In an eventful N.B.A. off-season, a curious thing happened: One of the greatest players to play the game — a sure Hall of Famer — was traded for spare parts in a salary dump. If that were not bad enough, the team that acquired him then bought out his contract and released him.
Weeks later, the same situation is playing out for another certain Hall of Famer.
We are, of course, talking about Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony, two players as polarizing as they are accomplished. For much of their careers, they were in the game’s highest tier, widely considered to be top 10 players, if not top five. Despite being healthy and well short of typical retirement age, they are now treated mostly as afterthoughts. Welcome to the new N.B.A.
“If something doesn’t work, go ahead and get a buyout or go ahead and get traded,” Anthony told reporters on Thursday in justifying his treatment. “That’s the new norm in our society in basketball. I had to get over that.”
Interesting side debate: Carmelo as a Hall of Famer? I don’t really see it.
— Jeff Pearlman (@jeffpearlman) July 20, 2018
The messy way the careers of Howard and Anthony are wrapping up has inspired some fierce online debate about their Hall of Fame credentials. Their résumés may be packed with accomplishments (if not championship rings), but for fans with short memories, Howard and Anthony’s future induction is being treated as an open question.
No single statistic can explain an entire career, but the Basketball-Reference model, which accounts for a player’s height, N.B.A. championships, appearances on N.B.A. leaderboards, win shares at a player’s peak and All-Star selections, has a good track record of accuracy. Of the 113 players given a 50 percent or greater chance of enshrinement, 89 have reached Hall of Fame eligibility. Of that group, 85 have been inducted. Only Larry Foust, a center for the Fort Wayne Pistons in the 1950s, was given a greater than 90 percent chance of induction without making the Hall.
With that in mind, an interesting experiment is to build a starting five of players who are going to be Hall of Famers someday — barring a criminal conviction or revelations about gambling or on-court cheating — but still manage to find themselves having their credentials litigated by fans who seem desperate to knock them down a few pegs.
Hall of Fame probability: 99.3 percent
Credentials: The No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft, Howard went on to be a three-time defensive player of the year and was named to eight All-N.B.A. teams. He has career averages of 17.4 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2 blocks a game, and at his peak, he was a singular force on both ends of the court and a slam dunk contest champion. His outgoing personality was at one time seen as a strength.
The case against him: A back injury made his prime somewhat less spectacular than it might have been, but his journeyman status late in his career is more about his personality and salary than it is about his play on the court, which has remained exceptional. His tumultuous exit from Orlando, including a particularly cringe-worthy episode involving a public embrace of Stan Van Gundy, the coach he was trying to get fired, seems to be the sticking point for many people, along with his lack of championship rings.
Backup: Pau Gasol (93.4 percent chance of induction)
Hall of Fame probability: 99.5 percent
Credentials: Bosh was a pioneering small-ball center for the Miami Heat during two championship runs after joining forces with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in what came to be known as the Flying Death Machine. He excelled on both ends of the court and was one of the few players who truly meant it when he said he would sacrifice personal statistics to win championships. Even if his numbers do not tell a complete story, he was still named to 11 consecutive All-Star Games, won a gold medal and averaged 19.2 points and 8.5 rebounds in a 13-year career that ended when he was 31 because of medical problems. That he was reasserting himself as a superstar in Miami after James’s departure made his early exit even more frustrating.
The case against him: Seen by many as the weakest link in the Big Three — not that many players could stand up to a comparison to James and Wade — Bosh did not dominate in a flashy way, and his years of being the best player for the Toronto Raptors were quickly forgotten by those who chose to view him as a role player.
Backup: Kevin Love (67.6 percent chance of induction)
Hall of Fame probability: 98.2 percent
Credentials: The 22nd leading scorer in N.B.A. history, Anthony led Syracuse to an N.C.A.A. championship, was a key player and leader of three gold-medal-winning Olympic teams and was named to 10 All-Star teams and six All-N.B.A. teams. He has career averages of 24.1 points and 6.5 rebounds a game.
The case against him: Never a model of efficiency, even on offense, Anthony has most often been questioned for a lack of defensive effort. He also gets dinged for his clashes with several coaches and teammates. His teams have made the playoffs 11 times, but have advanced to the second round just twice and the conference finals just once.
Backup: Beyond Vince Carter, who has spent more time at shooting guard than small forward, there isn’t another small forward to compete with Anthony for this spot.
Hall of Fame probability: 94.6 percent
Credentials: He jumped over the head of a 7-foot-2 center for a dunk during the 2000 Olympics. He was also named to eight All-Star teams, won a Rookie of the Year Award, won a slam dunk contest and averaged 25 or more points a game in four different seasons (and 17.7 points a game for the entirety of his career, which is at 20 years). And it should be mentioned again that he jumped over the head of a 7-foot-2 center for a dunk during the 2000 Olympics.
The case against him: His explosive start in Toronto, which extended into his time with the Nets, gave way to a much quieter latter half of his career, in which he dunked less and played more with his head than his body. He has also never advanced beyond the conference finals.
Backup: Joe Johnson (50.6 percent chance of induction)
Hall of Fame probability: 99.9 percent
Credentials: Paul is widely regarded as one of the finest point guards to step on a court. He has been named to eight All-N.B.A. teams, nine All-Star teams and nine all-defensive teams; won a Rookie of the Year Award; led the N.B.A. in steals six times and in assists four times; and he has two Olympic gold medals. He even managed a late-career surprise by seamlessly fitting into Coach Mike D’Antoni’s system in Houston, raising the Rockets from a good team to the only legitimate challenger to the Golden State Warriors in the N.B.A. And he’s not done yet.
The case against him: Until last season, Paul’s teams had never advanced to a conference final, let alone an N.B.A. finals, and many considered that a failure that landed on his shoulders as the Clippers had talent to spare in several of his seasons in Los Angeles.
Backups: Russell Westbrook (99.1 percent chance of induction), Tony Parker (93.9 percent).