I don’t know what you want to call this — Thought exercise? Guessing game? Massive waste of time for all involved? — but I have over the years enjoyed it as a starting point for interesting basketball arguments and have decided now, for whatever reason, to put it into digital print.

“This” being: A theoretical bit of prediction-making that assumes the career of a given NBA player ends immediately — not at the end of the season, but right now, this very second (10:08 a.m. on March 9, 2009, as I type this). It doesn’t matter how — make it dramatic or interesting or cruel and twisted if you like — but we assume that said player has been cruising through life as an NBA player until right … now. Suddenly and irrevocably, his career is done. He will never play another game, ever. His resume is as full as it’s gonna get. And so the hypothetical question, applicable for any of the roughly three dozen guys mentioned below, is this:

Is he, right now, in the Basketball Hall of Fame?

Read that sentence again, and notice my subtle emphasis on the present tense.

This is not about a player who was on a Hall of Fame pace, nor is it about who I think should be in. It’s about who, assuming this theoretical has become reality, does get it in. This is about historical precedent. This is about the fact that, unlike the halls in Cooperstown or Canton, the Hoop Hall is not specifically a “pro” hall of fame. And it’s about my own skeptical familiarity with the Hall of Fame election “process”. As such, I’ve considered variables I wish I didn’t have to, like “character,” off-court reputation or even where guys are from (the farther from the U.S., the better their numbers seem to look), that influence who gets the call and who gets left behind.

The players mentioned below are those whose resumes are, in my opinion, strong enough to justify making at least some theoretical case for — even if I (or the folks at the Hoop Hall) would never actually give them the time of day. I’ve broken them into four categories:

LOCKS: These guys have already punched their ticket. Book it, count it, send it in Jerome. The guys listed under “LOCKS” are just that. They are, for all intents and purposes, Hall of Famers right now, and nothing short of some shocking off-court development can change that.

PROBABLY IN: I’d be really surprised if any of these guys aren’t locks, but I can foresee an argument or arguments against their inclusion. Those arguments shouldn’t be enough to keep them out, but there’s a slim chance they miss the cut.

PROBABLY OUT: Each of these guys has a lot going for him; each of them also a red flag or flags that will almost definitely keep them from getting to Springfield.

LOCKED OUT: The guys on this list have strong resumes that at least earn them a look, but at this point in their careers, they simply haven’t done enough to get in. Some of them WILL, eventually, but that’s not the discussion we’re having right now, is it?

Worth noting: I am indebted to the good folks at Basketball Reference for making a lot of these stats easy to find, but it wasn’t until I was almost done putting this together that I noticed B-R’s “Hall of Fame probability” feature, which, because I’m making predictions, not measuring probability, I made a point not to look at it. Just, FYI.

Players are listed, by category, in alphabetical order.

Also, I didn’t consider anyone who wasn’t in at least their fifth NBA season. Sorry, Chris.

Oh, and if I got any numbers wrong — which seems likely, as there are a f*cking lot of numbers here — feel free to let me know. If I actually forgot any players (I almost forgot Dirk, which was funny), let me know about that, too.

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LOCKS

Justification is provided where I figured certain players might need it; the rest are too obvious for any remotely sane person to argue with, and thus required nothing beyond their names.

119celtics

Ray Allen 13th season, 20.9 ppg, 9x All-Star, 1x NBA champion, 1x First-Team A-A

Ray Allen is a member of the All-Star Advisory Council for the Jr. NBA and Jr. WNBA youth basketball support program. Ray Allen is the NBA Spokesman for the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund. Ray Allen is also considered one of the best pure shooters in NBA history. Knock him for being one-dimensional if you like (even if the criticism isn’t really accurate), but Ray’s better at that one thing than pretty much anyone’s ever been. Add in terrific college and NBA resumes, and his long-time standing as one of the NBA’s ultimate “good guys” — i.e. a player the League can safely market to advertisers and ticket-buyers, not just the sort of degenerates who read SLAM. Playing an integral role in the C’s title last year clinches it.

