If David Stern stepped to the podium to introduce this column, he'd probably say something like this:
GROUND RULESA quick recap of the rules:
1. Salaries matter. Over this season and the next three, would you rather pay David West $37.9 million or Andrei Kirilenko $63.3 million?
2. Age matters. Would you rather have Rasheed Wallace for the next four seasons or Al Horford for the next 12?
3. Pretend the league passed the following rule: For 24 hours, any player can be traded without cap ramifications. So if Team A tells Team B, "We'll trade you Player X for Player Y," would Team B make the deal or not?
4. Concentrate on degrees. For instance, neither San Antonio nor Orlando would make a Howard-Duncan trade. But at the very least, the Spurs would say, "Wow, Dwight Howard's available?" while the Magic would say, "There's no frickin' way we're trading Dwight Howard." That counts in the big scheme of things.
5. The list runs in reverse order (Nos. 50 to 1). So if Carmelo comes in at No. 14, players 1 through 13 are all players about whom the Nuggets would probably say, "We hate giving up 'Melo, but we definitely have to consider this deal." And they wouldn't trade him straight-up for any player listed between Nos. 15 and 50.
Thank you, David! Before we dive into the top 50, let's say goodbye to the 2006-07 incumbents who couldn't crack the 2007-08 list:
Boris Diaw (No. 38 last season) signed a $45 million extension and immediately morphed into the French Tim Thomas. ... We'll deal with Ron Artest (34) in a second. ... Rip Hamilton (33) peaked two years ago and already has 700-plus games on his odometer. ... Before he showed signs of life last week, the guy we used to know as "Kirk Hinrich" (28) was replaced by a brooding alien who couldn't shoot and made the mute brother from "Little Miss Sunshine" seem gregarious by comparison. ... Shaun Livingston (27) blew out his ACL, PCL, MCL, CFL and USFL. ... Ray Allen (26) is too expensive and maybe even a little past his prime. ... Jermaine O'Neal (23) is our 2007-08 captain of the "Guys getting paid franchise money who don't feel obligated to carry their franchise" team. ... Vince Carter (19) continues to prove he should only be paid on a month-by-month basis and threatened with a taser before every home game. ... And poor Shaquille O'Neal (14) looks like he showers in cement before every other game, a slight problem considering he's making $20 million a year through 2009-10.
(Important note: Does anyone else feel a little choked up about Shaq's final appearance in the "Trade Value" column? Since 2001, he was ranked first, first, sixth, sixth, sixth, 14th ... and this year, he's 17th. Only it's 17th on the "Worst 25 Contracts" sidebar that's coming later in the column. I don't know if I'm emotionally prepared to watch Shaq become Artis Gilmore, circa 1985. It hurts. It really does.)
THE B.S. REPORTEvery year, before he finalizes the "Trade Value" list and writes the column, Bill argues about the various candidates with his buddy Joe House. Last week, they had the annual argument for Bill's podcast.
Louis Williams: If you made a "top 10 things Sixers fans are most excited about right now" list, Billy King's firing would be first; Sweet Lou would be second; the next seven things would be left blank; and No. 10 would be the fact we're seven months away from the 25th anniversary of the Fo-Fo-Fo team winning the '83 title.
(Note to my editors: Please destroy all remnants of my 2004 Draft Diary from my archives. Delete the column, delete it again, then delete it a third time to be safe. Thanks.)
BEST CONTRACTSThe 15 most cap-appealing NBA contracts that aren't rookie deals:
15. Jeff Foster: 2 years, $11.9m
14. Josh Howard: 4 years, $39.6m
13. Caron Butler: 4 years, $37.5m
12. David West: 4 years, $37.9m
11. Hedu Turkoglu: 3 years, $20.6m
10. James Posey: 2 years, $6.6m
9. Drew Gooden: 2 years, $13.5m
8. Kendrick Perkins: 4 years, $17m
7. Carlos Boozer: 3 years, $35.9m
6. Ron Artest: 2 years, $16.3m
5. Leandro Barbosa: 5 years, $33m
4. Grant Hill: 2 years, $3.8m
3. Marcus Camby: 3 years, $25.6-$35m
2. Manu Ginobili: 3 years, $29.8m
1. Steve Nash: 3 years, $39.7m
Ron Artest: On paper, he's one of the best values in the league ($7.4 million this season, with a player option for $8.3 million in 2008) ... and yet, only a desperate team such as Miami would pursue him because, you know, he's a certifiable loon and all. Who wouldn't pull the trigger on Artest for Ricky Davis' expiring contract and a top-10 protected first-rounder? Hmmmmmmmm. That would be the craziest trade of all-time -- not the trade itself but the caliber of craziness switching sides. Keep your fingers crossed.
