The Most Deserving Player for Each NBA Franchise's Next Jersey RetirementNovember 21, 2015
The Most Deserving Player for Each NBA Franchise's Next Jersey Retirement
After they've finished playing their final minutes in the NBA, special players can receive a number of honors.
Maybe they're bound for the Hall of Fame. Maybe they'll receive a commemorative day from the team with which they spent the majority of their prime years. Maybe they'll see their jersey number embroidered onto a banner and hoisted up into the rafters, guaranteeing no one ever wears that uniform again while playing for the same franchise.
That last honor is a special one. It can signify just how impressive a career may have been, but it can also elevate the status of limited on-court contributors who stood out as integral parts of the community.
Nearly every one of the Association's 30 franchises has retired at least one number. The Boston Celtics are nearly running out of digits.
But what if each organization had to find one more player to honor? It can be a current standout already guaranteed to earn his special day when he finally calls it quits or a player from the past—whether long ago or from an era still fresh in the minds of younger generations.
For each franchise, these are the players who stand out the most, thanks to a combination of on-court success, individual accolades and sheer memorability in all facets of life as a professional basketball player.
It's also important to note that we're not advocating for every one of these players to actually receive such an honor. Some teams simply don't have a bona fide candidate for jersey retirement, but we're still trying to find the best option, working under the admittedly faulty assumption that they're being forced to pick one.
Atlanta Hawks: No. 16 (Cliff Hagan)
Now that the Atlanta Hawks have justifiably decided to retire Dikembe Mutombo's number, there aren't many modern standouts left to choose from. It's far too much of a stretch to give someone such as Mookie Blaylock the honor, and it's tough to find a current superstar. Al Horford may qualify someday, but he's not a transcendent enough player to get there without spending his entire career in the same uniform.
We have to dig deep into the archives here, turning to one of the best players from the pre-Atlanta version of the Hawks.
Cliff Hagan spent his entire NBA career playing for the St. Louis Hawks, only making an ABA stop with the Dallas Chaparrals before he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. A five-time All-Star during his prime, he was a versatile small forward capable of throwing up 20/10 performances while also making sizable contributions in the assist column.
During his 90 postseason appearances with St. Louis, Hagan even averaged 20.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists while earning a 20.8 player efficiency rating. He teamed up with Bob Pettit to take the Hawks all the way to the NBA Finals on three separate occasions, even playing a central part in the 1958 title by averaging 27.7 points on 50.2 percent shooting—both numbers led the entire playoff field.
Hagan has slipped through the cracks, but he was such a key part of a team that emerged as a perennial powerhouse in the early days of the Association. To this day, Dominique Wilkins, Pettit and Lou Hudson are the only players in this franchise's history with more career points.
Boston Celtics: No. 34 (Paul Pierce)
Only John Havlicek and Robert Parish played more games for the Boston Celtics. Bill Russell, Parish, Dave Cowens, Larry Bird, Havlicek and Kevin McHale are the lone C's legends with more career rebounds, and they're all in the Hall of Fame. Just Bob Cousy, Havlicek, Bird and Rajon Rondo recorded more assists.
No one stole the ball away from the opposition more frequently. Parish, McHale and Bird are the lone members of the Boston annals to swat away more shots. Havlicek is the one man who scored more points. Along the same lines, Bird is the only Celtic to average more points per game. Bird, Ed Macauley and Kevin Garnett fill up the three spots ahead of him on the PER leaderboard.
No matter what the stat is, there's a pretty good chance Paul Pierce is right near the top of this successful franchise's standings. And considering Boston has decided to retire the numbers of 20 different players—including Jim Loscutoff, whose number was kept active and then retired for Cowens—that's rather significant.
Even though he's now spent time with the Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers, Pierce will always be remembered as a Celtic. Selected out of Kansas with the No. 10 pick of the 1998 NBA draft, he suited up for them through the end of the 2012-13 campaign, fighting through the dry spells and constantly working to get this historic contender back into actual contention.
Bird, Russell and Cousy will long be remembered as the three greatest players in Boston history. But after them, there's a serious argument to be made for Pierce at No. 4.
As soon as he retires, he's a lock for enshrinement in the Celtics' ring of honor.
Brooklyn Nets: No. 24 (Richard Jefferson)
When he's done playing the part of ring-chasing veteran, Richard Jefferson should get some love from the Brooklyn Nets.
Though younger generations may remember him as a mere role player, he was a standout contributor during his prime, most of which was spent in New Jersey. Jefferson played seven seasons with the Nets, averaging a strong 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists while capably spacing the floor for his teammates. His impact simply went beyond the mere per-game numbers.
Despite the fact that the latter half of his career was spent in different locations, Jefferson still fares quite nicely on the historic leaderboards of this franchise.
