With the 2016-17 season roughly a month old, let's jump in the "Hot Tub Time Machine" and visit the days of yore to bring back some of our favorite NBA players into the modern era. While the following 15 players stepped away from the game for different reasons, be it age, injury or lack of ability to keep up with the skill level that once made them dominant, seeing how they would match up against today's best.
Whether it be at the gym, the bar, over the internet or while watching the game, as fans we often compare generations of players and wish that some of our past heroes would still be active today. Imagine how players such as a healthy and prime Kobe Bryant or (who would easily make the list of 15 had they not just retired) would match up with James Harden or Anthony Davis. There are plenty of others who could have made this list, players such as Tim Hardaway or Karl Malone who could match up with today's Superstars.
If you take into consideration the change of rules that would allow these 15 former greats to have a greater advantage compared to the clutch and hold defense along with the lack of spacing in the 80s and 90s, it's easy to see how well these players would not only fit into today's game, but also find great success.
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15 Hakeem Olajuwon
He didn't possess the range that today's big men have, but the footwork of players such as Joel Embiid or Karl-Anthony Towns remind many of the former Houston Rockets Hall of Famer. Able to play both the finesse and physical game, Hakeem Olajuwon finished his career as the Rockets all-time leader in points, rebounds, steals and blocks. Watching Olajuwon work opponents in the paint with his "Dream Shake" (hello David Robinson) or run the transition game was a thing of beauty considering he was 7'0" and 255 pounds.
With averages of 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, Hakeem's well rounded game helped him to capture honors on both ends of the floor as a league MVP, two time Finals MVP, a multi time member of the All-Defensive team as well as a twelve-time All-Star. Forget for a moment the forgettable final season in Toronto, but considering that a number of the great players (Kobe, LeBron) who have followed Olajuwon's time in the league have asked for his guidance on footwork, it would only seem fitting that the teacher could school his students.
14 Shawn Kemp
First off, his nickname, Reign Man, is one of the greatest in sports history, thank you Kevin Calabro. Now we aren't talking the Cleveland, Portland or Orlando version of Kemp here, we are talking the highlight filling, power forward dominating Seattle Sonics version. You know, the same version that everyone compares Blake Griffin too. The version that could run the floor like a gazelle, an immensely well chiseled gazelle. A version that could step out and pull a mid-range jumper over opposing defenders or blow by those same defenders with a couple of power dribbles and finish at the rim.
This version that we speak of is the one that would fly over top of anyone in his way and shove a crowd pleasing dunk down their throats with a combination of grace, finesse and sheer power that gave everyone watching an "O" face. Unfortunately for this generation, the only way they could see that version is on Youtube, but trust that those videos do not do justice to the legend that was the Reign Man.
13 Scottie Pippen
He became the ultimate Robin to Michael Jordan's Batman and the argument has been that while Pippen never won without Jordan, Jordan would have never reached his level of success without Pippen. Just imagine if Paul George had a Batman or what Andrew Wiggins could eventually end up being.
Does Pippen's career stats blow anyone away? No not really, he averaged throughout his career 16.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG and 5.2 APG. But it's what he did off of the stat sheet that counted the most. Take away his pouting when Phil Jackson set up Toni Kukoc for the buzzer beater and Pippen was one of the most unselfish teammates. Need a bucket, Pip could get you one, either from downtown, in transition or attacking the hoop. Need a stop, number 33 was assigned the best player on the opposite team night in and night out. Need to pick up the defensive intensity and pressure the opposing guard, throw the 6'8" point forward out on a one man press and chances are the offense would have trouble setting up against the Bulls defense.
If everyone says that Jordan was the greatest and they don't hold his time in Washington against him, it isn't fair that the lack of championship success in Houston or Portland is held against Pippen.
12 Jason Kidd
If you took a combination of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Emmanuel Mudiay, you would have a modern day version of Jason Kidd. As one of the top three players of all-time to tally at least 100 plus triple doubles, Kidd may have played the game well before his time. When he first came into the league, many referred to him as "Ason Kidd" because he had no J (as in jump shot), but when he retired to the sidelines, Kidd had worked to improve his shot to the point in which he finished his career third all-time in three pointers made.
Although he wasn't the most prolific scorer, Kidd was arguably one of the greatest rebounding and passing guards to ever lace up a pair of kicks, dominating the game without dominating the scoreboard. Although he wouldn't find the ultimate prize of a NBA Championship until late in his career during his second stint with the Dallas Mavericks, Kidd would receive numerous individual NBA honors during his nineteen year NBA career, one that should eventually be capped with a place in the Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame.