Rip Hamilton and Richard Jefferson: Rip was intriguing because of his reasonable contract (three years, $32.6 million remaining); Jefferson would have been intriguing except for his contract (four years, $54.6 million remaining). By the way, I nominate "Rip" to replace "Rich," "Richie," "Dick" and "Dicky" as the new cool nickname for "Richard." If we called him "Rip Jefferson," wouldn't Jefferson seem more imposing? Same for Rip Seymour, Rip Gere, Rip Hidalgo ... really, everyone except exercise guru Rip Simmons.
Andrei Kirilenko: You know what's not helping? Those four years remaining on his max extension that guarantee him a combined $33 million in 2010 and 2011. Yikes! Hey, doesn't a Jefferson-Kirilenko trade make sense for both Utah and New Jersey, or do I need to enter rehab for my addiction to the NBA Trade Machine?
Rajon Rondo: When you strike the jackpot with a first-round pick in the 20s, it's like a double jackpot because you're locking up a young contributor at an obscenely low price. To wit: Rondo (No. 21 in 2006) and David Lee (No. 27 in 2005) make a combined $11 million total over the next three seasons. That's less than Theo Ratliff's Expiring Contract.
Andre Iguodala: This summer's Gerald Wallace, a quality supporting guy forced to become "The Guy" on a lottery team -- with bad results, of course -- who now wants to be overpaid because he was miscast for a few months as "The Guy." But wait, what would you have done without me. I carried us to 26 wins! Love that logic.
Yi Jianlian: Here's what we know through six weeks: He's worth more money than a typical rookie because of the Chinese marketing ties; he rarely shoots because the Bucks never run plays for him; he's a good athlete and an underrated shot-blocker; he seems to have a high hoops IQ; in person, he jumps out for one good reason (he's so long Jay Bilas would pass out) and one bad reason (he disappears for extended stretches); and if he were really 20 years old, he might have cracked the top 50. Unfortunately, nobody can figure out the Chairman's exact age. Word on the street is he's at least 22 and possibly two years older than that -- I tried to start a rumor last week that he was really 35, but it didn't take -- making him impossible to project for the future. We're sticking him here to be safe. It remains inexplicable that we can solve murders with the help of a single hair fiber or a drop of saliva, but we can't figure out the exact ages of Cuban baseball players and Asian basketball players.
Jose Calderon: How do you say "fantasy stampede" in Spanish? El stampedio de fantasia? Calderon's monster stretch of starts after two separate T.J. Ford injuries recently (10 games, 107 assists and 15 turnovers until a subpar game against Boston on Sunday) makes him a summer free-agent target for anyone who wants to emulate Phoenix's run-and-gun offense. It also opens the door for a very logical question: Why the hell was Jose Calderon backing up T.J. Ford???
Kevin Martin: This edition's toughest omission because he's re-enacting the first few years of Reggie Miller's career, leaving the door open that, you know, he might become the next Reggie Miller. But given that he just signed a $55 million extension, wouldn't you rather have everyone in the following group at prices ranging from "piddling" to "highway robbery?"
Onto this year's top 50 ...
Group J: "Cost-Effective Building Blocks"
50. Leandro Barbosa
Do you realize Nene signed for more money ($60 million) than Barbosa ($33m) and Anderson Varejao ($22m) combined and, yet, he's the worst Brazilian of the three? It's all because he went with the one-name gimmick and they didn't. I'm convinced.
49. Monta Ellis
With apologies to Lou Williams, Ellis is the league's best young combo guard at the best possible price ($770k for this season and next). The only thing I'd change is the spelling of his first name -- he pronounces it "Mon-TAY," only he doesn't spell it "Montay," "Monté," "Montae," "Montaye" or my personal favorite, "Mon'taye." His parents couldn't have worked an extra letter and an apostrophe in there? Is there still time?