Only Buck Williams and Vince Carter scored more points. Just six players had more assists. Only nine recorded more rebounds.
Even though he often flew under the radar—despite soaring over countless defenders en route to the rim—Jefferson made quite the impact for this squad.
Charlotte Hornets: No. 2 (Larry Johnson)
When the Charlotte Bobcats changed their name to the Hornets, they also took over the franchise's history from 1988-2002—when the team moved to New Orleans. As was made clear in a May 2014 release from NBA.com, "[President and CEO Fred] Whitfield also announced that in collaboration with the NBA and the Pelicans, all of the statistical information, records and history of the Charlotte NBA basketball will be restored to the franchise."
If the Hornets were only working with players who had suited up for them since they re-joined the NBA as the expansion Bobcats in 2004, they wouldn't have a single reasonable choice for inclusion. After all, this team has only made two playoff appearances since that debut, and both resulted in forgettable first-round exits.
Now that we can turn back to the '90s, Larry Johnson stands out as the obvious choice.
He may only have spent five seasons in Charlotte before playing out the second half of his NBA career with the New York Knicks, but the dunking machine was more than just an ordinary player. He was a two-time All-Star, but he also drew crowds as a cultural phenomenon who helped popularize professional basketball in Charlotte.
Who can forget the Grandmama commercials?
In Johnson's five seasons, he was a dominant enough contributor that he still ranks No. 2 in rebounds, No. 6 in assists and No. 3 in points for this franchise.
Chicago Bulls: No. 53 (Artis Gilmore)
When the Chicago Bulls drafted Artis Gilmore in the 1976 dispersal draft, they already knew they were getting a great player. The hulking center was one of the ABA's most dominant individuals, posting ridiculous scoring and rebounding numbers while basically refusing to miss shots.
That didn't change once he came to the Windy City.
In the six seasons before Chicago traded Gilmore to the San Antonio Spurs, he averaged 20.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.2 blocks while shooting 58.8 percent from the field. His PER was a stellar 22.1, and he added 66.4 win shares, which leaves him behind only Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Chet Walker in this franchise's history.
Gilmore's biggest flaw was simply his timing—not on the court but in terms of when he joined the organization.
Walker had led the Bulls to the playoffs on a consistent basis during the early 1970s, but he retired in 1975 and left quite the void in Chicago. The team couldn't figure out who would helm the aimless ship as a head coach, and there simply wasn't enough talent surrounding Gilmore, who only sparked two postseason berths during his time with the Bulls.
Still, a lack of team success shouldn't hinder such a dominant individual too much.
Cleveland Cavaliers: No. 23 (LeBron James)
Picking a player for the Cleveland Cavaliers is a difficult proposition.
This is a franchise that's never been too hesitant to retire jerseys, already honoring Bingo Smith (No. 7), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (No. 11), Larry Nance (No. 22), Mark Price (No. 25), Austin Carr (No. 34), Nate Thurmond (No. 42) and Brad Daugherty (No. 43). That's pretty much every great, long-tenured player in the history of the Cavs, which means we have to either choose a current player or scramble to find a lesser contributor from the past.
Hot Rod Williams and Terrell Brandon stand out as the best choices for the latter route, but neither has anything close to a realistic shot at earning enshrinement. The former averaged 12.9 points and 7.1 rebounds in nine seasons without an All-Star appearance, and the latter earned the midseason honor twice but was merely mediocre—or worse—throughout the rest of his Cleveland tenure.
So, to the former route we go, and there's really only one option.
The Cavaliers of recent years have depended almost wholly on one player. LeBron James made an immediate impact after he was drafted at No. 1 overall in 2003, and he single-handedly carried them to a Finals appearance in 2007 before the infamous decision to join the Miami Heat. Since returning, he's already gotten them back to the biggest stage, though the title drought is admittedly still in progress.
James' career falls into the same category: in progress. Nonetheless, he could retire tomorrow and emerge as the clear-cut best player in franchise history—not to mention one of the 10 best players who has ever gone to work in the NBA.
Dallas Mavericks: No. 31 (Jason Terry)
It's not easy to get your jersey retired by the Dallas Mavericks. Brad Davis and Rolando Blackman remain the only two players to receive such an honor, while Mark Aguirre remains on the outside, looking in. The high-scoring forward spent a little over seven seasons in Dallas before he was traded to the Detroit Pistons, but it hasn't been enough to get him into the rafters quite yet.
Eventually, Dirk Nowitzki will join the club. That much is a guarantee, though no one knows how much longer the German 7-footer will spend in the NBA before he pulls the plug on his Hall of Fame career.
But Nowitzki should make it four. It's Jason Terry who should make it three, assuming he hangs up the sneakers first. We don't know when either player will call it quits, but Nowitzki is already on the record saying that he wants to finish up his current contract, which does't expire until the conclusion of the 2016-17 season.
