The NBA will soon release the list of its all-time top 75 players to commemorate its 75th anniversary, and it should be fascinating because the league celebrated its top 50 in 1997.
If you do the math, there are only 25 spots available if you do not omit anyone from the original 50. But it’s not that easy. There are more than 25 qualified players to add to the top 75, including a few that did not make the cut 25 years ago.
Bob McAdoo, Dennis Rodman, and Dominique Wilkins did not make the original top 50. Shouldn’t they be considered?
And among the top 50, Shaquille O’Neal, who was 24 at the time, was the youngest player selected. That means there are players from the 1990s, such as Gary Payton, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, and Vince Carter who should be in or strongly considered.
And we haven’t even mentioned Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Dirk Nowitzki, who are locks. What about Tracy McGrady and Mitch Richmond, who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame in the past decade? How about Chris Webber?
And we haven’t gotten to recently retired or current impactful players. There’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh — all from the 2003 draft. There’s Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Dwight Howard, and Kawhi Leonard.
What about Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, and Anthony Davis? And younger stars such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, who already has won two MVP awards, Joel Embiid, and Nikola Jokic? They have to be considered.
“Bob McAdoo should make the list,” said former Celtic Cedric Maxwell, who has extensive exposure to the NBA in the past 45 years as a player and analyst. “He would be that one guy that I say should have been on the list.”
So, who should be or could be omitted from the original 50? There are a handful who likely won’t make the 75.
James Worthy: He’s a Hall of Famer and one of the great small forwards, but Worthy finished with just 16,320 points in 12 seasons, and his production tailed off considerably after age 30. What’s more, he retired at 32. His résumé was strong enough 25 years ago, when he was coming off winning three titles in the 1980s, but not so much now.
Dave DeBusschere: An eight-time All-Star in 13 seasons, DeBusschere was considered the glue of those great Knicks teams of the early 1970s, and he also was named first-team all-defense six times. In comparison to some of the players of the past 2½ decades, his value may slip, but he should still be strongly considered for the 75.
Bill Sharman: A four-time champion with the Celtics of the late 1950s and early ‘60s, Sharman was an eight-time All-Star and averaged 17.8 points in 11 seasons. In 1997, Sharman was a strong candidate because of his success with the Celtics and being named first-team All-NBA four times. But will the voters, made up of media, former players, and executives, consider him for the 75 when his last game was 60 years ago?
Paul Arizin: His case to make the 75 is strong for many reasons. He was a prolific scorer in the 1950s for the Philadelphia Warriors. And he missed two seasons to serve his country in the Korean War. He was an All-Star in all 10 of his seasons and led Philadelphia to the 1956 NBA title. But again, the fact he played so long ago may have an effect.
Willis Reed: Perhaps responsible for the most iconic moment in NBA history when he limped onto the floor to play Game 7 of the 1970 Finals, Reed was a great center in his time, but the fact he played only eight full seasons may hurt his chances. Reed finished with 12,183 points, averaged 12.9 rebounds, and was the nucleus of those great Knicks teams. But he may not match up numbers-wise with some of the more contemporary players, which is a difficult scale to judge because the game was so different.
Bill Walton: This is a tough one because he has become an even more iconic figure following his career. And if he wasn’t hindered by foot injuries in his prime, Walton may have been a top-five center of all time. But he played just 468 games, fewer than six full seasons, and was mostly a role player following his first four years in Portland. Walton is the Gale Sayers of the NBA. You capsulize his prime years and ponder what if, but in comparison to some of the players over the past 25 years, Walton may not make the cut.
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
Pierce is happy how it turned out
To cap off what was a rewarding weekend for Paul Pierce, who was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame last Saturday, he touched on some compelling parts of his career. It may be a while before the next Celtic is inducted into the Hall, so Pierce’s moment should be savored.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Pierce said of dropping to the Celtics at No. 10 in the 1998 draft. “I could have ended up in Vancouver. Nothing against these other franchises, but Boston is different. When you talk about iconic sports franchises, you talk Boston, you talk New York Yankees, you talk Lakers, you talk Dallas Cowboys. I couldn’t ask for a better place to land. I didn’t know what to expect at the time. I understand that tradition. I hated them because I was a Laker fan, but once I was able to join them and being around legends such as Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn on a night-in, night-out basis, it was a dream come true because of me being a historian of the game.”
