Our inquiry into who the next Hall of Famer should be for each franchise now turns to the newish Southeast Division. The division didn’t exist before 2004-05 and most of its teams didn’t exist before 1988 (Miami and Orlando came into being in 1988 and 1989 respectively and Charlotte in 2004-05). Still, most of the new teams have surprisingly deep rosters and histories and so we should have some interesting players to look at here. Before we go to the franchises, our standard of review for this article series can be found here.
1. Atlanta Hawks: Of all the original NBA teams, the Hawks might be the least connected to their past. Sure, the Hawks were very good in the 1950s and 1960s but they have moved multiple times. Yhe Hawks of the early Atlanta Era are primarily remembered for Pete Maravich but they were a competitive group immediately upon arrival to Atlanta in the 1968-79, making the Conference Finals those first two years. The Hawks didn’t have Maravich yet in either year but were able to win their first round series each time before getting smoked by the Wilt/Jerry West Lakers. The core of this solid team was Bill Bridges, Lou Hudson, and Zelmo Beaty (who was only a key player in 1968-69 before jumping to the ABA). Maravich came along in 1970-71 and the Hawks fell to a .500ish team for his tenure in Atlanta (though this was not Maravich’s fault).
In any event, Hudson could be a serious Hall candidate. He played nearly 900 games in his NBA career and scored 20.2 ppg and had a 17.4 PER. Hudson was nice scorer at shooting guard/small forward and even maxed out at 25-27 ppg from 1969-70 until 1974-75, though his PER never exceeded 20.3 in a full season. Still, Hudson was never considered a serious star. He only received an MVP vote once and made second team All-NBA only once too (but did play in six All-Star games). In short, he was a very good player but a second-tier star. When he played with Maravich, there were reports that Hudson resented Maravich’s publicity and Hudson had a point, since he was as good a player and ended up having a much longer NBA career. As a Hall of Fame candidate, Hudson is pretty borderline but there are worse guys.
Hudson’s old teammates Bridges and Beaty are not quite as strong candidates. Bridges had a long career as a defensive/rebounding forward/center but played in the pre-block/steals days, so it’s hard to quantify how good a defender he was. He’s a nice player but without gaudier scoring numbers, Bridges can’t distinguish himself from other solid power forwards like Otis Thorpe or Charles Oakley. Similarly, Beaty was an improving player for the Hawks (20 ppg and 10 rpg three seasons) and had a 19 PER his final year in Atlanta but his biggest years came with the Utah Stars in the ABA (averaging a 25 PER those first two seasons) in a less competitive league (the ABA did improve over time but it was not yet nearly as good as the NBA in the early 1970s). Assuming Beaty stayed at his 19 PERish level those two seasons (a fair assumption), he’s a solid pro but not quite Hall material.
In more recent times, Dominique Wilkins is in and the other potential Hall of Famers are Kevin Willis and Dikembe Mutombo (none of the current Hawks players are quite on the Hall path yet). Willis isn’t a real candidate but he played solidly for so long that he deserves some recognition. Mutombo, however, is legitimately a stronger candidate. A weird thing about Mutombo is that he really isn’t associated with any one team. His best years were with Denver and Atlanta but he moved along every few years and is more remembered for his excellent shot blocking/defense than he is any one team (though his most memorable moment came in Denver in 1993-94 when he helped upset Seattle in the playoffs). Mutombo’s career stats are not overwhelming (9.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg and 17.2 PER) but you can take these with some serious caveats. First, more than almost any other player, Mutombo is short changed by conventional stats. As a greater defender and rim blocker, Mutombo’s impact is not totally encompassed in PER. Deke led the the NBA in blocks five straight years, is second All-Time in the category, and won four Defensive Player of the Year awards. Throw in Mutombo’s humanitarian missions in Africa and his big personality and I see him as a Hall of Famer by both my own objective measure, as well as by the Hall’s different measures. Mutombo isn’t eligible yet but he will be in some day.
