The NBA released its 75th Anniversary Team — with 76 players because of a tie — and as expected the list has created controversy and there are some bizarre omissions and inclusions.
This column listed six players from the original NBA top 50 — Bill Walton, Bill Sharman, Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Paul Arizin, and James Worthy — that could easily be left off the 75. But all six were included.
What’s more, all 50 of the previous NBA top 50 were included in the 75, leaving only 25 spots for more contemporary players and potential omissions from previous generations. That’s where this list has major flaws.
While the contributions from all-time great players should be acknowledged, there is no way all previous top 50 players should have been chosen for the top 75.
When all 50 previous players were chosen, there was going to be a considerable list of modern players who would be slighted.
Here are some players that should have made the top 75:
Dwight Howard — Let’s be honest with ourselves, Howard was a top-two center in the NBA for a decade. He won three Defensive Player of the Year Awards and was a powerfully built, athletic maven in his prime. But starting with him lying to the media about how he felt about coach Stan Van Gundy a decade ago and his numerous NBA stops since then, his stock has decreased considerably.
It’s fair to scratch Howard off your all-time top five centers list, but he’s going to the Hall of Fame on the strength of his time in Orlando. Howard is resented in some circles because of the perception he never took the game that seriously, and the fact he’s now a role player who has lost most of his offensive skills doesn’t help. But he did win a title with the Lakers and most NBA teams would take him as their backup center.
Vince Carter — It’s hard to convince this writer there are 75 players in NBA history better than Carter. OK, he didn’t win a championship, but he was one of the most exciting players of his generation, a top-two dunker, and a prolific scorer, who played in the NBA for 20 years, becoming a valuable role player in his later years. Perhaps the voters didn’t appreciate Carter’s early accomplishments, but he was the reason Toronto basketball survived and eventually flourished.
Klay Thompson — He’s one of the best shooters of his generation and he’s a three-time NBA champion. It’s possible that Thompson has left the mainstream NBA consciousness because he’s been out for two seasons because of injuries, but he is one of the great 3-point shooters of all time and he still has perhaps four or five years left to add accomplishments to his résumé. Thompson averaged at least 20 points in his previous five seasons before injuries and is a five-time All-Star.
Alex English — While Bob McAdoo, Dominique Wilkins, and Dennis Rodman were players from the previous generation who were added to the list, English was left off again. English scored 25,613 points in 15 seasons and averaged at least 20 points per game in 10 of those seasons. Why hasn’t English been talked about as an all-time great? Because he spent most of his career in Denver, where the Nuggets couldn’t knock off the Lakers or Rockets in the Western Conference. English deserves better.
Kyrie Irving —As much controversy as he has caused over the years and as many unceremonious departures as he’s had, Irving has skills that are unquestionable. He is one of the best ball handlers of all time, a stellar shot creator, and a player with no offensive weaknesses. Did his off-court issues and perceived attitude problems cost him with the voters? Perhaps. But he is undoubtedly one of the best point guards of this generation.
Pau Gasol — Gasol boasts an interesting résumé because he’s an all-time FIBA great and was a highly regarded player for years with the Lakers. He was a six-time All-Star and scored 20,894 points, but he was considered a secondary player to Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. His omission is not as egregious as others, but Gasol was an exceptional player in his prime.
Van Gundy, Miller
unsure of Celtics
The Celtics fought hard in their season-opening, double-overtime loss to the Knicks, showing in those 58 minutes the ability to contend in the Eastern Conference. But are they capable of snatching one of the top four seeds and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs?
TNT analysts Stan Van Gundy and Reggie Miller aren’t so sure.
“I do think it was interesting, and I think the fact of Brad [Stevens] taking over there,” said Van Gundy, who most recently coached the Pelicans. “The advantage he had is when you know when you go out and coach those guys, most of them for years, you know your own players and you know what that team needs. You know the strengths and weaknesses of that group better than anyone.”