Let's keep the focus on Terry, who's already 38 years old and is currently working with an expiring deal.
"The bow was winning the championship, but the icing on the cake will be putting that jersey up in the rafters," the shooting guard told Dwain Price of Star-Telegram.com back in August 2012. "If it happens, I'll be grateful."
It will. Dallas owner Mark Cuban has already revealed as much.
Not only did Terry spend the 2011 postseason playing some of the finest basketball of his career and making numerous big shots en route to the Larry O'Brien Trophy, but he spent so many of his best years in a Mavericks uniform. In eight seasons with the organization, he averaged 16.1 points and 4.1 assists, also providing his team with countless intangibles.
"By Terry's estimation, he figures he made enough big shots, played enough major minutes, shed enough sweat, blood and tears, put up enough credible numbers, displayed enough leadership qualities and was such a fixture in the community..." Price wrote.
Playing with the Houston Rockets surely won't help his cause, but Dallas will have plenty of positives to remember as it ponders the case of No. 31.
Denver Nuggets: No. 12 (Fat Lever)
Fat Lever consistently defied the odds.
Despite only standing 6'3" and lining up in the backcourt, he emerged as one of the best rebounding guards in the history of this sport. During his time with the Denver Nuggets, he was always a triple-double threat, averaging 17 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.0 assists during his six seasons in the Mile High City.
However, Lever never seemed to get the credit he deserved. Even though the Nuggets were a playoff mainstay while he led the charge at the 1, he received only two berths to the midseason festivities, and his name was never bandied about among the list of NBA superstars. Had he played in an era where analytics were more prevalent, this surely wouldn't have been the case.
Take the 1986-87 campaign as an example. Lever posted a ridiculous 18.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 2.5 steals during his average outing while playing in all 82 games. He shot 46.9 percent from the field, earned 9.7 win shares and threw up a 20.8 PER for a Denver squad that advanced to the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
How many other players have matched just those counting-stat averages during a qualified campaign? Lever is literally the only one.
Still, he wasn't an All-Star. It's perhaps the most egregious omission in a career that was consistently overlooked.
Now, it's time to rectify the wrongs with a banner hanging high in the Pepsi Center. Giving him an honorary moment is nice, but it's just not enough.
Detroit Pistons: No. 33 (Grant Hill)
How can it be anyone but Grant Hill?
Though injuries prevented him from reaching his full potential, he was an otherworldly star early in his career with the Detroit Pistons, looking as if he could be the next transcendent player challenging for all-time individual supremacy. And it wasn't until the Motor City sent him to the Orlando Magic for Ben Wallace that his ankles gave out.
When Hill left Detroit, he'd made five All-Star rosters in six seasons and was averaging a mind-numbing 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 47.6 percent from the field. He'd also remained quite healthy during that time, missing just 25 total outings.
Despite the brevity of his tenure with the Pistons—who, mind you, are an old franchise that's rostered so many great players—Hill still fares quite nicely on many of the historic leaderboards.
Only Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dave Bing and Chauncey Billups recorded more assists while wearing Detroit colors. Just eight players scored more points, and only six racked up more steals.
If anything speaks to the excellence of his production with the Pistons, it may well be that.
Golden State Warriors: No. 23 (Jeff Mullins)
When looking to retire another jersey, the Golden State Warriors are in quite a pickle.
They've already retired the numbers of six different standouts from the past, and their recent history—prior to Stephen Curry taking over—has been littered with failed efforts. Curry is still far too young to take this spot, but it's not like there are many remaining high-quality options from the Bay Area.
In fact, since the beginning of the '80s, just nine different players have made the All-Star game for this franchise:
- Bernard King (1982): Only spent two years in Golden State.
- Joe Barry Carroll (1987): Called "Joe Barely Cares" for a reason.
- Sleepy Floyd (1987): Tough with only four full seasons in Golden State.
- Chris Mullin (1989-93): Jersey already retired.
- Tim Hardaway (1991-93): Only five full seasons before achieving greater fame with the Miami Heat.
- Latrell Sprewell (1995-96, '97): Ummm....no.
- David Lee (2013): Not happening with only four seasons as a starter.
- Stephen Curry (2014-15): Far too young.
- Klay Thompson (2015): Far too young.
We have to go back even further, and that's where Jeff Mullins comes into play.
He made three All-Star squads while the Warriors were still in San Francisco, played a sizable role on the 1975 iteration that won the last pre-Curry title and spent all but two of his 12 professional seasons with this organization. Mullins isn't a Hall of Famer, but he did put together four campaigns in which he averaged at least 20 points and showed dedication to the franchise throughout some of its formative years.
