Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Face of the Franchise: NBA Edition

Who's the face of each NBA team? Last spring I did the same thing with the MLB teams.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division
Boston Celtics-Paul Pierce
The newest Celtic legend follows in the footsteps of the  Bill Russells, John Havliceks and Larry Birds that came before him. The Truth stuck with Boston for 15 years, through good times and bad, helping lead them to a 17th championship in 2008 flanked by Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Rondo is set to inherit the title whenever Pierce decides to hang it up.

Brooklyn Nets-Deron Williams
The Nets have assembled a lot of talent around their franchise point guard, what with Gerald Wallace, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries, but D-Will is the one who leads them. His disapproval of Avery Johnson's offense, combined with Brooklyn's slow start, led to Johnson's firing and subsequent replacement with P.J. Carlesimo.

New York Knicks-Carmelo Anthony
On February 22nd, 2011 the Knickerbockers traded away most of their team (Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Eddy Currey, Anthony Randolph, and three draft picks) to acquire 'Melo and Chauncey Billups. Anthony has struggled at times in the Big Apple's intense atmosphere, but this season he's playing like the superstar Knicks fans expected him to be.

Philadelphia 76ers-Andrew Bynum
Last summer the Sixers parted ways with Andre Iguodala, Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, and a future first round draft pick to bring Bynum to the City of Brotherly Love. When healthy, Bynum is probably the NBA's second best center behind only Dwight Howard, but Bynum has yet to play a game for his new team. In the meantime, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young will keep the Sixers in the hunt.

Toronto Raptors-Andrea Bargnani
Bargnani is a rare breed of player in that he's a seven-footer who is allergic to rebounding (even more so than Brook Lopez) and loves to jack up perimeter shots. Was placed on the trading block after a poor start to the season so his time in Toronto is likely running out. Also gave some thought to DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

Central Division
Chicago Bulls-Derrick Rose
The Bulls have enough talent (Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer) to stay competive while D-Rose is on the mend, but have no shot at winning a title without the 2011 MVP. When healthy, Rose is one of the best players in the Association and arguably its best point guard.

Cleveland Cavaliers-Kyrie Irving
The first overall pick of the 2011 draft has already established himself as one of the premier point guards in the Association. Not a bad consolation prize after LeBron ditched the organization to form his own Big Three with D-Wade and Chris Bosh.

Detroit Pistons-Greg Monroe
The 22 year-old power forward is already the Pistons' best player, and he's only going to get better. Tayshaun Prince is the longest tenured member and lone holdover from Detroit's dyasty years, but he's never been a franchise player.

Indiana Pacers-Danny Granger
Batman's in his eighth season with the Pacers and has been the team's most potent, versatile scoring threat during that time. Now that the organization has surrounded him with solid complementary pieces like David West, Roy Hibbert, Paul George, and George Hill, he's become more of a point forward in the same mold as Andre Iguodala.

Milwaukee Bucks-Brandon Jennings
Has steadily improved during the past four years and now teams up with Monta Ellis to form what might be the best-scoring backcourt in the NBA.

Southeast Division
Atlanta Hawks-Josh Smith
J-Smoove is in his ninth year with the Hawks. Along the way the dynamic athlete has helped them evolve from a 13-win team during his rookie season to perennial playoff contenders. Also thought about Al Horford.

Charlotte Bobcats-Kemba Walker
After a mediocre rookie year the former Husky has taken the leap during his sophomore season. Shared the point guard duties with D.J. Augustin last year, but was handed the keys to the offense after Augustin signed with the Pacers last summer. Walker has responded with Brandon Jennings-esque production, but isn't getting much attention because the Bobcats still suck.

Miami Heat-Dwyane Wade
There's no doubt that the Heat belong to LeBron James, but Miami will always be Wade's team the same way the Yankees were still Derek Jeter's team even after Alex Rodriguez arrived. D-Wade's in his tenth season with the Heat and led the team to a pair of NBA titles during that time, with more championships to come.

Orlando Magic-Jameer Nelson
Dwight Howard used to be the face of the Magic until he sulked his way out of town. Orlando has a lot of solid complementary players in J.J. Redick, Arron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic and Hedo Turkoglu, but lacks a true star capable of putting the team on his back. Jamiracle has spent his entire nine-year career with the Magic and has been the team's primary point guard since 2006. The team captain just re-upped with Orlando on a three year, $25 million extension. So far this season he's averaging career bests in minutes, rebounds, and assists per game.

Washington Wizards-John Wall
The first overall pick of the 2010 draft would have been a slam dunk for the 2011 Rookie of the Year award had Blake Griffin not delayed his career by one year because of knee surgery. Wall's athleticism is off the charts but the 22 year-old is raw and unpolished. He's a work in progress that makes too many turnovers, takes a lot of bad shots and couldn't hit a three-pointer to save his life. The front office surrounded him with veterans such as Nene, Emeka Okafor, and Trevor Ariza to help him mature, so we'll see how he responds when he recovers from his strained left knee.

