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.
A couple weeks back we looked at the Eastern Conference, now HOOPSWORLD takes a look at the Western Conference and picks the franchise player for each team.
Dallas Mavericks – Dirk Nowitzki
Nowitzki didn't fit this role at first, but as
his game has expanded so has his impact on all parts of the franchise.
On the court he is an All-Star and MVP, but off the court he is also
the one player everyone wants to talk about every possible issue. On
any other team Jason Kidd would fill this role, but Nowitzki is so
established as a Maverick he's only second. We do know, though, it's
not Josh Howard.
Denver Nuggets – Carmelo Anthony
Whether he embraces it or not Anthony is the face of the Denver Nuggets. At times it hasn't been positive, but for the most part Anthony has grown and learned from all of his adverse situations. It's surprising for a team that also boasts Allen Iverson to not have Ivy as the franchise guy, but by the time Ivy came in Anthony was already the man. Still, it's probably a case of 1 and 1A in this case for Anthony and Iverson.
Golden State Warriors – Monta Ellis
Seeing your player you just gave $60 million to go down with a devastating ankle injury of questionable origin, and then seeing his name on this list, probably isn't a good thing. With Baron Davis gone Ellis was supposed to take the franchise player mantle, but the injury could change things. Question: if not Ellis, then who?
Houston Rockets – Yao Ming
Tracy McGrady is a fantastic player, but the Rockets go as Yao goes. They can win games if McGrady misses his customary 20, but without Yao they will struggle mightily as evidenced last year after the legendary winning streak came to an end. McGrady isn't indispensable, but they can cover for him. With Yao there is no cover.
Los Angeles Clippers – Baron Davis
This should be Elton Brand, but he's now in Philly. With Corey Maggette in Golden State it's a changing of the guard with the Clips and the veterans on this team – like Cuttino Mobley and Chris Kaman – just aren't franchise-worthy. That's why Davis is the pick, because after he turned around the Golden State Warriors there is evidence he can have that same kind of impact – on and off the floor – for Coach Mike Dunleavy and the Clips.
Los Angeles Lakers – Kobe Bryant
It would be easy to wax poetic on why Kobe Bryant is a franchise player, but if this really needs any explanation…I can't help you.
Memphis Grizzlies – Rudy Gay
It's hard to say who is the best young talent the average NBA fan doesn't get to see – is it Gay or Sacramento's Kevin Martin? On a team where he was overshadowed a bit last year with the continual talk of Mike Miller's status, Gay quietly put together the second-best sophomore season in the league. Now, with Miller in Minnesota, Gay will be this team's leader as O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley acclimate themselves to NBA life as starters.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Al Jefferson
It's a tough call with the Wolves. The aforementioned Miller is the veteran, but he's new to the team. Randy Foye is a solid floor leader. But, Jefferson is the big money player, the leading scorer, and the one player who could possibly replace the gigantic legacy left behind by Kevin Garnett. The Wolves, like a few teams on this list, have had a lot of turnover recently and their franchise player is still getting used to the role.
New Orleans Hornets – Chris Paul
What, you were expecting Tyson Chandler or David West? No disrespect to those two outstanding talents, but Paul is this team's leader on and off the court. He pushes the offense, keeps everyone in line, takes full responsibility when the team loses, and shares appropriately when the team has success. In three short seasons Paul has become one of the best players in the NBA, and he's already one of the league's great people.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Kevin Durant
This is a big role for a sophomore to fill, but it should be old hat by now to Durant. Why? Because he filled the same role as a rookie. By filling in for the traded Ray Allen (sent to Boston for Jeff Green and Wally Szczerbiak) Durant has learned what it's like to be focal point of the media, of defensive schemes, and of national attention as the NBA's Rookie of the Year. As he continues to grow the future looks bright for young KD.
Phoenix Suns – Steve Nash
The Suns boast two future Hall of Famers in Nash and center Shaquille O'Neal, plus they also have devastating scorer and rebounder Amare Stoudemire. Still, it is Nash who runs the show, who keeps people in line, and who helped – with ex-coach Mike D'Antoni – architect the fabled "seven seconds or less" brand of offense. Because of the size of Stoudemire's ego this will be Nash's team as long as he wears purple and orange.
Portland Trail Blazers – Brandon Roy
Perhaps, in the long run, center Greg Oden may have a lot to do with whether or not this team wins a title, but Brandon Roy is the man in charge. His teammates respect him, the coaching staff and the front office listens to him, fans love him, and he has embraced every single aspect of being a true team leader.
Sacramento Kings – Kevin Martin
With Ron Artest now in Houston Martin will be able to show everyone what a truly efficient first-option player can do on the floor. However, he's not a rah-rah guy and he's not the outgoing type to be a vocal leader. Trouble is, neither is anyone else on the Kings, unless you count Brad Miller. Will Martin grow into the role?
San Antonio Spurs – Tim Duncan
Attempts to make cases for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are certainly possible, but they wouldn't hold much water. Outside of Kobe Bryant in L.A. Duncan is the closest to a sure thing franchise player out there. He may not be as young as he used to be and he may have a lot of miles, but Duncan is indisputably a team leader and respected by opponents, coaches, teammates and media all across the league. Oh yeah, and he's also a two-time NBA MVP, three-time NBA Finals MVP, has four NBA championship rings and is a 10-time NBA All-Star. Those are the kinds of things that make a franchise player.
Utah Jazz – Deron Williams
No doubt Carlos Boozer is a fantastic player and the Jazz would sorely miss his service should he opt out of his deal after this season and then leave the team as a free agent, but no player is more important to Utah's success than Williams. Coach Jerry Sloan's favorite target early in his rookie season (that's not a good thing), Williams is eminently coachable, an excellent leader, and not as far behind Chris Paul for the title of best young point guard as some may believe.
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 Greg Oden over Roy, Amare Stoudemire over Nash or Tracy McGrady over Yao.