Jersey retirement is admittedly a bit of a stretch here. But until Curry has been around for a longer period of time, Mullins remains the best option.
Houston Rockets: No. 11 (Yao Ming)
It's not possible to completely overlook the immense social impact Yao Ming had during his time with the Houston Rockets. He helped make basketball even more popular overseas, bringing hordes of new fans to the sport with his stellar play.
But even if we do throw all that out the window, Ming was a damn good player before injuries wrecked his career.
From 2003 through 2009, he averaged 20.3 points and 9.5 rebounds while shooting 52.8 percent from the field. Even his touch from the free-throw line was spectacular for a 7-foot behemoth, as he knocked down 83.5 percent of his charity-stripe attempts while taking 6.5 per game. Oh, and he was even better on the defensive end of the court.
With 65.9 career win shares, Ming remains No. 5 on the Rockets all-time leaderboard, trailing only Hakeem Olajuwon, Calvin Murphy, Rudy Tomjanovich and Moses Malone. Each member of that standout quartet has already seen his jersey retired.
Now, it's time for No. 11 to join the club.
Indiana Pacers: No. 32 (Dale Davis)
Dale Davis is the Indiana Pacers' best option right now. That doesn't make him deserving of actual enshrinement, but there aren't better choices from previous years, and no current option—Paul George, for example—has played nearly long enough to trump him.
It didn't take long for this 6'11" big man to successfully transition from the Clemson Tigers to the Pacers. After Indiana used the No. 13 pick of the 1991 NBA draft on him, he almost immediately carved out a starting gig and went to work as a constant double-double threat who thrived on the defensive end.
Davis' game wasn't about flash and pizzaz. He rarely posted gaudy scoring figures and actually never hit 30 points in a single game. Instead, he brought a hard-nosed mentality to the frontcourt, did all the little things and eventually emerged as a supposed "Shaq stopper."
Resultantly, he probably won't ever see his jersey retired. His argument leans upon longevity and the consistent effort he brought to the Pacers, and that mix typically leaves players just short of inclusion—city icons such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas in Cleveland notwithstanding.
Still, don't laugh at the notion of Davis receiving such an honor. Realistically, he's not that far away from actually earning it, even if he didn't do quite enough.
Los Angeles Clippers: No. 42 (Elton Brand)
- Elton Brand, 68.3
- Chris Paul, 55.4
- Blake Griffin, 52.9
- Bob McAdoo, 50.9
- Randy Smith, 50.0
- Corey Maggette, 45.8
- DeAndre Jordan, 44.6
- Loy Vaught, 34.1
- Danny Manning, 31.0
- Swen Nater, 28.9
The tortured history of the Los Angeles Clippers does not lend itself well to the notion of jersey retirements. With the exception of Bob McAdoo—who suited up for the franchise back when it played in Buffalo—most All-Stars and Hall of Famers were more famous for their work with other franchises.
In fact, LAC still doesn't have a single retired jersey. Not one. Frankly, it probably shouldn't, if the 10 career leaders in win shares are any indication:
The Clippers probably won't retire a single jersey until Chris Paul or Blake Griffin calls it quits. Both superstars will deserve such recognition, though we're a long way away from either of those ceremonies coming to pass.
That leaves our focus on the stars of old, and Brand and McAdoo have to stand out.
The latter was incredible while playing for the Braves, but he spent only four complete seasons with the franchise before he was traded to the New York Knicks. Even though he won MVP in 1975, that's not quite enough—especially because Buffalo and Los Angeles aren't exactly close to one another.
Brand has to be the choice here, even if the Clippers have discussed retiring McAdoo's number, per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register.
He would've received significantly more attention had the Clippers surrounded him with more talent during his prime, but he was still an incredible individual during his seven seasons in L.A. The power forward averaged 20.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 steal and 2.3 blocks while playing excellent defense, and that should be enough for him to get some serious consideration.
Los Angeles Lakers: No. 8 or No. 24 (Kobe Bryant)
The Los Angeles Lakers have already retired numbers for Wilt Chamberlain (No. 13), Elgin Baylor (No. 22), Gail Goodrich (No. 25), Magic Johnson (No. 32), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (No. 33), Shaquille O'Neal (No. 34), James Worthy (No. 42), Jerry West (No. 44) and Jamaal Wilkes (No. 52). George Mikan, Clyde Lovellette, Slater Martin, Vern Mikkelsen and Jim Pollard have also had banners raised to honor them, though their numbers aren't technically out of commission.
As soon as he retires, Kobe Bryant will join that club. No argument is needed, since there are bigger discussions where both sides of the debate actually have merit.
Example No. 1: Is Bryant the greatest Laker of all time? I still have Jerry West and Magic Johnson ahead of him, but that's by no means a consensus opinion.