Stevens took over as president of basketball operations from Danny Ainge and made several moves, trading Kemba Walker and Tristan Thompson, and allowing players such as Semi Ojeleye, Carsen Edwards, Tacko Fall, and Tremont Waters to sign with other clubs.
“He was able to make moves with that knowledge,” Van Gundy said. “As far as where they fit in in the East, I don’t see them in the top two or three, for sure. I think Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Atlanta went to the Eastern Conference finals last year, Philly, depending on what they do with the Ben Simmons thing, I look at Boston more in a group with Miami, New York, and maybe even behind those teams and still needing some help.”
One player both analysts consider key to the Celtics’ success is newly acquired guard Dennis Schröder.
“I love Jaylen Brown and [Jayson] Tatum, but I don’t know if they have a lot of offensive help,” Van Gundy said. “Schröder has to be a little bit better than he was last year, more like what he was in Oklahoma City two years ago. We know what [Marcus] Smart is going to bring on the defensive end. I just don’t know beyond those two stars, if they’re talented enough offensively or deep enough to compete with the best teams in the East.”
“There are some teams in the East, in my opinion, that clearly got better, like Chicago,” Miller said. “I think Chicago is going to have a chance to be one of those top six teams. Rick Carlisle taking over in Indiana is going to change the culture there. They are going to play a certain way. They’re not going to make mistakes.
“These are the types of teams that Boston is going to have to contend with — and which Dennis Schröder are we going to get, the one who was electrifying in his time in OKC or the one who was kind of up and down for the Lakers last season?”
The question for the Celtics is whether they have enough support for Tatum and Brown. That was a serious issue last season, and the Celtics disappointed because they couldn’t find a capable supporting cast.
“You do have two bona fide young superstars in Brown and Tatum, but I’m not quite sure that’s going to be enough to put them in the top four, home-court advantage thing,” Miller said. “Ime Udoka, he understands how to coach, and I think he’ll have a strong presence in that locker room. There’s a lot of unknowns in that locker room and it’s a little surprising because they are one of the blue blood franchises in the NBA, and for us to not really have a gauge on where the Celtics are is a little puzzling.”
view on Irving
The NBA said that 96 percent of its players are vaccinated, so it’s not really a big-picture issue, except for one Kyrie Irving, who has missed the Nets’ first two games because he is unvaccinated and the Nets don’t want him playing unless he can fully participate.
The NBA’s stance has been to allow the Nets to handle the situation. There is no mandate for players to be vaccinated but rather considerable restrictions for those who aren’t, particularly on the road. Commissioner Adam Silver said the NBA will follow all local COVID-19 rules and restrictions.
“I’m not sure if fair is the right way to approach it because there’s nothing fair about this virus,” Silver said. “It’s indiscriminate in terms of who it impacts, and I think it’s perfectly appropriate that New York and other cities have passed laws that require people who both work and visit arenas to be vaccinated. That seems to be a responsible public health decision made by those locales, and those are the circumstances in which the Nets find themselves operating.
“I accept that. I think that we understand as a league we have to play the cards that are dealt, just in the same way there are variations from market to market. I know there are players in some markets who would prefer that their local governments pass ordinances requiring that all the fans be vaccinated who are in the buildings with them.”
Irving has refused to be vaccinated and has gained support from anti-vaxxers and some former NBA players who believe he should not be forced to get vaccinated in order to work. The Nets handled the situation by saying they had no intention of allowing Irving to play in roughly half of the games — those outside of New York — and become a part-time player.
They told Irving to get vaccinated or not play.
“Frankly I hope that Kyrie sort of — despite how strongly he feels about the vaccination — ultimately decides to get vaccinated because I’d love to see him play basketball this season, and I’d love to see the Brooklyn Nets have their full complement of players on the floor,” Silver said. “At the time we were discussing it with the players association, the percentage, I believe, of players vaccinated was in the low 80s. I’m not sure they could have predicted at that point precisely how many players would choose not to get vaccinated.”