11 David Robinson
Like Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson was a specimen of an athlete. With a body looking like it was sculpted out of granite, Robinson would make for a great matchup with today's hybrid big men. As one of the greatest big men to lace up a pair of Nikes, The Admiral helped turn around a sinking San Antonio club into a consistent championship threat.
While some may have felt that Robinson was too nice and some said he was soft, he used a graceful combination of speed, agility and strength to outplay his opposition. Averaging over 50% from the field and 70% from the line, the only absence in Robinson's game was a three point shot, something that he could have added to his game should he have played in this era.
Honored by the Hall of Fame in 2009, Robinson won nearly every NBA and International award possible during his legendary career, including two NBA titles, Defensive Player Of The Year, MVP, Rookie Of The Year, as well as two Olympic Gold Medals, a National College Player Of The Year and the USA Basketball Male Athlete Of The Year.
10 Larry Bird
Too slow. Not athletic enough. Chances are Larry Bird would hear the same reasons and excuses today that he heard all throughout his storied career. With the style of play being pace, space and long distance shooting, Bird may have had issues keeping up with the speed of the game, but the spacing and long range shooting would have been his forte.
If Kyle Korver can still be valuable and productive, so too could Bird. Other than possibly Kevin Love, try to find a modern day version of the former Celtics forward and it's almost impossible. A multi-time NBA champion, Bird was also a multi league MVP, All-Star and despite his nonathletic look, a three-time member of the All-Defensive team. Not too shabby for The Hick From French Lick.
9 Charles Barkley
Considering how much Charles Barkley has criticized today's NBA and sometimes rightfully so, it may be hard to vision The Round Mound Of Rebound enjoying the league as much as he did during his day.
If you were to morph Blake Griffin and Kevin Love together, you may come up with a player that resembles Barkley, just add in a ton more attitude. Now taking all that into consideration, the changes in the NBA rules may prohibit Sir Charles from having as much success as he did. First, the backing down of opposing post defenders probably wouldn't happen as much as it did. Second, the addition of zone defenses would be there to collapse when he posted his defender and third, there isn't as much individual post play on the low blocks these days as there was in the 80s and 90s.
Now with that being said, Barkley had crazy athleticism for a man of his size and weight. Add in the access to better health and wellness training, and you could be looking at a player who could have had a better chance at capturing the elusive NBA Title that evaded him.
8 Gary Payton
Imagine today's scoring point guards going up against one of the best defensive guards in the history of the league. Picture The Glove in his prime going head to head with Russell Westbrook or Steph Curry. While OKC's point guard may be more athletic, the body contact and hand checking rules would probably allow Payton to stay with the explosive UCLA alumni. As for Chef Curry, chances are Payton would find a way to get in his head with non-stop chatter, something that the Warriors' guard has not seen much of in his time. Sure there is some trash talking in today's game, but not to the level that Payton brought during his time in Seattle.
He wasn't as a prolific scorer like Westbrook or Curry, averaging 16.3 PPG and 6.7 APG along with 1.8 SPG, but Payton would carve out a Hall of Fame career highlighted by his nine All-Defensive Team honors. Known as a ruthless and cutthroat defender as well as arguably a top five trash talker, Payton had a knack of getting on his opponent's nerves let alone in his head. Throw in the fact that he was born and raised in Oaktown and a matchup with Oakland's current favorite gunslinger would make for must-see-tv.
7 Allen Iverson
If there was one person that could keep up with the scoring of current MVP Steph Curry, it would be AI. If you're looking for more of a similar build, you could look at current Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas. Should you want to compare Allen Iverson's famed handles and crossover, look no further than Jamal Crawford, who has an entire library of ball handling highlights. And as far as all out motor and reckless abandon, check out what Russell Westbrook is doing with the OKC Thunder.
Aside from Thomas, Iverson is the only player mentioned here that did not have a supporting cast with a secondary or third scoring option. If Iverson was fortunate enough to play in the modern era, his combination of speed, scoring and passion to compete would be well sought after by his former club, desperate for a point guard and scoring option, especially with Ben Simmons on the pine. Just imagine if you had a healthy trio of Iverson, Simmons and Joel Embiid...nobody would be laughing at the 76ers.
6 Brandon Roy
Some may think that it is odd for B-Roy to be on this list, but when you look at the impact that he had on the Portland Trail Blazers franchise and fanbase, he most certainly belongs.
