Thursday, September 30, 2010

A True Honor- Knicks Legend Bill Bradley Talks About Sports' Social Impact

Bill Bradley is no stranger to success. In fact, he’s fluent in it. From the age of 20, the man’s built a resume that’s frankly difficult to fathom.

In short, Bill Bradley is the most accomplished man ever to take the floor in the NBA.

While playing at Princeton, he averaged 29.8 ppg, earned First Team All-America honors twice (1963-64 and 1964-65), was named AP’s Player of the Year and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in 1964-65. In 1965, he won the James E. Sullivan Award, presented annually to the United States' top amateur athlete.

In the meantime, he was a unanimous selection to the 1964 Olympic basketball team, with whom he captured a gold medal in Tokyo.

He also graduated with honors, was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship at the University of Oxford, and had a book written about his time in college (John McPhee’s "A Sense of Where You Are").

While attending Oxford, where he studied political and economic history, he played professionally for a year (1965-66) for Olimpia Milano in Italy's top league, with whom he won a European Champions Cup.

Once in the NBA, he produced 10 quality seasons, earned a trip to the All-Star Game in 1973 and was a key member of championship teams in 1970 and 1973. His solid play, along with a rare commitment to sacrifice in the name of a collective goal, earned Bradley induction into the Basketball’s Hall of Fame in 1982.

In 1976, toward the end of his NBA career, he authored “Life on the Run,” a book that uses a 20-day stretch of time on the road during the season along with takeouts from Bradley’s career to try to explain the NBA and early 1970s America. (Note: “Life on the Run” is an exceptional book. I have no vested interest in promoting it. It’s just a fantastic read).

He retired from professional basketball in 1977, with the opportunity to enjoy the luxurious trappings of a triumphant decade.

Instead, the summer after his retirement was spent campaigning for a seat in the United States Senate, representing New Jersey. Naturally, he won. He would hold this seat for three terms, until 1995, when he elected not to run for re-election.

While in the Senate, Bradley fought for, among other things, reform of child support enforcement, legislation on lead-related children's health problems, campaign finance reform and the Freedom Support Act, and an exchange program between the republics of the former Soviet Union and the United States.

After leaving the Senate, Bradley ran in the Democratic primary for the 2000 presidential election, opposing incumbent Vice President Al Gore for the nomination. While this bid would prove to be the only conspicuous shortfall on an otherwise sparkling record, Bill Bradley has continued to add to his Hall of Fame resume. Since ending his candidacy for President in March 2000, Bradley has pursued numerous opportunities in the private sector and supported a number of worthy causes in the non-profit sector.

One organization with which Senator Bradley has aligned himself is Beyond Sport, an international organization that looks to affect social change and enhance cultural understanding through the use of sports. On September 29 & 30 in Chicago, Beyond Sport hosted the Beyond Sport Summit, which celebrates and promotes the use of sports social change by uniting influencers from the worlds of business, government, and sporting federations.

This week, I had the honor and privilege of speaking with Senator Bradley, who offered his thoughts on Beyond Sport, the Knicks, Lakers' coach Phil Jackson, and more:

EA: You are an ambassador for Beyond Sport, an international organization that uses sports as a vehicle for social change. You’re currently in Chicago for the Beyond Sport Summit, which is taking place today and tomorrow, and is aimed at promoting further advancement in sport-led social change. I’m somewhat familiar with Beyond Sport, but would love to hear more about the organization and this week’s event. 

BB: What Beyond Sport does is recognize individuals that use sport to facilitate social change. Ice hockey and street hockey in the streets of large cities, for example. Or playground soccer in a wide variety of nations around the world. You can see Sunni and Shiite kids, or English and Irish kids, Israeli and Palestinian kids using sport to break down barriers and to embrace a certain universality of values that it embodies.

EA: As an NBA player, Senator, and Presidential candidate, you’ve taken strong stances and led the charge for social change. What was it about Beyond Sport that spoke so strongly to you and drove your involvement?

BB: As one of our speakers at the Summit said today, you can be anywhere in the world and there’ll be a sport. It’s often soccer, but it’s often basketball and you can see the same human values at play—discipline, selflessness, courage, imagination—and you see these things in sport and you can imagine how the world would be better if it truly reflected some the best values that you can learn and that sport exemplifies.

EA: I couldn’t agree with you more. Now, shifting gears a little bit, I think this speaks a little bit to what you were just talking about. In 1976, you wrote a book entitled “Life on the Run,” which focused on a 20-day stretch of a season. In the book you talk about relationships as well as the NBA experience. Describe the experience of writing that book and what you took from that.

BB: I felt that I would be able to put something down that would accurately portray what is was like to be a professional basketball player on the road in America during the late 1960s and 1970s, and what that experience is like.

The spine of the book is the 20 days on the road, and the takeouts are representative of aspects of that life. This includes the glory of the game, playing the game, the transcendent joy of making the right play, the celebrity that surrounds the game and often clouds things, the terror that awaits at the end of an athlete’s career, the selflessness involved in a team, the coach relationship, or the biographies that intertwine.

What’s interesting about that book was that I wrote it in 1976 and the rights came back to me in 1996. I hadn’t read it in about 15 years. So I reread it and each of the characters were just as live. The book is about basketball, but it’s also about America during those times.

EA: Building on something you just referenced with regard to “Life on the Run,” one of the book’s main themes is the beauty of selflessness and team play. You talk about it in reference to Bill Russell as well as in reference to your own Knicks teams. Talk about the dynamic of those great Knicks teams and the relationship you all had with one another.

BB: I think each player realized that he could not be as good alone as we all could be together, and that he was simply one point on a five-pointed star. In the long run what was important was winning championships, and not accumulating points or other individual stats. On that team there was a common perception of what we wanted to do, the coach [Red Holtzman] really enforced it and the teammates not only bought into that on the court, but off the court there was a mesh of personalities as well. Everyone was hard-working, but some guys were quiet, while some liked to talk to the press. Some were funny, some were more thoughtful. It was a mesh of on-court and off-court talents

EA: Speaking of those teams, I’d like to ask you about one of your old teammates, coaching great Phil Jackson. I guess this question has two parts. That Phil was a bit of an eccentric guy in playing days has been well chronicled. In your opinion, what is it in his personality that has enabled him to achieve such great success as a coach? Also, was it evident back then that he’d go on to a successful coaching career?

BB: I think you could see it when he was a player. If you think about it in retrospect, he had all the qualities that he demonstrates today as the most successful coach in NBA history, He was analytical about the game, he really was a student of the game, thought about it, strategized. He himself was selfless. He constantly gave himself for the team. Whatever the team needed, he did. Finally, he was able to relate to teammates as individuals, and understood how people are all different and how to relate to people differently.

I think all of those qualities you see in his coaching style. He’s clearly got plans, strategy, he’s got the Triangle offense, he knows what he wants his players to do. He’s very analytical. He demands selflessness from his players. I actually think the reason they have won the recent championships in L.A. is because Kobe ultimately trusted his teammates, and that’s one of Phil’s great achievements. And finally, he relates to the players as individuals, he gives different things to each player to read that he thinks will mean something to them.

EA: With regards to the most recent NBA offseason, what are your thoughts on the moves made by your old team, the New York Knicks?

BB: I think the Knicks made a great move by getting [Amar'e] Stoudemire, and I think he’s going to be a part of a very strong core, and hopefully they are able to continue to fill it in around the edges.

EA: In closing, any thoughts on the “Superfriends” in Miami?

BB: I know there’s going to be a lot of people that are going to want to beat them.

EA: My sincere thanks for your time, Senator. It's been an honor.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Phoenix Suns: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

With all due respect to the Utah Jazz, the Phoenix Suns are the NBA franchise that’s had produced the best combination of excitement and success without actually hoisting a championship banner.

The Suns franchise has been in existence for 42 years. After reaching the postseason just once in their first seven seasons, they’ve reached the postseason 28 times in 35 years, including 18 of the past 21.

They’ve advanced past the first round of the playoffs 17 times, have reached the conference finals nine times and have taken part in a pair of outstanding NBA Finals series. The first was in 1976 against Boston Celtics, and in 1993 against Michael Jordan and his two-defending champs.

In 1975-76, after a 42-40 regular season, in just their second trip to the postseason, the Suns advanced to the NBA Finals to face the Boston Celtics team, who were led by Hall of Famers Dave Cowens and John Havlicek.

While the Celtics, would ultimately prevail in six games, Game 5 of the 1976 Finals is widely considered to be the greatest game in NBA history. In the game, the Suns rallied from a 22-point first half deficit, at Boston Garden, to push the game into overtime. In overtime, Havlicek made what seemed like the game-winning shot, but officials determined there was one second remaining. What followed was one of the smartest moves in NBA history. Suns' SG Paul Westphal called a timeout, with the Suns having none remaining. This resulted in a technical free throw for Boston and the ball at half court for Phoenix. With one second left, Gar Heard made a high-arching, turnaround jumper to force a second overtime. The game would ultimately reach a third, during which Glenn McDonald would come off the end of the Celtics’ bench to score six points and help Boston to a 128–126 win.

Nonetheless, there is no shame in losing the greatest game ever by a bucket.

Offensive firepower has not been short supply for the Suns throughout the years, as 23 players have averaged 14+ ppg while playing in 200+ games in a Suns’ uniform, with seven- Charlie Scott, Charles Barkley, Gail Goodrich, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tom Chambers, Paul Westphal, Connie Hawkins and Walter Davis- putting up 20+.

Additionally, Steve Nash, Kevin Johnson, Shawn Marion, Dennis Johnson, Alvan Adams, Larry Nance, Maurice Lucas, Jason Kidd, Michael Finley, Paul Silas, Dan Majerle and Joe Johnson have all starred for the Suns.

Three Hall-of-Famers- Hawkins, DJ and Barkley- have built a significant portion of their resumes in Phoenix. Five years after his retirement, Nash will make this a quartet.

From the Greatest Game Ever, to Walter Davis and Larry Nance, KJ-Chambers, KJ-Barkley, J-Kidd, Nash D’Antoni and “Seven Seconds or Less,” finally to Nash, post-D’Antoni-Marion-Stoudemire, the Suns have managed to consistently win games, put plenty of points on the board and excite fans in the process.