Shane Battier

Kobe Bryant

Tim Duncan

Kevin Garnett

LeBron James 6th season, 27.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 6.6 apg, 3x First-Team All-NBA, 5x All-Star, 2x All-Star MVP, ’04 ROY, 1x Olympic gold medalist, 2x National HS POY

On the VERY off chance you think LeBron is too young to be a lock, consider this: Hall of Famer Bill Walton scored 6215 points in 468 career NBA games. Bron has more than DOUBLED that point total — in 15 fewer games. Obviously Bill’s got that ridiculous college career going for him, plus rings at UCLA and Portland. Bron counters with three state high school championships and a very high-profile Olympic gold — all of which is unnecessary, of course. He’s in regardless.

Jason Kidd 15th season, 13.9 ppg, 9.2 apg, 6.7 rpg, 9x All-Star, 5x First-Team All-NBA, 4x First-Team All-Defense, ’95 co-ROY, 2x Olympic gold medalist, 1x First-Team A-A

His stats actually underwhelm, and he’s never won an MVP or a ring. But the rest of the resume is unfadeable.

Steve Nash 13th season, 14.3 ppg, 8.0 apg, 2x League MVP, 3x First-Team All-NBA, 5x All-Star, 3x led League in APG, 1x led League in FT PCT

Stand-up guy; actively charitable and insanely marketable; Canadian. None of which matters, really, because he’s a TWO-TIME LEAGUE MVP. Nash was a lock three years ago.

Dirk Nowitzki 11th season, 22.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1x League MVP, 3x First-Team All-NBA, 8x All-Star, 1x Eurobasket MVP

Strong NBA numbers, a boatload of All-Star berths, strong international credentials, and that one somewhat regrettable MVP are more than enough to erase doubts about Diggler’s manhood.

Shaquille O’Neal

Paul Pierce 11th season, 22.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 7x All-Star, 1x NBA champion, 1x Finals MVP, 1x First-Team A-A

Prince Paul has spent his entire career with the League’s most storied franchise, which he last year led — both as team captain, and as Finals MVP — to the NBA title. He’s in.

Yao Ming 7th season, 19.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 7x All-Star

Statistically, he hasn’t done enough for long enough. And then you remember that he’s the basketball ambassador of an emerging nation that contains 20 percent of the global population. Any questions?

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PROBABLY IN

If I had to put money on it, all these guys are in. But I don’t, so they’re not. Quite.

Chauncey Billups 12th season, 15.1 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4x All-Star, 1x NBA champion, 1x Finals MVP

Good but not great numbers, and he’s never been first-team All-NBA, but the Mr. Big Shot rep he earned during Detroit’s run will linger. For obvious reasons, I’ll compare him to Joe Dumars. And Joe’s in the Hall.

Vince Carter 11th season, 23.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, 8x All-Star, ’99 ROY, 1x Olympic gold medalist

He’s never been first-team all-NBA, and his rep as dispassionate — which we don’t have to get into here — will hurt his cause. But hey, Nique made it eventually, right? Compare the stats. Too easy. Probably.

Manu Ginobili 7th season, 14.8 ppg, 1x All-Star, 2x NBA champion, 1x Sixth Man of the Year, 1x Olympic gold medalist & Tournament MVP, 1x Euroleague Finals MVP, 2x Italian League MVP

His NBA numbers are relatively underwhelming, but anyone paying attention appreciates his value to the Spurs; in the Hall’s eyes, he’s like a post-2K James Worthy. Add in his international success — both professionally and in the Olympics — and he’s already nearing lock status.

Richard Hamilton 10th season, 17.5 ppg, 3x All-Star, 1x NBA champion, 1x NCAA champion, 1x Final Four MOP, 1x First-Team A-A

A 45-percent career shooter who almost never dunks? Rip’s gonna go down as one of the most efficient shooters of his generation. Plus, the Hall loves guys who win rings in college and the pros.