Unfortunately, retirement came early for the Seattle born guard as ongoing injuries plagued his short career. Currently a high school coach in Seattle, Roy spent five of his six NBA seasons in Portland, helping lead the resurgence of the Blazers in the Western Conference.
As one of the smoothest and most cerebral shooting guards during his tenure, Roy received praise from his peers around the league as one of the toughest players to guard due to his various talents. But Roy's skill set wasn't limited to just dropping buckets, as he was also a threat on the defensive end of the court. Going head to head against players such as Klay Thompson or Jimmy Butler is a matchup that NBA fans would have loved to see.
5 Shaquille O'Neal
Lets take a healthy Shaq in his Lakers dynasty prime. Could he keep up with the fast paced NBA of today? Probably not for extended periods of time, as players like Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns would be able to outrun and distance themselves on the perimeter from the Hall Of Fame big man.
But on the flip side, Shaq was no slouch when healthy, considering his height and weight. Shaq was able to post monster numbers in the era of true big men like Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Hakeem Olajuwon, so just imagine what he would do to some of these youngsters. Even a more stay at home center like DeAndre Jordan may be able to outrun O'Neal, but there is no chance of him defending the four-time champion straight up man to man.
As for the free throws issue, apparently Adam Silver has taken care of that issue, meaning Superman would have no kryptonite.
4 Tracy McGrady
If health and a bit of luck had been on T-Mac's side, he might have had a chance at being part of the conversation when it comes to the greatest players ever. Instead, he is one of those who fall into the Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller category of great players to never win the title.
Imagine a smaller version of Kevin Durant. A 6'8" combo guard/wing who could get you a bucket in a variety of ways, transition, off the dribble, mid-range, three point depth. Let's not forget his ability to finish at the rim with a rare combination of finesse and authority. If you thought that Carmelo Anthony or Durant could get you buckets, just ask the San Antonio Spurs, a team that McGrady torched for 13 points in 33 fourth quarter seconds.
3 Dominique Wilkins
We aren't talking about the Clippers, Celtics, Spurs or Magic version of The Human Highlight Film here, we are talking the explosive, bucket filling, crowd pleasing scoring machine Atlanta Hawks version. You know, the one who averaged between 21.6 and 30.7 PPG for eleven straight years. We are talking Nique, who battled Larry Bird in a classic seven game Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup in 1988. We are talking about Wilkins who battled Jordan in epic All-Star Weekend Dunk Contests. How would that translate to today's NBA?
You could even take into consideration their potential career threatening injuries when comparing Paul George to Wilkins, who have similar offensive and defensive abilities on teams that have fallen just short of reaching that next level in the Eastern Conference.
2 Magic Johnson
He didn't have the shooting touch of Steph Curry or the athleticism of Russell Westbrook, but Johnson could have changed the point guard game just as easily today as he did back in the 80s. Standing 6'9", Johnson made running the fast break a thing of beauty with the Showtime version of the LA Lakers with career averages of 19.5 PPG and 11.2 APG, including averaging double digit assists in nine of his thirteen seasons.
Everyone knows the story and greatness of Magic, his dominance of the Western Conference and the NBA, capturing five titles in ten years. Johnson's rivalry with Larry Bird and the Celtics is a legendary topic on its own, one that spawned not only a book, but also a Broadway play.
If Philadelphia 76ers rookie Ben Simmons needs something to keep him occupied during his rehab down time, checking out old videos of Johnson during his time with the Michigan State Spartans and the Lakers would be a great place to start. Sadly, Johnson was taken away from the league years before he should have, due to contracting HIV. Had he remained healthy, hidden behind the megawatt smile was one of the most competitive players in the league, one that may have kept the NBA Title on the West Coast before the Pistons and Bulls dominated the 90s.
1 Michael Jordan
At long last it looks like the NBA has finally entered the era in which we no longer hear much of "The Next Jordan." However, that doesn't mean that fans and player alike wouldn't want to test themselves against The G.O.A.T.. Could the reigning Defensive Player Of The Year Kawhi Leonard contain Jordan? What about current Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler or Golden State Warriors do-everything man Draymond Green?
And then of course, there would be the obvious offensive battles with players such as LeBron James, Steph Curry, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook. Considering the freedom, floor spacing and lack of physical play that has become today's NBA, if you think that Jordan dominated his era, just imagine what he could do now! As we all saw, Jordan morphed from an attacking game to incorporate a post up and long range game all of which would make him an effective threat in the modern game.
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