WORST CONTRACTSJust for fun, the 25 worst contracts in the league:
25. Quentin Richardson: 3 years, $26.3m
24. Sam Dalembert: 4 years, $43.8m
23. Nene: 5 years, $51m
22. Raef LaFrentz: 2 years, $24.5m
21. Boris Diaw: 5 years, $45m
20. Brian Cardinal: 3 years, $18.9m
19. Marcus Banks: 4 years, $17.2m
18. Jerome James: 3 years, $18.6m
17. Shaquille O'Neal: 3 years, $60m
16. Zack Randolph: 4 years, $63.3m
15. Etan Thomas: 3 years, 20.6m
14. Mark Blount: 3 years, $22m
13. Shareef Abdur-Rahim: 3 years, $18.6m
12. Kenny Thomas: 3 years, $23.9m
11. Jared Jeffries: 4 years, $24m
10. Nazr Mohammed: 4 years, $25m
9. Dan Gadzuric: 4 years, $26m
8. Bobby Simmons: 3 years, $29.8m
7. Ben Wallace: 3 years, $44m
6. Darius Miles: 3 years, $26.3m
5. Stephon Marbury: 2 years, $42m
4. Erick Dampier: 4 years, $41.5m
3. Troy Murphy: 4 years, $42.4m
2. Larry Hughes: 3 years, $38.5
1. Kenyon Martin: 4 years, $59m
Here's what bugs me about this one: With Gay improbably emerging as the first "gifted lottery pick who dropped solely because teams worried about his work ethic, only he matured after college and turned himself into a future All-Star" since ... um ... actually, I can't even remember the last guy who fits that description ... anyway, hasn't the door been opened for teams ignoring similar motivational red flags with other potential lottery picks because of Gay's success? We know we just spent the No. 5 pick on a forward who fell asleep on the bench during two March Madness games but, hey, it worked out for Memphis with Rudy Gay! In the long run, Gay's career might end up doing more damage than good. Let's keep an eye on this.
47. Andrea Bargnani
Didn't you expect him to be further along this season? What happened? We're three more uninspiring months away from lowering his ceiling from "maybe the next Dirk Nowitzki" to "a fiestier and slightly more talented Memo Okur, only if Okur could make his own marinara sauce."
46. David Lee
Had to be included because of his salary (unconscionably cheap), his per-minute numbers (good enough to make John Hollinger woozy) and the way his unselfish/high-energy game has been wasted on a ragged, surly, me-first antiteam like the Knicks (not his fault). More importantly, Knicks fans would riot outside MSG if Isiah ever traded him. That would be the final straw for them. It would.
(On the other hand, the threat of a full-scale riot outside an NBA arena would normally be enough to make someone "untradeable." But since Isiah Thomas and James Dolan are involved, all bets are off. Is it possible Dolan is hoping for a riot for a giant insurance claim on MSG or something? That's the only rational explanation for not firing Isiah yet, right? Remember we had this conversation if Lee gets traded and the National Guard has to be sent down to West 32nd Street.)
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
Is Brandon Roy too high or too low? Depends on how that knee holds up.
Definitely belongs from a talent/salary/production standpoint, but if his surgically repaired knee scared off four lottery teams before the 2006 draft, wouldn't those same MRIs alarm GMs now? Not to go all Dierdorfian on you, but it's not like we weren't so sure he wasn't really, really good heading into that draft. If teams were afraid to pick him for a specific reason, wouldn't they be afraid to trade for him for that same specific reason? You could make a strong case that he belongs 10-12 spots higher, but I'm sticking him here to be safe.
44. Tayshaun Prince
It's weird when anyone earning $39 million through 2011 can be deemed "cost effective," but when you're paying that sum to an unselfish, playoff-proven, A-plus defender and all-around good guy who shoots 40-plus percent from long range, that's good business. Especially when he's only 27.
43. Andris Biedrins
Every game, he's giving you 25-30 minutes, a double-double, one or two blocks and at least one person in the crowd saying, "What '80s music star does that guy look like? It's driving me crazy!" He also turns 22 in April, and unlike the Chairman, we're reasonably sure it's his exact age.
(The answer to the music question: A cross between Stuart Copeland and John Taylor, with a little of one of the bad guys from "Beerfest" sprinkled in.)