If the “Clipper Curse” began in 1976, in the Valley of the Sun saw the dawn of a 3+ decade run of prosperity at the same time.

Monday, September 27, 2010

His Rookie Season Approaching, #1 Overall Pick John Wall Talks Shoes and Hoops

On June 24, 2010, the Washington Wizards, fresh off a turbulent (to say the least) 26-56 season, used the first overall pick in the NBA Draft on Kentucky point guard John Wall, a First Team All-American, SEC Player of the Year, and winner of every meaningful freshman honor.

In the storied history of Kentucky basketball, no freshman has ever scored more points in a season (616) and no player, freshman or otherwise, has ever had more assists in a season (241) or in a single game (16). Also, shockingly, prior to Wall, no player from the University of Kentucky had ever been picked first overall in the NBA Draft.

The day before the draft, it was announced that Wall had inked a deal to become the face of Reebok basketball, and the first player to wear the company’s latest basketball shoe, the ZigTech Slash, which is scheduled for release on October 15.

The day after he was drafted—June 25, 2010—was declared John Wall Day by the Mayor of Washington D.C.

It was a solid 72-hours for Wall and his family.

A couple of weeks later, Wall took his talents to Vegas for the 2010 NBA Summer League. Wall played in four of the Wizards’ five games from July 9-18, all of them wins, and led all summer league players with 23.5 ppg and 7.8 apg. As a result, he took home the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.

It’s worth noting that Wall’s performance was hardly flawless—he must become a more efficient scorer (38 percent FG), his jump shot needs work, and he was turnover prone, with 21 in four games. However, it’s also worth noting that after committing 16 turnovers in his first two games, Wall settled in as the week wore on, committing just five in his final two games.

Whatever’s missing from John Wall’s game can be added through a combination of experience and time in the gym.

What’s already present in his game—amazing speed and quickness—along with an innate ability to find the open man and instinctively deliver the ball in the right spot (after just four games in Vegas, JaVale McGee will back me up on this) cannot be taught and are the foundation of stardom at the “1.”

Throw in an ability and willingness to take over offensively without forcing the action, and Wall is a smart bet to become a special NBA player. He showed flashes over the summer when, despite the inconsistent shooting and turnovers, Wall was often the best player on the floor.

To see this on full display, however, we must go back to December 9, 2009, and Kentucky’s game at Madison Square Garden against No. 12 UConn. Holding a 49-47 lead with 7:30 remaining, Wall proceeded to rip off 12 of Kentucky's last 15 points (he ended the game with 25 and six steals) to lock up a 64–61 win. For all the talent on the court that night, there was no denying that Wall was playing a different game. I was in attendance that night, and went home convinced that Wall was the real deal.

With hard work, innately gifted players are able to improve their efficiency and shooting range (think of the growth in Kobe Bryant’s game through the years). Conversely, an underskilled player with a tireless work ethic who’s clawed his way to stardom will never do certain things that John Wall does with little effort.

So last week, when presented with the opportunity to travel to Boston to sit down with John Wall at his hotel, I was both extremely excited and a bit skeptical. As my train pulled out of New York’s Penn Station and headed north, I wondered what was in store.

Given the culture that surrounds today’s basketball prodigies, I was prepared for any number of scenarios. Toss in Wall’s hellish schedule that day (three-hour practice at 9:00 am, travel delays that pushed his arrival in Boston to 8:30 pm from about 5:00), and the fact that he celebrated his 20th birthday just three weeks ago...

I just remember being an absolute peach at 20, and I didn’t really have anything going on. So, I was understandably skeptical.

It was little bit after 9:00 p.m. when I sat down with Wall, and for all of the reasons outlined above, my expectations were not sky high. Over the 20 minutes that I spent with him, I was blown away by how gracious and polite Wall is—even while obviously exhausted—and what a seemingly good group of people he’s surrounded himself with. Also striking is just how humble he is when discussing the NBA journey on which he’s about to embark:

EA: As the top pick in the draft, you had your pick of shoe companies and chose to sign with Reebok. I‘ve heard your back story and understand you are very loyal to Reebok. I’d love to hear you tell the story of why that is.

JW: I wasn’t really known nationally until I played at the Reebok Breakout Camp in 2007. Then I got to play against guys like Brandon Jennings during Reebok U All-American Camp (a summer camp for top HS athletes) and then at the Reebok Summer Championships in Las Vegas. To this day, I credit Reebok with giving me the opportunity to showcase my skills on national stage. They believed in me when others didn’t.

Also, when it came time for me to decide what shoe I was going to wear in the NBA, Reebok’s package went beyond money. They had a great plan outlined for me, they really showed me how they are planning to work with me to build my brand and let me be the face of my own shoe.

But the connection with Reebok began back when they gave me my first shot at national recognition.

EA: Let’s talk a bit about your shoe, the ZigTech Slash. ZigTech technology existed before you signed with Reebok, but in terms of feel and support, what is it that you like about your shoe and how do feel it helps your game?

JW: It’s really a great shoe. In the past, ZigTech models have generally been used as training shoes, but now Reebok’s made this model, the first ZigTech basketball shoe, for me. It’s lightweight and very comfortable, which is helps me when I need to make a really quick cut. It’s also important in helping me save energy and save my legs late in games. Thanks to that, I know that I’ll have the burst I need to get by somebody late in games.

EA: You mention that before you came aboard, Reebok’s ZigTech line was used exclusively as a training shoe. You’re going to be the first athlete to wear ZigTech shoes in competition. What does that mean to you?

JW: That means a lot to me. Reebok gave me my first opportunity to get to where I am today, and to select me to be the first basketball player to wear the shoe really means a lot. I think the shoes looks great and ever since I’ve been wearing them, in practices and in summer league, I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on how they look and how they play.

EA: Shifting gears a little bit, you came out of high school as a fifth-year senior. As a result, you would have been eligible to jump straight to the NBA. Instead, you chose to go to Kentucky for a year. What were the biggest benefits of spending that year in college?

JW: First off it was my dad. I had talked to him about the idea of not going to college, and he really wanted me to be the first one in my family to go to college, and I promised him that I’d do that.

Also, even though it was always my goal to play in the NBA, I felt like wasn’t mature and mentally prepared to be in that situation right out of high school.

On the court, I wanted to get better as a player and to prove to people and to myself that I could do well at the college level before going to the NBA. I really got a lot of help and support from Coach Cal [John Calipari], coach [Rod] Strickland and the whole coaching staff really helped me grow and mature.

EA: As an NBA nerd, I watched all of your summer league games. I was really struck by your connection with JaVale McGee. I got a little bit of a Chris Paul/Tyson Chandler vibe, from when they were together in New Orleans. What was it about his game that clicked so well with yours?

JW: Well, I’m a pass-first point guard and he [JaVale McGee] is a really athletic big. People don’t really know how athletic he is. I told him every I came off a pick and roll they were going to go under and help [on to Wall], and he’s so athletic all you’ve got to do is basically throw it up near the rim and he’ll go and get it. And that’s basically what I was doing with him.

EA: Based on watching you in summer league, it’s clear that you have “NBA elite” speed and quickness that will set you apart right away. In what areas do you think your game has the most room for improvement?

JW: Everything. I want to work on everything. Even though I have speed and quickness, the key thing is going to be making jump shots so defenders have to respect my shot and aren’t able to just go under screens. That’s been a big focus all summer. We’ve got a great coaching staff and they’ve been working with me. I spent some time with Coach [Flip] Saunders—I went to Minnesota for a week and a half and worked with him every day.

It’s that, and also my defense. I think I play good on-the-ball defense but I’ve been working hard to improve my help-side defense.

Really, I’ve been working on every aspect of my game, but it’s mainly been my jump shot.

EA: As the No. 1 overall pick, obviously all NBA fans now know who John Wall is, but for those who didn’t see a lot of you at Kentucky, how would you describe your game and your attitude on the court?

JW: I have a killer instinct. I have no friends on the basketball court. I can be friends with you or anyone in my group right now, but when we get on the basketball court, there’s no friends, I just want to win. We can be friends again after the game’s over. On the court it’s all about business. I’m the type of point guard that has the will to win. I want the ball in crunch time situations, and want to get my teammates involved and do whatever it takes to get the win.

EA: Other than yourself, which rookie do you see think will have the greatest impact in the NBA this year?

JW: I’d have to say DeMarcus Cousins, my teammate from Kentucky. He’s a skilled big man that proved a lot of people wrong in college by showing that he has great low post skills and he has ball skills. He’s going to be a big man that can play with his back to the basket, but can also step out and shoot the ball.

EA: Looking ahead to the Wizards’ season, you and Gilbert Arenas are clearly the starting backcourt. Coach Saunders has said that both of you will be playing off the ball at times this year. How do you feel about that and how do approach playing off the ball when that’s typically not the type of game you’re asked to play?

JW: The key thing is, when we’ve talked about it, is me being the point guard. I want to do what it takes to be the point guard, lead this team as best I can and set people up in situations where they can be successful and we can win many games as possible.

As the point guard I think I’m going to have the ball in my hands a lot of the time, but there will definitely be times when Gilbert is going well and taking over a game when the ball is definitely going to go through him.

EA: Whether in college, AAU, or offseason pickup games, which current NBA players have you already had a chance to play against? Whose game has most impressed you?

JW: I’ve played against guys like Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings. Haven’t played against Derrick Rose, but I have watched his game a lot. They’re all really talented players and like me, every year those guys trying to get better. I’m coming in as a rookie and I’m trying to prove myself.

EA: Which opposing player(s) are you most looking forward to squaring off against as an NBA player?

JW: All the point guards. It’s really going to be great, because every night you’re playing against a really talented point guard. The most important thing for me to do is to come out every night and make sure that I’m prepared.

It’s going to be a big adjustment playing an 82-game regular season, and playing against NBA competition every night, because you don’t get any nights off. In college you may play a really good team one night and then you’re next game will be against D-II school. In that spot, the point guard is still a good player, but he’s not as strong or as quick, you know?