Grant Hill 14th season, 18.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 4.8 apg, 7x All-Star, 1x First-Team All-NBA, ’95 ROY, 1x Olympic gold medalist, 1x First-Team A-A, 2x NCAA champion

Just as this list is not about what might be, it’s also not about what might have been — but we all know that if he’d stayed healthy, Grant would be a lock. As it is, his career numbers are terrific, and his college resume is hella strong. Plus, he’s the only two-time recipient of the NBA Sportsmanship Award and widely considered one of the League’s best citizens. He’ll get Walton-esque sympathy points for having missed so much of his prime with injuries, too. I’m not sure that’ll be enough, but I’m guessing it will.

Allen Iverson 13th season, 27.1 ppg, 6.2 apg, 1x MVP, 10x All-Star, 3x All-NBA first team, 2x All-Star MVP, 4x led League in PPG, 3x led League in SPG, ’97 ROY, 1x first-team A-A

The numbers tell us why AI should be a lock. But a combination of off-court issues (legal scrapes that stretch from high school to the pros) and a growing sense after two semi-recent trades that he doesn’t make teams better (even after he carried an otherwise terrible Sixers team to the ’01 Finals) makes me think they could leave him out. They won’t — I know they won’t — but there’s this tiny little part of me that wonders. And worries.

Dikembe Mutombo 18th season, 9.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.8 bpg, 8x All-Star, 4x Defensive POY, 3x First-Team All-Defense, 2x led League in RPG, 3x led League in BPG

Dude hasn’t averaged double-digit rebounds in seven years, yet his career average is still over 10, and he’s second all-time in blocks. His lack of any offense beyond put-backs won’t help, but it should be countered by the fact that THE MAN BUILDS HOSPITALS FOR POOR PEOPLE. Anyway, he’s a four-time Defensive POY. That’ll be awfully hard to deny.

Tony Parker 8th season, 16.4 ppg, 5.6 apg, 3x All-Star, 3x NBA champion, 1x Finals MVP

Most of the tough ones in this category were guys like Ginobili and Wade (below), who I nearly put on Lock status. In Tony’s case, I was tempted to knock him down to “Probably Out.” His numbers are good but not great, he has no great college or international resume to prop himself up, and other than that week-long span in June of ’07, he’s probably never been the clear-cut best player on his own team. He’s getting closer to it, though, and his French citizenship (even if he was born In Bruges!) scores global-appeal points, just as it does for Yao and Manu. Plus, three rings and a Finals MVP make even baby-faced Tony look like a grown-ass man.

Dwyane Wade 6th season, 24.8 ppg, 6.6 apg, 4.9 rpg, 5x All-Star, 1x NBA champion, 1x Finals MVP, 1x Olympic gold medalist, 1x First-Team A-A

Wade’s numbers are only a little bit behind those of his Draft-classmate and homie LeBron, and unlike Bron, he’s got a ring and a Finals MVP to his name. So why isn’t Wade a Lock? For the same reason he has no chance to win MVP this year, even though he has nearly a strong a case: Dwyane just doesn’t quite transcend like LeBron does. There’s no really good reason for this, other than the fact that I wrote a book about one of them and not the other.

Ben Wallace 13th season, 6.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2.2 bpg, 4x All-Star, 4x Defensive POY, 5x First-Team All-Defense, 1x NBA Champion, 2x led League in RPG, 1x led League in BPG

Comparisons to Deke (who I think is in) or Dennis Rodman (who isn’t) make this one a tough call. But Ben doesn’t wear wedding dresses in public, and four DPOYs are gonna be tough to ignore.

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PROBABLY OUT

I found this category the hardest. I could’ve just done “In,” “On the Bubble,” and “Out,” but I figured “Probably In” and “Probably Out” would make it more interesting. As such, it would’ve been easy to put guys like EB and Tracy on the bubble and leave it at that, but I didn’t. If this doesn’t generate discussion, I give up.

