When it comes to sports, one debate that’s often never solved is the one comparing players from different generations. Would Old School Player X beat New School 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.
We have reached the final installment in this six part series and once again it looks like the legends of the game will dominate the conversation. While the current game has great players, the league itself may not have as many dominant names as it once did. If we take a quick tally of the previous five installments, only Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Blake Griffin were surefire winners for the current crew of players, while Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are sitting on the wait-and-see fence. Is there any current player from the Southwest Division we can add to the list?
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 franchise. 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 Southwest Division.
Dallas Mavericks – Mark Aguirre (8 seasons 1981-89, 3 All-Star Games) and Rolando Blackman (11 seasons 1981-92, 3 All-Star Games, No. 22 retired) vs. Dirk Nowitzki (18 seasons 1998-present, 1 Championship, 1 NBA MVP, 1 Finals MVP, 13 All-Star Games, 50-40-90 club, Mavericks All-Time Points/Rebounds/Games leader)
If it weren’t for coaching mastermind Don Nelson, Nowitzki would have been listed under the Milwaukee Bucks, not the Mavericks. In a lopsided draft day trade, the Mavs moved Robert “Tractor” Traylor for the soon to be Hall of Fame forward from Germany. Except for his rookie year in which he averaged only 8.2 ppg, Nowitzki has been the focal point of the Mavericks offense, even at his current age of 37.
As with Kevin Garnett, Nowitzki changed the way game for big men, as the seven-footer extended the floor out to three point range with ease. Aguirre and Blackman were prolific scorers during their time, but neither could fill the basket the way that the Diggler has.
Houston Rockets – Hakeem Olajuwon (17 seasons 1984-01, Hall of Fame, 2 Championships, 1 MVP, 2 Finals MVPs, 12 All-Star Games, NBA 50 Team, Rockets All Time Points/Rebounds/Blocks/Steals/Games leader, No. 34 retired) and Calvin Murphy (11 seasons 1970-83, Hall Of Fame, 1 All-Star Game, #23 retired) vs. James Harden (4 seasons 2012-present, 3 All-Star Games)
Harden makes the conversation based on being the current longest tenured Rocket, but even if he were to go on and play another ten to fifteen years in Houston, there is little chance that he would dethrone The Dream. Let’s forget for a moment the one season that Olajuwon played in Toronto, which is the one blemish for what should have been a lifetime Rockets career. When other greats of the game seek you out to learn and mimic your infamous footwork, there is little debate as to whom the greatest Houston Rocket is. When you can make one of the great power forward/centers of all time look like he has never played the game, you know you are great
Memphis Grizzlies – Shareef Abdur-Rahim (5 seasons 1996-01) and Pau Gasol (7 seasons 2001-08, 1 All-Star, Grizzlies All Time Points/Blocks leader) vs. Marc Gasol (8 seasons 2008-present, 2 All-Stars)
The Grizzlies, whichever version you want to call them, have been around since 1995-96 and over the span of twenty plus years, they have yet to provide the league with a memorable player career. SAR was the Grizzlies first real star player, but because he played in Vancouver, the majority of the league and fans did not get to see him on a nightly basis.
After moving to Memphis, the Gasol brothers have taken their turn as the focal point for the franchise. Many thought that the team was robbed when Pau was traded to the Lakers for Marc, and while the older brother helped bring LA a couple of titles, the younger Gasol has been a huge reason the Grizzlies have been a playoff team for the last five seasons. If you wanted to debate the greatest Grizzly, it could come down to a three-way tie, the early star, the transition star and the current star.
New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans – Chris Paul (6 seasons 2005-11, Rookie Of The Year, 4 All-Star Games, Pelicans All Time Assists/Steals leader) vs. Anthony Davis (4 seasons 2012-present, 2 All-Star Games, Pelicans All-Time Blocks leader)
This debate falls in line with the GP/Durant conversation. Paul brought the city of New Orleans their first real superstar level player while Davis has tasked with the burden of carrying the Pelicans for the next decade. The only thing that is holding Davis back from a great career is his ability to stay healthy, as he’s missed nearly fifty games in his first three seasons (playing a career-high 68 games last year). If we were to have this conversation in five years, chances are Davis would get the nod, but for now, CP3 holds the title.
San Antonio Spurs – David Robinson (14 seasons 1989-03, Hall Of Fame, 2 Championships, 1 MVP, Rookie Of The Year, 10 All-Star Games, Defensive Player of Year, NBA 50 Team, Spurs All-Time Steals leader, No. 50 retired) and Tim Duncan (19 seasons 1997-present, 5 Championships, 2 NBA MVPs, 3 Finals MVPs, Rookie Of The Year, 15 All-Star Games, Spurs All-Time Points/Rebounds/Games leader) vs. Kawhi Leonard (5 seasons 2011-present, 1 Championship, 1 Finals MVP)
*Honorable Mention – George Gervin, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili
Except for the 96-97 season in which the Spurs pooped the bed with a 20-62 record, heavily related to Robinson playing only six games, the Spurs have been a fixture in the playoffs since The Admiral entered the league in 89. During that time, San Antonio has captured five NBA Championships and has been in talks each season to make a deep playoff run. Robinson was a huge reason for a 35 win turnaround in his rookie season with the Spurs, a team that had won only 21 games the season prior.
Duncan, on the other hand, (along with the Admiral’s return) turned a 20 win Spurs team into a 56 win squad and then followed that season with a championship with Robinson. TD will doubtless find himself in the Hall Of Fame and will arguably be in the conversation as the all-time best power forward in league history. Fans and pundits see Leonard taking over for Duncan as the leader of the Spurs when he finally decides to hang up his Adidas.