In the NBA there’s none of that. There are no nights off.

EA: Finally, in the opinion of John Wall, what should fans be expecting from the 2010-11 Washington Wizards?

JW: A turnaround. We’re going to try and change and improve the situation as best we can. We can’t make any promises, other than we’re going to work and play as hard as we can. As with any team in the NBA, we’re going to have our ups and downs, but the most important thing for is going to be to take my time, make sure I learn the NBA game right, and hopefully we turn the organization around very soon and make a playoff run.

EA: Thanks so much for your time, John. Best of luck in not only your upcoming rookie season, but what is hopefully a long and successful career.

JW: Thanks very much.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Buffalo Braves/S.D.-L.A. Clippers: NBA All-Times Starting Fives

Los Angeles is home to two NBA teams, but it would be sacrilegious to suggest that they share the city. This ain’t Mets-Yankees. It’s not even Knicks Nets.

Growing up in Los Angeles, my first memory of the Clippers is as a punch line. For much of my youth, they remained a punch line, not just locally or in NBA circles, but across professional sports. Over the years, a funny thing happened to the relationship between Laker fans and the Clippers. We’ve begun to root for the Clippers. Not because we necessarily hope for or expect any success from them, but because there’s no pleasure in rooting against the hopeless.

At some point, the mockery waned, morphing into apathy before ultimately transforming into pity.

Over the past 34 years, the Clippers/Braves have posted a winning percentage of just .353 (973- 1,783), produced four .500-or-better seasons, appeared in the playoffs four times, advanced past the first round once, lost 50+ games 23 times, 60+ eight times (including a record of 12-70 in 1986-87), and managed just nine wins out of 50 games (.180 winning percentage) in the lockout-shortened 1999 season.

The last 34 years have seen the Clippers finish last in their division 15 times, while failing to capture a single division title.

Since 1976, a grand total of eight All-Star appearances have been made by a member of the Clippers/Braves- two each by Danny Manning and Elton Brand, and one apiece by Randy Smith, Norm Nixon, Marques Johnson and World B. Free

Since 1976, the franchise has drafted in the top-10 24 times, 12 times in the top four, and three times at No. 1 overall. Despite this, only once have the Clippers drafted a player who made an All-Star appearance as a Clipper: Danny Manning in 1993 and 1994.

It defies belief that the franchise born in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves managed three consecutive winning seasons, reaching the postseason on each occasion, after just three years in the NBA. They even acquitted themselves well in each of those early postseason appearances, falling in 1974 and 1976 to the eventual champion Celtics, and to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Bullets in 1975.

The Braves looked to be set up for a long run of prosperity. They’d selected MVP and scoring champ Bob McAdoo second overall in the 1972 draft, a year after stealing local collegian and future All-Star Randy Smith in the 7th round (102nd overall).

From expansion team to contender in three years. A franchise big man. Everything was going to well.

And then the sky began to fall. Meteorologists in L.A. expect it to stop any year now.

In 1976, a deal was struck between owner John Y. Brown and Celtics’ owner Irv Levin to swap franchises after the 1977-78 season. Upon the deal’s consummation in the summer of 1978, Levin immediately moved the Braves from Buffalo to San Diego and renamed them the Clippers.

The announcement of the aforementioned deal marked the beginning of an era of incompetence and misfortune that continues to this day. For over three decades, this franchise has misfired spectacularly on so many trades, draft picks and signings, if the NBA didn’t keep records of such things, it would be hard to believe.

Since 1976, the Braves/Clippers have traded away a former MVP and three-time scoring champion (McAdoo), a defending Rookie of the Year and future Hall-of-Famer (Adrian Dantley), the draft pick that would become Marques Johnson (only to overpay to acquire him in a trade seven years later), a young Terry Cummings, a young Tom Chambers and an All-Star and former #1 overall pick (Danny Manning) in exchange for half a season of Dominique Wilkins, rather than a young Glen Rice.

That’s not a comprehensive list- those are just the bad ones! For a more detailed look at the Clippers’ legacy of misfortune, check out Bill Simmons’ open letter to 2009’s first overall pick, Blake Griffin.

Okay, so this whole “trading” thing hasn’t worked out well, but the draft must have treated the Clippers better, right?

Not so much.

In 1978, as part of the franchise swap with Boston, the Braves sent Billy Knight, Nate Archibald, Marvin Barnes and a pair of draft picks to Boston. In exchange, they received Kevin Kunnert, Sidney Wicks, Kermit Washington and the eighth pick in the 1978 draft (Freeman Williams). Boston kept the sixth pick in that draft, which wound up being Larry Bird.

Quick tangent: If fans thought Clippers’ ownership sucked in the late 1970s, their socks were about to be knocked off. Following the 1980-81 season, the Clippers were sold for $12.5 million to Donald Sterling- a man who over the next three decades (and counting) would come to define both “crappy sports owner” and “racist slumlord.”

Salt of the Earth, that guy!

In 1984, with two of the top 15 picks (#’s 8 & 14 overall) in one of the deepest and most talent-laden drafts ever, the Clippers… misfired. They drafted Lancaster Gordon eighth and grabbed solid rebounder Michael Cage at #14- two picks ahead of John Stockton.

The next year, after being awarded the third overall pick in the first-ever draft lottery, the Clippers select Benoit Benjamin- who gave them a solid 13.3- 8.7 and 2.8 bpg over five seasons- over Xavier McDaniel, Chris Mullin and Detlef Schrempf.

In the summer of 1987, the Clippers acquired an extra pair of first-rounders. Good times, right? Yeah… until you select Reggie Williams one spot ahead of Scottie Pippen and grab Joe Wolf and Ken Norman at #’s 13 and 19.

In 1998, a decade after their first draft lottery win, the Clippers win the draft lottery again. However, in a talent-rich draft they pass on the likes of Mike Bibby and Vince Carter (as well as Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Antawn Jamison, though not really in play for the top pick) in favor of Michael Olowakandi, a robotic, big man with low basketball IQ from the University of Pacific.

And the hits just kept comin! In 2002, it was Melvin Ely over Caron Butler and Amar’e Stoudemire. In 2005, Russian teenager Yaroslav Korolev over Danny Granger.

And then there are the injuries. Oh, the injuries!

Just 10 games into the 1986-87 season, Marques Johnson- for whom the Clippers traded budding star Terry Cummings- ruptured a disk in his neck and never played for the franchise again.

After sending quality big man Swen Nater and the fourth pick in the 1983 draft (Byron Scott) to the Lakers in exchange for star PG Norm Nixon, the Clippers thought they’d found a quality floor general. For a while, it looked as though they might be right. However, after three solid seasons, Nixon blew out his knee and ruptured his Achilles tendon in a ~15-month span, was lost for both the 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons and was never an effective NBA player again.

After winning the 1988 draft lottery, the Clippers selected Final Four hero Danny Manning first overall. Just 26 games into his rookie season, Manning blew out his left ACL.

In 1989, with second overall pick Danny Ferry- who openly didn’t want to play for the Clippers- threatening to play in Italy, the Clippers dealt him to Cleveland for Ron Harper and a pair of first-rounders. 28 games into the following season, Harper, and his 23 ppg, were lost to a torn ACL.

Even the franchise’s RARE upswings do not come without a hefty price. After trading for veteran PG Sam Cassell and teaming him with Elton Brand, the Clippers notched 47 wins in 2005-06, won their first playoff series in 31 years and came within a single victory of their first conference finals appearance.

In 2006-07, promising third-year PG Shaun Livingston suffered a gruesome injury that destroyed his right knee- on a breakaway dunk attempt!

The following year, the team’s star and leader, Elton Brand, blew out his Achilles and suited up in just eight games before leading the team to believe that he’d re-sign in L.A. and team up with free agent PG Baron Davis, only to bolt for Philly after Baron inked his deal with the Clippers.

Finally, there’s Blake Griffin, the Clippers’ prize for winning the 2009 draft lottery. The top in 2009, he was named Summer League MVP and excelled in the preseason. However, just days before the start of the season, it was revealed that a stress fracture in his left knee would cost Griffin his entire rookie season.


Quite the track record, huh?

With all of that said, there is actually an excellent pool of talent from which to assemble an all-time starting five. It does, however, take some work to find guys that were good enough, healthy enough and not shipped out of town prematurely.

PG- Norm Nixon (14.6 ppg, 9 apg in 283 games)

Six players have made an All-Star team as a member of the Braves/Clippers. Norm Nixon is the only point guard in that group.

He’s the only one of three candidates here- with Sam Cassell and Mark Jackson- never to lead the Clippers to the playoffs, but his run with the team was by far the longest and most statistically productive.

Acquired via trade in 1983, Nixon joined the Clippers in their last season in San Diego, 1983-84. The team won just 30 games that year, but Nixon enjoyed his best statistical season as a pro, and the best for Clippers’ PG, averaging 17 ppg and an NBA-best 11.1 apg.

Nixon continued his fantastic individual play the following season, the Clippers’ first in Los Angeles. In 1984-85, Nixon averaged 17.2 ppg, dished out 8.8 apg and earned the second All-Selection of his career- he was actually excellent in the 1985 All-Star Game, scoring 11 points and handing out 8 assists.

His third full season (relatively- he missed 15 games) with the Clippers was also solid, as Nixon averaged 14.6 ppg and 8.6 apg. In his first three seasons with the franchise, Nixon was good for 16.4 ppg and 9.6 apg.

In the summer of 1986, while playing softball in New York’s Central Park, Nixon stepped in a hole on the field and severely damaged a tendon in his left knee, costing him the 1986-87 season. He’d recover from this, but while practicing in preparation for his return, Nixon ruptured his Achilles tendon and missed the entire 1987-88 season as well. He would return for 53 games in 1988-89, averaging 6.8 ppg and 6.4 apg, but this brutal stretch marked the end of Norm Nixon as an effective player.