Group I: "You'll Have To Bowl Us Over, But We're Listening"
42. Michael Redd
41. Elton Brand
Elton drops 15 spots, thanks to a torn Achilles that happened six days after I renewed my Clippers season tickets. I feel like he owes me money. Or at least a hug. Anyway, I lumped these guys together because both of them like playing for their respective franchises, which makes them more valuable than normal to those franchises because players aren't sitting around saying, "If I could only play for a perpetually dysfunctional team like the Clippers, that would be a dream come true" and "Man, I know it's great living here in sunny Miami with no state tax and all, but you know where I'd really want to play? Milwaukee! It's freezing cold, and it's not near anything. I guess I can only dream."
(Note to John Paxson: Close your office door before you keep reading and hide all sharp objects. If you want, we'll give you a couple of seconds.)
40. Tyson Chandler
A logical trade candidate considering his salary ($63.3 million over the next four years), his struggle to adjust to the Marc Iavaroni Era (ongoing) and his pedigree (only 27, he's one of the few low-post scorers who commands a double team). So, I'm about to unveil the most logical trade for him. It's so fantastic, you're going to need to walk outside and get some fresh air after you read it. That's how good it is. Ready? Here's the trade:
- Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro for Bargnani, Rasho Nesterovic's expiring deal, an unprotected 2008 No. 1 and $3 million.
The Grizzlies save a boatload of money and rebuild around kids (Bargnani, Gay, Mike Conley Jr., Mike Miller, Kyle Lowry and Darko Milicic) and cap space galore for their inevitable relocation to wherever the hell they're moving some day. And not only does Toronto jump a level in the East, it reunites Gasol and Navarro with Spanish countrymen Calderon and Jorge Garbajosa. Bryan Colangelo wanted to build the ultimate FIBA team -- well, what's better than getting the nucleus of the 2007 Spanish team that won the World Championships, even if one of them is out for the year (Garbajosa)? Tell me which team doesn't make that trade. You can't. That's why I'm the Picasso of the NBA Trade Machine.
38. Marcus Camby
37. Rasheed Wallace
Approaching their mid-30s, both possess higher than usual value because of their big-game experience, defensive prowess, basketball IQ, testicular fortitude and surprisingly appealing contracts. You can win with these guys and continue to win for the next three or four years; that's more appealing than Gasol, who has never won anything. Anyway, Sheed gets the paper-thin edge only because of the inspiring way he reinvented "Jingle Bells", joining the Christmas Song Pantheon along with Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas," Elvis' "Blue Christmas" and the David Bowie/Bing Crosby duet of "Little Drummer Boy."
36. Allen Iverson
Earlier this month, did you notice the night when Boston blew out the Sixers in Philly in front of about 8,500 comatose fans and, a couple of hours later, Iverson exploded for 51 against the Lakers? The lesson, as always: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER trade a superstar for less than 75 cents on the dollar.
Group H: "Just Know, He's Worth More To Us Than To You"
AP Photo/Eric Gay
Well, maybe renewing those Clippers tickets wasn't such a bad idea.
To everyone's perpetual shock, the K-Man has evolved into a low-post beast, a guaranteed double team and a darkhorse to become the white Moses Malone. So what if he sucks defensively? After a two-year hiatus when Brad Miller's career went in the tank, we finally have someone to claim the "Best White American Center" championship belt again.
(Note: The K-Man also emerged as a comedic tour de force when we were shooting my "E:60" piece two weeks ago, admitting he hates L.A., describing how he drives his boat into international waters so he can fire guns at fish, and even uttering my single favorite quote of 2007: "I promise to start reading your column as soon as I learn to read." He was joking. We think. I demand a Chris Kaman "Cribs" episode within the next 10 months.)
34. Joe Johnson
I'm hoping for the "Boogie Nights" ending here -- three more years of losing, followed by Johnson showing up like a worn-down Dirk Diggler at Steve Nash's door and sobbing, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," then asking to rejoin the Suns. Although we can skip the final scene in which Joe exposes himself in front of a full-length mirror.
33. Shawn Marion
Nothing has changed on the Marion front except for his appalling 3-point shooting (26 percent!), clinching him the 2007 captaincy on the Charles Barkley Memorial "Guys Who Should Never Shoot 3s Ever Under Any Circumstances" All-Stars. Still, it's hard to imagine any other veteran forward fitting in better with Nash and the Suns.
