In the NBA there is a term that gets thrown around quite a bit. That term is “franchise player.” Was Jermaine O’Neal such a player at one time. Yes. Back in 2003-04 he finished third in the MVP voting, and was one Reggie Miller bad decision (go strong for the dunk, old man) and one Ron Artest meltdown (headaches, my ass… that’s straight out of the Scottie Pippen playbook for chokers) away from leading the Pacers to the NBA Finals. Against an aging, self-imploding Lakers team I believe the Pacers would’ve beaten, I might add. (the Pistons beat them in five games).
Now, however, J.O. is no longer the franchise. In fact, we don’t currently have a player who most pundits would consider a true franchise player. The closest thing we have is Danny Granger, who, for all intents and purposes, is basically our franchise player. How? Because he is essentially untouchable, and, after all, isn’t that the definition of a franchise player? Isn’t a franchise player the vital piece that ownership is hanging onto to build around?
Here’s how I rank the current Pacers, from most untouchable to most expendable:
2. Shawne Williams – Has demonstrated amazing potential when given the burn. He’s a keeper.
3. Jermaine O’Neal - Still one of the best bigs around, especially defensively.
4. Mike Dunleavy - He would be higher if he had a better track record. He’s such a complete player (even though he’s a little slow defensively). As long as Obie is around, he’s a perfect fit. This quote from the Indy Star backs that up:
Dunleavy went into Wednesday’s game at Portland averaging 22.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists and shooting 53 percent in victories this season. He’s only averaging 11.0 points and shooting 40 percent in losses
5. Ike Diogu - Most would rank him higher, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and, honestly, I like Williams a tad bit better at this point. Plus, you have to give something to get something.
6. Jamaal Tinsley – Playing some of his best basketball at the moment. He’s also been surprisingly healthy these past two seasons.
7. Marquis Daniels – One of the best penetrators and streak scorers in the league. His defense is also underrated, if you ask me.
8. Troy Murphy – Overpaid, but he is a tea-first guy who can shoot and board.
9. Jeff Foster - Same as Murphy, except his contract is a little better and he can’t shoot. At all.
10. David Harrison - Due to both health and foul problems, he hasn’t been able to stay on the floor. So much potential, but the results just haven’t been there. He’s sort of Benderesque, I guess. Plus, his age makes him more valuable to other most teams than the two guys above him on this list.
11. Kareem Rush – A good athlete with a sweet shot, but let’s not kid ourselves — he was playing overseas not too long ago.
12. Travis Diener - A steady back-up point. Nothing more, nothing less.
The good news is that with the young Pacers (Dunleavy, Granger, Williams and, at times, Daniels) playing so well, we can afford to move J.O., even for 50 cents on what could have once been a dollar. We’ve won five of our last seven, and Jermaine has had very little to do with that. Hard to argue there.
If you ask me, Jermaine will be gone by the deadline, and all our other youngsters — save maybe Daniels, Diogu or Harrison — will still be donning the Blue and Gold.