Finishing a solid second here is Sam Cassell, who ran the point for the Clippers for two and a half years, starting in 2005. He helped lead the Clippers to 47 wins and the second round of the playoffs, which makes him the equivalent of Magic Johnson or Bob Cousy in Clipperland, but 2005-06 was the only healthy season he enjoyed with the team. That year, Cassell averaged 17.2 ppg and 6.3 apg in 78 regular season games, and 18 ppg, 4 rpg and 5.8 apg in 12 postseason games.

Cassell played just 58 games the following season- during which the Clippers saw their win total fall from 47 to 40- and was waived 38 games into 2007-08. In those 96 games, Cassell averaged just 12.5 ppg and 4.7 apg.

Despite one excellent season, Cassell simply didn’t put up big enough numbers for long enough to earn this spot. In 174 games with the Clippers, he averaged 14.6 ppg and 5.4 apg.

Also deserving a mention here is Mark Jackson, who ran the point for two seasons (1992-93 & 1993-94), the first of which consisted of a 41-41 record (this is good stuff for the Clips!) and a second consecutive trip to the playoffs. That year, Jackson played in all 82 regular season games and averaged 14.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 8.8 apg. In the postseason, Jackson averaged 15.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 7.6 apg as the Clippers pushed the Utah Jazz to a deciding fifth game before losing the series.

Like he was everywhere else, Jackson was the consummate point guard in his time with the Clippers. However, like Sam Cassell, he really only had one excellent season with the team, and didn’t accomplish enough, either individually or from a team perspective. In 161 games with the Clippers, Jackson averaged 12.7 ppg,, 4.6 rpg, 8.7 apg and 1.6 spg.

SG- Randy Smith (17.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.9 apg, 1.5 spg in 714 games)

Despite how it might look at first glance, this race wasn’t close.

World B. Free was an offensive force for a pair of unremarkable San Diego teams between 1979 and 1981. In 146 games, he averaged 29.4 ppg (including 30.2 in 1980-81), was an All-Star in 1980, holds the highest scoring average in franchise history and even averaged 4.3 apg.

Sure he averaged 3.6 TO/game too, but why dwell on the negative?

Ron Harper averaged 19.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.8 apg and 2 spg in 304 games with the Clippers. After losing significant chunks of each of his first two seasons due to injury, Harper missed just nine games over his last three, which included consecutive postseason appearances, the first of which snapped a 15-year drought.

Harper averaged at least 18 ppg, 4.8 rpg and 4.5 apg in each of his five seasons with the Clippers, and was arguably deserving of an All-Star nod at some point during that stretch. Harper’s 5,853 points rank eighth in franchise history, while his 606 steals and 1,463 assists are good for third and fourth, respectively.

In the end, this spot could only go to one man: the late Randy Smith.

Randy Smith (December 12, 1948- June 4, 2009) starred at Buffalo State College, where he played a central role in three conference championships and a trip to the Division II Final Four in 1970. Not a highly touted NBA prospect, the local connection was the primary reason the Braves selected him in the seventh round (104th overall) of the 1971 draft.

Smith made the team, averaged 13.4 ppg as a rookie and improved his scoring average each of the next four seasons- 14.8 ppg, to 15.5, 17.8 and 21.8 ppg in 1975-76. In 1975-76, Smith kicked off a streak of four consecutive 20+ ppg seasons, earned a spot on the All-NBA Second Team and the first of two All-Star selections.

He was also named an All-Star in 1978, his best season as a pro, during which he averaged 24.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg and 5.6 apg. While his first trip to the All-Star Game was a quiet one (eight points in 15 minutes), Smith took center stage in 1978, coming off the bench to score a game-high 27 points which, along with seven rebounds and six assists, earned him game’s MVP award.

Randy Smith was an exceptional athlete, blessed with great speed and quickness, as well as the ability to jump out of the gym. His physical gifts were perfectly suited for the up-tempo, fast-breaking style that gained popularity in the late-1970s, following the integration of ABA talent into the NBA.

Smith joined the Braves in their second season in existence. He played for the franchise in Buffalo for seven seasons, as well as the first in San Diego as the Clippers. That season, 1978-79, Smith averaged 20.5 ppg and 4.8 apg. before being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers that summer.

Smith spent nearly nine seasons with the Braves-Clippers (his first eight, and 65 games in his final season) and is the franchise leader in several categories. Smith holds the franchise mark for games played (714), minutes (24,393), points (12,735; only player with 10,000+), FG attempted (11,035) and made (5,214), assists (3,498) and steals (1,072).

In addition to his other considerable accomplishments, Smith is known for being the “iron man” of NBA’s first half century. After missing six games as a rookie, Smith proceeded to play in 906 consecutive games from 1972-73 through 1981-82. For 10 straight seasons Smith played in every regular season game. His record stood for roughly a decade and a half, until it was broken by A.C. Green in November 1997.

Tragically, following a workout on June 4, 2009, Randy Smith died of a heart attack.

SF- Danny Manning (19.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3 apg, 1.5 spg in 373 games)

The first of three #1 overall draft picks in franchise history (in 1988). Danny Manning provided a ray of hope in the midst of one of the worst stretches in league history- the Clippers had averaged 23.4 wins over seven seasons, and just 29 total in the two years prior to his arrival.

As previously mentioned, Manning’s NBA career got off to a promising, but ultimately a very “Clipper” start. His rookie season was limited to just 26 games, thanks to a torn ACL- back when this was a HUGE deal. He was averaging 16.7 pg, 6.6 rpg and 1.7 spg at the time.

He returned for the 1989-1990 season and was back in form (again, this was a rarity 20 years ago), averaging 16.1 ppg and 5.8 rpg over the next two seasons.

Considering both a team and an individual success, 1991-92, his breakout year, was the most successful of Manning’s career. Not only did he average 19.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg and 3.5 apg- his best in each category to that point- the Clippers posted their fist winning season in 13 years and broke a 15-year playoff drought.

Manning’s best statistical season came in 1992-1993, when he averaged a career-high 22.8 ppg, grabbed 6.6 rpg helped lead the Clippers to a second straight playoff appearance and earned his first career All-Star selection.

Manning turned down a 5-year, $27+ million contract extension that summer and, in the storied tradition of free-agents-to-be, embarked on the best half season of his career. Through 42 games in 1993-94, Manning averaged 23.7 ppg, 7 rpg and a would-have-been career-high 4.2 apg en route to his second consecutive All-Star selection.

However, after those 42 games, the Clippers and the Hawks swapped soon-to-be free agents, with Dominique Wilkins joining the Clippers for the remainder of the season. After the trade, in fewer minutes with the playoff-bound Hawks, Manning averaged 15.7- 6.5- 3.3 and ended the season at 20.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 3.9 apg.

Manning’s competition for this spot includes a local star that simply didn’t suit up in enough games (157), played for terrible teams (no more than 32 wins in a season) and enjoyed his best seasons elsewhere. And Corey Maggette.

First, there’s Marques Johnson, the former UCLA great that could (should?) have been a Clipper seven years earlier, had the draft pick used to select him not been traded to Milwaukee. In order to (re?) acquire Johnson, the Clippers sent a 23 year-old Terry Cummings, along with Ricky Pierce and Craig Hodges, to the Bucks in the summer of 1984.

While the intelligence of that trade is certainly up for debate, Johnson played some good ball for the Clippers (18.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.6 apg in 157 games; an All-Star selection in 1986) before rupturing a disk in his neck 10 games into his third season with the team. After pulling a Norm Nixon and missing the next two full seasons, Marques would play just more 10 games in the NBA (with Golden State in 1989-90) before retiring.

Meanwhile, Maggette, one of the longest tenured Clippers in history, averaged a solid 17.3 ppg and 5.2 rpg in 512 games, and enjoyed three seasons of 20+ ppg. He was also was a key part of the 2006 playoff run, averaging 15.3- 7.3 in 12 playoff games.

However, for as amazing an athlete as Maggette is, it’s criminal that he was unable to average at least one steal or one blocked shot in his time with the Clippers. Also, the 2005-06 team that posted the only .500+ record of his tenure- and its highest win total (47) since 1975- did so in a season in which Maggette missed 50 games.

So, it’s a good resume, but not good enough.

PF- Elton Brand (20.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2.3 bpg in 459 games)

The best Los Angeles Clipper ever. At his best, Brand was not only a lock for 20- 10 virtually every night, he inspired a confidence that the franchise had lacked since the days of Bob McAdoo.

Brand was selected to the All-NBA Second Team in 2006 and, along with Danny Manning, is one of two players to make multiple All-Star appearances (2002 and 2006) as a “Clipper.”

Brand was acquired after two excellent seasons with the Bulls, in exchange for the draft rights to Tyson Chandler and Brian Skinner. He averaged 18.3 ppg and 11.5 rpg over his first two seasons in L.A., after which he kicked off a four-year streak of 20+ ppg, grabbing 10+ rpg in two of those seasons. A lesser known part of Brand’s game that developed in his time with the Clippers was his shotblocking- he was good for 2+ bpg in each of his six Clipper seasons.

In the aforementioned 2005-06 season, Brand had the best season of his career, posting career-highs in scoring (24.7 ppg) and FG% (52.7%) to go along with 10 rpg and 2.5 bpg, while leading the Clippers to 47 wins- their most since 1975 and the second highest total in franchise history.

That spring, Brand helped the franchise to its first playoff series win since 1976- and the only one achieved under the “Clippers” name. Although they fell to the Phoenix Suns in seven games in the conference semifinals, that Elton Brand-led crew produced arguably the best season in franchise history.

While he put up another solid performance (20.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg) the following year, 2005–06 was the pinnacle for Brand (individually) and the Clippers, both on and off the floor. In 2006-07, not only did Brand’s stats slip, the Clippers managed just a 40-42 record and missed the playoffs.

Brand missed all but eight games of the 2007–08 season, his last with the Clippers, thanks to a ruptured Achilles' tendon. That offseason he opted out of the final year of his contract and became a free agent. Despite hinting that he would re-sign with the Clippers, and that he’d opted out solely to provide the team with salary cap flexibility, Brand bolted for Philadelphia after Warriors’ free agent PG Baron Davis signed with the Clippers… under the assumption that he’d be joining forces with Brand.

