PHOENIX – Maybe this time will be different, not just an adjustment before another disappointment. Maybe this time as arguably, probably, the best opportunity won’t become the latest missed opportunity.
Saturday’s announcement of the Class of 2017 for the Hall of Fame, as part of the Final Four in suburban Glendale, would be highly anticipated for the candidates anyway, only now with added tension and greater emphasis on the calendar. This is the best chance for the finalists with deep NBA ties, a shift underlined by the fact that Hugh Evans, Tim Hardaway, Sidney Moncrief, Rudy Tomjanovich and Chris Webber all went from being eliminated in the first round of balloting in 2016 to finalist and the brink of induction this time. That, in turn, means this is an opening that has not existed for years and may not again when Jason Kidd and Grant Hill become eligible in ’18 and take votes from the field.
Many others with NBA and ABA ties, some very familiar names, are hoping to get in via the categories that require only one round of voting – Early African-American Pioneers, International and Contributor. The enshrines from the Women’s committee, with two rounds, will also be revealed. But the North American group that handles most candidates from the NBA along with NCAA coaches and administrators is down to trying to read the possibilities for six candidates.
Candidate: Hugh Evans
Summary: Projecting the outcome for referees is an especially difficult read. But the election of
Evans contemporaries each of the last two years does create a baseline that shows what voters expect of an inductee. Dick Bavetta was enshrined in 2015 after 39 seasons and 27 Finals games, Darell Garretson a year ago after 27 years and 41 Finals games with the added credibility boost of serving as director of officials and organizing the first union for referees.
Evans worked in the NBA for 28 years and 35 Finals games and mentored many younger officials coming up the ranks. There is also the question of timing.
Does electing referees the previous two ballots mean voters are now considering officials with an equal impact on the sport as players and coaches, or does it mean they won’t want to make it three years in a row?
Candidate: Tim Hardaway
Summary: Several inductees – Alonzo Mourning, Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond, Don Nelson, probably others – have lobbied on Hardaway’s behalf. Whether that means anything at the ballot box remains to be seen.
But he has more than the backing of former teammates and peers: Five-time All-Star, once averaged better than 20 points four seasons in a row while also distributing at a high enough rate to still rank 16th in career assists, Olympic gold medalist. Hardaway is one of the biggest names to capitalize on the lack of first-ballot candidates to go from being cut in the first round of voting last year to finalist this time.
Now he needs the final step.
Candidate: Tracy McGrady
Summary: Seven-time All-Star, two-time scoring champ, 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists over 15 seasons… and a lot of critics. McGrady will be a very interesting outcome. It is difficult to predict whether he will glide in with ease or miss, and either is possible for such a polarizing nominee, but T-Mac is, if nothing else, the No. 1 name among candidates in their first year on the ballot. Depending on individual preference, he might also be the biggest name on the ballot, period.
Candidate: Sidney Moncrief
Summary: A Moncrief election would be a big surprise considering the lack of support in recent years and the continued sign from voters that defense has a minor role in the game. (Bobby Jones made the All-Defense teams 11 seasons but can’t reach finalist, the same for Ben Wallace after winning Defensive Player of the Year four times, just as Dennis Rodman was cut in the initial round of voting his first year of eligibility.) Moncrief was All-Defense four times and Defensive Player of the Year twice in the 1980s as part of a career that also included averaging 15.6 points and 4.7 rebounds. Making first-team All-America at Arkansas will help.
Candidate: Rudy Tomjanovich
Summary: His chances received a big boost when Tom Heinsohn was elected with similar credentials, and the same obvious drawback, in 2015. The counter is that the comp may not do Tomjanovich a lot of good – he was on the ballot a year ago, immediately after Heinsohn’s induction, and didn’t even make it to finalist. Rudy T, like several others, has made it back this far at least in part, undoubtedly, because of the wide-open field, and needs a Clutch City-like finish. He also needs to overcome the obstacle of being nominated as a coach after coaching 13 seasons, a relatively short time for a Hall of Famer, even if the 13 did include a .559 win percentage, two titles and an Olympic gold. Heinsohn, though, coached for nine seasons.
Candidate: Chris Webber
Summary: Reaching finalist after being eliminated in the first round of voting is reason for
optimism, just as several others have also taken the same giant step forward compared to a year ago. Webber should have made it this far before. Whether he is a Hall of Famer, though, is not so absolute, similar to the debate surrounding McGrady as a conversation that goes far beyond the numbers. Webber and T-Mac both faced criticism of never reaching their potential, given tremendous skills, and Webber has also had to lug around his University of Michigan career going up in flames. But, he was practically a career 20-10 (20.7 points, 9.8 rebounds) even with a dropoff the final few seasons before retirement, made five All-Star teams and four All-NBA teams, and was a college All-America.
The six is two more than last year – Shaquille O’Neal, Iverson Garretson got in, Kevin Johnson did not – and fewer than the eight in 2015. Kansas coach Bill Self is the leading candidate from North American, with current and former college coaches Rollie Massimino and Bo Ryan and Texas high school coach Robert Hughes also on the ballot.
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