Western Conference

Northwest Division
Denver Nuggets-Ty Lawson
The Nuggets have undergone a lot of roster turnover during the past few years, so as a result they don't really have a true franchise player. I'll go with the speedy point guard in his fourth year with the team.

Minnesota Timberwolves-Kevin Love
Over the past few years, Love has emerged as one of the game's elite rebounders as well as its best shooting big man not named Ryan Anderson. His development into an MVP candidate has helped the Timberwolves become borderline playoff contenders.

Oklahoma City Thunder-Kevin Durant
LeBron is the NBA's best player, but Durant is the league's top scorer. It's only a matter of time before he starts racking up MVP awards, and he could win his first in 2013. If the Thunder had a pass-first point guard (Rajon Rondo) instead of Russell Westbrook, Durant would win every scoring title in the next ten years.

Portland Trailblazers-Lamarcus Aldridge
Five years ago, most Blazers fans had high hopes either Greg Oden or Brandon Roy would be established franchise players by now, but chronic knee injuries have derailed those once-promising careers. Portland will have to settle for the smooth-shooting All-Star power forward.

Utah Jazz-Al Jefferson
Paul Millsap has been with the team longer, but there's no denying that Big Al is the superior big man.

Pacific Division
Golden State Warriors-Stephen Curry
As Curry goes, so go the Warriors. The sharpshooter started just 23 games last year, and that's how many wins Golden State had over the course of the abbreviated season. Curry's started all 31 games this season, and the Warriors are 21-10.

Los Angeles Clippers-Blake Griffin
CP3 is the much better basketball player, but he's not nearly as visible or popular as the marketing savvy human highlight reel. The Clips selected Griffin with the first pick of the 2009 draft and watched him evolve into a must-see attraction. Like Vince Carter and Michael Jordan before him, the Blake Show is worth the price of admission to witness one of the game's most thrilling, exciting, dynamic dunkers. Even if the Clippers lost every game, people would still go to the Staples Center just to see him throw down.

Los Angeles Lakers-Kobe Bryant
Kobe's been a Laker for 17 years, played for five championship teams and is still going strong at age 34. He's surrounded by perhaps the game's best point guard (Steve Nash), center (Dwight Howard), and power forward (Pau Gasol), but the Lakers are still Kobe's team.

Phoenix Suns-Marcin Gortat
Nash and Amare Stoudemire used to be the faces of the Suns back in the day, but now the team is a mismatch of guys who couldn't D up your grandmother. There's legitimate talent in Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, and Luis Scola as well as failed potential (Michael Beasley, Sebastian Telfair, Shannon Brown). Gortat backed up Dwight Horward in Orlando but has emerged as one of the NBA's more underrated centers with Phoenix. He's a defensive anchor in the paint who blocks shots, pulls down rebounds and holds his own on offense. If the Suns had more players like him, they probably wouldn't be the second-to-worst team in the West right now.

Sacramento Kings-Tyreke Evans
The Kings feature a dynamic duo in Evans (23) and DeMarcus Cousins (22), a pair of talented young players who have yet to reach their ceilings. Evans won the 2009-2010 Rookie of the Year award but leveled off and has yet to improve in the time since. Cousins could be a dominant power forward but lacks the polish and concentration to mature into an elite big man. Both brim with potential but will be stuck with the underachiever label until they harness it.

Southwest Division
Dallas Mavericks-Dirk Nowitzki
The big German power forward is in his 15th season with the Mavs and guided them to their first championship in franchise history two summers ago.

Houston Rockets-James Harden
Traded to the Rockets a little more than two months ago, Harden has asserted himself as the Houston's top player as well as one of the league's most dynamic scorers.

Memphis Grizzlies-Rudy Gay
The well-rounded small forward is criminally underrated. Interestingly enough, his numbers look a lot like Granger's track record.

New Orleans Hornets-Eric Gordon
11 days before the lockout-shortened season began NOLA sent its previous franchise player, Chris Paul, to the Clippers along with a pair of 2015 2nd round draft picks. The Hornets received Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu, and a draft pick subsequently used on Austin Rivers. New Orleans has been terrible since the trade and Gordon's barely played, so the franchise is counting on him to rebound and lead his team back to respectability.

San Antonio Spurs-Tim Duncan
No disrespect to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but neither one can hold a candle to Timmy D. Duncan has spent his entire Hall of Fame-worthy career with the Spurs since they took him with the first overall pick in the draft in 1997. The two-time MVP was the cornerstone of San Antonio's dynasty that won four NBA titles in nine seasons. With three NBA Finals MVP awards, this classy postseason stalwart is the Association's equivalent of Tom Brady and Joe DiMaggio.

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