Carmelo Anthony 6th season, 24.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2x All-Star, 1x Olympic gold medalist, 1x NCAA champion, 1x Final Four MOP

His NBA career has been statistically terrific but marred by a lack of high-level team success and a string of knuckle-head moves off and on the court. So I didn’t even expect Melo to be in the conversation, until I remembered the gold medal and the NCAA title. Those things, and his pro numbers to date, put him in the picture. For now, that’ll have to be enough.

Elton Brand 10th season, 20 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2.0 bpg, 2x All-Star, ’00 co-ROY, 1x First-Team A-A, 1x, National POY

A 10-year double-double? That’s hard to sleep on, as is that college POY on his resume, as is the fact that he’s widely considered one of the nicest guys in the League. Then you remember he’s made the playoffs ONCE his entire career, most of which he’s spent on teams that ranged from mediocre to terrible — and whatever he’s done, with a single exception in 2006, it hasn’t been enough to get those teams into the playoffs.

Tracy McGrady 12th season, 22.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.7 apg, 2x First-Team All-NBA, 7x All-Star, 2x led League in PP

3, 4, 4, 7, 7, 7, 6: The number of games, per season, that McGrady has played in seven career postseason trips. Nobody remembers that he averaged 28.5, 6.9 and 6.2 in those games. What everybody remembers is that none of those teams made it past the first round. Throw in an increasingly questionable level of commitment, and Mac’s in trouble.

Peja Stojakovic 11th season, 17.8 ppg, 3x All-Star, 2x led League in FT PCT, 1x European Championship MVP, 1x Greek League MVP

It’s hard to imagine that Peja was a sort of thinking-man’s MVP choice as recently as five years ago. He’s also Serbian, so more global-appeal points for him. Still, that’s probably not enough.

Amare Stoudemire 7th season, 21.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1x First-Team All-NBA, 4x All-Star, ’03 ROY

An amazing talent, a strange career so far. Five more healthy years and he’s probably a lock. Not yet, though. Not even close.

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LOCKED OUT

Again, these are guys you could make a theoretical case for; some are likely future locks who are just too young, while others have good-to-great stats but are either too marginal, or too crazy.

Gilbert Arenas 7th season, 22.8 ppg, 5.5 apg, 3x All-Star

No.

Ron Artest 10th season, 16.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1x All-Star, 1x Defensive POY, 2x First-Team All-Defense

Duh.

Mike Bibby 11th season, 16.5 ppg, 6.1 apg, 1x first-team A-A, 1x NCAA champion

For a couple of years there in Sacramento, he might’ve been the best PG in the game— and he still never made an All-Star Game.

Chris Bosh 6th season, 19.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4x All-Star

Headed for a Brand-like fate?

Marcus Camby 13th season, 10.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.7 bpg, 2x First-Team All-Defense, 4x led League in BPG, 1x National POY and First-Team A-A

College success — people forget what a stud Camby was at UMass — and his career-long defensive prowess earn him a mention, but here’s another dude who’s never made the ASG.

Baron Davis 10th season, 17 ppg, 7.3 apg, 2x All-Star, 2x led League in SPG

B-Diddy’s been really good — just not good enough, or on good enough teams.

Dwight Howard 5th season, 17.2 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 1x First-Team All-NBA, 3x All-Star, 2x led League in RPG, 1x led League in BPG

Not yet. Soon. Just, not yet.

Stephon Marbury 13th season, 19.7 ppg, 7.8 apg, 2x All-Star

It was fun to type his name.

Shawn Marion 10th season, 17.9 ppg, 10 rpg, 1.8 spg, 1.3 bpg, 4x All-Star

If ever they build a fantasy HOF, the Matrix is a lock.

Jermaine O’Neal 13th season, 14.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.9 bpg, 5x All-Star

See also: Davis, Baron.

Michael Redd 9th season, 20.5 ppg, 1x All-Star

Yeah. No.

Jerry Stackhouse 14th season, 18.4 ppg, 2x All-Star, 1x First-Team A-A

Eight seasons ago, Jerry Stackhouse averaged 29.8 points and 5.1 assists per game. Figured that was worth mentioning.