Pierce said his biggest regret was not winning a second championship, although Boston reached Game 7 of the 2010 Finals before losing, 83-79, to the Lakers. That makes the 2008 title even more special to Pierce, and he said he is satisfied with that ring.
“I just remember when I grabbed the trophy, I yelled as loud as I could,” he said. “That was all the pain, all the hard work and dedication I put in the sport. It was for that one moment. People don’t understand the sacrifices we make to be able to celebrate that one moment. It was a flashback of the line drills, waking up at 5 in the morning, to all the hardships you go through.
“It’s a special moment when you stand on top of that mountain and hold that trophy up. Some of us are able to achieve it more than one time, some of us are never able to achieve it. I’m happy to be able to achieve it that one time.”
A few years before winning that title, Pierce apparently was considering leaving Boston. He thought Danny Ainge would trade him, as he did Antoine Walker. He thought coach Doc Rivers would sign off on his departure. But Pierce remained in Boston and won with his original team.
“I was happy I was able to create some history with one of the greatest sports franchises ever,” he said. “I was happy I was able to ride it out through all the tough times because the fans in Boston were able to appreciate it. I don’t know how it is in other franchises. It’s appreciated forever.”
Pierce, who is second in franchise history in scoring and 16th on the NBA list, said he spent his career not receiving his proper respect. But he also said he’s fine with his legacy and journey.
“My brother always used to call me the Rodney Dangerfield no respect, and I embraced that,” he said. “Being an underdog that didn’t have a lot of expectations and a chip on his shoulder. From Day 1 of the draft, expected to go top [five] and went 10th. I’m happy with my road. It made me who I am. I earned everything I got. Nothing was given to me.
“I finished on my terms. I retired when I wanted to. Sometimes the game retires you. You don’t get that call, get that invite. I was happy I was able to do that. It’s different now.”
Pierce was part of the first collaboration of stars joining one team, along with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. But both players were traded to Boston. Fellow Hall of Fame inductee Chris Bosh was part of Miami’s Big Three, but both he and LeBron James signed with the Heat, joining Dwyane Wade. Pierce said there’s a difference.
“We had to get lucky,” he said. “We got lucky with the draft pick. We got lucky with the trade. We got lucky with Kevin Garnett dropping his no-trade clause. Guys today manufacture playing with each other, building super teams. I have nothing against that, but that’s why I had so much pride being with the team I was with for so long, going through the times and being able to win a championship.”
One thing Pierce acknowledged in retirement that he didn’t during his career was the difficulty of playing in his hometown as a Celtic. Pierce was never welcomed home by Lakers fans despite growing up minutes from the Forum. The only stretch where Pierce felt appreciated in Los Angeles was his two-year stint with the Clippers to end his career.
“It was tough being in LA,” he said. “To be a kid from LA playing in Boston, yeah it’s a rivalry. A kid from LA to get booed here at home. We went to different cities and we had players that were from Houston or something or Milwaukee, and they got cheered when they came to their hometown. That wasn’t a great feeling. Inside it didn’t feel good, but I knew I had to embrace it.
“It really hit me when I played in the All-Star Game in LA and I got booed. I’m from here and I’m getting booed. That was pretty much the story of my career, being the underdog, not really being really liked. I guess somebody has to be the villain. I’m happy at the end of the day and I worked my butt off each day I wore an NBA jersey.”
Beverley just what Timberwolves need
You figured when Patrick Beverley pushed Chris Paul in the back as the Suns were clinching a berth in the NBA Finals in Game 6 that it would be his last act as a Clipper. Beverley was one of the team’s fiery leaders, but it his on-court behavior and the emergence of Terance Mann signaled his end in LA.
