finals last year, and helped Jason Kidd and the Nets remain a perennial playoff contender for the better part of a decade.
Vince has wavered in recent years, but he's been pretty consistent for the last decade. And, simply put, consistency is what separates Hall of Famers from All-Stars, and All-Stars from any good player.
Anyone can put up 20 points. To do it for a year is worthy of some accolades. To do it for a decade and half? Well, that's when you go down as one of the best.
Verdict: On the fence (but maybe ready to jump on old man Naismith's lawn)
Maybe I underestimate the guy, but I'm not as convinced of his status as all-time great as other fans and pundits are.
He's good. Real good. He was the starting point guard for the Popovich-Duncan Spurs' last three titles. He's good for 18-20 points on any given night, and he'll get teammates involved, averaging about 6 apg for his career. He won an NBA Finals MVP during the Spurs last championship run.
That's all pretty good, right?
Perhaps I'm not giving him enough credit, but I always felt like he couldn't have led the team to a title without Ginobili or Duncan. To be fair, I think that if you take out any member of that trio, they probably wouldn't have won three championships. They might not have even won one.
To that end, Parker was an important piece of their championship runs. Plus, he's got to time to solidify his place in NBA history—he's just 29.
Verdict: On the fence
Is everyone enjoying these (mostly) throwback pictures?
Anyway, I don't know what you can say about Pierce that hasn't been said—his weight fluctuates a lot, and it seems like sometimes he doesn't care, which is probably a result of the fact that he seems unmotivated some of the time.
But that's all good, because he's still an all-time great. And, he slumps like any player, but when he is motivated, he works as hard as any player on this list.
I remember after his championship season, I noticed that he had gained a considerable amount of weight and he looked sluggish. After losing to the Lakers in the 2010 finals, he came back this past year, worked hard, and slimmed down again.
When he is motivated, he is difficult to stop. We know that, in his prime, he could carry the entire team offensively like few players in the league. His shot is one of the smoothest and most consistent ever (though not good enough for best on his own team). And, to quote one Shaquille O'Neal, he "is the [expletive] truth."
To boot, it looks like he still has some solid seasons left in him.
Verdict: Eventual HOFer
Let me tell you a story about Ray Allen.
Last December, in a game against the hated Lakers, Ray Allen was pursuing the record for most three pointers made. Every time he took a shot, the crowd held its collective breath, and every time a shot went in, the crowd got to their feet. Finally, he hit the record-breaking shot and TD Garden went nuts.
Even though I was watching on TV, I could tell that that arena must have been deafening. Ray Allen ran to the sidelines and ran up to find his mom, who had been yelling "That's my baby!" after every made shot.
What does this tell you about the guy? For starters, I'd like to remind you that the record he was breaking was for most three-pointers all time—surpassing Reggie Miller's mark of 2,560. If there is a record that has the words "3 pointer" in the title, he holds it. He's one of the finest shooters the league has ever seen.
Secondly, this story reminds us that Ray Allen is one of those guys we all root for. Personally, I generally can't stand the Celtics. Ray Allen, though, is a guy you always find yourself rooting for. And, that night, I was proud to count myself among the Celtic faithful who rooted for him that night.
He's a good guy and a hard worker, and I'm sure we'd love to hear him talk at his induction ceremony someday in the near future.
Verdict: Eventual HOFer
I know a lot of people doubt his HOF credentials, but Steve Nash deserves every bit to be on the list. I honestly don't see the argument against it.
His numbers are terrific. He's had five seasons where he's averaged over 10 apg, while consistently averaging about 15 ppg. He's a two-time MVP, and twice he has guided his team to the Western Conference Finals, once each with the Mavs and the Suns.
But, like any great player, his influence extends beyond the games in which he's playing. During the 'look at me!' era of the NBA, point guards eventually became nothing more than shooting guards who occasionally drove in and maybe kicked the ball out.
Steve Nash and Jason Kidd reintroduced the concept of the point guard who acts as his team's quarterback.
Let's start with Chris Paul and Deron Williams—pure point guards who undoubtedly learned their position by watching Kidd and Nash. Now, there is an infusion of talent at the position—Rondo, Derrick Rose, John Wall, and Stephen Curry are just a few of the many, many names that come to mind.
If he doesn't make the Hall, it would be because the league is currently over-saturated with elite players his age. For the record, that excuse doesn't mean a thing. He's simply one of the best.
Verdict: Eventual HOFer
People say that we sometimes overestimate the ability of the players we watch. I think that the reverse can also be true—we over-hype past players and underestimate present-day athletes.
Jason Kidd had his critics all year, but I can't believe how many fans forgot the Kidd of the 2000s. Does no one remember how he led a team of nameless players to two NBA Finals? Sure he had Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin, but they were just kids at the time.