32. Luol Deng
We're factoring in the very real threat of Deng getting overpaid by about $20 million this summer. Meanwhile, imagine if the Suns hadn't sold the Deng pick in 2004 and the Rondo pick in 2006? The Suns lead the decade in "imagine ifs."
Group G: "We'll Discuss Him, But You Can't Tell ANYONE"
31. Josh Howard
30. Caron Butler
For this season and the next three, would you rather have Butler at $37.5 million or Howard at $42.7 million? I'm going with Tough Juice. Regardless, I'd rather have both guys at these prices than Deng at $70 million.
(Random question: If you had to rank the greatest nicknames in the NBA right now, does anything beat "Tough Juice," with the possible exception of "Black Mamba?" I couldn't love that nickname more -- it's not possible. Also, we need to start calling Vince Carter "Weak Juice." Like, right now.)
29. David West
Remember when everyone kept saying Ben Wallace was underrated, and they kept saying it, and they kept saying it, and, finally, he became overrated because nobody would stop talking about how underrated he was? We're about three years away from having this happen to David West. Right now, he's still in the cute-and-cuddly "I can't believe how good he is, he's so underrated!" stage. I love the guy, personally. He's so underrated!
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Come back when you finally win a playoff series.
I had him eight spots higher until the last second, when I remembered he hasn't won a single playoff series and makes $20 million a year.
The answer? Both would turn it down even though it's a fairly logical trade for both teams. Detroit increases its ceiling as a team (right now, it's second round and out) and gets a blue-chip scorer and gate attraction to keep up with LeBron in the Central; Washington gets an unselfish winner who makes everyone else better and gives it stability for once. That's a nice trade. In the end, Joe Dumars would flinch well before Ernie Grunfeld did -- he'd worry about Gilbert's impending free agency, he'd worry about going over the luxury tax and wrecking his salary structure this summer, and he'd definitely worry about Gilbert's knee problems and the curious way the Wizards came together as a team as soon as Gilbert went away. Ernie would flinch only because of the age difference (four years) and the local ramifications of dealing the most popular Wizard/Bullet in 30 years. Either way, a fun argument.
Group F: "Pretty Much Untouchable"
25. Al Horford
His ceiling: Elton Brand with a better low-post game. I loved how he was traumatized by his inadvertent role in T.J. Ford's latest injury and spent most of the night with Ford at the hospital to make sure he was OK. You want guys like that on your team.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Speaking of injury concerns ...
His ceiling: Patrick Ewing, only if Ewing had major wrist surgery and microfracture knee surgery before even playing an NBA game.
23. Josh Smith
His ceiling: Andrei Kirilenko with a better everything. Although the sourpuss worries me. Would you want to pay someone $75 million this summer when he always looks like he just got rear-ended in his car?
22. Andrew Bynum
His ceiling: The NBA's best center not named "Dwight Howard" or "Yao Ming."
(Note: During the first 17 drafts of this column, I had Bynum ranked in the 40s because of ongoing concerns about his attitude and conditioning. What happens when he's eligible for a lucrative extension? What happens when he finally gets paid? Can he keep the weight off? Will he go Oliver Miller on us? And isn't he too young to keep breaking out that sourpuss in games when things go wrong? Then I watched him play spectacularly last week against San Antonio and Golden State and couldn't keep him out of the mid-20s. He's just too talented: light feet, great hands, quick ups, superb timing as a shot-blocker ... there's too much to like.)
21. Al Jefferson
His ceiling: The next Kevin McHale, only if McHale couldn't guard anyone. Hey, did you enjoy how I broke the media's "don't compare white guys with black guys" rule twice in the same section? I couldn't be prouder.
Group E: "Ridiculous For You AND For Us"
20. Amare Stoudemire
The most likely candidate of any in the top 30 to get traded within the next two months. Look at it from the Suns' side -- they're routinely giving up 55 percent shooting nights, they can't get crunch-time stops and they don't have anyone to guard Tim Duncan (as we witnessed for the umpteenth time Monday night). If you're Steve Kerr and you're looking at a two-year window with the Nash-Marion era, are you really going to just cross your fingers and hope Amare learns how to play defense between now and June 2009? Or are you going to think, "Hmmmmm, I wonder if I can use Amare to improve my team defensively, gain some financial flexibility and maybe even dump Marcus Banks' contract and pick up a No. 1 pick in the process?"