Some players’ reluctance to get vaccinated was interesting considering they put so many substances — for medication and rehabilitation — into their bodies, but some wanted to conduct personal research as to whether the vaccine had any negative effects. The NBA feels comfortable in the medical research to encourage its players to get vaccinated.
“I won’t try to speak for them, other than the view that some players had, I think including maybe some players who are vaccinated, that it should be individual choice among the players,” Silver said. “I would have preferred that ultimately the players association agreed to mandatory vaccinations. The officials’ union agreed to mandatory vaccinations despite opposition from some of their members.
“But ultimately I think we could have avoided a lot of the adversarial nature of these issues for our players. It’s not so much with the league; I think that gets confused in some cases. This is between Kyrie and New York City right now. This is not a league issue. As you’ve pointed out, it’s not mandatory in the league. But I think it would have been best for everyone if every player were vaccinated.”
There was hope, briefly, that New York would alter its rules, allowing Irving to return to play without vaccination. There are several players who have spoken out against vaccination. The Wizards’ Bradley Beal said he wants to do more research. The Celtics’ Josh Richardson would not reveal his vaccination status but had been openly against it in training camp. Both were allowed to play because their home cities don’t have mandates like New York.
“I live here in the New York market and follow the local news; there’s no suggestions that I’ve read or heard that New York is considering changing its law,” Silver said. “We have a mayoral election coming up here, and I haven’t heard the candidates reference any proposed change in the rules.
“In terms of outreach to Kyrie, I don’t think it’s appropriate to reference individual conversations.”
The NBA has tried to educate players on the vaccine. Some have been interested in learning, some have not. Players such as Marcus Smart and LeBron James said they were vaccinated simply because it would allow them to play basketball, still unsure of the medical impact.
“I would say as a general matter, there’s been a lot of educational outreach both by the league and the players association, really since the vaccines first came out,” Silver said. “It’s been part of group discussions, Zoom calls, individual meetings. There have been several well-known doctors and scientists who have had direct conversations with our players, others who reached out to the league and the players association and offered their services, because I think there is the acknowledgment that the position a player takes can have outsized influence on the rest of the public. It’s one reason why I would like to see all our players vaccinated, because I think it’s a public service of sorts, particularly to young people who might not see the value of getting vaccinated.
“That outreach will continue. We think that at the end of the day, that players being fully informed is helpful here, certainly that the science very much supports getting vaccinated, again, not just for themselves but for their families and their communities.”
Former Celtic Avery Bradley was waived by the Warriors but claimed by the Lakers and will serve as a backup point guard and defender off the bench. Bradley was the favorite to win that final spot for the Warriors but was edged out by Gary Payton II … Another ex-Celtic, Tacko Fall, made the Cavaliers on a two-way contract and was on the opening night roster. Fall could end up spending most of the season with the Canton Charge, Cleveland’s G-League affiliate … And another ex-Celtic, Tremont Waters, was the last cut by the Bucks after Boston passed on signing him to another two-way contract … The Rockets surprisingly waived former lottery pick Dante Exum, whom they had signed to a contract extension with nonguaranteed years. Exum was beset with injuries during his time with the Jazz and Cavaliers but had been looking for a fresh start after a sparkling performance with Australia in the Olympics … A rookie to watch is Pacers guard Chris Duarte, a first-round pick from Oregon. Duarte entered the draft at age 24, which scared off some interested teams, but he is perhaps the most NBA-ready of the first-rounders. Duarte scored 27 points in his debut Tuesday against the Hornets … The NBA fined Knicks forward Julius Randle $15,000 for tossing the ball into the stands after the double-overtime victory over the Celtics. The NBA has cracked down on such gestures to promote fan safety. Madison Square Garden was sold out for the opener and it was reminiscent of the arena before COVID-19. Not so sure that’s a good thing, because it appeared to be mask-optional, and the NBA ran no message urging fans to wear masks. It was the same atmosphere at TD Garden for the Celtics’ final preseason game. TD Garden is supposed to offer fans mask reminders during games, but that did not occur, at least in sections of the lower bowl.