Posted Aug 16 2010 6:33PM
Some names are not even open for debate. You just unhook the velvet rope and let them walk down the red carpet. Others are like fine wine that take years to age and develop full body.
With the gold-plated careers of Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen officially enshrined and with Gus Johnson and Dennis Johnson finally recognized as members of the Class of 2010, it is the perfect time to consider how many future Hall of Famers we might be watching when the 2010-11 season tips off in October?
Kobe Bryant -- There is no debate here, no discussion. He is the pre-eminent winner, the fiercest competitor in the game today. If you need numbers, just take the biggest ones -- five championships, two Finals MVP awards, eight All-NBA first team selections. He is the closest thing that exists to a 21st century Michael Jordan.
Shaquille O'Neal -- Most Dominant Ever? Certainly the most physically imposing center ever to play the game. Another no-brainer who was almost unstoppable in his prime when he combined brute strength with great moves and footwork. Four championships, three Finals MVPs, 15-time All-Star. From Superman to Shaq Fu to Diesel to the Big Aristotle to the Big Cactus to the Big Shamroq, nobody has ever combined as much on-court talent with off-court personality.
Tim Duncan -- The Big Fundamental entered the league in 1997 and almost instantly transformed the Spurs from bridesmaids into four-time champs. Nothing flashy, never noisy. Just a commitment to doing all of the little (and big) things that make a difference. Two-time MVP, three-time Finals MVP and arguably the greatest power forward of all time.
Dwyane Wade -- Even before he hit the free-agent jackpot and got his buddies LeBron James and Chris Bosh to relocate to Miami, he carried the Heat (and Shaq) to the 2006 championship, winning the Finals MVP in the process. Won scoring title in 2009 and now might just be getting warmed up.
Kevin Garnett -- Tall, long, quick, fierce, relentless. He didn't need the 2004 MVP award, 2008 Defensive Player of the Year award and an '08 championship at Boston to stamp his Hall of Fame passport, but it didn't hurt. All those years when the Timberwolves were going nowhere, he was an All-Star, All-Everything, MVP and Hall of Fame trash talker.
LeBron James -- You can hold "The Decision" against him. Despite his ungraceful exit, he gave the Cavs the best stretch of NBA success in their history, a Finals berth, winning consecutive MVP awards and leading Cleveland to the best regular-season record in the league in 2009 and 2010. His stats last season -- 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists and 50.3 percent from the field -- were the best since Oscar Robertson. The next stop in Miami could only make him bigger.
Dirk Nowitzki -- Don't say he does not belong because he doesn't have a ring. He's done everything else, including carrying the Mavericks to the Finals in 2006 and a string of 10 consecutive 50-win seasons that is still alive. Best shooting big man in the game, he is the Big D in Big D.
Jason Kidd -- Mr. Versatility is third on the all-time regular season list for triple-doubles and second in the playoffs. In short, there was nothing he couldn't do in his prime, including taking the Nets to the Finals (twice).
Steve Nash -- Whoever expected the South African-born Canadian citizen out of Santa Clara University to do all of this? Back-to-back MVPs, four trips to the Western Conference finals, seven All-Star Games, three All-NBA first team picks. Just watch him handle the ball and run an offense and there are no questions.
Allen Iverson -- Pound for pound, maybe the toughest little dude ever to lace up a pair of sneakers. The tattoos, cornrows and drama around coaches and practice often overshadowed the splendid talent and competitor. Rookie of the Year, MVP, four-time scoring champ, 11-time All-Star and he almost-singlehandedly dragged the Sixers to the Finals in 2001.
Manu Ginobili -- Surely, Hall voters wouldn't hold the fact that he was often the Spurs' second- or third-leading scorer against him. The Argentinian tornado has been the spice and the difference-maker in the Spurs' lineup through three championships, not to mention the worldwide success of Team Argentina.
Paul Pierce -- The Truth could have gotten frustrated and bailed out on the Celtics long before Garnett and Ray Allen rode into town. But he kept the faith and was the lead horse and Finals MVP in 2008.
Chauncey Billups -- He had to fight through four previous NBA stops before Mr. Big Shot found his place in the middle of the Pistons' magic in 2004 and was Finals MVP. Made seven straight conference finals trips with Detroit and Denver.
Ray Allen -- Second on the all-time list for 3-pointers made and closing in on Reggie Miller. At 35, he's still got the most fundamental shooting stroke in the game today.
Tony Parker -- It's a three-legged stool in San Antonio that falls over short of three championships without the flying Frenchman at the point. He gets bonus points for taking all that grief from Pop and getting stronger.
Dwight Howard -- Last season he became the first player in history to lead the league in rebounds, blocked shots and field goal percentage for two straight seasons. Needs to improve free throws to become a closer. But well on his way.
Chris Paul -- Without a doubt the best ball-handler in the league. He can go anyplace he wants to on the floor and get the ball to any teammate for an open shot. Only needs time to pad the resume.
Carmelo Anthony -- The high-volume shooter can definitely fill up the basket. But there's still something missing, perhaps learning to become the leader his team needs at both ends of the floor.
Pau Gasol -- More offensive skills than any other big man in the league today. If he stays close to Kobe for another handful of years, he could ride into Springfield on his coattails.
Amar'e Stoudemire -- This is when we find out about STAT now that he's the center of attention as Mr. Max Contract in New York. Were all those numbers the product of Steve Nash or can he do it alone?
Yao Ming -- Post-Steve Francis and post-Tracy McGrady, his health and how far he takes the Rockets in the next few seasons could lift him from international symbol to real ground-breaker.
Deron Williams -- Overshadowed by Steve Nash and Chris Paul in the West, finally made his All-Star debut in 2010 and might be the best all-around point guard in the league.
Brandon Roy -- Rookie of the Year (2007), three All-Star appearances in four seasons. It's already just him and Kobe among shooting guards in the West.
Tracy McGrady -- Seven-time All-Star and two-time scoring champion. But in fact, the only scoring champion in league history to have never won a single playoff series. Is there a soft, bridge-burning wing in the Hall?
Kevin Durant -- The youngest scoring champ in league history, an All-Star and All-NBA first team pick at 21 years old. It's K.D.'s world and we're just living in it.
Rajon Rondo -- He's gone from a questionable chink in the armor of the Big Three to driving force in the green machine and potential strongest link to the next Celtics championship.
Derrick Rose -- He can drive, he can dish, he can finish and he's just getting warmed up in a career that could put up another banner or two at the United Center.
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