While the relationship between Brand and the Clippers didn’t exactly come to a storybook end, he’s clearly the cream of a rather talented (but generally short-tenured) crop.

First, we have Tom Chambers, the eighth pick in the 1981 draft. Despite showing significant potential (17.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg in 160 games), Chambers was traded just two seasons into his career to make room for standout PF Terry Cummings.

Next up is Terry Cummings, the second overall pick in the 1982 draft. Cummings spent his first two seasons with the San Diego Clippers, where he was fantastic. As a rookie he averaged 23.7 ppg, 10.6 rpg and won the 1982-83 Rookie of the Award. In 151 total games with the franchise, he averaged 23.3 ppg and 10.1 rpg.

However, in the summer of 1984, for reasons that remain a mystery (especially with Chambers having been traded a year earlier to make room for him) the Clippers traded Cummings- a 23 year-old budding star and 20- 10 lock- along with future All-Star Ricky Pierce and sharpshooter Craig Hodges- to Milwaukee.

Also deserving of a quick shout out is Chares Smith, who averaged 18.4 ppg and 7 rpg in 272 games with the franchise. Smith averaged 20+ ppg in consecutive seasons for Clippers and holds the “Clippers” single-game scoring record (McAdoo did it twice in Buffalo), with 52 points in Denver in December 1990.

Finally, a quick nod to the spectacularly Jheri-curled Michael Cage- not so much for his 11 ppg and 8.8 rpg in 305 games for a string of crappy teams- but for his 13 rpg in 1987-88, which tied him with Charles Oakley for the league lead.

C- Bob McAdoo (28.2 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 1.8 bpg in 334 games)

Bob McAdoo is the best player in the history of the franchise and one of the first centers with a great perimeter game and the ability to thrive in an uptempo system. He remains one of the most versatile offensive big men ever.

And he built the lion’s share of his Hall of Fame resume with the Buffalo Braves.

McAdoo was drafted second overall in 1972, after two years at Vincennes Junior College, and one season at North Carolina. He was a factor from Day 1, averaging 18 ppg and 9.1 rpg as a rookie and winning the 1973 NBA Rookie of the Year award. He was so good that double-double machine and shotblocking specialist Elmore Smith was traded to the Lakers to make room for McAdoo. For the next three seasons, their faith would be rewarded.

In 1973-74, he took his game to a new level and established himself as one of the NBA’s elite. That season, McAdoo averaged 30.6 ppg and 15.1 rpg, led the league in FG% (54.7%), was named an All-Star and won the first of his three consecutive NBA scoring titles.

McAdoo’s 1973-74 season remains the last one in which an NBA player averaged 30- 15, and marked the first of just two occasions in the past 37 years (Shaq in 1999-2000 is the other) when a player has led the NBA in both scoring and FG%.

The following year, McAdoo was actually better. He averaged 34.5 ppg, 14.1 rpg, shot 51.2% from the field, was named an All-Star, All-NBA First Team and was awarded the league MVP award.

While McAdoo’s 1975-76 season is as good or better than any season as we’ve seen from a big man in 35 years, it was arguably the worst of his three-year peak. That season McAdoo averaged 31.1 ppg, 12.4 rpg, made 48.7% of his field goals, won a third straight scoring title and was an All-Star again.

McAdoo was also the lynchpin of the only three-year postseason streak in franchise history. While the Braves were unable to advance past the second round of the playoffs, McAdoo was exceptional. In the worst of his three postseason appearances with Buffalo (in 1976), he averaged 28 ppg and 14.2 rpg in nine games, playing over 45 minutes per game.

The previous year, in a tough seven-game series against the eventual Eastern Conference champion Bullets, McAdoo was off the charts. He averaged 37.4 ppg, 13.4 rpg and was on the floor for all but nine minutes of the series (46.7 mpg).

Had he peaked in any era other than the one in which he did- or not had his prime years coincide with Kareem’s- he would be much more of a household name. As things currently stand, McAdoo is about as unheralded an MVP, five-time All-Star (four times with the Braves) and three-time scoring champ as you’re likely to find.

Another big man deserving a mention here is McAdoo’s predecessor, Elmore Smith. His first two (1971-72 and 1972-73) NBA seasons, and the best of his career, were spent with the Braves. As a rookie, Smith averaged an excellent 17.3 ppg and 15.2 rpg (eighth best ever for a rookie) and was named First Team All-Rookie. His sophomore season was equally impressive, as he averaged 18.3 ppg and 12.4 rpg.

In addition to being an outstand rebounder (averaged 10.9+ rpg in his first five seasons), Smith was an elite shotblocker, though the NBA didn’t keep track of blocked shots during his time in Buffalo. He led the league in total blocks twice (in 1973-74 and 1974-75), and holds the NBA record for blockes in a game (17, on October 28, 1973, as a Laker, against Portland). That season- the first in which the NBA kept track of blocked shots- Smith averaged 4.85 bpg, the third highest average in NBA history. For his career Elmor Smith averaged a rock-solid 13.4 ppg and 10.6 rpg, but was even better with the Braves, averaging 17.8 ppg and a franchise-best 13.8 rpg.

Finally, we have Swen Nater, a 6’11” Dutchman that was a part of two NCAA title-winning under legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. Nater spent his first two pro seasons with the San Antonio Spurs (1973 ABA Rookie of the Year, 1974 ABA rebounding champ, two-time ABA All-Star and All-ABA Second Team). He would spend another season with the Bucks before he was traded to Buffalo.

He spend four very productive seasons with the Braves, three times averaging a double-double (15.5 ppg, 13.2 rpg, 13.4- 15 and 15.6- 12.4) and leading the NBA in rebounding average during the 1979-80 season (15 rpg). This made him the only player ever to lead both the NBA and ABA in rebounding. In 348 games with the Braves-Clippers, Swen Nater averaged 13.5 ppg, 12 rpg and shot 54.2% from the field.

Before the 1983-84 season, Nater last in the NBA, he was traded to the Lakers, along with the rights to the fourth pick in the 1983 draft (Byron Scott), in exchange for Norm Nixon, Eddie Jordan, and a 1986 second-rounder (which was traded to the Suns and became Jeff Hornacek).

Sorry, even I really didn’t see that last dig coming!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Andrew Bynum: Big Man Must Come Up Big in Lakers' Three-Peat Bid

With all due respect to Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum is the most skilled pure center in the NBA. It’s now time for him to take that next step.

If the Lakers are going to complete the fourth three-peat of Phil Jackson’s career, and the second of Kobe Bryant’s, Andrew Bynum must play a major role. In five professional seasons, Bynum, who doesn’t turn 23 years old until October 27, has matured physically and, with the help of a legend, refined his low-post game.

Over the past three seasons, Bynum’s shown himself to be physically gifted, incredibly skilled, and occasionally dominant. He’s come a long way since Kobe Bryant publicly lamented the franchise’s reluctance to trade him in exchange for Jason Kidd. He’s put in the work and developed his game. What more do the Lakers need from Andrew Bynum to complete the three-peat?

First and foremost, he must stay on the floor. Over the past three years, injuries have robbed him of 96 regular season games, cost him the entire 2008 postseason, and limited him to less than 18 minutes per game in the Lakers’ 2009 title run.

With a healthy Andrew Bynum, the Lakers will be able to field the best big lineup in recent memory.

Think about this: the 2010-11 Lakers will trot out a roster consisting of Kobe Bryant (6’6”), Pau Gasol (7’0"), Bynum (7’0"), Lamar Odom (6’10”), Ron Artest (6’7”), Matt Barnes (6’7”), and Shannon Brown (6’4”, which is pretty good for a PG). And we’re not even taking into account Luke Walton (6’8”), Sasha Vajucic (6’7”—does that sound about three inches too high to anyone else?), or potential impact second-rounders Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter (6’9” each).

When healthy, Bynum’s a double-double machine and a constant threat to put up 25-15. If he suits up in 75 or more games in 2010-11, there’s no reason to think that he can't develop into a consistent 20-10 guy and a 35 minute-a-night inside threat. If this happens, there’s not a team in the NBA that can beat the Lakers four times in seven games.

Not only does Bynum add to the Lakers’ length and athleticism on defense but his presence in the paint negates the Lakers’ lack of speed and quickness at the point. Both Derek Fisher (36 years old) and the newly acquired Steve Blake are heady, mature lead guards that consistently hit shots from the perimeter, but neither possesses the speed and athleticism needed to stop the league’s top young point guards (Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, and so on).

With Bynum patrolling the paint, the defensive shortcomings of Fisher and Blake become far less of a liability for the Lakers. Any point guard that’s able to get past Fisher and Blake (this could be a considerable number) still has plenty of work to do in dealing with Bynum’s length, agility, and shot-blocking.

At the other end, Bynum’s offense commands significant attention, which lightens Pau Gasol’s workload inside and eases Bryant’s burden. Bryant is entering his 15th season. It’s safe to assume he’d appreciate the added help.

However, thanks to the Lakers’ incredible stockpile of talent and depth, Bynum doesn’t need to become an offensive force. Over the past three seasons, this team has demonstrated the ability to reach the pinnacle of the league with Bynum contributing between 13.1 and 15 ppg in the regular season and no more than 8.6 ppg in the postseason.

This isn’t likely to change in 2010-11. With Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol still a lock for roughly 45 ppg, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, and the newly acquired Matt Barnes probably good for 10-14 ppg each, and the three-headed PG spot (Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, and Shannon Brown) likely to produce around 15 ppg, points will not be short supply in Lakerland.

While Bynum’s development into an elite scorer would all but guarantee the Lakers another three-peat, there are four areas in which a healthy Andrew Bynum makes an irreplaceable contribution.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Philadelphia/Golden State Warriors: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

To explore the history of the Warriors franchise is to explore the history of professional basketball. From their inception in 1946 as the Philadelphia Warriors in the Basketball Association of America (which became the NBA in 1949) to the disjointed Nelleyball era of today, there has not been a professional basketball season in this country for which the Warriors have not been present.

