I have to confess that this topic is not entirely a WAD original. I was driving into the office this morning and heard the guys on 790 The Zone talking Hawks. I, of course, was pumped to hear Atlanta’s Air Force getting some air time, but I didn’t necessarily agree with all the opinions I was hearing. Specifically, when discussing the Hawks recent "struggles" (I’m using quotes because, call me nuts, I’m not freaking because they’ve hit a few road bumps on a post All-Star break West Coast swing, but that’s for another day), the conversation turned to Joe Johnson.
Without rehashing the entire discussion, a fascinating question occurred to me during the course of the dialogue (I understand "fascinating" may mean something entirely different to you than it does to me): Assuming you don’t believe Joe Johnson can serve as the "go to" guy on a championship team, how many players in the Association can? In other words, if you removed Joe from the Hawks roster, how many players could you replace him with and immediately make the Hawks a championship contender? It’s important to remember that I’m not asking what players would make the Hawks better. I’m asking which players are good enough, by their mere presence, to catapult the Hawks from a middle of the pack Eastern Conference playoff team to a legitimate contender for the Larry O’Brien Trophy?
What’s the purpose of asking this question? Well, as I see it, it’s two fold: 1) I believe the analysis reveals that, no matter what happens with this Hawks season, Joe Johnson should not be a scapegoat. Listen, I’m not arguing that he is the kind of guy that can lead you to a ring without significant help. What I am arguing is that it’s unfair to criticize Joe for not being one of those guys, because, at the end of the day, only a small handful of those guys exists; and 2) I think this analysis, in a pretty direct way, reveals the truly elite players in the Association. In fact, that’s what we are going to call them: The Elites. So, now that we are 500 words deep, let’s finally get to the point! I give you "The Elites" broken down by conference and team.
1) There are undisputedly no Elites on any of these teams:
Toronto - Bosh is a very good player, but honestly, does he even make the Raptors better? Let me put it this way: you say "Chris Bosh", and I say "Shareef Abdur-Rahim"
Chicago - D. Rose has the potential to enter this category one day, but we need more of a portfolio to examine.
New Jersey - if you were thinking Vince Carter, I'm going to have to insist you never return to this site. I'm sorry, but those are the rules. And, while I do think Mavs fans die a little inside every time they see a Devin Harris stat line and every time they see Jason Kidd do a very bad impersonation of a young and capable point guard, I think we can all agree that Devin Harris does not belong within earshot of this discussion, right?
2) You can make an argument for these guys, but you are going to lose.
Boston - a decade of history has revealed that the sum of the whole, when it comes to the Big 3, is much greater than that of the individuals. None of these guys, in their individual capacity would suddenly make the Hawks a championship contender. Don't believe me? Ask the Minnesota, Seattle, and Boston fans.
Orlando - Dwight Howard has a strong case, but until he logs crunch time minutes in May and June, we just can't be certain. And, frankly, his Olympic performance (his only time on the big stage) was troublesome. Finally, until we find out what went on in that phone booth for 45 seconds at the dunk contest, I don't think we can make any decisions.
3) Your Eastern Conference Elites.
LeBron & D. Wade - If we can't all agree on these guys, how are we ever going to correct this economy? My bad. I'm watching the President as I type this, and I got distracted. That being said, LeBron and D. Wade would get a standing ovation out of both the Democrats and the Republicans, right? While we're on the topic, is there anything more entertainingly awkward than the look on the faces of the members of the opposing party when they are deciding whether they need to join in the standing ovation? They kind of look around, and you can see the wheels turning..."On one hand, I don't want my constituents to think I'm going soft and supporting this guy. On the other hand, I really do think it's a good idea to feed starving babies. Ah hell, what is Minority Leader doing? What do I do? Somebody tell me what to do!" With the exception of Jennifer Aniston presenting an OSCAR five feet away from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, you will never see a more embattled look of discomfort and awkwardness. Good times.
1) There are undisputedly no Elites on any of these teams.
Houston Rockets (this was true even before T-Mac went down)
Portland (Brandon Roy has potential to make this list, but he disappears for huge stretches of games, and if he is not scoring, he is not contributing).
2) You could make an argument for these guys, but you are going to lose.
Phoenix - It's fair to throw Nash in the mix since he is a two time MVP, but you simply CANNOT forget that he was the two time MVP on teams chalked full of talent (i.e. Amare and Marion), and they never reached Finals. Furthermore, he is no longer the same player he was just two years ago. He just turned 35, and he is on the backside of his career. Finally, when forced to play without Amare in Game 6 against the Spurs in the '07 conference semis, he didn't lead his team to victory. I'm not suggesting he should have, or that it was fair to expect him to. To be an Elite, however,we have to at least believe you could pull this off, and I don't know a soul who thought Nash could.
Dallas - Dirk has a decent argument, but not a convincing one. Three years ago, he would have probably made the list, but he has never been the same since he ran into the D. Wade/NBA ref. buzz saw in the '06 finals. Just ask the Golden State Warriors.
San Antonio - See Boston above. Five years ago, Duncan makes the list. Now, not so much. And, for the record, there is nothing wrong with the sum of the whole being greater than that of the parts. Unless you have one of the Elites, you have to count on it. In fact, 5 of the last 6 Champions are all glaring examples of this. The only exception, of course, is the D. Wade led Heat in '06.
Utah - I'm just not there with Deron Williams. And, I'm certainly not there with Carlos Boozer, and you shouldn't be either.
3) Your Western Conference Elites.
Kobe - I hope this is so obvious this doesn't need explanation.
Chris Paul - Put him on the Hawks and they are right in the mix with the Cavs and Celtics. Can you imagine Bibby as your sixth man? Granted, if we had Paul, we would have never traded for Bibby, but I'm imagining right now. Don't disturb me! Can you imagine Joe slashing and spotting up and Paul finding him. I can't continue to do this to myself. It's just not healthy.
Kevin Durant - If you don't believe me, you have to buy the NBA package and watch all his games. I can't stress to you enough that I think he is the third best player in this league. On some nights, he is better than that. 26.2 points/game; 6.6 boards/game; 3 assists/game; 48.5% from the floor; 43.4% from 3 point range; and 86% from the line. Are you kidding me? This guy can't even walk into a bar and buy a beer until September 29th! And, you know how you can watch some guys play and know that the only thing in the world they care about is winning? If you don't know, watch Durant. You will figure it out.
Chauncey Billups - Admittedly, it's probably a stretch to think Chaucey would put the Hawks in the mix with the Cavs and C's, but his history is compelling. He is one of the most clutch players of the past decade. He is one of the best defensive guards in the league. He led the Pistons to 6 straight conference finals. And, now that he has left Detroit, they have gone to hell and his new team is battling out with the western conference elite. In other words, big time winning seems to follow him. Why would Atlanta be any different?
Okay, that's it. At the end of the day, in my humble opinion, there are 6 Elites in the NBA. As always, I am more than willing to be convinced otherwise. Sure, Joe Johnson is not one of the, but that tells you nothing more than that they are in the same boat as 24 other teams in the NBA, and it just so happens that, in 5 of the last six years, the NBA Champion has come from that group of 24. The point? Don't hate on Joe Johnson. Get him a little more help in the offseason, and the sum of the whole might be enough. Can we make this happen? YES WE CAN!
- Check back tomorrow night/Thursday morning for riveting commentary. Based off tonight's reports, I would imagine I'm going to have something to say about the Steph buyout/Celtics signing Steph story. Although it's been rumored for a while, I never actually thought it would happen, so I've never actually given any thought to whether it is actually as ridiculous as it sounds.