Hall of Fame (archive)

At first look, electing candidates for 2017 Hall of Fame class not so clear cut

Scott Howard-Cooper

The ranking of the most deserving candidates for the Hall of Fame is more temporary than ever, with Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson gone from the top spots following their 2016 induction and Jason Kidd scheduled to go on the ballot for 2018, leaving an opening for the Class of 2017 without any automatics.

That makes for several interesting debates after the 2017 nominations were released last week, but also likely reduced interest in an important development for Hall officials who have emphasized marketing in recent years and still couldn’t fill all the seats at an enshrinement ceremony in September with Shaq, AI, Yao Ming and Tom Izzo. That also makes for a list that has changed dramatically since a year ago and that will almost surely change again a year from now, assuming Kidd and Grant Hill are nominated in their first time eligible.

The usual disclaimer stands: The ranking is the most deserving among nominees with NBA or ABA ties, a conversation that leaves out college names, several international possibilities and the women’s game. Kansas University coach Bill Self, for example, has a very good chance to be elected by the same North American committee that handles most NBA players and coaches.

1. Jerry Krause, Contributor committee

His annual wait for induction has become more a statement about Hall voting as a popularity contest than about Krause’s credentials.

Simply, he put together the Bulls team that dominated an era, but just wasn’t part of any clique. He had the obvious benefit of taking over as head of basketball operations with Michael Jordan already on board, but Krause traded for Scottie Pippen, Bill Cartwright, Dennis Rodman and Luc Longley, drafted Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc, B.J. Armstrong and Will Perdue, signed Ron Harper, John Paxson, Scott Williams, Steve Kerr and Bill Wennington and hired Phil Jackson.

Will voters now turn away from Krause because they don’t want the Contributor category to enshrine a Bull executive for the second year in a row, after owner Jerry Reinsdorf in 2016?

2. Tracy McGrady, North American

T-Mac isn’t nearly the automatic induction some would suggest, but he is the second-best candidate in a down year. Eight consecutive seasons averaging at least 20 points says so. Five of those eight were at 25 or more and two were while winning the scoring title, all part of a career that included seven All-Star appearances and seven All-NBA selections. He didn’t carry anyone anywhere, a knock that will always haunt a legacy with the accompanying label as a player who didn’t reach his potential, even if injuries were a factor in later years.

3. Kevin Johnson, North American

Years of coverage of ugly KJ behavior, most notably in scorching reports from Deadspin.com and HBO, may make him toxic even to voters able to hide behind a wall of anonymity. For the first time, it is possible to see Johnson getting cut in the first round of voting and not being among the finalists revealed at All-Star weekend in February.

On his playing career, though, he has a case. The three-time All-Star with the Suns finished in the top five in assists four times, the top 10 in six seasons and is sixth on the career list for assists per game when the first five are all either in the Hall or on the way: Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Chris Paul, Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas.

4. George McGinnis, Veterans

He has the new advantage of moving from the North American, a category that required two rounds of voting and put him against the NBA superstars and college coaches, into Veterans and one balloting. McGinnis was a lethal scorer at forward with the ABA and NBA Pacers and the NBA 76ers and Nuggets, averaging at least 21 points seven seasons in a row while crossing leagues. Imagine the numbers if he hadn’t played two of the seasons in the same frontcourt as Julius Erving. McGinnis averaged 17.2 points and 9.8 rebounds in seven NBA seasons. He was also a third-team All-America at the University of Indiana.

5. Tim Hardaway, North American

The only member of Run TMC waiting for good news from the Hall, with Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin in Springfield, went backward in the last balloting, from finalist in 2015 to being eliminated in the first round in 2016. Hardaway, though, could be one of the primary beneficiaries of the lack of first-ballot automatics this time.

He made All-NBA five times when Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Gary Payton were annual competition in the backcourt, the All-Star game another five, and won gold in the Olympics and world championships. Hardaway was versatile enough to be a big-time scorer, even on teams in Golden State and Miami with other stars, or a talented playmaker.

6. Chris Webber, North American

Two years on the ballot, two years of not making it out of the first round despite a 15-year career of 20.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, even with the same statistical decline most players face in the final season or two, plus a deserved reputation as one of the best-passing bigs of his time. Whether Webber belongs in the Hall is a discussion. Whether a 20-10 man, essentially, should at least make finalist is not. He was an All-Star five times and All-NBA five times, including first-team once, along with Rookie of the Year.

7. Ben Wallace, North American

He was Defensive Player of the Year four times, first-team All-Defense five times and second-team once, a four-time All-Star, finished in the top 10 in rebounding in seven years and the top 10 in blocks seven, was second-team All-NBA on three occasions and third-team two others, and a key part of a championship team. The biggest recommendation, though, is that Dikembe Mutombo was elected in his first time on the ballot with similar numbers on defense, although Mutombo climbed higher up the career lists by playing a larger role for longer. Being on the ballot for the first time will probably hurt his case for 2017 – it is hard to imagine voters wanting to attach the special significance of being elected on the initial try, a status awarded only to the true greats.

8. Bobby Jones, North American

Another candidate, like Webber, who at least deserves to be a finalist after being eliminated on the first ballot for the Class of 2016. Jones was first-team All-Defense for 10 consecutive seasons with the Nuggets and 76ers in the ABA and NBA, made five All-Star appearances in the two leagues, had an important role on Philadelphia’s 1983 title team, won Olympic silver in 1972, and was a very good shooter. Ten. Consecutive. Seasons. He was the epitome of understated while playing alongside offensive stars who got the spotlight.

9. Nick Galis, International

The NBA connection is thin, but it is there. Galis was born and raised in New Jersey, played at Seton Hall and was drafted by the Celtics in the fourth round in 1979. After getting hurt in training camp and being cut, he went to Greece (his parents’ homeland) and turned into a star. Known sometimes as Nikos Galis, he was eventually voted one of the 50 greatest players in the history of FIBA, the international governing body for basketball, was in the first class of the FIBA Hall of Fame and became the leading scorer in Euroleague history.

10. Rudy Tomjanovich, North American

What has been a good case study anyway gained a new layer of interesting with Tom Heinsohn’s induction in 2015. Tomjanovich and Heinsohn had similar coaching careers, namely short by Hall standards but successful, yet Rudy T didn’t make finalist in 2016. (Related takeaway: the anonymous voters have loved the Celtics to an extreme through the years.) The committee no longer needs to consider a career shortened by health issues as a disqualifier.

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

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