Over the past six decades, ten Hall-of-Famers- Wilt Chamberlain, Paul Arizin, Rick Barry, Nate Thurmond, Neil Johnston, Joe Fulks, Robert Parish, Tom Gola, Jerry Lucas and Andy Phillip- have suit up in at least 100 games for the Warriors. An eleventh, Chris Mullin, is a safe bet to join this group in the near future.

The Philadelphia Warriors won the first-ever professional basketball championship following the 1946-47 season, and the franchise has since gone on to win two more titles (1955-56 and 1974-75), reach the Finals on five other occasions and author one of the greatest-ever postseason upsets.

It was with the Warriors that Wilt Chamberlain hit his statistical peak (that’s saying something!).

It was with the Warriors that Rick Barry was essentially Larry Bird before Larry Bird.

It was also with the Warriors that Chris Mullin introduced us to the prettiest lefty jumper in history.

However, as accomplished as the Philadelphia/Bay Area Warriors franchise is, it’s interesting to note just how often this team’s been, well, not very good.

The Warriors have failed to post a regular season record of .500+ in 34 of 64 seasons. The Warriors have made 29 postseason appearances- six straight from 1946-47 through 1951-52, but no more than three in a row (done five times) since. Meanwhile, the franchise has missed the playoffs in three or more consecutive seasons four times- one of the streaks a nine-year drought from 1977-78- 1985-86, another spanning a dozen years, from 1994-95 through 2005-06. Other than in 2007, during which they produced an epic first round upset of the heavily-favored Mavericks, the Warriors have been playoff outsiders for 16 years.

It’s surprising to realize that a franchise that’s enjoyed so much success and notoriety has also suffered from such extended periods of futility and an utter lack of consistency.

PG- Tim Hardaway (19.8 ppg, 9.3 apg, 1.9 spg in 422 games)

It was also with the Warriors that “Run TMC” lit up the early 1990s, with Tim Hardaway and his “UTEP Two-Step” leading the way.

While the explosive trio of Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin only enjoyed two seasons together, and only one with all three in their respective primes, they were the pioneers and best-ever practitioners of ”Nelleyball.”

In five full seasons quarterbacking the Warriors’ attack, Hardaway never averaged fewer than 8.7 apg and twice averaged double-figures, including a career-high 10.6 in 1992-93.

Hardaway was one of the most prolific scorers among NBA PGs, averaging 20+ ppg four times, posting the three best scoring seasons of his career (22.9, 23.4 and 21.5 ppg) from 1990-91- 1992-93. He earned an All-Star selection each season, and was selected All-NBA Second Team in 1991-92 and All-NBA Third Team in 1992-93.

The only full season with the Warriors during which he failed to score 20+ was his rookie year (1989-90), when he averaged 14.7 ppg, dished out 8.7 apg and was named to the All-Rookie First Team.

In five seasons, Hardaway led three playoff appearances. Hardaway was outstanding during a trip to the second round in 1991, averaging 25.2 ppg, 11.2 apg and 3.1 spg in nine games as the Warriors bounced the Spurs before falling to the eventual conference champion Lakers.

In five years in Oakland, Hardaway developed into a perennial All-Star and one of the most exciting and explosive lead guards of his era. In terms of stats, accolades and pure excitement, there’s not a Warriors’ PG that can top Tim Hardaway.

Starring for the Philadelphia (and later San Francisco) Warriors in the late 1950s and 1960s, Guy Rodgers (1935–2001) is a deserving second-place finisher here. In 587 games over eight seasons, Rogers was one of the best lead guards of his era.

As a scorer, Rogers was solid, averaging double figures in seven of eight seasons, including a career-high 18.6 ppg in 1965-66. This was the only time he averaged better than 14.6 ppg with the Warriors.

With the Warriors, Rogers averaged 12.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg and 8.3 apg, was named an All-Star three times and placed in the top two in the NBA in assists six times, leading the league in 1962-63 with 10.4 apg.

Rodgers played alongside Wilt Chamberlain from 1959 through 1964, collected 20 assists during Wilt's legendary 100-point game and later that same season, tied Bob Cousy's single-game record of 28 assists- a mark that stood for another decade and a half.

Also deserving a mention here is Baron Davis, who played a vital role in the incredible upset of the 62-win Dallas Mavericks in the opening round of the 2007 playoffs. In the Warriors’ four victories, Baron averaged 27.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg and 5.8 apg. His 33-point, 14-rebound, 8-assist Game 1 in Dallas is one of the best playoff performances of the post-Jordan era.

In 227 games over 3+ seasons in Oakland, Baron Davis averaged 20.1 ppg (best among PGs in franchise history), 8.1 apg, 2 spg and was a driving force behind the only playoff appearance since Run TMC.

However, Davis was neither named an All-Star nor selected to an All-NBA team as a member of the Warriors, and only managed to suit up in more than 63 games once- when he played in all 82 regular season games in his contract year of 2007-08.

Despite excellent averages and the magical moments of the 2007 postseason, Baron simply didn’t accomplish enough or stay on the floor often enough to earn this spot.

SG- Jeff Mullins (17.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.1 apg in 714 games)

No shortage of talent here. Three outstanding seasons from a young Mitch Richmond, half a dozen strong all-around seasons from Hall-of-Famer Tom Gola and nearly a decade of solid, at times excellent, play from Jeff Mullins.

Based on statistical achievement, longevity with the franchise and contribution to a championship team, Jeff Mullins earns the title of Warriors’ all-time two-guard.

After starring at Duke and winning a gold medal at the 1964 Olympics, Mullins was selected sixth overall by the St. Louis Hawks in the 1964 draft. After a pair of unremarkable seasons (5.4 ppg, 2 rpg in limited minutes), he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the 1966 expansion draft, and immediately shipped to the San Francisco Warriors in exchange for PG Guy Rogers.

Following his move to the Warriors, Mullins blossomed into a consistent scoring threat and a solid rebounder. He played nine full seasons with the Warriors, eight of which saw him make considerable contributions. Mullins scored at least 13.2 ppg in each of his first eight seasons in the Bay Area, and regularly grabbed 5+ rpg and dished out 4+ apg. By his second season with the team, Mullins was a legitimate offensive weapon, and would go on to enjoy a four-year prime in which he averaged at least 20.8 ppg was selected to three consecutive NBA All-Star teams (1969- 1971).

Mullins helped the Warriors to six playoff appearances in his first eight years, and eight in ten total seasons- one of the franchise’s best stretches. He played a huge role in helping the Warriors reach the 1967 Finals, averaging 17.7 ppg and 6.1 rpg in 15 postseason games. Mullins was also a member of the franchise’s last title winner in 1974-75. However, by this point, Mullins’ skills had begun to erode. He played in 66 regular season games and averaged just 8.2 ppg in 17 minutes. He was able to maintain his production into the postseason, giving the Warriors 8 ppg in nearly 20 minutes per game en route to the championship.

Mullins still ranks third in franchise history in games played (714), fourth in assists (2,913) and sixth in points (12,547). Among backcourt players, he tops the list in games played and points (only Warriors guard with 10,000+), ranks second in rebounds (3,256) and third in assists, though he’s first among shooting guards.

As previously mentioned, the only Hall-of-Famer from this group is Tom Gola, a rugged two-guard from the 1950s and 1960s and one of the league’s original “glue guys.” His rebounding, passing and tough defense, along with a respectable offensive game, helped the Warriors to a championship in 1955-56. During the title run Gola, a 23 year-old rookie, averaged 12.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 5.8 apg. In 39 career postseason games with the Warriors, Gola averaged 11.1 ppg, 10 rpg and 4.6 apg.

After sitting out the 1956-57 season, Gola returned to the Warriors for another five years, during which he averaged at least 13.7 ppg and 9.4 rpg each season. For three straight years (1957-58- 1959-60), Gola averaged a double-double (13.8- 10.8, 14.1- 11.1 and 15- 10.4), was named an All-Star in each of his last three seasons with the franchise and earned a place on the All-NBA Second Team in 1958. In 400 games with the Warriors, Gola averaged 13.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 5 apg.

Finally, there’s Mitch Richmond, drafted fifth overall in the 1988 draft by the Warriors, who started his career with three very productive seasons in Oakland. As a rookie in 1988-89, Richmond averaged 22 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.1 apg and was named Rookie of the Year. Over the next two seasons, playing alongside Chris Mullin and a young Tim Hardaway, Richmond was a key component of "Run TMC."

Richmond was an awesome all-round scorer with the Warriors, thanks not only to the great outside shooting for which he’d become well known, but also on the break. In his two seasons playing alongside Tim Hardaway, Richmond was good for 23 ppg and 5.3 rpg. After three years and 234 games with the Warriors, during which he averaged 22.7 ppg and 5.5 rpg, Richmond was traded to the Sacramento Kings prior to the 1991–92 season in exchange for Billy Owens.

SF- Rick Barry (25.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.4 spg, 89.6% FT in 642 games)

This spot in stacked. “Warriors’ small forward” boasts as talented and accomplished a trio as you’re likely to find in any position in NBA history. Three excellent all-around players, two of them champions, a member of the original Dream Team and a pair of (soon to be three) Hall-of-Famers.

As strong as the competition was here, this spot belongs to Rick Barry, and by some margin. It’s tough to keep Barry out of any ranking of the top 15 players in league history.

In terms of all-around stat line, Barry has few peers. His 25.6- 7.3- 5.1 with Warriors is exceptional, but consider the following:

In his first five seasons with the franchise, he failed to average 25+ ppg and 6.8 rpg just once.

In 1965-66, Barry produced one of the best rookie seasons ever, when he averaged 25.7 ppg and 10.6 rpg, won Rookie of the Year, was named an All-Star and All-NBA First Team.

He had a pair of 30+ ppg, seasons, including a ridiculous second year, during which he averaged 35.6 ppg and 9.2 rpg, was named an All-Star, scored 38 points to win All-Star MVP and earned a second straight All-NBA First Team selection.

Barry spent five prime years of his Warriors run not playing for the Warriors- he sat out 1967-68 and played four seasons in the ABA. During that stretch, he averaged (ppg- rpg) 34- 9.4, 27.7- 7, 29.4- 6.8 and 31.5- 7.5, and was named to four straight ABA All-Star teams. Not bad.

