There’s something purely Americana about the hometown kid making good in front of the hometown crowd.
Whether it’s David Freese blasting home runs to lead his St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series title, or Chauncey Billups going from prep legend to college superstar to NBA bust back to NBA superstar in Denver, or even Jerome Bettis winning a Super Bowl in Detroit in his final NFL game while playing for another team, we like these stories. In a sports culture where free agency and stressed-out GMs eager to trade make it increasingly tougher for fans to claim one group of players as “our guys” for any length of time, hometown ties remain nearly impossible to break.
Some athletes embrace the opportunity to play for their hometown team, while others go the opposite direction. Derrick Rose grew up in Chicago dreaming of playing for the Bulls and lived that dream when the franchise selected him No. 1 in the 2008 Draft. On the other hand, LeBron James spent the first seven years of his pro career (and the first 25 years of his life) in Northeast Ohio, and was ready to bounce to Miami when the ideal of playing for the hometown squad became less important than winning an NBA championship.
Here are 20 NBA players I’d like to see, preferably sooner than later, play for their hometown team:
20. Jerryd Bayless (Phoenix Suns) â€“ It’s not that the Suns haven’t tried auditioning eventual replacements for Steve Nash; they just haven’t landed the right one. Or they let the right one slip through their fingers. Following the footsteps of Goran Dragic and Aaron Brooks, Bayless â€“ who played high school ball at St. Mary’s in Phoenix â€“ has the raw speed, skills and aggressiveness to at least earn a tryout as Nash’s heir apparent.
19. John Wall (Charlotte Bobcats) â€“ North Carolina is going to be a college basketball state until the end of time, but between the allure of Michael Jordan and the excitement of Raleigh, N.C., native John Wall, there’s a chance the NBA team could earn some real estate in the minds of the public. Plus, if there’s any player who should have the NASCAR checkered flag on the side of his uniform, it’s Wall.
18. Rashard Lewis (Houston Rockets) â€“ If you think Raw Lew is miserable in D.C., rewind your mind back to the 1998 NBA Draft: After his senior year at Alief Elsik H.S. in Houston, Lewis was left crying in the Green Room after the three Texas pro teams passed him up SIX TIMES before the Sonics rescued him in the second round. The Rockets, in particular, said no thanks on the local kid three times with their first-round picks. Would the rebuilding Rockets realistically take on Lewis’ monstrous contract anytime soon? No, but money aside, this would be a good ending to what began as a cautionary tale.
17. Kemba Walker (New York Knicks) â€“ After the Stephon Marbury experience, you’d probably have to work hard to convince a Knicks fan that this wouldn’t be a disaster. But I’ve known Kemba ever since he was just coming into his own at Rice H.S. in Harlem, and I’m pretty sure he has the temperament to handle the pressure of running point for the hometown team.
16. Grant Hill (Washington Wizards) â€“ Hill obviously loves Phoenix; his last couple of free-agent summers he’s toyed with some teams that could have given him a better shot at a championship before re-upping with the Suns each time. My guess is that Hill plans to retire in Phoenix and stay there while he grows old, but maybe he could be convinced to do his hometown Wizards a solid and give that franchise a much-needed example of professionalism on his way out.
15. Eric Gordon (Indiana Pacers) â€“ I’m sorry, but as much as I love Gordon’s game and want to see what he can do as the primary scorer in New Orleans, a shooting stroke like that has to be housed in Indiana. For the love of Rick Mount, it’s only right.
14. LaMarcus Aldrige (Dallas Mavericks) â€“ LMA is locked in long-term in Portland and snatching up bigger pieces of the Franchise Player pie for himself every day this season. He probably isn’t going anywhere for a while. But somewhere in the dream scenarios of the people who run the Mavs organization, bringing the local product back as their guy to build around post-Dirk works on every level.
13. DeMar DeRozan (L.A. Clippers) â€“ OK, so the Clippers don’t need another highlight-reel dunker. And they’d probably be better off with a two-guard who can commit to defending the other team’s best wing scorer every night, serve as a threat to knock down threes consistently, and never complain about lack of touches. But still, putting DeRozan on the court alongside Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, with Chris Paul running the show? Murder.
12. Evan Turner (Chicago Bulls) â€“ He could have formed a high school super-team with Derrick Rose when the two were in the same graduating class, but Turner went to St. Joseph H.S. in the suburb of Westchester (Isiah Thomas‘ alma mater) while D-Rose went to Simeon Academy in the city. Turner’s progress as a pro hasn’t come as fast as Rose’s instant impact, but he seems like the perfect backcourt complement to the reigning league MVP. Turner defends, rebounds and doesn’t need to dominate the ball to make a difference on the floor.