KG has made Paul Pierce better, but the Hero Complex could still be the Truth's undoing.
Playing efficient, almost-always-unselfish basketball for a really good team with a chance to be great. With that said, he remains the X factor for the Celtics -- as much as it seems like he's been cleansed of the Hero Complex, we'll know for sure when Boston's schedule heats up with the Detroit-Chicago-Orlando home games and a slew of tough Western Conference games. Every time I think we're out of the woods, there's a game like last Friday's blowout over Milwaukee, when a hard Bobby Simmons' foul rubbed Pierce the wrong way and led to one of those dopey mano-a-mano duels in which Pierce turned into "Teen Wolf" and everyone else stood around and watched him hoist terrible jumpers. As soon as Pierce stops getting caught up in self-serving sequences like that, I'll believe this particular Celtics team can win a championship. And not a moment sooner.
(If you're scoring at home, the Hero Complex manifests itself in the following ways during close games: Insistence on making every big play; propensity to make out-of-control drives that lead to offensive fouls; overeagerness to take advantage of a potential two-for-one by hoisting up a horrible 3-pointer; and most importantly, insistence on being isolated on beat-the-buzzer plays so that everyone can stand around while you dribble for 17 seconds, fake like you're going to the basket, then pull up for a horrendous jumper. The success rate of the buzzer-beating shot by someone suffering from the Hero Complex is roughly 11 percent. And that might be high.)
18. Chris Bosh
Hands down, the most overrated young "star" in the league. How many times can we watch him get outplayed by the likes of Boozer, KG, Duncan, et al., before we say to ourselves, "All right, Chris Bosh just isn't that good?"
(I don't fully believe anything in the previous paragraph -- I just wanted to get the lunatic Raptors fans fired up for 0.9 seconds. Although it should be mentioned KG has effectively destroyed Bosh in both matchups this season, which doesn't bode well for Bosh's ceiling as a player. By the way, it warrants mentioning every year: If Detroit had picked Bosh over Darko, the over/under for Pistons' titles this decade would have been 3½. That's another one of the all-time "what ifs?")
17. Tony Parker
16. Manu Ginobili
We're sticking them in such high circles partly out of respect (six rings combined) and partly because San Antonio's organization, to its never-ending credit, values chemistry and goodguymanship (I just made that word up) over everything else.
Here's the defining why-the-Spurs-win-and-keep-winning story: They gave away Luis Scola this summer not just for luxury tax reasons, but because they were afraid that Scola, a No. 1 scoring option for Argentina's national team as well as the Euro leagues, wouldn't be able to adjust to playing 20-25 minutes a game as a supporting guy on a great team. They didn't even want to take the chance that he'd mess them up. So they shipped him out. What's even more fascinating is the Spurs have won four titles (and counting) with a specific strategy that nobody else emulated until Boston voyaged down the same defense-character-chemistry path this season. And the Celtics are 20-2 right now. Hmmmm.
Group D: "Only If They Asked to Leave"
15. Baron Davis
Believe me, I examined this from every conceivable angle. Considering his pivotal role in Golden State's resurgence (both with the team and within the Bay Area) and the way NellieBall rejuvenated his career, Davis has made the most significant "just-when-we-thought-it-was-never-happening" jump of any star in recent memory. Even as recently as three years ago, he had one of the 20-25 worst contracts in the league. Now he's a franchise player and a legitimate crunch-time killer. Amazing.
(On a personal note, it's rewarding to watch a talented disappointment for so many years while thinking things like, "Man, if he only attacked the rim instead of just settling for 3s" and "It's too bad he can't realize he's the best all-around player on the floor most nights" ... and suddenly, out of nowhere, the lightbulb goes on and he evolves into the player you always hoped he would be. The cynical side of me believed Davis' "transformation" in last spring's playoffs was a one-time deal, that he'd revert to his dastardly ways this season. Nope. Only a few guys in the league have the testicular fortitude to match big plays with the LeBrons and Kobes of the world, and he's one of them. Of course, the day after I wrote this paragraph, he mailed in a road game in Detroit. Let's just move on before I change my mind.)
