Friday January 11th, 2008

Also in this column: Reader reaction to my All-Star picks Looking ahead to the trade deadline Trail Blazers' Roy earning raves

5. He played long enough. It will require a complicated argument to install Mourning in the Hall, because his career was cut short at its peak when he was diagnosed with a life-threatening kidney disease at 30. Nonetheless, he still has played 838 games and 11 full NBA seasons (in addition to four seasons of 37 games or fewer), which exceeds the timelines of Hall of Fame centers like Willis Reed (650 games), Neil Johnston (516) and Dave Cowens (766).

4. His humanitarian work. What does this have to do with the Hall of Fame? Plenty, I say. Mourning is one of the most charitably minded stars in the history of the league, and his work on behalf of kidney research and community services in Miami and beyond elevated the NBA when it was desperate for good publicity.

3. His accomplishments on the court. If Mourning indeed retires at 37 after undergoing major knee surgery last month, he'll leave with two Defensive Player of the Year awards, gold medals in the FIBA World Championships and the Olympics and an NBA championship he won with Miami in 2005-06. Those achievements cross the threshold.

2. His career before his illness. It's important to consider who Mourning was -- and what he appeared certain to accomplish -- before his illness. In his first eight seasons, he averaged 21.1 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. In a full 15-season career, he could have become one of the top five shot-blockers (he stands No. 10 today) with a chance at surpassing 20,000 points, which in combination with his other achievements would have assured his election to the Hall.

1. His comeback. Mourning's recovery from focal glomerulosclerosis, a disease that scars the kidneys and impairs them from filtering bodily wastes, puts him over the top. After Mourning underwent his kidney transplant as a 33-year-old in 2003, he was barely able to bench-press 20-pound dumbbells. He rebuilt his body while taking more than 20 pills per day, including cholesterol and blood-pressure medications to counteract side effects of his antirejection drugs, and during practices and games he wore a plastic shield reinforced with foam padding to protect his kidney.

While he created some bad feelings by forcing his way out of New Jersey and Toronto on his way back to Miami after the transplant, I tended to see those moves in the context of Mourning's extraordinary effort to turn his recovery into a meaningful experience. In this case, I would argue that the end justified the means: He was a team leader and crucial player in Miami's 2005-06 championship season. It is a story that belongs in the Hall of Fame.

4. Kevin Garnett as Barack Obama. Like Obama, KG is a unifier and a preacher of hope as well as The Story of this NBA season. But can he finish what he has started?

3. Tim Duncan as John McCain. You know what Duncan stands for and he's going to stick to his principles regardless of what anybody thinks. Like McCain over the previous year, Duncan tends to withdraw during much of the regular season before gathering momentum for the big postseason run.

2. Steve Nash as John Edwards. Nash carries a populist message -- he plays with passion in the name of team play, and he wasn't afraid to speak out against the war in Iraq. He has a hardcore following, but will he ever get over the top?

1. Kobe Bryant as Hilary Clinton. Kobe is a polarizing figure with high positives and negatives. He is trying to revive his championship legacy of a few years ago, but a return to the NBA Finals no longer seems inevitable.

3. Why no love for Jose Calderon? He leads the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (6.15 to 1). Since T.J. Ford went down, he has been a true All-Star! The only reason he's not ranked higher than sixth in the league in assists is because he's averaging only 29.7 minutes a game. -- Peter Tomilson, Rothesay, New Brunswick

This was a source of great consternation when I declined to include Calderon among my contenders for the All-Star Game. Some of the anger that spewed from my fellow Canadians (yes, I am one with you) was the same kind of language that leads to a five-minute major. I bet 95 percent of the complaints came from Canada, and you would have thought I'd raised the flag upside-down.

Here's the deal on Calderon. I was thinking about mentioning him as an All-Star contender but bumped him in order to make a joke about Stephon Marbury. (A lot of you were overly quick to react to that one too -- gotcha.) As well as Calderon is playing, can someone who has never averaged 30 minutes and has never dominated in the NBA be considered an All-Star? He's a terrific player, I love the way he plays, but I think it's premature to call him an All-Star ... now watch the Eastern Conference coaches pick him as a reserve.

2. I think it's funny that you include the Marbury statement as a joke but legitimately list Shaq as the backup at center. Shaq has had a great career and was great three years ago, but why not give it to someone who's deserving, like Rasheed Wallace on the second-best team, or Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the best-shooting center in the game? -- Nick, Cleveland

Both Wallace and Ilgauskas merit consideration, but the All-Star Game without Shaq? I just can't imagine it. Plus, it's not like Ilgauskas and Rasheed are going for 20 and 10 every night.

1. I understand the team's record and lack of nationally televised games, but how do you not even mention Al Jefferson? -- LC of Minneapolis

Because of the team's record and lack of nationally televised games ... I'm kidding on the second part. But the Timberwolves have won five games, and Jefferson isn't Shaq. Jefferson will be in contention when he leads Minnesota's resurgence.

2. Players in need of a new home

Jason Kidd, Nets: He'll be the top prize at the deadline, but which contender can assemble a package acceptable to New Jersey? It's not going to be easy.

Damon Stoudamire, Grizzlies: He would love to enhance a winning team with leadership and shooting.

Zaza Pachulia, Hawks: Al Horford has claimed his minutes, and his $4 million salary is attractive.

Mike James, Rockets: Houston has one point guard too many, and a lot of teams need help in the backcourt.

Hakim Warrick, Grizzlies: His minutes have been sliced in half this year, but he remains an efficient scorer and mismatch-maker.

1. Teams in need of a new player

Cavaliers: Andre Miller or an additional shooter could help Cleveland make a second-half run.

Bulls: Could Jermaine O'Neal provide the low-post scoring to turn around their season?

Kings: They could hasten their rebuilding by moving Mike Bibby at the deadline, and Brad Miller's stock is up as well.

Warriors and Hornets: Both teams need to strengthen their reserves. Could Golden State send a package to New Orleans that would land Bobby Jackson as a backup to Baron Davis?

Mavericks: They may be looking to bring in another veteran for the stretch run, though acquiring Kidd may be too great a makeover.

An NBA scout makes his pitch for guard Brandon Roy, who has led the Trail Blazers to their 17-1 streak:

"I think he's as good as Chris Paul, Deron Williams and those other guys. I don't know if he's going to stand up physically, but right now he makes the guys on his team better. He's a prober who gets guys in the right places so they're just playing off him. He gets inside the defense and then gets the ball out to them. He can score even though that's not what he's really about, and he's deceivingly athletic -- you may not see it for four or five games, but then he'll have a play like the time they put him on Carmelo Anthony and at the end of the game he blocked Carmelo's shot on a post-up. He can play left hand, right hand, he can play with contact. This guy is an All-Star, no question.''

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