Example No. 2: Should Bryant's retired number be No. 8 or No. 24? He wore the former from 1997-2006, and the latter has been on his chest from 2007 to the present day.
Memphis Grizzlies: No. 50 (Zach Randolph)
The Memphis Grizzlies join the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers as one of three organizations with absolutely no retired numbers. But unlike what we've seen with LAC, Memphis' situation is more because the franchise is one of the youngest in the Association.
Even including what happened in Vancouver, who exactly deserves to be featured here? Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are the only All-Stars in this franchise's history, but none are guaranteed inclusion quite yet.
The older Gasol was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers during the seventh season of his time with the Grizzlies, so he didn't spend quite enough time to truly justify the honor. The younger brother has become a similarly excellent player, but he's still only 30 years old and has yet to get his team past the Western Conference Finals.
As for Randolph, he's probably the most likely candidate. Though the 34-year-old power forward hasn't spent his entire career in a Memphis uniform and hasn't made quite the on-court impact either of the Gasols produced, he's such a staple in the Beale Street community that he's nearly a lock. Plus, he's further along in his career, which makes him increasingly likely to have the first jersey selected.
There's also a chance someone such as Shane Battier could be honored, but we're sticking with Z-Bo.
Miami Heat: No. 40 (Udonis Haslem)
"Udonis Haslem will someday see his jersey retired in the rafters, for his loyal service to the Heat franchise for more than a decade," Ethan Skolnick wrote for Bleacher Report in February 2014, and it's tough to disagree with the sentiment.
Haslem doesn't fit the typical profile of a player whose jersey ends up in such a lofty spot.
Even in his prime, he was never a de facto star for the Heat, and his individual peak came in 2007-08 when he averaged just 12 points and nine assists. He'll never be considered for the Hall of Fame, and it's hardly unexpected that he went through his entire NBA career without so much as a single All-Star appearance.
But Haslem is a Heat lifer, and he meant quite a bit to this organization. Since he was picked up as an undrafted free agent in 2003, he hasn't played a minute for another franchise, serving as a role model to big-name players for much of his tenure.
It's not all about on-court production, and throughout the entire Association, Haslem is perhaps the best example of that mentality. Decades from now, casual NBA fans might look back at his stats and wonder why his jersey is hanging from the ceiling.
Heat fans will know exactly why.
Milwaukee Bucks: No. 8 (Marques Johnson)
The Milwaukee Bucks have never been particularly gun-shy about throwing a retired player's jersey up into the rafters, which makes it even more inexplicable that Marques Johnson isn't yet joining Oscar Robertson, Junior Bridgeman, Sidney Moncrief, Bob Dandridge, Jon McGlocklin, Bob Lanier, Brian Winters and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
He certainly wants to join the eight-man club, as he told Bob Wolfley of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel back in July 2014:
Who wouldn't want their number retired? It would be a great honor to have the organization I broke in with afford me with that level of recognition. We were part of something special in those day with Nellie [coach Don Nelson], Brian [Winters], JB [Bridgeman], Sid [Moncrief] and the rest. The Sixers and Celtics were the only obstacle to Finals appearances and that's not too shabby considering the greats on their rosters.
Sure, Johnson "broke in with" the Bucks. He also did a heckuva lot more with the organization before spending three seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers and returning from a ruptured disk in his neck to finish his career with the Golden State Warriors.
In seven go-rounds with the team, he made four All-Star appearances while averaging 21 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists from the small forward position. Only twice did he allow his PER to slip below 20, and it never fell past the 18.0 mark he earned during the 1981-82 campaign.
It also didn't take him particularly long to break in. He and David Robinson remain the only two players in NBA history to post at least 19 points, 10 boards, two dimes, a steal and a block during the average rookie outing.
Especially considering some of the other players the Bucks have chosen to honor—McGlocklin, in particular—Johnson is more than deserving.
Minnesota Timberwolves: No. 21 (Kevin Garnett)
Until Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns establish themselves as bona fide superstars in the Association, Kevin Garnett is the Minnesota Timberwolves. He always has been.
It doesn't matter that the future Hall of Famer was traded to the Boston Celtics, where he won the only title of his career. It's irrelevant that he played for the Brooklyn Nets before rejoining the franchise that drafted him straight out of Farragut Career Academy with the No. 5 pick in 1995.
Garnett couldn't be more of a Wolf if he lycanthropically howled at the full moon whenever it reached its zenith in the night sky blanketing the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Quite frankly, it's harder to find categories this power forward doesn't lead the Minnesota databases in than to search out the ones he does.
No Timberwolf has recorded more points, rebounds, assists, steals or blocks throughout all of franchise history. He has the top PER, narrowly edging out Kevin Love despite suiting up in nearly 200 more games than anyone else the 'Wolves have rostered. Garnett even leads in win shares by such a staggering number that his first-place total (139) is nearly three times Love's second-place mark (47).
