Last season, I wrote a series title Franchise Player in which I pointed out which players in the NBA were worthy of carrying the burden of the term with the help of a few criteria. Given the state of the NBA these days, one can look from afar and glance at the salaries that some players are making and assume that they are franchise players because they are paid as such. Have a look at the names below, these players were once thought to be on par with the truly great that the league has to offer and yet fall short in more ways than one:
· Joe Johnson
· Rudy Gay
· Rashard Lewis
· Vince Carter
· Tracy McGrady
· Baron Davis
· Elton Brand
· Al Jefferson
· Danny Granger
· Gilbert Arenas
The NBA, where the players get paid and the general managers get played. Those players were at one point or another seen as franchise players but have proven that they alone cannot turn around the fortunes of their teams.
That is why we cannot apply the term to them. Before we are able to determine which players are worthy of the title, we need a list of criteria that individuals must meet; a screening process if you will. If you want to see who made the cut last season, click here.
With that said, here is my list of criteria that a player must meet in order to be considered a franchise player:
· The Kobe Bryant Exception: Barring an injury to him, his team can only miss the playoffs once after his first three years in the league (this was initially named the “Tim Duncan Exception” but my friend Cedric said that it should be changed to the Kobe Exception; and he was right because this criteria was put in because of the Black Mamba).
· The Kareem Standard: Multiple All-Star appearances (Quick note: I originally wrote that the Kareem Standard required multiple All-Star appearances, but NBA hardware is a must as well).
· The Karl Malone Rule: If the team is going to put all of their hopes and money into one player, that player has to be able to suit up for at least 85% of the NBA season (including playoffs).
· The Magic Johnson Provision: Whether we’re talking about the 20th game of the regular season or game 6 of a pivotal playoff series, a franchise player always stands out in a basketball game because he has stage presence. It might be rebounding, scoring, defense, passing or just being a great teammate but the franchise player always has an impact on the game.
· The Shaquille O’Neal aka Diesel Test: If he ends up with a contract of $20 million per year, you can’t even second guess the money because he’s actually worth it (no the argument that he means more to his team than other teams won’t fly).
With that said let’s get to our featured player of the day.
Pau Gasol was drafted to be face of the Memphis Grizzlies franchise and he was just that. He came over from Spain and became the first great international back to the basket big man to join the NBA since Arvydas Sabonis. His combination of footwork, quickness and post moves have made him arguably the best post player in the NBA today. Although his time in Memphis is now a distant memory, he helped the team get to the playoffs and showcased enough skill during his time there for the Los Angeles Lakers to put together a great trade package to acquire…..check that to steal him away from the Grizzlies. Most people will tell you that Gasol is merely the Robin to Kobe Bryant’s Batman, but they could not be more wrong. Instead, they should be viewed as the two main characters that cannot coexist without one another. Enter Bruce Wayne and Batman.
Bruce Wayne (Pau Gasol) is the pretty boy that is fully cognizant that he has more resources than others but lets you believe that he is just happy to fit in as he tries to associate with those in his surroundings. Batman (Kobe Bryant) on the other hand has a dark side that makes him a compelling individual figure. People fear him because of his skills and pathological need to win at all costs, but still try to challenge him because his seemingly smug demeanor begs his opponents to test him but ultimately results in their failure when opposing him. Not convinced of the analogy that they are both linked together? In related news, since Gasol joined the Lakers, the purple and gold have been to three straight NBA Finals with their last playoff elimination coming in June 2008….in the Finals. But does any of this make Gasol a franchise player? Let’s find out.
The Kobe Bryant Exception
Pau Gasol joined the NBA in 2001 and then managed to lead his team to the playoffs two years later in a Western Conference dominated by the teams of Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Karl Malone, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace and Tim Duncan. Needless to say, the West was tough during those years but Gasol’s teams still made three straight playoff appearances before missing the postseason during the 2006-07 season. He was then traded to L.A. the following season where they have yet to miss the playoffs.