Finally, Paul Silas is a nice wildcard “lifer” Hall of Fame candidate. In addition, to a long career as a veteran presence on many competitive teams (that started with the Hawks) he has been a coach and broadcaster and could get the life time achievement award that Satch Sanders got this summer.
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: Dikembe Mutombo
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: Lou Hudson
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: Lou Hudson
2. Charlotte Bobcats: The franchise is way too young (and way too mediocre) to really think about historical questions. Unfortunately, the Bobcats don’t even have an arguable Hall of Famer on their All-Time roster. Let’s check back in five to ten years…
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: N/A
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: N/A
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: N/A
3. Miami Heat: For a franchise with a short lifespan and a somewhat lukewarm fan base, the Heat have crammed in a lot of life. They have a ton of solid Hall of Fame candidates. First off, we’ll take Shaquille O’Neal off the table. He won a title in Miami but his time there was quite brief and he’s really a Laker more than a Heat player. Turning to the rest of their All-Time roster, LeBron may catch him but Dwayne Wade is obviously the best player in team history so far. Wade’s career is a little short but he’s a Hall of Famer right now and as good, at his peak, as any recent shooting guard but Michael Jordan. If Wade can continue this production for a few more years, he could eclipse Kobe for number two in the modern times.
Outside of Wade, the Heat featured some really good players in the 1990s. Glen Rice was the first star of the Heat franchise and was prolific scorer, primarily as a jump shooter. His biggest scoring year came with Charlotte (26.8 ppg in 1996-97) but Rice was a solid scorer for eight years before declining sharply after being traded to Los Angeles (where he was third banana to Kobe and Shaq for a few years). He ended with a career 16.2 PER and never topped 19.7 PER in any single season. Rice’s career was short and he didn’t score enough or do enough other things to be a legit candidate.
Alonzo Mourning (the man Rice was traded to Charlotte for) has a really strong case. I won’t belabor how Zo has been underrated throughout his career (my write up on this issue can be found in our Zo FAQ which can be found here). Sure he had issues (bad temper, foul problems, awkward offensive moves, short career) but he was monster defensive player (like Mutombo who we mentioned above) and an effective scorer (unlike Mutombo). The offensive stats really demonstrate how effective he was. From his rookie year until he was stricken was the career shortening kidney disease, Mourning never had a per less than 20.8 and was up around 25.8 his last healthy season in 1998-99. Sure he wasn’t Shaq or Hakeem but Zo should get in the Hall at some point. Hopefully, they won’t make him wait too long.
Finally, Tim Hardaway is a decent stealth candidate. T-Hard struggled with injuries and had a homophobic post-NBA incident that won’t help him (though he has tried to make amends on this). On straight stats, he has a decent case. Hardaway was a solid 19-20 PER player during his prime (but missed a full season with a knee injury). I don’t think Hardaway will ever get in (a ton of great points will be coming up in the next few years) but I think he has pretty good argument.
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: Dwyane Wade
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: Tim Hardaway (Zo will be eligible soon and is better)
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: Tim Hardaway
4. Orlando Magic: Miami’s expansion quasi-twin franchise (Miami incepted in 1988 and Orlando in 1989) also has a lot of talent in a short period of time. Also like Miami, Shaq was in town and made a big impact in a short term. Alas, O’Neal didn’t last long enough in Orlando for the Magic to claim him as “their guy” for the purposes of our analysis either and we’ll leave Shaq until we get to Los Angeles. The hands down best player in franchise history might be Shaq but Dwight Howard has been close to as good and has played 567 games already in Orlando while Shaq only lasted 295 before bolting. Howard isn’t quite a Hall of Famer yet but he’s still 25 and even five more decent years should get him in.
