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What makes a franchise player?

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Who do you choose?

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets
I knew he’d be great too. In a non-Humian sense.
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

What is a “Franchise Player” to you? What do you want from one?

This might sound like a straightforward question, but like many such questions, it isn’t.

This week we heard rumors that the Rockets were “aggressive” in pursuing Portland Trailblazers star Damian Lillard. While anything but acting to facilitate a trade seems unlikely for the Rockets, Lillard himself is an interesting case.

He’s certainly been Portland’s franchise player for nearly a decade. He’s not only cultivated a reputation of being Mr. Trailblazer, highly loyal, and a vocal leader on and off the court; he has walked that walk as well. Only now, after nine years, at age 31 looking at the other side of the NBA mountain, is he showing outright dissatisfaction with the team (and a GM who decided their weird roster was all his coach’s fault).

Lillard has been awesome. Seriously. As a scoring point guard, he’s really only been a step or so behind Steph Curry. One has to wonder if you swapped Lillard onto the Warriors at their Cap Spike Peak if the results might not have been about the same? Lillard has been that good, and neither one is a solid defender.

But Lillard wasn’t on another team. He is a Trailblazer. What they have to show for his years are memorable moments where he carried the team with spectacular clutch play, and also playoff exits where the outcome rarely appeared to be in doubt, injuries notwithstanding. Wanting a shot at a ring, after nine years, isn’t egregious or even mildly annoying under the circumstances.*

That said, despite the lack of “ringz” in the Rose City, if you asked the fanbases of teams where the city itself didn’t lure free agents, if Lillard would be an acceptable Franchise Player, the answer would almost certainly be “Yes!”.

This is relevant not because the Rockets are a likely destination for Lillard, but because the Rockets are picking second, perhaps even first, in next week’s NBA draft.

What do you think a franchise player is?

A player who will almost always drag nearly any collection of players to the playoffs, like Lillard, or James Harden? Even if other players aren’t especially keen to join him?

Or a player who might have a short, but admittedly astonishing peak, like (I suspect) Giannis Antetokounpo, and get a you a title as the breaks fell their way?

Or a player that’s just fun to watch for a long time and brings excitement and fun to a once moribund team? Like, perhaps, Trae Young?

Perhaps a player who is undoubtedly excellent, but always and forever, puts his own interests first, like Lebron James or Kawhi Leonard?

Or a loyal, quiet, excellent craftsman like Tim Duncan, who mostly asks to be left to get on with his work?

This may seem like kind of a moot point. You have no idea exactly what a 19 or 20 year old will become. Not even the best GM’s have a metric for a player’s soul.

But sometimes you do know a little, or can make a good guess. There was no doubt in my mind that Tim Duncan, Lebron James, Kevin Durant and Luka Doncic would be stars. And you have some idea what the player is like, what their character might be. (I had no idea Harden would be great.)

Who amongst the players that might be chosen at #2 would you like to spend the next (at least most likely) six or seven seasons with?

Who might grow up not only to be excellent at the game, but to have that fire, and will to greatness in him? There have been plenty of talented goofs who went nowhere, never touched their “upside”, no matter how long their arms were, or how high they could jump when they were 20. What separates those guys from the superstars? It isn’t talent in most cases.

This might, in the final analysis, be the thing that determines who will be a Franchise Player in the end.

Poll

Who do you pick?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Cade Cunningham somehow.
    (84 votes)
  • 37%
    Jalen Green.
    (107 votes)
  • 16%
    Evan Mobley.
    (47 votes)
  • 4%
    Jalen Suggs.
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone else.
    (2 votes)
  • 11%
    Just draft Luka.
    (34 votes)
288 votes total Vote Now

* Especially after the Trailblazers pretense of “Due Diligence” on their recent coaching hire. The hiring isn’t necessarily wrong, but not even contacting the other party in such a matter is something less than a thorough vetting.