When it comes to sports, one debate that’s often never solved is the one comparing players from different generations. Would Player X beat Player Y in a one-on-one game? What if Michael Jordan played under today’s rules? Or could LeBron James handle the more physical game of the 80s and 90s? Let’s put a bit of a different spin on the conversation and take a look at whether today’s greatest star for each team could overtake the greatest star from his team’s past.
In the three-piece Eastern Conference Old School vs. New School conversations (Atlantic, Central, Southeast), aside from LeBron and Dwyane Wade, it appears as though the legend’s status as the greatest player on their team is safe for the near and possibly distant future. Now we turn over to the Western Conference.
Factors for evaluation are: individual statistics, individual awards, fan following (jersey sales, etc.) and team success (wins, championships, etc.). Considerations are based on the player’s time with the specific team, not their whole career. The other important factor is how long the player has been with the team. It’s not fair to say that Jordan was the greatest Washington Wizard (Bullet), even though he was arguably the greatest/most popular player in league history. So to fairly evaluate, individuals must have put in a minimum of five years with the team. Now, let’s look at the Northwest Division.
Denver Nuggets – Alex English (11 seasons 1980-1990, Hall of Fame, 8 All-Star Games, Nuggets All-Time Points/Assists leader, #2 retired) vs. Kenneth Faried (5 seasons 2011-present)
*Honorable Mention – Dikembe Mutumbo
Over the course of his career with the Nuggets, Alex English may have been the most prolific scorer in the league (other than that Jordan fella). For seven straight seasons, the small forward tallied over 2,000 points, including 2,414 during the 1985-86 season. Unfortunately, for all that he provided the Nuggets and their fans, the climax was one trip to the Western Conference Finals. Faried has been a workhorse for the Nuggets, providing a blue-collar approach to the game with all of his hustle. While “Manimal” is a fan favorite, he just doesn’t provide the flair and numbers that English gave the team during the run, gun and have some fun Nuggets era.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Kevin Garnett (14 seasons 1995-2007 & 2014-present, 1 MVP, 10 All-Star Games, 1 Defensive Player of the Year, Timberwolves All-Time Points/Assists/Rebounds/Steals, Blocks leader) vs. Ricky Rubio (5 seasons, 2011-present)
*Honorable Mention – Kevin Love
Okay, let’s face it, Ricky Rubio was only thrown on here because he along with Nikola Pekovic are the longest-tenured Wolves (other than Garnett). Anyone in their right mind would rather see Andrew Wiggins or even Karl-Anthony Towns. Heck, you could probably combine all four of the aforementioned players and they still wouldn’t bring the same energy and attention to the franchise on or off the court that “Da Kid” has done since he was 19 years old. It’s only a matter of time before they erect a statue of KG outside the Target Center. Chances are it’ll be of Garnett banging his head against the stanchion or standing there letting out a primal scream!
Oklahoma City Thunder/Seattle SuperSonics – Gary Payton (13 seasons 1990-2002, Hall of Fame, 8 All Star Games, 1 Defensive Player of the Year, 1 NBA Finals Appearance, Sonics All-Time Points/Assists/Steals leader) vs. Kevin Durant (8 seasons 2007-present, 1 MVP, Rookie of the Year, 6 All-Star Games, 1 NBA Finals Appearance)
*Honorable Mention – Shawn Kemp, Russell Westbrook
“The Glove” still gets love in the Emerald City, but when it comes to OKC, there’s a hot debate as to whether it’s Durant or Westbrook who’s the alpha male for the Thunder. Considering that Payton has roots in Oregon as an alumnus of Oregon State (and his son is on the current roster) and Kemp is still active in the Seattle community, the Sonics brand continues strong. As for the Thunder, the ongoing saga of where KD or Westbrook will end up next summer could impact their history with the franchise. Let’s call this debate a draw, considering that Seattle fans will side with GP and OKC faithful are loyal to Durant.
Portland Trail Blazers – Clyde Drexler (12 seasons 1983-95, Hall of Fame, 2 NBA Finals Appearances, 8 All-Star Games, Blazers Points/Steals leader, #22 retired) vs. Damian Lillard (4 seasons 2012-present, Rookie of the Year, 2 All-Star Games)
* Honorable Mention – Terry Porter, Bill Walton
Lillard and Walton both make this list for various reasons, despite not holding the five-year credentials, Lillard because he’s the longest current Blazer and Walton as a result of the championship he brought to the Rose City. Regardless, Clyde “The Glide” takes the title for the Blazers due to his longevity with the club and being the headman on two runs to the championship series. Maybe one of the best versions of Jordan “lite,” Drexler carved out his own niche in Portland, unfortunately falling short to the real MJ in the much anticipated ’92 championship series.
Utah Jazz – Karl Malone (18 seasons 1985-03, Hall of Fame, 2 MVPs, 2 NBA Finals Appearances, NBA 50 Team, 14 All-Star Games, Jazz Points/Rebounds leader, #32 retired) and John Stockton (19 seasons 1984-03, Hall of Fame, 2 NBA Finals Appearances, NBA 50 Team, 10 All-Star Games, Jazz Assists/Steals leader, #12 retired) vs. Gordon Hayward (6 seasons 2010-16)
There will never be another Stockton/Malone combo in the NBA, as close as Payton/Kemp were and CP3/Griffin might hope to be. The simplicity of Stockton and Malone running the pick-and-roll made them classic. Everyone in the building new that it was coming time after time, and yet, opponents couldn’t stop it. Hayward has done a great job of improving his game and value to the team each season, but there’s little chance that he’ll ever be enshrined in front of Vivint Smart Home Arena.