We now turn to the Central Division in our Hall of Fame segment. Just as a reminder, we are looking for the next player most likely to make the Hall of Fame for each franchise. The guidelines, can be found here. Let’s begin…
1. Chicago Bulls: Outside of the Michael Jordan Era, the Hall of Fame doesn’t have much in the way of candidates. As great as the 1990s were, the Bulls franchise has few other highlights. Currently, Derrick Rose is on the path but needs a lot more time before we actually assess him. From the pre-MJ days, Artis Gilmore was a great candidate but: (1) he just got in and (2) is, arguably, not best remembered as a Bull (he played equal stints with Kentucky and San Antonio).
Now that Gilmore is off the list, the clear best candidate is Chet Walker. We noted Walker last time when we looked at the 76er candidates and found him to the best non-Iverson candidate. Last time, we also noted that we would try to avoid assessing a player as potential Hall of Famer for more than one franchise unless that player was truly Hall worthy for both teams. In Walker’s case, he played slightly longer for Philly than he did for the Bulls. Still, Walker was actually better for the Bulls and he really is the best candidate (Walker was in the top ten in win shares each year he played on the Bulls).
Speaking of Walker, his teammates from the 1970s are marginal candidates. Bob Love was an effective scoring forward and Norm Van Lier a solid guard but neither had PERs over 18 ever and both had relatively short careers. For a wild card candidate, we have Toni Kukoc. Kukoc played at an All-Star level from 1994-95 to 1996-97 but no one noticed because the team was so star heavy at the time (Kukoc mostly came off the bench). If you don’t remember Kukoc, he was hyped as the European Magic Johnson in Croatia before he came over to the United States. The Bulls (actually GM Jerry Krause) obsessed about pairing him with Jordan to the point that Krause seemed willing to discard better-than-expected Scottie Pippen for Kukoc, which caused periodic rifts between Pippen and the Bulls.
Kukoc hemmed and hawed about coming to the NBA for several years before finally coming over at age-25 in 1993-94, shortly before MJ’s first retirement. Kukoc soldiered on and was part of three title teams with Jordan. As mentioned, Kukoc was an All-Star level player during that time. After Jordan retired, Kukoc spent another eight years as a valuable reserve with Philly, Atlanta, and Milwaukee. Kukoc was never a Hall of Famer on his NBA accomplishments but if Drazen Petrovic is in, a fellow Euro legend with a nice pro career could make it in too. Walker is the choice here on all levels but Kukoc is far from a crazy pick.
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: Chet Walker
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: Chet Walker
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: Chet Walker
2. Cleveland Cavaliers: This is an easy one. We all know LeBron James will be in the Hall and could probably make it if he never played another game. Outside of LeBron, the Cavs don’t seem well-stocked with Hall of Fame candidates. 1970s stars like Bingo Smith and Austin Carr were decent players but not near Hall of Famer performers.
But dig a little deeper and you’ll find some pretty decent players here. In particular, the 1980s and 1990s have yielded a few very good players for Cleveland. Mark Price and his successor Terrell Brandon were both very underrated guards, with near-MVP peaks, but also had careers curtailed by injuries. From 1988-89 to 1994-95, Price put up PERs over 20 by shooting high percentages and creating tons of assists. Unfortunately, injuries were an issue. Price missed nearly all of the 1990-91 season with a knee injury and much of the 1994-95 season. H e was never really healthy again and retired after 1997-98 at age 33 and a 19.6 career PER (in 722 career games).
Brandon was drafted in 1991 to backup Price and waited his turn for a few years. When Brandon got his chance in 1995-96, he was arguably the best point in the NBA (25.2 PER) and never had a PER under 19.5 the rest of his career. But Brandon also struggled with injuries, missing 30 games in 1997-98, 14 in 1998-99, before an injury killed his career 32 games in the 2001-02 season. Incidentally, Brandon had a PER of 21.2 that final season. Eerily, Brandon ended up playing 724 career games and having a a PER of 19.7 for his career, which are nearly identical to Price’s final numbers. Neither Price nor Brandon is a Hall of Famer but they were more productive than many who did make the Hall.
The 1990s Cavs also produced two more impressive players. Brad Daugherty was off to a very nice start to his career before back injuries knocked him out at age-28 and isn’t a real candidate. The other impressive player from those Cavs was Larry Nance, the athletic dunking forward they acquired from Phoenix. Nance played slightly more with the Suns but was about as good in for both teams Nance’s shot blocking, dunking, and scoring made him one of the first athletic slashing big forwards. He never put up ridiculous numbers but he was always scoring around 20 points per game and rebounded and defended well. In terms of intangibles, Nance was remembered as well-liked responsible player and he has the wild card resume item of beating Julius Erving to win the first NBA slam dunk contest in 1983-84. After ending his 920-game career with a PER of 19.9, Nance is a Hall of Famer, if not an upper tier one.
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: LeBron James
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: Larry Nance
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: Larry Nance
3. Detroit Pistons: The Pistons have ample potential candidates. The heart of the back-to-back title teams of the 1980s is mostly in when Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and now Dennis Rodman were inducted into the Hall of Fame. But did we really get the best players from that team? As much as the Hall loves key players on winning teams, Dumars’ playing resume is not incredible. His highest PER was 18.0 and only decent. Of course, Dumars’ reputation as the “consummate professional,” his Playoffs MVP, and the fact that he was universally respected by all his peers and the writers helped push him over the top. Joe D has a pretty good Hall of Fame case but, in terms of stat impact, his old peer Bill Laimbeer isn’t a terrible choice either.
