Getting into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is tougher than you think — in the game’s long history, only 134 players have been certified at the Springfield, Mass., hoops mecca. Every day for the next few weeks we’re gonna take one active NBA star with arguable Hall of Fame credentials and break down his chances of getting in. We’re looking at not just past accomplishments, but also how a player’s career realistically projects for the future. For a full explanation, click here. Today’s candidate is Gary Payton. While “The Glove” isn’t currently on a training camp roster, he hasn’t officially retired, so until that happens we’re counting him as active.
GARY PAYTON (18th year, Heat/Celtics/Lakers/Bucks/Sonics)
16.3 points, 6.7 assists, 1.8 steals per game.
Why: The best defensive point guard ever? Probably. In ’96, GP copped the league’s Defensive POY when he racked up 2.85 steals per game (along with 19 points and 7.5 assists), shutting down everyone in an era when the NBA was loaded with super-talented PGs like Stockton, Kidd, Penny and Tim Hardaway. That same year, Payton led Seattle to the Finals, where they lost to Jordan’s 72-win Chicago squad. Payton was a two-time All-NBA first teamer, and after winning national college Player of the Year at Oregon State as a senior, he helped bring the Sonics back to relevancy during his 1990s heyday; even at the end of his run in Seattle he was still putting up more than 20 and 8 every night. He also has nine All-Star nods and two Olympic gold medals on his resume. Payton finally got that elusive championship ring with the Heat in ’06, playing a vital role in at least a couple of Miami’s postseason wins.
Why not: GP’s decline from superstar to borderline shouldn’t-be-in-the-NBA status was swift and jarring. He was averaging 20.8 points, 8.8 dimes and 1.8 steals when he was traded from Seattle in ’03, and just two years later was backing up Jason Williams in Miami. The finals images of him as a player will be that of a old, slow guard who can’t shoot or stay in front of anyone on defense. GP’s cantankerous demeanor and nonstop trash talk (or at least reputation for it) may have also turned off a lot of media types and possible HOF voters.
Our call: IN
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