Retiring his jersey is a mere formality, not a debate.
New Orleans Pelicans: No. 3 (Chris Paul)
As of now, Pete Maravich has the only retired number for the New Orleans Pelicans, which is a bit strange since he never played for the organization. The legendary sharpshooter did suit up in New Orleans, but it was for the franchise that moved to Utah and kept the now-ill-fitting Jazz nickname.
The first true inclusion will inevitably come via a current player, especially since NOLA parted with much of its history when the Charlotte Bobcats became the Charlotte Hornets. Now, we can draw only from 2002 through the present, and that doesn't leave much to choose from, given the limited success of the relevant squads. Only the 2008 Hornets have made it past the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Two logical choices quickly emerge—Chris Paul and David West.
There's a chance West could be enshrined one day, but he's simply not of the same caliber as Paul.
During his prime years with New Orleans, CP3 was the best point guard in the business, and his unforgettable 2008-09 campaign may well be the best season by a player at his position since Magic Johnson was no longer at his peak but prior to fire-catching Stephen Curry.
Put aside any gripes you have over Paul never advancing to the Western Conference Finals. He's still been as good as you can reasonably expect from a floor general, and he single-handedly made NOLA relevant to the basketball-watching world before he was traded to Los Angeles.
New York Knicks: No. 11 (Harry Gallatin)
Now, it's time to go way back.
Considering the New York Knicks have retired the numbers of eight different players—including one-time All-Star Dick Barnett—it's almost unfathomable that Harry Gallatin hasn't received the honor. Not only did he spend nine of his 10 NBA seasons playing for the Knicks, but he's also a member of the Hall of Fame.
Sadly, he remains one of the overlooked legends of the sport, primarily because he came around so early on in the league's history.
When I objectively ranked the top 100 players to ever suit up in the Association, Gallatin barely missed the cut but did earn an honorable mention as the No. 24 small forward of all time. That's more than we can claim for Barnett, Bill Bradley or Dick McGuire, all three of whom have seen their numbers retired by this Big Apple organization.
Looking at every player in league history who was no taller than 6'6", only Elgin Baylor and Gus Johnson ever averaged more rebounds per game than the 15.3 Gallatin put up while pacing the Association during the 1953-54 season. And that's not just a one-season fluke; it's indicative of a career as a whole, since he consistently played bigger than his frame would deem possible and averaged 11.9 boards during his New York career.
Oklahoma City Thunder: No. 20 (Gary Payton)
Yes, it's a little bit weird to claim that the Oklahoma City Thunder should retire the jersey of a player who only suited up for the franchise when it was still located in Seattle. Some fans still refuse to accept that the Seattle SuperSonics are actually connected to OKC in the history books, and it's totally understandable.
But they are, and the only numbers retired by this organization belong to memorable players from the days in the Pacific Northwest. No one has played in OKC long enough to join them, and it's highly unlikely that anyone will until Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant hang up their sneakers—barring a legacy inclusion for Nick Collison.
Sadly, two players from Seattle are still left out to dry. Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton both deserve to have their numbers retired, but it hasn't happened because of the relationship between the two cities.
Of the two, Payton is clearly the better choice, seeing as he's the Hall of Famer and remains one of the best point guards of all time.
But being the best option doesn't mean this will actually happen. Payton has previously expressed his desire to have his number retired—so long as that ceremony takes place in Seattle.
"No. There is nothing they can do. I'm sorry," he told Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears in 2013 when asked if the Thunder could ever convince him to have his jersey retired in OKC. "It's nothing against Oklahoma City. I never played in Oklahoma City. I would never disrespect the Seattle fans like that."
Orlando Magic: No. 32 (Shaquille O'Neal)
Though the Orlando Magic have honored their fans by retiring No. 6, they haven't yet decided to make a player's number unavailable to current roster members. It's not for lack of options.
When the Magic decide to break the seal, they could do so by retiring No. 1—a double-whammy for Tracy McGrady and Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway—or they could put No. 32 up in the rafters for Shaquille O'Neal. Doing both simultaneously is another option, since all three standouts deserve some recognition.
But if we have to pick—which we do—O'Neal is the top option.
It was the big man who first made the expansion franchise relevant, taking it to the NBA Finals just three years removed from dominating the collegiate landscape at LSU. As soon as he entered the ranks of professional basketball, he was a game-changing presence on both ends of the court, and his enthralling personality also helped endear a struggling new team to local fans.
Sure, Hardaway also played an integral part in that push to advance through the Eastern Conference gauntlet in 1995, but the Magic still belonged to O'Neal.
