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Timing could benefit trio in quest for Hall of Fame

Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway and Chris Webber gain small opening with no big names coming up for 2017 nomination

POSTED: Sep 10, 2016 12:28 PM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper

NBA.com

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Kevin Johnson is the lone NBA player who reached the second round of voting in 2016 without getting elected.

— The last best chance for Kevin Johnson for the Hall of Fame, plus Tim Hardaway with a steeper climb and Chris Webber from far back in the pack, begins now in a fortunate bit of timing for three candidates who need an opening and may have found one.

Roadside assistance has arrived in the form of a calendar. Their chances for the Class of 2016 were swept away with the dominating presence of Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo on the ballot for the first time, an election that culminated with the induction ceremony Friday night. (Yao Ming was also a newcomer, but through the international committee, removing the competition for votes with most nominees with NBA backgrounds.) And Jason Kidd, Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady, among others, are eligible for 2018. Which leaves '17.

No vote-sucking automatics of the O'Neal-Iverson-Kidd variety are coming up for nomination in fall/winter this year among players with strong NBA or ABA ties, before the field is narrowed to finalists prior to All-Star Weekend in New Orleans and a second round of voting takes place in time to announce the winners during the Final Four in Glendale, Ariz. There is the interesting case for Ben Wallace, but he is the closest to anyone big-footing their way on the ballot, the way 2016 included O'Neal, Iverson and Izzo as three obvious calls and the 2018 headliners will arrive with hefty credentials. Even George McGinnis' new status breaks right for the carryovers, with McGinnis moving from the North American group, the committee that includes Johnson, Hardaway and Webber, to the veterans. That makes one less candidate in North America to draw support away, not to mention that the possible benefit for McGinnis of only needing one round of voting in for enshrinement in his new category.

While the timing issues would be relevant any year, they are especially important this time as three ex-players search for reason to hope after the letdown of the recent election cycles. If Hardaway, Johnson and Webber can't get traction when Wallace may be the biggest newcomer, after all, depending which college and NBA coaches go on the ballot for the first time, it does not say much for their chances when several marquee names are added for 2018.

Johnson needs a push after reaching the finalist stage this year, again, but failing to receive the necessary support, again. He is the lone NBA player who reached the second round of voting in 2016 without getting elected, along with college coaches Lefty Driesell, Bo Ryan and Eddie Sutton.

Hardaway, meanwhile, is going backward, from previously making finalist to being cut in the initial balloting in '16 and not even making it to All-Star Weekend despite making five All-NBA teams and five All-Star games in a career that included five seasons averaging at least 20 points and three seasons with double-digit assists.

Webber is in the deepest hole of all: two years on the ballot, two years of not making it past the first round, after 20.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, five All-Star games and five All-NBA spots. Not making it just to finalist in 2017 would be the most-damning statement of all, and it might be anyway, no matter how many coaches are potentially drawing votes away.

There could also be newcomers who have been eligible but have yet to be nominated -- Penny Hardaway, Brent Barry, Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry -- but none would seem to have the same case as Wallace, the former center best known for patrolling the inside for the Pistons. And there is a case.

Wallace won Defensive Player of the Year four times, was first-team All-Defense five times and second-team once, made four All-Star games, finished in the top 10 in rebounding seven years and the top 10 in blocks seven years, and was second-team All-NBA on three occasions and third-team two others. He was an integral part of a championship team.

Dikembe Mutombo won Defensive Player of the Year four times, was first-team All-Defense three times and second-team three times, made eight All-Star games, finished in the top 10 in rebounding 11 years and the top 10 in blocks another 11, and was second-team All-NBA once and second-team on two occasions. He did not win a championship, but was a third-team All-American in college. And he was elected on the first try, in 2015.

It's not a perfect comparison because Mutombo is second in career blocks and 19th in rebounding, plus had the emotional boost of being one of the game's great ambassadors, while Wallace is 13th in blocks and 32nd on the all-time rebounding list. Mutombo was also much better on offense. But for players of a similar era, for candidacies based on being destructive on defense, with the same number of Defensive Player of the Year and All-Defense, with Wallace earning All-NBA more times -- Mutombo is writing Wallace's campaign speech for him.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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