Jason Kidd did everything Nash has done the last few years, but on another level. He basically had 10 apg for the better part of the decade. And that's basically all you need to know.
He revived the concept of team basketball in a time where the league was dominated with Allen Iversons, Tracy McGradys and Vince Carters. I love those three players, and they're all potential HOFers, but Jason Kidd reminded us that this is a team sport.
Verdict: Eventual HOFer
I hate Kevin Garnett. And you do, too, if you're not a fan of the Celtics.
But he's that player you hate if he's not on your team, but you love him boundlessly if he is.
Before 2008, the former MVP and 14-time All-Star played with as much heart as I've ever seen. Championships change that. Players lose motivation—they're no longer hungry to win.
That is not true of Garnett. He still plays harder than any player on the court.
When the Celtics traded for Garnett, he came in and garnered respect. He knew this wasn't his team, so he made it his. He is the emotional glue that holds the team together. We all saw it when he yelled at Big Baby Davis, who cried, but has since become a solid starter in the league.
We saw it how the team faltered when he went down, and we hear how much the players respect him in every interview.
And, don't forget, anything is possible.
The writing just gets easier from here on out.
Does anyone who watched him play this postseason seriously believe he's not a first ballot inductee?
After my Wizards were eliminated from the playoff race (in November?), I was rooting for Durant and OKC to win it all, so I watched the Western Conference playoffs very closely.
Durant, by all standards, had a legendary postseason. He single-handedly came back against the Nuggets in a first-round game, dominated in triple overtime against Memphis, and dropped forty against Dallas in Game 1 of the Conference Finals.
I think this may put Dirk's postseason in perspective: no one remembers any of that.
Dirk led his team to a sweep of the Lakers, and then decimated OKC in a five-game gentleman's sweep. His postseason was the stuff of legends. He became the king in the clutch, outscoring both Wade and James in their first three fourth-quarter appearances, despite battling a fever.
In fewer words, he put the team on his back in a way not even Marshawn Lynch could.
His resume is now complete with an NBA Championship. A HOF induction is coming, and when it does, it will cap a legendary career.
Duncan and his championship squads get criticized for being boring. Or, euphemistically, "fundamental." I'm not sure the criticism is fair, but I'm sure he doesn't care either way. He has a hand with four rings on it.
Duncan is one of the most dominant players to ever play the game. And, minus this year, he has been one of the most consistent players.
Besides having been league MVP (who on this list hasn't?), Duncan remains one of the best two-way players in the game. He is a consistent 20-point threat, and his defensive prowess is uncanny of a star of his level.
And I know some of our younger readers don't remember why his Spurs are such a big deal.
Just keep this in mind: they are one of only three teams to represent the Western Conference in the Finals since 1999. The Mavs won the West twice. The only other team? The five-time champions—Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
Honestly, if it wasn't for Duncan and his Spurs squad, who knows how many championships Jackson and Bryant would have now?
And honestly, a HOF spot couldn't go to a nicer guy.
I have never liked Shaq. On the court, anyway.
I know I'm going to get some hate mail for that, but it's true. When I was a kid, I rooted for the Lakers, but I always thought he was over-rated. I thought he was just big and would just back down smaller defenders and basically lay it in over their heads. He was just bullying smaller kids, I thought.
But, I'm going to have to give credit where credit is due. This is the only time I'm going to praise Shaq so here goes: he's the best big man of the modern era, and maybe of all time (so far, anyway. Step your game up, Dwight).
Everyone knows about the three-peat with the Lakers. His performance was honestly magical (insert Kazaam joke here). In the first two postseasons where they won back-to-back titles, he topped 30 ppg.
From a center in the modern era? Unheard of. I have, to date, never seen such a dominating player. As I mentioned above, Dwight Howard could one day be that player. But, until then, I hate to say there is only the one, undisputed Superman.
You knew this was coming.
Kobe cannot escape the comparisons to Jordan. They say he's not as good. That his defense isn't as sharp. Or even that he isn't as dominant offensively.
I'm not getting into that debate. Like Kobe and Phil Jackson, I know they're not the same player.
But it's a testament to Kobe's greatness that you can even compare the two without people scoffing. Jordan's greatness is undebatable in most fan circles. You can't compare anyone to Jordan without being harassed or laughed out of a room.
But in the case of Kobe, everyone is willing to listen and make their argument for or against Kobe with respect to Jordan.
I could tell you that he has been league MVP, All-Star game MVP four times, NBA Finals MVP twice and, of course, he has five NBA Championships. Or I might mention that he is one of the most clutch players ever, and his competitiveness and killer instinct are incomparable.
But I don't need to because you know that. And you know that he will go down as a top-5 all-time player, and that it's okay to compare him to Jordan.
Let's put it this way: If the Hall only accepted one player per decade, every other player on this list would be out.