Laimbeer was at least as key a player on the old Bad Boys and led the league in rebounds and put up slightly higher PERs than Dumars (though we do admit that PER doesn’t account for either player’s defense contributions). In terms of intangibles, Laimbeer doesn’t score quite as well. He’s been around the NBA (now as a coach) and is a funny guy but he was so loathed as a player, I don’t seem him ever getting in. I don’t endorse his candidacy either but it is a little stronger than you might think.
Another underappreciated candidate is 1950s Fort Wayne/Detroit star Larry Foust. The slow center was a double-double machine in the slow paced pre-shot clock days. In fact, his slow hook shot produced PERs over 19 from 1951-52 to 1957-58 and he made the All-Star team eight times. What hurt Foust was that he was never the best center in the NBA and always ranked behind the more heralded George Mikan and Neil Johnston. Moreover, both Foust and Johnston seemed markedly less effective when the more athletic Bill Russell came to the scene and was out of the NBA at age-33. I see Foust’s case for the Hall of Fame as pretty darn strong, though the NBA seems done honoring players from the 1950s.
Forgetting non-jumping centers, the real Hall of Fame debates for the Pistons will come from more recent history. The 2000s Pistons were consistent winners and a balanced team, which would indicate that they might score a Hall-worthy player or two. These Pistons, however, had no superstars. Chauncey Billups was something of a stealth star, though, and has been All-Star level for a decade (even breaking a PER of 23 two seasons). Between his clutch reputation (“Mr. Big Shot”) and his legitimately impressive stats, Billups is probably a Hall of Famer, if he can put up a few more above average seasons. I don’t see any other legit candidates on that team (Rip Hamilton is nice but pretty much just a jump shooter and Rasheed Wallace was not quite good enough to make up for his crazy spells).
I suspect, though, that the Hall has had its eyes on Grant Hill. Hill’s pre-injury Detroit days were damn impressive, (he hit PERs of 25.5, 23.9 and 24.5 before leaving as a free agent in 1999-00). Alas, a few great years don’t make a career and it took him about six years to get over the ankle injury he had when he left Detroit. Since then, he has been a very solid pro but not quite Hall material on its own. Of course, Hill brings a ton more to the table. He had a legendary college career and is remembered as an articulate class act of the NBA. In short, he’s definitely getting in the Hall and likely well before Billups, even though Billups’ pro career has been better.
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: Chauncey Billups
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: Larry Foust
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: Larry Foust (though they will take Grant Hill the minute he is eligible)
4. Indiana Pacers: Indiana is one of the easier franchises to look at. The answer to all three Hall questions we pose are: (1) Reggie Miller, (2) Reggie Miller, and (3) Reggie Miller. For some unknown reason, Miller didn’t make it in the Hall this year. Perhaps, it was because the Hall likes to make the non-transcendent players to wait a bit. Reggie was never a super-duper star but playing nearly 1,400 NBA games and putting up a PER of 18.4 and hitting scores of tough playoff shots (19.5 PER in 144 playoff games) means he should be in the Hall ASAP.
Are there any other possible Hall of Famers from Indy? Not really. George McGinnis had a nice run in the ABA but he fell apart at age-29 and was out of the NBA by 31. Detlef Schrempf has a decent argument but he was better and played longer for Seattle. Jermaine O’Neal also has had a solid career but injuries have limited his career and he looks like he’s running on fumes now at age-32.
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: Reggie Miller
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: Reggie Miller
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: Reggie Miller
5. Milwaukee Bucks: The best Buck not in the Hall is clearly Ray Allen but he isn’t retired yet. In the retired division, the Bucks have a few pretty good players too. I was surprised that Sidney Moncrief was not yet in the Hall of Fame and had assumed he already was before I checked this out. Moncrief’s career was a little short but he was a superior scorer and defender before his knees went out. Between 1981-82 and 1985-86, Moncrief had PERs of 20.0 or higher every year and he was the leader of a Bucks team that consistently won (though it was usually always the third best team in the East behind Boston and Philly and later Boston and Detroit). On top of that, Moncrief was famous for his dunking exploits in college. Moncrief’s knees never got better after 1986 and he was out of the NBA by age-33. I don’t see his NBA career as quite Hall worthy but his status on a winning team and college stardom make him a very strong traditional Hall pick.
A surprisingly strong candidate is Sam Cassell. Sam-I-Am bounced around so much it’s hard to associate him with any one team but his longest tenure was with Milwaukee. Cassell had six straight seasons with PERs over 20 and was over 16 almost every year of his 993-game career (career PER of 19.5). The fact that Cassell was treated as a fungible good in the NBA hurts his perceived value (he was traded for Charles Barkley, Jason Kidd, Shawn Bradley, Stephon Marbury, Anthony Peeler, and Marko Jaric). Despite being perpetually undervalued, Cassell was as good as many more hyped points and has a very strong Hall case, given his consistency and longevity (he was still good through age-38).
Terry Cummings had half of a Hall of Fame career at power forward. TC was a classy consistent pro. Though he was not always treated as an All-Star he was pretty similar to hard worker Elton Brand, putting up very good numbers. Like Brand, Cummings injured himself and spent the second part of his career as a useful role player. Finally, Bobby Dandridge was a good supporting player on title contenders in Milwaukee and Washington in the 1970s but not quite a star.
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: Ray Allen
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: Terry Cummings (Cassell won’t be eligible until five years after retired)
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: Sidney Moncrief