After returning to the NBA for the 1972-73 season, at age 28, Barry was good for at least 21- 5.5- 4.9 in each of six seasons with the Warriors, and was named an All-Star.

Barry was also a phenomenal postseason performer, putting up 24 ppg and 5.5 rpg in four of five playoff runs (he had a 16.4 ppg 39.6% FG stinker in 1972-73) with the Warriors, including 28.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 6.1 apg in leading the Warriors to the 1974-75 title. Also, each of his five postseasons with the franchise consisted of at least 10 games- not a lot of first-round exits there.

In terms of talent and resume, Rick Barry is as good as there’s ever been at his position. Too bad his legacy’s been somewhat obscured by the era in which he played (a down period for the NBA) and his abrasive personality.

A pair of extremely honorable mentions are in order for second- and third-place finishers (in no particular order), “Pitchin Paul” Arizin and Chris Mullin.

Arizin (1928– 2006) spent the entirety of his NBA career with the Philadelphia Warriors, and helped lead the franchise to its second championship in 1955-56. During the Warriors’ 10-game playoff run, Arizin averaged 28.9 ppg and grabbed 8.4 rpg.

In ten seasons from 1950 to 1962- he sat out two seasons due to military service during the Korean War- Arizin played 713 games and averaged 22.8 ppg and 8.6 rpg, He won the NBA scoring title twice during his career, in 1951-52 (25.4 ppg) and again in 1956-57 (25.6 ppg).

At the time of his retirement, Arizin held the NBA’s third highest career point total (16,266). That total is now good for third in Warriors’ history, behind Wilt Chamberlain and Barry.

Arizin was named an All-Star in each of his ten seasons, winning the game’s MVP in 1952. He also earned three All-NBA First Team selections, one Second Team nod, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978 and was named one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players in 1996.

Finally, we have Chris Mullin, the face of the Warriors franchise over the past three decades and one of the best scorers of his era. Mullin was deemed worthy of selection to the original Dream Team and is the owner of as effective and beautiful a jump shot as the NBA’s ever seen.

Mullin spent his first three seasons as little more than a spot-up threat. While he was establishing himself as a decent scorer (14, 15.1 and 20.2 ppg), the 1984 Olympian and 1985 NCAA Player of the Year and Wooden Award winner was not coming close to maximizing his potential, due in no small part to struggles with alcohol.

In 1988-89, his fourth NBA season, the first year of the first Don Nelson era in Oakland- and Mullin’s first post-alcohol- he put up the best season of his career. That season, Mullin averaged career-highs of 26.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg and 5.1 apg, as well as 2.2 spg. This was good enough to earn him the first of his five All-Star selections.

Mullin’s prime lasted another four seasons (1989-90- 1992-93). During that stretch, also known as the “Run TMC” years, he was as consistent as any NBA star, averaging between 25.1 and 25.9 ppg, between 5 and 5.9 rpg and between 3.5 and 4.1 apg. This earned him another four All-Star selections and his only All-NBA First Team nod in 1992-93, when he posted a 25.3- 5.6- 3.5 and 2. 2 spg. He was selected All-NBA Second Team in 1988-89 and 1990-91.

When he averaged 25.9 ppg in 1992-93, Mullin joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only Warriors’ players ever to average 25+ ppg in five consecutive seasons.

The 1994 breakup of Run TMC signaled not only the end of a spectacular era for the franchise, but the of Mullin's prime. He spent another four years with the Warriors as a double-figure scorer, sharpshooter and solid all-around player, but never returned to the form of his prime years.

In 13 seasons with the Warriors, Mullin averaged 20.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.9 apg and 1.7 spg. He’s the franchise’s all time leader in games played (807) and steals (1,360). In fairness, Barry would probably have the lead in steals, but steals were only tracked in the last four of his seven seasons with the Warriors. Nonetheless, Mullin handled his own business.

Mullin ranks second in Warriors’ history in free throw percentage (862%; min. 250 attempts), third in 3-pointers made (590), fourth in points (16,235; 31 behind third place, 212 behind second) and assists (3,146), and for good measure, is seventh in franchise history with 488 blocks.

PF- Clyde Lee (8.5 ppg, 11 rpg, in 583 games)

Given the abundance of talent at the other positions, the Warriors’ power forward spot is somewhat underwhelming. Two seasons from a Hall-of-Famer, a surprisingly good two and a half from a future #1 overall bust and a pair of solid, unsung bangers. You could make a case for any of the four, and I wouldn’t argue too vehemently.

All-timer Jerry Lucas averaged an excellent 17.5 ppg and 15.2 rpg in 143 games over two seasons, but simply did not wear a Warriors jersey long enough or play for any memorable teams. In 1970-71, however, Lucas did put up arguably the best season ever by a Warriors PF, when he averaged 19.2 ppg and 15.8 rpg and was named an All-Star. Had Lucas spent another season or two in the Bay Area, this spot would have been his.

This spot could have gone to Joe Smith, simply because someone ought to remember him for actually having a couple of decent seasons to start his NBA career.

The top pick in the 1995 draft, Smith stepped into the NBA as a solid contributor, playing in all 82 games as a rookie and averaging 15.3 ppg and 8.7 rpg. That effort was good enough to secure him a spot on the All-Rookie First Team and second place in the Rookie of the Year voting.

In his second season, Smith improved on his performance as a rookie, scoring 18..7 ppg and grabbing 8.5 rpg in 80 games. He was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers 49 games into his third season, while averaging 17.3 ppg and 6.9 rpg. Following that season, Smith would go 11 years before averaging more than 14- 8 again. Speaking of which, did you realize that Joe Smith played in 81 games last season and averaged 15.7 ppg and 8.7 rpg? Not bad for a 14th year bust!

Also receiving consideration was Larry Smith, one of the best rebounders of the 1980s and the man who played more games at PF than any other Warriors’ player.

In 617games with Warriors, Smith averaged 8.5 ppg and 10.4 rpg. In nine seasons, Smith never averaged worse than 8.2 rpg, and on five occasions was good for at least 10.9 rpg. He enjoyed his best season in 1984-85, when he averaged 11.1 ppg and 10.9 rpg.

However, in the end, this spot went to Clyde Lee, the Warriors’ rebounding specialist for eight seasons in the 1960s and 1970s. In 583 games with the team, Lee averaged 8.5 ppg and 11 rpg. Five times he averaged 11+ rpg and in three consecutive seasons (1967-68 through 1969-70) averaged a double-double. This includes the best all-around season of his career, 1967-68, during which he averaged 11.9 ppg and 13.9 rpg, and was named an All-Star.

Lee was also a solid playoff performer for the Warriors, who reached the postseason in six of his eight seasons. The team appeared in the NBA Finals his rookie year and reached the conference finals in 1968 and 1973. After playing a limited role as a rookie, Lee was excellent in each of the latter appearances. In 1968, he averaged 11.4 ppg and 13.2 rpg in ten postseason games. In 11 playoff games in 1973, Lee scored 10.6 ppg (up from 6.3 in the regular season) and grabbed an outstanding 15.7 rpg (up from 9.1) as the Warriors knocked off Kareem’s Milwaukee Bucks before falling to the Lakers in the conference finals.

Unfortunately for Clyde Lee, while he did enjoy some team success with the Warriors, he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks in the summer of 1974… just in time to miss the championship run of 1974-75.

C- Wilt Chamberlain (41.5 ppg, 25.1 rpg, 3 apg, 50.6% in 429 games)

A staggering compilation of talent and achievement. Five big men- four of them Hall-of-Famers- have put up outstanding numbers in a Warriors’ uniform.

Joe Barry Carroll is the member of this group that’s not in the Hall, but scored 20.4 ppg (second among Warriors’ centers), 8.3 rpg and 1.7 bpg in 491 games. Joe may have been accused of “barely caring,” but he could flat out play.

After an awesome collegiate career, Carroll was the top pick of the 1980 draft. As a rookie, he averaged 18.9 ppg and 9.3 rpg and was selected to the All Rookie First-Team. He broke out in 1982-83, averaging a career best 24.1 ppg and grabbing 8.7 rpg. He followed this up with a 20 ppg and 8 rpg in 1983-84. After a year away (more on this in a sec), he returned to the NBA in 1985-86, averaged 21.2 ppg in each of the next two seasons, and earned his only career All-Star selection in 1987.

Carroll didn’t play in the NBA in the 1984-85 season, not because of injury or suspension, but because he opted to spend the season playing in Italy. This decision was not popular and attracted plenty of media ridicule. As usual, the media in its infinite wisdom was dead on. Why would a well-to-do 26 year-old want to spend one of his prime years plying his trade in a beautiful, foreign land? What a loser!

Moving on…

Now, on to the Hall of Fame parade, kicked off by a young Robert Parish.

Before establishing himself as a perennial All-Star and actually building the HOF resume in Boston, the Chief spent four seasons in Oakland, where he started to become one of the league’s better young bigs. In limited minutes, Parish was only good for 9.1 ppg and 7.1 rpg as a rookie in 1976-77, and 12.5- 8.3 in his second season.

However, as Parish began to receive consistent minutes (2,100+ each of last two seasons), his scoring climbed to over 17 ppg, and he emerged as a top-flight rebounder, averaging 12.1 and 10.9 rpg in his last two seasons as a Warrior.

Parish was traded to the Celtics in the summer of 1980, along with a draft pick that would become fellow Hall of Famer Kevin McHale, in exchange for the rights to the aforementioned Joe Barry Carroll.

Next, we go back in time, to the early of not only the Warriors’ franchise, but the NBA itself, to examine the work of Neil Johnston. Johnston spent his entire eight-year career (1951-59) with the Philadelphia Warriors. He averaged roughly 6 ppg and 5 rpg in his first NBA season as well as his last, with half a dozen seasons of 19.5+ ppg (22+ five times) and 11.1+ rpg sandwiched in between.

Johnston led the NBA in scoring for three straight years (1952-53- 1954-55, averaged 22.3, 24.4 and 22.7 ppg), topped the NBA in FG percentage three times (to give you an idea of the era, he didn’t top 50% in any of three seasons) and led the league in rebounding (15.1 rpg) in 1954-55.