11. Richard Jefferson (Phoenix Suns) â€“ Say what you want about RJ being past his prime. Go ahead and question whether he was even that good during his prime. But the man excels at running the floor, jumping and finishing at the rim; and this season’s version of the Suns could use a veteran that can run, jump and finish what Steve Nash starts.
10. Tristan Thompson (Toronto Raptors) â€“ Let’s be realistic: The Raptors’ best bet of getting a real-life star to actually stay in Toronto for the long haul is to bring a homegrown talent into the fold. (True, Andrea Bargnani signed a long-term deal, but he’s only been a star for about a month.) Thompson has that Canadian pedigree and he has that All-Star potential. Right now the rookie is just running around dunking and swatting everything he gets his hands on in Cleveland, but give him a few years and he could turn into an Amar’e Stoudemire clone.
9. Jrue Holiday (L.A. Lakers) â€“ Every L.A. kid grew up wanting to be Magic, but Holiday is at least good enough to not embarrass himself trying to fill that role. The Lakers have needed a “point guard of the future” ever since Derek Fisher aged out of “point guard of the future” status, and Holiday is developing into a very good player in Philly.
8. Caron Butler (Milwaukee Bucks) â€“ When I profiled Caron in Dime #36, he talked about how seriously he takes the responsibility of being a role model in his Racine, Wisc., hometown. He said he makes a point to wear suits as often as possible when he goes out, just so the local kids could see a successful man in a suit who’s on the right side of the law. Those are the kinds of things that would make the Milwaukee fan base love Caron, and we already know he’d love them right back.
7. Nick Young (L.A. Lakers) â€“ You think people complain about Kobe Bryant taking too many shots? Imagine if Young, who has less of a conscience than Kobe but less of a resume to back it up, suited up in purple and gold. Young is a pure scorer, though, and eventually the Lakers will need one of those when Kobe finally walks away from the game.
6. Deron Williams (Dallas Mavericks) â€“ Did you know that D-Will wasn’t even the most coveted guard on his team at The Colony H.S. near Dallas? That title went to Bracey Wright, who went on to star at Indiana University while Deron quietly become a pro at Illinois. Now would be a great time for a hero’s welcome back home. Deron seems ready to leave New Jersey, and Jason Kidd seems ready to leave the NBA. I’ve been predicting D-Will would end up on the Mavs for years, though, so maybe my desire to be right is blocking my perception of the reality.
5. Metta World Peace (New York Knicks) â€“ I’m actually surprised this hasn’t happened yet. It would have been great to be in NYC if Metta ever played for the Knicks when he was in his prime. MSG would have loved him more than any Knick since John Starks, although the arena staff would get fed up with all of Queensbridge showing up and scaring the luxury-box types every night.
4. Blake Griffin (Oklahoma City Thunder) â€“ Sure, Blake loves playing with Chris Paul and his buddy DeAndre Jordan in L.A. But I still foresee that in a matter of time, we’ll be talking about the NBA’s next Big Three: Durant, Westbrook and Blake in OKC.
3. Tyreke Evans (Philadelphia 76ers) â€“ Even when they’re good, the Sixers are just boring. And even though he’s an exciting player, Tyreke is in such a bad situation in Sacramento. Somebody make this marriage happen before Tyreke retires or before the Sixers get banned from national TV.
2. Dwight Howard (Atlanta Hawks) â€“ Why is nobody talking about Atlanta as a future destination for Dwight? I’ve been reading that the Magic want established vets more than youth and draft picks for Dwight, so wouldn’t they be interested in getting Josh Smith and, say, Kirk Hinrich in a deal for Howard? The money part of the trade works. Orlando would get a 26-year-old, All-Star caliber player in Smith, and a point guard to push Jameer Nelson for minutes in Hinrich; the Hawks would get a real center in Howard that would allow Al Horford to play power forward. The Hawks would have the money to re-sign Howard long-term, and what would he have against playing in Atlanta, where he grew up? Am I missing something here?
1. Jamal Crawford, Jason Terry, Spencer Hawes, Marvin Williams, Jon Brockman, Martell Webster, Nate Robinson, Luke Ridnour, Rodney Stuckey, Isaiah Thomas, Terrence Williams, Brian Scalabrine (Seattle Supersonics) – If or when the NBA does the right thing and puts a franchise back in Seattle, renames it the Supersonics and gives us our history back from OKC, how great would it be to roll out a 12-man roster consisting of all local guys? OK, on paper I’m pretty sure this team would stink, but no pro sports team would be more loved by their fan base. Not even close.
Who do you think would make the best fit with their hometown squads?
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