14. Carmelo Anthony
When he's surrounded by great players (like with the USA teams the past two summers), Melo always rises to the occasion. But when he's leading a relatively dysfunctional Nuggets team, swapping "you-shot-last-time-I-get-to-shoot-this-time" possessions with Iverson, hoisting up bad 3s (did we ever figure out why a 28 percent career 3-point shooter takes three per game?) and shirking his rebounding responsibilities (really, five a game and that's it), it's almost like he plays to the level of his teammates. When you're the Evolutionary Bernard, at some point, don't you have to start playing as hard as Bernard did every night? I don't totally trust that he'll ever "get it," for lack of a better phrase. Then again, he's only 23.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
This is a Bill Simmons column, so you know there's at least one paragraph of praise for Kevin Durant.
Worst-case scenario: He's the next George Gervin. Best-case scenario: He's a cross between Gervin and Bob McAdoo, only with Dirk Nowitzki's range and (potentially) MJ's sense of "the moment." Just remember, he's locked up on the rookie scale through 2012 and doesn't turn 20 until Sept. 29, 2008.
12. Dirk Nowitzki
Upon further review, Nowitzki's Chappelle-like summer voyage to Australia was a bad omen: His numbers are down in five relevant categories (points, rebounds and FT/FG/3-point percentage), he's putting up his worst numbers in eight seasons, and we can safely say there has been residual damage from the '06 Finals and '07 playoffs. He's just not the same guy anymore. He's not.
Here's the weird thing: Other than Nick Anderson (who wasn't a superstar like Dirk), I can't remember another good player floundering in his prime purely because of emotional baggage from a couple of tough losses. For instance, Magic Johnson choked three different times in the '84 Finals and bounced back with a monster '85 season. Isiah Thomas threw away the '87 playoffs on the Bird/DJ steal and came back stronger than ever. Scottie Pippen's infamous migraine swung Game 7 of the '90 Bulls-Pistons series to Detroit and led to a summer of Scottie questions; all the attention toughened him and turned him into a Dream Teamer. Well, what the hell happened to Dirk? What happened to his edge? Why isn't he taking the demise of his superstardom a little more personally? He's like Cole Trickle at the 63-minute mark of "Days of Thunder" right now.
11. Carlos Boozer
You're saying, "Wait a second, Boozer ahead of Dirk???" Well, here's the list of forwards who averaged a 25-12 in one season since the ABA/NBA merger: Barkley, Duncan, Malone. That's it. In a related story, Boozer is averaging a 25-12 through 20 games and shooting 57 percent from the field. And he's three years younger than Nowitzki. And unlike Dirk, he actually has cracked a smile in the past six months. Any more questions?
Group C: "We don't know what the hell to do here"
10. Kobe Bryant
Here's a hint: Don't trade him.
Group B: "Lemme Save You Some Time: N-O."
9. Yao Ming
His untradeableness (probably not a word, but we're going with it) has been heightened by his value because of those aforementioned Chinese marketing ties. (I'm going out on a limb and guessing that it's lucrative to be the preferred NBA team for a country with more than a billion people.) On the flip side, his defense continues to cause problems, and he hasn't had the statistical surge everyone expected from an All-Star center in years five through seven of his career. If anything, he has regressed a little. Right now, he's a rich man's Rik Smits and that's about it.
Here's my question: Looking at the last 10 guys on this list, with the exception of Yao, each of them gives you a legitimate chance to win a title within the next five years as long as they're the best guy on a really good team. Could you say the same about Yao? To this point, no. Even Smits had some huge moments for the Pacers in the mid-'90s and ended up being the most underrated center of his generation. What has Yao done? His value has been completely distorted, as evidenced by the fact Houston never would have offered him straight-up for KG last summer ... even though KG clearly would have made the Rockets a better team. At some point soon, Yao needs to carry a good team or it's never happening. To be continued.
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
Dwyane Wade has experienced more than his share of pain since winning his first title.
The same things that make him great (the whole "knocked down seven times, get up eight" routine) make him an increasingly dangerous bet over the next decade. How much abuse can his body take? Will Wade end up becoming the Earl Campbell of the NBA, someone who flames out after a few glorious years because he took too many hits? Boston fans watched this happened with Larry Bird in the late-'80s, when the reckless mentality that made him special caused his body to break down after the '88 playoffs. His back started acting up, his heels went on him, his back eventually collapsed and that was that. Could we be headed that way with D-Wade? Let's hope not.
