How many franchise players are out there, how do teams ensnare them and do they really get to keep them? I have chosen my own arbitrary criteria for the sake of this analysis
so I can gumby the direction of the story to suit my needs so my conclusions are by no means infallible. Draw your own conclusions.
A franchise player is like sipping a mug of hot cocoa while soaking in the warmth radiating from the lambent flames rising from a log in a fireplace. Stretching out on a cozy rug in front of the hearth and reading the latest news and analysis on the Phoenix Suns via laptop or mobile device a person is confident that no matter how ferociously the blizzard outside wails that the tranquil scene inside will provide the protection of a third little pig brick house.
Perhaps a bad analogy due to the parching summer heat here in the desert... Maybe this instead.
A franchise player is like a frosty mug filled with ice cold beer with rivulets of condensation trickling down the sides. Relaxing in a cool leather recliner under a ceiling fan while listening to the mellifluous hum of the air conditioner motor chilling the air so that arctic breezes can be propelled through the air vents one knows that the scorching heat emanating from the cruel sun will be kept at bay. Readers under 21 please insert your favorite non-alcoholic beverage. We do not promote underage drinking here on the Brightside (or run on sentences, but whatevs).
Hopefully that works better for you. Now that I'm done with the fluffy intro (which unfortunately likely comprises the most interesting part of the article) on to my completely subjective method of defining a franchise player. The table below depicts all of the All-NBA players from the last nine years. Why nine? Well, 2004-05 was the first year a player drafted in the 21st century made an All-NBA team. This analysis only looks at players drafted 2000 or later. I think this sample size provides a a fairly comprehensive look at the current (and even former) franchise players in the league. My arbitrary definition of a franchise player - someone who has made at least three All-NBA teams in his career.
All of the highlighted players fit my criteria.
Drafted 2000 or later and selected for at least three All-NBA teams. Note that many of the players on these lists were drafted prior to the 2000 draft. So here's our list - most selections to least.
1. Lebron James - 9..................#1 overall in 2003
2. Dwyane Wade - 8.................#5 overall in 2003
3. Dwight Howard - 7.................#1 overall in 2004
4. Carmelo Anthony - 6.............#3 overall in 2003
5. Chris Paul - 5.......................#4 overall in 2005
6. Amar'e Stoudemire - 4..........#9 overall in 2002
7. Yao Ming - 4........................#1 overall in 2002
8. Kevin Durant - 4...................#2 overall in 2007
9. Pau Gasol - 3.....................#3 overall in 2001
10. Russell Westbrook - 3........#4 overall in 2008
11. Tony Parker - 3..................#28 overall in 2001
That's it. 11 guys.
Let's look at the 2000-08 period, since Westbrook is the last person to make this list. 529 players were drafted in those nine years. 11 franchise players. That's 1.2 per year.
Some other young players project to make this list eventually, e.g. Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving.
Choosing All-NBA selections as line of demarcation may be limiting, as there is an exclusionary aspect due to the quantity (15) of yearly selections. With many players perennially topping these lists it reduces the chances of other very good players. Conversely, though, is an argument that many people will feel not all of these 11 players should qualify as franchise players.
I think most reasonable people would concede franchise status to James, Wade, Paul, Durant and Howard. But even some of these guys have deficiencies, like Howard, that make people doubt their overall pedigree. The we get to the other six.
Anthony is a black hole who plays hero ball, scores inefficiently and doesn't make his teammates better. Stoudemire's career has been truncated by injuries and he doesn't defend or rebound at an elite level. Yao only had four healthy seasons before his career ended due to injuries. Gasol is soft and has never proven to be an alpha on a team. Westbrook is selfish and plays out of control. Parker lacks flash and has been the second best player on his team for the majority of his career.
Even if we keep the number at 11, the chance (based on 529 selections) of drafting a franchise player is 2.1%. Only two of these players were taken #6 or later. That would be 0.4%. Drafting in the top five, though, has given a team a 20% chance of landing a player of this caliber. If we chose to adjust this to include Kevin Love and Derrick Rose (2008) the chances would increase to 24.4%. Still not all that encouraging.
Now that we've moved past the diminutive chances of securing one of the NBA's pantheon let's look at another distressing topic.
Once you get one of these players can you keep them?
I'll consider players that stayed with their original team through their prime OR won a championship with their original team. That should give a couple opportunities for players to qualify. Prime will be defined as 26-30. After that point a team is well within reason to dump said player on his ass for a new shiny one like a guy who dumps his wife (after she gives him the best years of her life) and runs off with a 20-something. See, the NBA is just as cutthroat as real life relationships. Championship will be defined as championship. Once again I get to paint in broad strokes using my brush and paint. Not yours.
So who did teams manage to tiger pit?
James - no
Wade - yes
Howard - no
Anthony - no
Paul - no
Stoudemire - no
Yao - yes
Durant - TBD
Gasol - no
Westbrook - TBD
Parker - yes
So out of nine players that meet my criteria, only three stayed on their teams. Durant and Westbrook still haven't hit their prime, but if they don't win a title in the next three years I can easily see one or both of them gone. Of those three, two won NBA titles. Still, that's only a 33% chance of keeping one of these guys. Going back to the magical 529 number, there's a 0.4% chance of drafting a player that will ultimately be on that same team and win a championship. The odds of drafting role players that will be around for championships is much higher... but those guys aren't the primary reason for those titles.
How important is it to have a franchise player in order to win a championship?
Let's look at the teams that have won titles since the first year of my analysis (2004-05).
2005 - Spurs - Parker, Duncan
2006 - Heat - Wade, Shaq
2007 - Spurs - Parker, Duncan
2008 - Celtics - Garnett, Pierce
2009 - Lakers - Gasol, Bryant
2010 - Lakers - Gasol, Bryant
2011 - Mavericks - Nowitzki
2012 - Heat - James, Wade
2013 - Heat - James, Wade
All of these teams had at least two players with three All-NBA selections except the Mavericks. So a team that wants to win a championship is required to get one of these types of players. Even the "starless" Pistons team that won the title in 2004 had Chauncey Billups... who made three All-NBA teams and therefore fits my criteria.
Here's another angle to dissect these findings. Some drafts are better than others.
2001 - Parker, Gasol
2002 - Stoudemire, Yao
2003 - James, Wade, Anthony
2004 - Howard
2005 - Paul
2006 - crickets
2007 - Durant
2008 - Westbrook
Top five picks just aren't as valuable some years. The 2013 draft has the potential, of lack thereof, to be similar to the 2006 draft. Let's hope the Suns did better with their pick than Shelden Williams, who went fifth overall in 2006. Ascending from the nadir to the zenith, the 2014 draft has been touted to be the strongest since 2003. It has been propounded that a top five pick carries the likelihood of drafting a franchise type player. At the top of the heap is Andrew Wiggins who is considered a consensus can't miss pick.
So what are the implications for the Suns? Well, if the Suns manage to improve enough to fall out of the top of the lottery they will seriously reduce their odds of landing a transformative, transcendent player. For a team bereft of young talent comparative to many of the other struggling teams in the league missing out on an impact player could be injurious for years to come.
Lots of times things that suck ass short term end up paying long term dividends. Today's homework sucks, but an education is invaluable. Saving money sucks compared to going to the movies, but having a down payment for a new house is quite satisfying.
So how important is the Suns' 2014 lottery pick?
Very. Quite possibly the single most important component of this entire rebuild process. Ryan McDonough knows this. He's not stupid. Don't expect the team to put this in jeopardy by amassing Pyrrhic victories. Instead of a self-defeating instant gratification approach, look forward to a top five pick and the opportunity for the Suns to land their next great player.