In each of the six prime seasons of his career, Johnston was named an All-Star. He earned four straight All-NBA First Team selections from 1952-53- 1955-56, and a Second Team nod in 1956-57.

Neil Johnston was also a central figure in the Warriors’ 1955-56 title team, which captured the second of the franchise’s three championships. Johnston was vital in the team’s run to the title, averaging 20.3 ppg and 14.3 rpg in ten postseason games.

Those three (particularly Johnston) were pretty good, but now… on to the big guys!

First up, Nate Thurmond, one of the greatest big men ever at both ends of the floor.

In eleven seasons with the Warriors, Thurmond averaged better than 16.1 rebounds eight times, including a six-year run of 17.7+ rpg, and twice averaged better than 21 rpg. He scored 16+ ppg in nine straight seasons, including five straight years of 20+.

Thurmond was named to the All-Rookie team in 1964, earned seven All-Star selections, five times was named to the All Defensive Second or Third Team and was named one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players in 1996.

Twice in the 1960s- 1964 and 1967- Thurmond’s Warriors reached the NBA Finals. Thurmond was a rookie the first time, averaging a solid 10 ppg and 12.3 rpg. Three years later, as the focal point of the 1967 Finals team, Thurmond averaged 15.9 ppg and was a monster on the glass, grabbing 23.1 rpg in 15 postseason games.

Thurmond produced a pair of other outstanding postseason performances. In 1969, he averaged 16.7- 19.5, and in, when he posted an incredible 25.4- 17.8.

Sadly, much of Nate Thurmond’s incredible work has gone overlooked- or at least underappreciated- thanks to the legendary exploits of his contemporaries. The early and middle part of his career was spend battling Russell and Wilt during their respective primes, with Kareem and more Wilt (the Laker version) standing in Nate’s way in his later years.

As great as he was at his best, Thurmond was never named All-NBA First Team or All-Defensive First Team. Not only is this not a travesty, there’s not even a case to be made for Thurmond.

The aforementioned four playoff runs? Downed in the Finals by Russell (1964) and Wilt (1967), Wilt again (this time with the Lakers in 1969) and a young Kareem in 1972. The three greatest centers in the history of the game repeatedly prevented Thurmond from adding to his legend.

Thurmond’s last season with the Warriors was 1973-74, after which he was traded to the Bulls, where he began playing out the waning days of his career. He started his run in the Windy City with a bang, recording the NBA’s first-ever quadruple-double (22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 blocks) in his first game with the Bulls. Cool, huh?

Yeah, until you consider that he wound up the season averaging 7.9 ppg and 11.3 rpg, while Rick Barry led his former team to the 1974-75 NBA title.

If we had to identify a theme for Nate Thurmond’s career, “Hard Luck All-Timer” might fit.

And then there’s Wilt. The best of Wilt.

Entire books could be written about Wilt’s time with the Warriors (hell, I think I’ve written an entire book here!), but I’ll try to keep this short.

Wilt Chamberlain spent the first five and a half seasons of his NBA career with the Philadelphia Warriors. In that time, he won an MVP award (as a rookie), was named All-NBA First Team four times and an All-Star in all five seasons.

Twice he averaged 44.8 ppg or better, and his rebounding average never dipped below 22.3 rpg.

His worst season with the Warriors (by some margin) was 1963-64, when he averaged 36.9 ppg and 22.3 rpg.

It was with the Warriors that Wilt averaged 37.6 ppg and 27 rpg as a 23 year-old rookie.

It was with the Warriors that he averaged his career high of 27.2 rpg in 1959-60- to go along with 38.4 ppg.

It was with the Warriors that Wilt dropped 100 on the Knicks in Hershey, PA.

It was also with the Warriors that he averaged 50 per game, along with 25.7 rpg, that same season.

When the Warriors moved from Philly to San Francisco in 1962, it was Wilt that made sure NBA hoops would be well-received by Bay Area fans, averaging 44.8 ppg and grabbing 24.3 rpg 1962-63 and leading the Warriors to the NBA Finals the following year.

Wilt was traded back to Philly (to the 76ers) 38 games into the following season, while averaging 38.9 ppg and 23.5 rpg. Is it an indictment on the man’s personality and grasp of the team concept that a team could not refrain from trading him, even as he was making a statistical mockery of the sport? Sure- and it probably also explains why, for all the incredible numbers, Wilt didn’t reach the top of the NBA mountain in his days with the Warriors.

However, with all of that said, Wilt was nothing short of a monster with the Warriors, where he reached the pinnacle of individual dominance in the NBA.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Utah Jazz: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

If the word of the day is “concise,” and for me that might not be a bad thing, the Utah Jazz is the perfect franchise to try to sum up.

Simply put, the history of the Jazz organization- the last three decades in particular- is best summed up in two words: stability and consistency.

In the 31 years since moving from New Orleans to Salt Lake City, the Jazz have the taken floor under just three coaches- Tom Nissalke for 2+ seasons, the outgoing Frank Layden for the next 6+ seasons, and the maniacally intense Jerry Sloan for the past 22 and change.

Over the past 27 years, or the combined Frank Layden- Jerry Sloan era, the Jazz have finished .500 or better 26 times, have made 23 trips to the postseason (21 of them consecutively), have won 50+ games 14 times, 60 or better three times, made six appearances in the Western Conference Finals and a pair of trips to the NBA Finals.

Over than same period, the Utah Jazz franchise has enjoyed incredible stability in the owner’s suite as well, with local business mogul, the late Larry Miller (and his family following his passing in 2009) owning the team for the entirety of that period.

The franchises stability extends beyond coaching and ownership. The Jazz roster through the years is also notable for its lack of a revolving-door. Through the years, 26 players have played 300+ games with the Jazz, 13 of them averaging 10+ ppg for the franchise.

Finally, in terms of star power, the Jazz has had plenty. While the franchise has only featured six legitimate stars (Pete Maravich, Adrian Dantley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer) in 36 years, each suited up in at 330 games for the Jazz and spent the best years of the respective careers with the franchise.

From New Orleans to Salt Lake City. From Layden to Sloan From Pistol to Dantley to Stockton-Malone to D-Will and Boozer.

The journey of the Jazz has been nothing, if not stable and consistent.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Portland Trail Blazers: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

The Portland Trailblazers failed to reach the postseason in any of their first six seasons in existence, and have managed to do so just twice in the past seven.

And in the 27 seasons (1976-77- 2002-03) in between?

26 trips to the postseason, 24 .500-or-better seasons, six conference finals appearances, three conference titles and an NBA championship.

In other words, one of the most staggering records of consistency and competitiveness you’re going to find anywhere in sports.

Consider another interesting factoid: after missing the playoff in each of their first half dozen seasons, the Blazers captured the NBA’s ultimate prize in their first postseason appearance.

Unfortunately, this is not all the Blazers are known for. In addition to nearly three decades of consistency sandwiched between a pair of lean stretches, the Blazers are known for catching some tough breaks- no pun intended. Well, maybe a little.

Three times in a 32-year span, Portland has drafted a big man with a top-two draft pick, with hopes of entrusting their future to a franchise cornerstone. The first time this happened was in 1974, when the Trailblazers used the first overall pick in the draft on UCLA superstar Bill Walton. Walton was chronically plagued by crippling foot injuries and never managed to suit up in more than 65 games in any of his four seasons in Portland. And he was the success story!

It helps that in those fleeting moments when he was healthy, Walton was an All-Star, an MVP candidate, a champion, a selfless teammate and one of the best all-around centers ever.

However, by the start of the 1980s, Walton was gone, having left the team as a free agent after sitting out a season while alleging that the team’s doctors had treated him unethically and incompetently. Despite winning a league MVP award and delivering the only championship in franchise history, fans can’t help but wonder what could have been.

A few short years later, the Blazers found themselves in a similar spot, this time picking second in the 1984 draft. With future Hall-of-Famer Hakeem Olajuwon selected with the top pick, and a young stud in Clyde Drexler on the wing, Portland again looked to shore up the middle- you can’t blame them too much, that was formula that worked in the past- passing on a young Michael Jordan and selecting the University of Kentucky’s Sam Bowie, a great passing big man with a history of foot injuries (this may be where you want to dole out some blame).

After a rookie season in which he averaged a solid 10 ppg, 8.6 rpg and nearly 3 bpg in 70 games, over the next three seasons Bowie would only take the floor in 66 more games (includes three playoffs games in 1989) for the Blazers.

Almost a quarter of a century later, the lottery gods smiled on Portland, as the Blazers landed the top pick in the 2007 draft and were faced with a decision between Kevin Durant, a lanky scoring machine out of the University of Texas and Greg Oden, an old-school 7-footer who’d shown flashes of dominance during a solid freshman at Ohio State.

As the saying goes “you can’t teach seven-feet.” With that, the Trailblazers opted for Oden over Durant. Durant gone on to average at least 20 ppg in each of his three seasons, has become an MVP candidate and the youngest scoring champion in NBA history. Meanwhile, Oden missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury, and has managed to take the floor for just a third of the Blazers’ 246 regular season games over the past three seasons.

Fortunately for the Blazers, over the three decades for every Sam Bowie or Greg Oden, there’s been a Clyde Drexler, a Terry Porter, a Jerome Kersey or a Brandon Roy to keep them competitive.

Even the exorcism of the Jailblazers- which knocked the Blazers out of the playoffs for five years- was relatively short-lived and well worth the cost, given the incredible positivity that it brought back to Portland. As a Laker fan, I’ve spent most of my life rooting against the Trailblazers and am now mentally prepared for a pair of beatings each season in the Rose Garden. With that said, I, like many, have taken an incredible liking to this team, and would love to see an assassin like Brandon Roy deep in the playoffs. And hopefully the current Blazers squad will catch some (positive) breaks on the injury front and manage to put it all together.

However, if history’s any guide, the Portland Trailblazers will once again be faced with a top-three decision between an athletic and versatile wing player and a big guy whose height you can’t teach.

Next time, it doesn’t have to be this way!

Just take the athlete!