Beverly was traded to the Grizzlies, along with Rajon Rondo, for Eric Bledsoe. The Grizzlies then traded Beverley to the Timberwolves. It’s a reunion of sorts as Beverley joins general manager Gersson Rosas and coach Chris Finch, who were with the Rockets while Beverly was in Houston.
While Beverley’s style may no longer fit with contending teams, he should have a major impact on a young team trying to get to the next level. The Timberwolves desperately need to improve and Beverley will become a needed leader in the locker room with young talent such as Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Anthony Edwards. The trio has yet to learn how to win.
Beverley, who has reached the playoffs in each of his first nine seasons, said, “I don’t see why that would change. We’ve got a nice young core, to consistently get what you want to get out of everybody, every single day, that’s the key. I impact winning. It doesn’t matter who starts, it’s who finishes games. I plan on finishing games.”
Beverley is still a plus defender and better-than-average 3-point shooter. The Timberwolves have not had problems scoring, but their defense has been abysmal the last few years. Towns, Russell, and Edwards should do enough scoring, but the team lacks toughness. The goal, despite the Western Conference being treacherous, is to reach the playoffs.
“It’s a great get for us,” Finch said. “Gersson and I would text during the playoffs, we’re watching Pat play, we need this, we need that. What I love about Pat is, the same approach he had Day 1 coming into the league to prove himself is the same approach he takes to the floor every single night. He’s not afraid of any challenge on the floor.”
It’s not that the Timberwolves need veterans; they need productive veterans. Beverley has played in big games, had his share of big moments, and can be a difference-maker on a team that needs a chemistry facelift. Towns remains one of the better big men in the league, but he can’t do it alone. Edwards is a rising star who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. Russell is a viable third offensive option who needs to be more consistent.
“We need that urgency. We need that competitiveness. We need that fire,” Rosas said. “[Beverley’s] experience, we need that as a group. We’ve got good talent, but we need to take that next step. We need to balance out our roster with vets. We have to change the culture and we have to change the environment.”
There are teams looking to fill roster spots or offer training camp invitations, and Isaiah Thomas is still looking for NBA work. His best chance may come with an upcoming workout with the Warriors, who are looking for veteran bench help. Thomas has been out of the NBA since a 10-day stint with the Pelicans last season … The Mavericks are giving former Knicks lottery pick Frank Ntilikina a second chance, signing the point guard just 10 days before the start of training camp. Ntilikina never really got a shot in New York, as he was the final draft pick of Phil Jackson’s tenure and lacked a refined offensive game to match his defensive skills. Ntilikina’s best basketball came in France’s World Cup run two years ago, when he played a key role in a victory over Team USA. Ntilikina’s stint in New York appeared doomed from the start after being drafted ahead of the likes of Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo. Knicks fans wanted Dennis Smith Jr., who was selected by Dallas a pick after Ntilikina, but that would not have worked out either. Smith, like Ntilikina, is fighting to stay in the NBA after a strong rookie season. What’s more, the 2017 draft, which included Jayson Tatum, John Collins, Kyle Kuzma, and Jarrett Allen, has had its share of disappointments — Josh Jackson, Zach Collins, Justin Jackson, D.J. Wilson, Justin Patton, Tyler Lydon, and Caleb Swanigan … The Rockets were the first team to bite on former lottery pick Dante Exum, once considered a potential cornerstone in Utah but whose career has been derailed by injuries. Exum got an opportunity to display his skills during Australia’s run to the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. He played with the reckless abandon of his early days with the Jazz. Exum’s style was not conducive to staying healthy in the NBA, so the Rockets have filled his contract with incentives, including games and minutes. Exum can emerge as a solid backup point guard in the right scenario and his jumper has improved enough to where he can be a threat. He was considered a mystery man when he entered the 2014 draft, like Marcus Smart, but has bounced around the league after Utah moved on to Mitchell as its lead guard.