The most accomplished player who can be considered primarily a Magic player, though, is Tracy McGrady. T-Mac only played 295 games in Orlando (ironically the exact number of games that Shaq played before bolting) but was Jordanesque for the Magic, having PERs over 24.9 all four seasons, including 2002-03 when he led the NBA at 30.3. Injuries have seriously slowed McGrady down but even with all the weak seasons over the last few years, he still has a career 22.4 PER over 886 NBA games. It’s hard to believe McGrady is only 32 but his career as a star is over. Even so, McGrady’s peak is so tough that he has a really strong Hall of Fame argument.
But neither T-Mac nor Howard are actually eligible for the Hall right now. If forced to choose an eligible candidate we would be at a loss, as is no eligible candidate that is even half-serious. Anferenee Hardaway was considered a contender but his knee issues killed that talk rather quickly (he maxed out a PER of 24.6 in 1995-96) but was done as a star by age-26. He might’ve been on the path to the Hall but he doesn’t meet even the most generous definition of a Hall candidate. If we had to choose an eligible retired Magic player, the default option is Horace Grant. Grant was a defensive force for the Bulls first three title teams actually broke a PER of 20 one season (1993-94 when MJ was retired) and had a decent 16.0 for his career (he was closer to 17-18 PER range in his prime). Between the title pedigree and the long career, if you squint Grant is the kind of guy the Hall might put in someday. It’s not a satisfying answer but it’s the best we have for Orlando for now.
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: Tracy McGrady
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: Horace Grant
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: Horace Grant
5. Washington Wizards: Unlike most older franchises, the Wiz/Bullets really have almost every possible candidate in. Even more marginal candidates like Walt Bellamy and Gus Johnson are in and the true stars (Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Earl Monroe) have been in for years. There isn’t much left over after that. Phil Chenier and Bobby Dandridge were useful perimeter scorers for the Bullets but neither is close to a Hall of Famer. I could see Dandridge one day getting in, less on stats and more on the fact that he was key player who helped both the Bucks and Bullets to titles in the 1970s. We all know how much the Hall likes the key players who won a lot, even if they were not the primary reasons those teams excelled. Outside of the 1970s Bullets, there are a few strong candidates who could/should be in the Hall but didn’t play quite long enough and/or didn’t have their peaks in D.C. Bernard King came to the Bullets after his peak and really is as a Knick (see our Atlantic Division chapter for an assessment of King). As for Chris Webber, he was better for longer on Sacramento, so we’ll leave him out too.
Other possible candidates are recent Wizard Antawn Jamison, Rod Strickland, or even Kevin Loughery. Jamison is finally slowing down but the guy could score. On the right team, he might’ve had the reputation as a James Worthy-type winner. On Golden State and Washington of the 2000s, he just looks like another gunner for bad teams, though his numbers are very efficient and deserve some attention. He has an outside shot if he continues to score 20 ppg until near age-40 (though his numbers seem already in decline).
Strickland is another NBA nomad who burned bridges in most towns he played in but was a highly effective point in the 1990s (seven straight years of PERs in the 19-20 range). He was a top tier point for the Wiz from 1996-97 to 1999-00 (All-NBA Second Team in 1997-98 only). But Strick had his issues. First, the Wiz arguably lost the trade that brought him to D.C. (for rookie Rasheed Wallace). Second, Strickland was more remembered for off-court crap in D.C. (punching out teammate Tracy Murray in D.C. and his penchant for eating hot dogs before games). So, the Hall is not in Strick’s future but he is in that same tier as Tim Hardaway and a few others who have a decent statistical cases.
Loughery actually has a stealth case as a Hall candidate than Strickland. Loughery was a scorer for the Bullets in the 1960s, mostly before the team became a title contender. Loughery’s numbers were great, particularly for the high scoring 1960s but he was a hard worker and later became a solid coach for the next 20 years, succeeding with the ABA Nets, but mainly being a .500ish coach for several other teams. This is not the resume of a true Hall of Famer but his decades in the NBA give him a chance at a potential nod to the Hall for lifetime achievement type award. Certainly, he is more likely than Strickland.
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: Rod Strickland
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: Rod Strickland
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: Bobby Dandridge