(By the way, we keep hearing how Kobe is so "unhappy." Does anyone have a better cause for demanding a trade than Wade? He's playing hurt on a lottery team with an abrasive coach, a washed-up superstar, multiple head cases and exactly two teammates who care about defense; the potential savior of the season is a white point guard who looks like he just fell out of an Abercrombie catalog; they have no cap space until 2010; and he's playing every home game in a half-filled arena. Which star should be more depressed than Wade right now? Nobody, I say.)
7. Kevin Garnett
6. Steve Nash
Both have a profound, day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, season-to-season impact on the styles and personalities of their teams: Nash resonates because of his unselfishness, intensity and monumental skills as an offensive player; Garnett's impact comes from his unselfishness, intensity and his monumental skills as a defensive player. Since they're both retiring with their current teams, it's silly to even figure out where they should be included in a column like this ... but Nash gets the edge because of his contract. It's a shame they couldn't have played together.
(Actually, scratch that -- it's not a shame. My beloved Celtics are 20-2 right now! If they win the title, the owners should make extra championship rings for Kevin McHale and Robert Sarver with "thank you" engraved on the inside.)
5. Deron Williams
4. Chris Paul
When I did my preliminary top-50 podcast with my buddy House two weeks ago, we had Williams pegged in the high teens and never wondered if he should be higher. One week later, the "Williams vs. Paul" debate heated up nationally and made me reconsider everything, especially when foes like Nash weighed in and sang Williams' praises.
Personally, I don't see the debate: Paul is one year younger, he's completely unstoppable off the dribble, he's better than Williams statistically, and he's shining with a lesser supporting cast and an inferior coach for a franchise that has been comically unstable (and continues to be unstable). Good God, what else do you want from a franchise point guard? Williams has turned out to be a terrific pro, but from everything we've seen from Paul these past three years, he's clearly the next Isiah Thomas ... and Isiah was the best player on two championship teams. So I'm going with Paul.
Dwight Howard's tremendous upside trumps every player in the league -- with one notable exception.
Group A: "Completely and Utterly Untouchable"
3. Tim Duncan
His finishes in the Trade Value column: No. 2 (2001), No. 3 (2002), No. 1 (2003), No. 2 (2004), No. 1 (2005), No. 3 (2006), No. 3 (2007). Now that's impressive.
2. Dwight Howard
You can't even say he improved from April '07 to November '07 -- it's more like he transformed. We knew his scoring and rebounding numbers would eventually resemble Moses Malone's work in the late '70s, and we knew his athleticism was a perfect fit for the fan-friendly Nash era, but I always thought he had a little too much David Robinson in him. In other words, he was destined to become this generation's "awesome physical specimen and transcendent character guy who wasn't quite mean enough to be the best player on a championship team."
So imagine my surprise when D-Ho didn't just dominate these first six weeks but showed flashes of a non-Robinson side, getting fiesty after a few hard fouls and relishing the chance to unleash about 50 dunks in traffic. Maybe it wasn't quite like watching Hulk Hogan join the NWO and blacken his beard, but still, there's a consistent edge to Howard's game that Robinson never had. Through seven weeks, Howard has two 30-20 games, three 20-20 games, seven 30-15 games and 22 double-doubles and has a chance to become the first center since Moses to average a 24-15 for an entire season. And he's only 22. And we haven't even mentioned his defense (good and getting better) or the way he protects the rim (superb). If there's a chink in the armor, it's his crummy free-throw shooting. But that's it.
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
The once and future King.
1. LeBron James
You know somebody is great when his ceiling as a superstar -- which we raised this season because LeBron finally started treating every regular-season game like a playoff game on both ends of the floor -- manages to trump everything from the previous three paragraphs. Amazing.
One more thing: In my humble opinion, 2007 LeBron and 2007 Howard are more untradeable than anyone in the seven-year history of this "Trade Value" column, even surpassing (gulp) 2001 Shaq and 2003 Duncan. Yup, I think we're in pretty good shape with the National Basketball Association right now.
Until next year.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more, check out the revamped Sports Guy World.