Solid but not spectacular. Dependable but not a superstar. A finished product but no potential. A team player. A model of consistency. Sacrificing his personal game for the good of the team. Players that embody these ideals are a coach’s dream. In the me-first, get-me-the-money, what-have-you-done-for-me lately culture of the NBA when you find a player that harkens back to the blue-collar workhouse days of the past, it’s rare. In today’s league of shoe contracts, endorsement deals, high slamma-jamma, rap albums, break-your-ankle crossovers and three-point bomb barragerays (yes, I made that word up), it’s tough to find somebody to do the grunt work that every contender needs.
All great championship teams have them. The glue guy. The players who do the dirty work. The unselfish former college star who took a back seat to help the team flourish. ML Carr and Bill Walton of the Celtic teams, Bobby Jones of the Sixers, Kurt Rambis and Michael Cooper of the Lakers, Bill Laimbeer of the Pistons, Horace Grant and Dennis Rodman of the Bulls, Robert Horry and Derek Fisher of the Lakers, all the way up to Udonis Haslem of the Miami Heat last year and Bruce Bowen of the Spurs this year. Every team needs that special player who will do whatever he needs to do to help his team win – be it diving on the floor for the loose ball, laying wood in the lane, setting a hard pick, putting the opposing team’s best player on his ass, committing a decisive foul, roughing up the other team or being a locker room leader.
Guys who do this have been on every championship team. And players in the league who fit this category now are few and far between. But we recognize and here is our list of go-hard glue guys. Watch out for them next year to help make their teams contenders.
Shane Battier. The ultimate glue guy and a big reason the Rockets should make some noise next year. Battier exudes confidence, never backs down from any challenge and has mad heart. The dude is a winner through and through. He bleeds victories and his presence will help Houston and T-Mac finally get to the second round.
Udonis Haslem. Yes, we already shouted son out but this solid, dependable rebound machine does what he’s supposed to do – play defense and hit the open jumper. His game perfectly complements DWade’s and Shaq’s. Look for him to be a pivotal part of Miami’s revival next year.
Luke Walton. Who knows what will happen with the Lakers, but whatever they do they need Luke Walton. When he was hurt last year, they struggled. He is an intricate part of their team. If he has the right stars around, him he is an excellent complementary player who will do his part to help his team win. His court vision and sense of the game are phenomenal. He does exactly what he’s supposed to do at exactly the right time. He complements Kobe and if Kobe stays and they add an impact player the Lakers can compete. Like his dad, Luke is a tough customer and knows how to win.
David Lee. The third year Knick out of Florida belongs here. He’s proved that with his double-double average and breakout at last year’s frosh-soph game. Lee is a rugged, rough player in the mold of Bobby Jones and Dennis Rodman. He won’t give anybody an inch. He rebounds like a madman and gets his points off the glass. His improved play along with the acquisition of low-post threat Zach Randolph will be big reasons why the Knicks make the playoffs next year.
Raja Bell. Steve Nash is the director of the Suns orchestra, but Bell might be the heart and soul of the team. His relentless defense, slutch shooting and show of strength inspire confidence and admiration in his teammates.
Tayshaun Prince. This long, athletic defender always covers the opposition’s best offensive player be it Kobe or LeBron. He had an off series offensive-wise against Cleveland, but look for this tough player to bounce back with a stellar season and help Detroit to another strong year.
Matt Barnes. He was a critical piece in the Warriors miracle playoff run last season. It seemed he was always the one hitting the open three, grabbing the loose rebound or skying high for that board.
Eric Snow. The wiley veteran, the crafty point guard, the defensive stalwart. Snow helped the Cavs reach the Finals in so many little ways. His defense, his calmness under pressure, his leadership. What Snow lacks in offensive prowess he makes up in pure heart and desire.
These guys are not the stars nor will they ever be. But they are difference makers and next season they’ll be up to the task and helping to make their teams contenders.