I think Durant is going to be a terrific player, and his Oklahoma City team is positioned to improve this summer -- to the point that next season I'm sure we'll begin to read and hear opinions that Portland picked the wrong guy. But who knows what will happen over the next five years? That's the time frame Oden will require as a 21-year-old center who missed his opening season. Considering last season was a rehab year for him, he's done pretty well to help Portland reach the playoffs.
This is not to jump on Oden. If he overcomes his injury problems, he may become a fine player, but Durant is a future All-Star, no doubt about that.
Billups turned the Nuggets into a contender to reach the conference finals while liberating Denver from the luxury tax -- a huge win-win that is the envy of other franchises. Alston saved Orlando from plummeting out of contention after the season-ending injury to Jameer Nelson. But nothing is more important than winning a championship, and Williams' arrival has created that potential for Cleveland.
It's not like Billups is tearing up the league; he never does. But his steady, one-day-at-a-time leadership makes one believe that the Nuggets, in second place in the West and riding a seven-game winning streak, can win a couple of rounds in the postseason, instead of imploding as they normally do. At the same time, Iverson's change of address has been a major factor in Detroit's becoming a second-rate power in the East.
That's why I think the future for the Hall of Fame is to continue to explore its international roots. A good first step has been taken in expanding the international wing of the Hall, and the next phase is to continue to recognize pioneering stars in South America and elsewhere so that the Hall of Fame creates a network that is global and timeless, with basketball fans in every corner of the world feeling connected to Springfield. Maybe I'm crazy, but I can imagine a day when the annual induction to the basketball Hall is a big international event that dwarfs the elections of the baseball and football shrines.
Let's say the Bulls make the playoffs this season -- can you imagine what the crowd would be like at the United Center if Michael Jordan were brought back as a Hall nominee? Ditto for John Stockton in Utah and David Robinson in San Antonio. Hall electees will invariably be recognized for their pro careers, so the announcements should be connected to the NBA's biggest event.
Or events. If not the postseason, how about doing it on the Saturday night of All-Star weekend? That's something I'd watch far more closely than the skills competition.
Still, it is what it is, so where do they go from here?
Well, they could open up the selection process -- the baseball Hall gets tons of publicity because so many voters (baseball writers) speculate in print and on the airwaves as the ballot deadline approaches. Basketball keeps everything under wraps in some star chamber-like committee. The eligibility rules are tricky, too, with candidates coming on the ballot, coming off, then coming on again. Baseball is easy -- wait five years, on for 15, off until the veterans review your case. Timing is also a problem: Since the Hall in Springfield is shared, the finalists get named during the NBA's All-Star weekend and the inductees get announced at the Final Four -- and the crossover audience might be pretty small. Then the enshrinement is held in September, with the football regular season and baseball pennant races dominating the sports scene.
My hunch is the NBA could put together a pretty dazzling Hall of its own, market the snot out of it and hold a regal induction during All-Star weekend. But league honchos probably would overreach and want to hold it at the NBA Store and people's eyes would glaze over.
There are many, many reasons -- attention to the salary cap and European scouting are two of them -- why the split is necessary, but this is the big one: Everybody needs somebody to argue with. If the only one you have to sell a personnel idea to is yourself, your franchise is in trouble, particularly if your owner is figuratively out to lunch, as is the case in Clipper Land. And don't talk to me about Red Auerbach, who did everything but put the mustard on the hot dogs when he coached and ran the Celtics. These are more complicated times.
That said, I'm having a hard time thinking of examples where an outstanding coach survives two or three underperforming GMs. When GMs finally fall, they usually land on one, two or more of their fired coaches.