The Kareem Standard
Pau Gasol is not the most decorated player in NBA history but he still has some accomplishments tied to his name; let’s have a quick look at them:
· 2001-02 NBA Rookie of the Year
· 2001-02 All-Rookie 1st Team
· Three NBA All-Star appearances (2006, 2009, 2010)
· 2008-09 All-NBA 3rd Team
· 2009-10 All-NBA 3rd Team
As mentioned previously, not a plethora of awards but still appears on some solid lists. Indeed, All-NBA and All-Star selections are reserved only for the best that the league has to offer. So although he’s right on the fence, Gasol gets a thumbs up here.
The Karl Malone Rule
Pau Gasol has appeared in 672 out of a possible 784 career NBA games. Therefore he has a participation rate of 85.7% in his team’s games. On most occasions, you can expect the Spaniard to suit up and play.
The Magic Johnson Provision
On a team that features arguably the best shooting guard we have ever seen not named Michael Jordan, it is kind of hard to get noticed. True enough, when you consistently get the chance to observe greatness, it can be tough to notice others within the same frame that are also great within their own right. We have seen several individuals almost be forgotten because they stood in the shadows of greats. For instance, I think of Scottie Pippen, Dr. Dre and Carlton Banks who stood in the shadows and yet were vital in helping someone else be successful.
In essence, that will probably be Pau Gasol’s legacy. He will always be tied to Kobe Bryant, but we should see him as so much more. The former Grizzly is quite possibly the best big man in the NBA today and has done a flawless job in complementing the Lakers superstar. For instance, if I asked you your top three memories of Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals involving the Lakers and Celtics; your answers will probably go like this (perhaps in a different order): Celtics squandered a big lead, Lakers dominated the glass and the Mamba converted only six of his 24 field goal attempts.
No where in there will anyone mention that the Lakers star power forward/center slapped up 19 points, 18 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks in the biggest basketball game of his career. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s Pau Gasol in a nutshell; truly impressive but barely noticed because he’s not the star of the show. And yet, with the way the Lakers team is built, there is no Lake Show without him. Have a quick look at his numbers form the last two Finals trips:
NBA Finals Year
He truly does the most with the least. Despite the low field goal attempts, Gasol contributes and stands out by doing all the things you would ask an elite big man to do: create your own offense, shoot a high percentage, rebound the ball, protect the paint and pass the ball to open players. He might not have the flair of others that came before him, but he does his job night in and night out and helps his team compete for rings.
Fun trivia question for you: How many times do you think Gasol has attempted 20 shots or more in his stint with the Lakers (regular season and playoffs combined)? Give up? A mere 10 times. That’s it. The Lakers record in those games? Although a relatively small sample, the purple and gold are 7-3 when Gasol puts up north of 20 field goal attempts. I’m just pointing what no one who cheers for the Lakers wants to admit: the team is pretty good when Gasol is the focal point of the offense. But that’s another topic for another day.
The Shaquille O’Neal aka Diesel Test
If Gasol were a free agent right now, teams would be literally be lining up at his doorstep like drug fiends at a crack house with the hope of securing his services. They would throw out the maximum amount of dollars permissible under the collective bargaining agreement given the dearth of big men that can play at a high level on both offense and defense. Seriously, how many power forward or centers are there in the NBA that are productive at both ends? Here’s the short list:
· Pau Gasol
· Dwight Howard (not the most offensively skilled player though)
· Kevin Garnett
· Tim Duncan
That’s it. So I feel fairly confident in saying that Gasol would be more than worthy of getting paid in Diesel money.
Pau Gasol is an elite NBA player that has done enough throughout his career to be considered a franchise player. Despite the lack of talent that surrounded him early in his career, he managed to get his teams to the postseason when expectations were low. After getting traded to the Los Angeles, the whole world decided that every Lakers season would be judged as a failure if it ended without a championship. Gasol responded and helped his teammates accumulate two rings in his three seasons there. If Gasol is not a franchise player, I’m not sure who is.