It's not enough that Orlando decided to make the big man a part of its Hall of Fame at the Amway Center. Even if some fans are still bitter that he decided to leave for the Los Angeles Lakers, he was too good during his time in pinstripes to be reasonably excluded from the rafters.
Philadelphia 76ers: No. 4 (Dolph Schayes)
The only reason to keep Dolph Schayes' No. 4 jersey around for current players to wear is that he didn't put it on in Philadelphia until the final season of his career. When he was an unquestioned superstar, this team was still known as the Syracuse Nationals.
But it shouldn't matter.
Schayes was a star from the very first time he stepped foot onto an NBA court, which just so happened to be the first game the Nationals played. He actually led the team in win shares during each of his its first 11 seasons, including the 1955 go-round when it beat the Fort Wayne Pistons for the first title in franchise history.
The power forward was an easy choice for the Hall of Fame, thanks to his work on the glass and his ambidextrous scoring ability. Incredibly valuable throughout his entire professional tenure—all of which was spent with this organization—he actually retired in 1964 trailing only Bob Pettit in career points and as the all-time leader in career win shares. He should unanimously be considered one of the 50 best players in NBA history.
But Schayes' jersey doesn't hang from the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center, even though nine other numbers have been taken out of circulation. Why? Because the franchise apparently doesn't want to pay homage to the Syracuse portion of its history, making a lone exception for Hal Greer, who admittedly spent more years in Philly than the previous locale.
That needs to change.
Phoenix Suns: No. 31 (Shawn Marion)
Though Phoenix Suns faithful might be justifiably hesitant to bestow such an honor upon Shawn Marion after he decided he wanted to be traded away from the organization in 2007, they should still recognize just how much he meant to some of the most fun teams in NBA history.
Those "seven seconds or less" squads belonged to Steve Nash, but it was Marion who helped push them over the top and move them into the realm of legitimate contenders. His ability to knock down jumpers from all over the court, do the little things on both ends and elevate the Suns defense into an average unit made all the difference.
I firmly believe Marion is a Hall of Fame candidate, even though he's by no means a lock for inclusion when he becomes eligible. The reasoning isn't that he won a ring with the Dallas Mavericks or that he found some level of success in other cities but rather just how good he was in the desert.
Marion didn't draw the headlines. He didn't win MVP awards.
But the Suns were noticeably better when he was on the floor and stuffing the stat sheet like it was a guest at his Thanksgiving dinner. Similarly, Talking Stick Resort Arena will look significantly better when a jersey with No. 31 adorned on it hangs down from the roof.
Portland Trail Blazers: No. 7 (Brandon Roy)
As part of a roundtable for Blazers Edge, Dane Carbaugh once wrote the following about Brandon Roy's chances of seeing his jersey retired, though he ultimately came up with the unorthodox idea to have the franchise's most meaningful player wear No. 7 rather than hanging a banner up:
Let's avoid the opportunity for complete recency bias and look at this statistically. Between Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler, Larry Steele, Dave Twardzik and Lionel Hollins, Brandon Roy holds his own among Portland guards with retired numbers. He is second or first in per-game averages among that list in points, turnovers, rebounds, three-point percentage, win shares per-48 and offensive efficiency rating. The same can be said for several playoff statistics. Comparatively, he was one of the greatest Blazers guards of all time.
Only the brevity of Roy's career with the Portland Trail Blazers can reasonably be held against him, as his troublesome knees forced a premature end to his time in Rip City. Five years isn't an inordinate amount of time to spend with an organization, but two major factors still work in the shooting guard's favor.
Not only was Roy an incredible asset during his brief Blazers stint, ranking among the best ever in terms of per-minute production, but he meant so much to the community. He was an integral part of Portland as a whole—not just a key part of the team.
Beyond that, Portland has notoriously retired a lot of jersey numbers.
If the concern is that future generations of Blazers fans won't remember Roy all that well because he only played for five seasons, myriad names can be cited. How many supporters right now can think fondly back on their memories of Dave Twardzik (four seasons in Portland), Larry Steele (topped out at 10.3 points per game), Bob Gross (zero All-Star appearances) or Lloyd Neal (seven seasons in Portland while playing at a lower level than Roy)?
If those jerseys are retired, all arguments against Roy are basically null and void.
Sacramento Kings: Conflicting Numbers
We're going to cheat for the Sacramento Kings.
Seeing as the franchise has already honored Tiny Archibald (No. 1), Mitch Richmond (No. 2), Chris Webber (No. 4), Bob Davies (No. 11), Maurice Stokes (No. 12), Oscar Robertson (No. 14), Vlade Divac (No. 21), Jack Twyman (No. 27) and Sam Lacey (No. 44), there aren't many options here. The bases are covered, and the recent Kings squads haven't produced any locks.
