By: Jason Fleming
Every team has one player who is the face of the franchise. Often this player also happens to be the best on his team, but not always. He is the player the coach talks to first about any issue, the player management may consult on possible roster moves, the one in the locker room after a game the local media congregates around because you have to get his sound bite, the player the fans think of first when talking about their team.
HOOPSWORLD takes a look at the Eastern Conference and picks the franchise player for each team.
Atlanta Hawks – Joe Johnson
Josh Smith and Josh Childress got all the headlines this summer, Al Horford had an outstanding rookie season, but Johnson is the player that stirs the drink for the Hawks. There were questions as to what kind of player Johnson could be when the Hawks gave him all that money in a sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns, but he has answered every one.
Boston Celtics – Paul Pierce
A case could be made for Kevin Garnett, but only to people outside of Boston. Pierce understands the legacy of being a Boston Celtics, understands what the Celtics mean to Boston, and puts that to work through hard work every time he steps on the floor.
Charlotte Bobcats – Gerald Wallace
Cases could be made for Emeka Okafor (the big money guy) or Raymond Felton (the point guard), or even Jason Richardson (the best score), but Wallace is the player Charlotte needs to win games. He isn't the franchise face as some other names on this list, but neither are his teammates. Now, if he could only stay healthy...
Chicago Bulls – Luol Deng
Few players exemplify team leader like Deng. A story was told on this site awhile back about Deng making himself late to a plane because two teammates – who wouldn't get the same treatment as him – were also going to be late. Who doesn't want that kind of guy as a teammate? Deng also happens to be Chicago's best player and involved in many community endeavors, as well as working as an ambassador to the 2012 Olympic Games.
Cleveland Cavaliers - LeBron James
No player in the NBA is more a franchise player than James. He's the team's best player, he is always in the spotlight, he's approachable, he's an icon – not just in the US but all over the world – and he makes it look so easy. Without James the Cavaliers are barely a playoff contender would become practically irrelevant.
Detroit Pistons – Chauncey Billups
Billups embodies the people of Detroit: hardworking, not flashy (Kid Rock aside), and full of perseverance. How many players get cast off by multiple teams and then become an All-Star and MVP contender? Billups, without question, has been the leader of a team who has become a mainstay at the top of the East.
Indiana Pacers – Danny Granger
One of the least experienced on this list, the choice of Granger is a nod towards the new day dawning for the Pacers. With Jermaine O'Neal now in Toronto Granger, as the team's best player, is undoubtedly the face of what the organization wants all their players to be like. You know, like Jamaal Tinsley is not.
Miami HEAT – Dwyane Wade
It doesn't matter how good rookie Michael Beasley becomes, as long as Wade is wearing the red and black on South Beach he is the Miami HEAT. One of the most respected players in the league by his peers, coaches and media alike, expect Wade to also get back into the conversation for this season as one of the best players as well.
Milwaukee Bucks – Michael Redd
Redd is a likable guy, easy to talk to, easy to get along with, but it's his tenacity and willingness to work on and off the floor that make him a franchise player. He is the team's statesman, and a true asset. Of course, that lightning quick jump shot doesn't hurt either.
New Jersey Nets – Devin Harris
Jason Kidd is gone. So is Richard Jefferson. Vince Carter seems to be half out the door. No one knows if any of the young talent is truly up to keeper status yet. By default the franchise tag falls on the young point guard who simply is being asked to replace a future Hall of Famer. On a team with so many questions, expect Harris to provide answers.
New York Knicks – David Lee
Surprised? After all, Lee has only started 55 games in three years, but no Knick excites the Madison Square Garden crowd like him. He hustles, he gives his all, and he is everything New Yorkers want to cheer for. Expect his role to expand under new coach Mike D'Antoni.
Orlando Magic – Dwight Howard
"Superman" is undoubtedly the face of this franchise, dominating the paint and highlight films with his dunks and becoming a commercial icon with his playfulness. His game is still evolving as he adds in more low post moves to his repertoire and will dominate this league for years to come.
Philadelphia 76ers – Andre Iguodala
Elton Brand deserves consideration here even though he hasn't played a game, but Iguodala is the player the organization crowned when the chose to trade legend Allen Iverson. Iggy brings it on offense and defense, inside and outside, and has evolved into a team leader.
Toronto Raptors – Chris Bosh
Already an All-Star, many NBA fans didn't have that much knowledge of Bosh. That is, until he started a YouTube campaign to get into the All-Star Game last season. Now an All-Star and Olympian, he is the driving force towards whether the Raptors make the next step in their growth. Jose Calderon and Jermaine O'Neal will help, but they stand behind Bosh.
Washington Wizards – Gilbert Arenas
It's easy to say perhaps Arenas isn't the most important player on the floor after the past couple seasons by Caron Butler, but being the franchise player isn't all about on the floor. Mostly, but not all. No player is sought out more often for his opinion on any given subject, no player more often puts himself and his point of view – uncensored – out for everyone to see; Gilbert Arenas is the definition of franchise for everything else he brings with him as well as the points.
Those are our picks - do you agree? Would you have picked someone else? Leave a comment with your choice for a given team and tell us why you would have picked Elton Brand over Iguodala, Caron Butler over Arenas or Emeka Okafor over Wallace.