Maybe DeMarcus Cousins will emerge as one someday, but there's still too large a possibility of an acrimonious end to his time in Sacramento. We simply have to look to the past, and the best candidates wore numbers with conflicts.
Arnie Risen? Thanks to his time with the Rochester Royals, he's a Hall of Famer, but his No. 14 jersey was already retired for Robertson.
Peja Stojakovic and Jerry Lucas? They're the two leading options, but both of them wore No. 16. Do you honor just one of them at the expense of the other ever receiving credit? Do you put both names up on the banner?
Should push come to shove, Lucas is the best choice. But it's still too hard to doom Stojakovic to a lifetime without commemoration.
San Antonio Spurs: No. 21 (Tim Duncan)
Well, this one is pretty obvious.
Eventually, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan will all see their numbers up near the top of the AT&T Center. Gregg Popovich will be recognized in some way, and it appears Kawhi Leonard is on pace to join that quartet as well.
But this has to be Duncan.
As special as his teammates and coach have been, he's the franchise. He's been the franchise since taking over under the tutelage of David Robinson, and titles have been the result. Lots and lots of titles.
When there's a top-10 player in NBA history who has never suited up for anyone else, there's simply no other choice. And trust me, don't mistake the simplicity of this decision as a sign of disrespect toward any of the other unforgettable Spurs.
Toronto Raptors: No. 15 (Vince Carter)
Don't take it from me.
Just listen to Terrence Ross, who gave his thoughts on Reddit, as relayed by Raptors Republic's William Lou: "Honestly, YES! they [sic] should retire his jersey simply because he put toronto [sic] on the map. he [sic] did a lot for this city and this franchise, so STOP BOOING HIM!"
Vince Carter and the Toronto Raptors didn't exactly part on the best of terms, but enough time has passed that both sides should be able to reconcile in celebratory fashion. Even though he essentially quit on the team and forced his way out, there's never been a better player or a bigger superstar in Toronto history.
Thanks to his soaring dunks and high-scoring exploits, Carter made basketball an obsession north of the border during the late 1990s and early 2000s. He was the reason to tune in to every game, and he knew it. Hell, you couldn't even miss the Slam Dunk Contests he took part in.
It's not just that Carter is the best choice to become the first player honored with a retired Raptors jersey.
He's the only choice.
Utah Jazz: No. 47 (Andrei Kirilenko)
The Utah Jazz have already honored just about every notable star of the past.
Karl Malone and John Stockton? Obviously their numbers have been retired by now. Pete Maravich, Adrian Dantley, Darrell Griffith, Mark Eaton and Jeff Hornacek? They're joining the two true franchise legends in the club. Even Larry Miller and Frank Hayden have been immortalized for their work as owner and coach, respectively.
We have to go more modern, and Andrei Kirilenko stands out.
Before spending a season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and dropping out of the Brooklyn Nets rotation, AK-47 spent an entire decade in Salt Lake City, using his long arms and impressive athleticism to contribute in just about every way. He may only have averaged 12.4 points, but he also added 5.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.0 blocks during his typical outing.
Those numbers may not seem impressive by themselves. But the combination was staggering, seeing as only Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Robinson, Kirilenko, Bob Lanier, Josh Smith, Sam Lacey, Vlade Divac, Kevin Garnett, Rich Kelley, Chris Webber and Bobby Jones have posted those averages during any qualified season.
Kirilenko never seemed to get the credit he deserved, and his impact might have been even more obvious if he'd come around a decade later when advanced analytics could make his value increasingly clear.
Let's retroactively give him the necessary love.
Washington Wizards: No. 24 (Jeff Malone)
Even though plenty of household names have played for the Washington Wizards throughout their long history in the Association, and Jeff Malone's legacy doesn't seem to carry quite as much weight, he's a central part of this franchise's record books.
How many people knew that with 11,083 career points in a Washington uniform, Malone trails only Elvin Hayes (15,551)? How many recognize that Wes Unseld, Hayes, Greg Ballard, Charles Jones, Kevin Loughery, Brendan Haywood and Gus Johnson are the lone seven to appear in more contests?
Malone was never truly a superstar, even though he averaged as many as 22.4 points per game during his time on the Bullets. Nonetheless, he spent seven full seasons with the team, playing out his prime for a squad that consistently battled its way into the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Plus, he has one of the most memorable shots in franchise history—a falling-down three-pointer over the backboard against the Detroit Pistons to win by a single point during his rookie season.
Walt Bellamy is another option here, but the Hall of Famer only spent the first four years of his career playing for the organization in question, and they came back when the team was known as the Chicago Packers, then the Chicago Zephyrs and finally the Baltimore Bullets.
Malone's contributions were spread out over a longer period of time, even if Bellamy's peak was more impressive.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.