See that YouTube clip embedded below? A friend of mine passed along the link Monday. It’s John Tesh performing on Catalina Island in 1997, only he’s dressed like a waiter on a cruise ship and looks like a mutant James Van Der Beek. The clip starts with Tesh pontificating to the crowd, then playing a message that he left for himself with … (wait for it) … the original beats for the “NBA on NBC” music. I think he means to be ironic, but there’s something non-ironic about his quest to be ironic. Again, he’s dressed like a waiter on a cruise ship. And I thought the clip ended there, but no! At the 1:15 mark, Tesh starts emphatically dribbling an invisible basketball as the crowd applauds in rhythm — you heard me, air dribbling — then prances over to his real piano and bangs out the “NBA” song with a 25-person orchestra.
You know what happens next, my friends? Magic! That’s what. Pay special attention to the violinist — I’m definitely hiring him for my second and fourth weddings. I have watched this clip 23 times in the last 48 hours, and as soon as I hand in this column, I’m going for 24ths. I hereby bequeath John Tesh’s Catalina clip as the official YouTube intro of America’s favorite running column gimmick: “Who has the highest NBA Trade Value?”
I spent two solid work days researching this year’s column; made a vague attempt to understand the parameters of PER before giving up; treated HoopsHype’s salary Web site like Dirk Diggler treated Rollergirl (note: had to make the mandatory “Boogie Nights” reference early so we don’t have to think about it); wrote three different drafts; bounced so many ideas and opinions off my buddy House that he decided he was my “Trade Value muse”; deliberated the question, “Who should be higher, Duncan or Wade?” longer than the Supreme Court deliberated on Roe vs. Wade; and took long enough to decide on a final list that two players (initials: K.D. and A.J.) moved a combined total of 26 spots between my first list and my last list.
NBA Trade Value Rules
1. Salaries matter. Over this season and the next two, would you rather pay David West $27 million or Amare Stoudemire $43 million?
2. Age matters. Would you rather have Chauncey Billups for the next five seasons or Rajon Rondo for the next 12?
3. Pretend the league passed the following rule: For 24 hours, any player can be traded without cap ramifications but with luxury-tax ramifications. So if Team A tells Team B, “We’ll trade you Player X for Player Y,” would Team B make the deal?
4. Concentrate on degrees.Neither San Antonio nor Orlando would make a Howard-Duncan trade, but the Spurs would at least say, “Wow, Dwight Howard’s available?” and have a meeting about it 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. 40 to 1). So if Carmelo comes in at No. 16, players 1 through 15 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. 17 and 50.
Here’s a list of 2007-08 incumbents who couldn’t crack either the 2009 list or honorable mention: Leandro Barbosa (No. 50 last year) is the sixth man of the “Mike D’Antoni’s offense made me seem 38 percent better than I really am” All-Stars … I’m a little over the Tayshaun Prince (44) thing …Michael Redd (42) blew out his ACL and cemented Wisconsin’s claim to “most depressing sports winter” … Elton Brand (41) made an unforgettable leap from the “highest value” to “top-three worst contracts” list … Tyson Chandler (40) has played like absolute dog crap and might be Exhibit A for the “Wait, are we sure the Hornets like Byron Scott?” debate … Marcus Camby (38) might be the most bummed-out Clipper of all time (he always seems one dumb Al Thornton shot away from just walking off the court and never coming back) … Rasheed Wallace (37) isn’t as good as he used to be but doesn’t realize it yet … Allen Iverson(36) had a good run … Chris Kaman (35) might have been kidnapped by Annie Wilkes … Shawn Marion (33) was exposed Barbosa-style in Miami but remains a sensational defender … Josh Howard (31) smoked away his spot … Tracy McGrady (28) went south faster than Chris Brown’s endorsement career … Gilbert Arenas (27) is the new C-Webb (2004 franchise-murdering version) … Baron Davis (15) forgot to take his jumper with him when he left Golden State …Carlos Boozer (11) gets a “Trade Value DNP” because he’s an injured free-agent-to-be and is definitely leaving Utah, so basically, I have no idea what to do with him.
See how many incumbents we lost? And you wondered why we downsized from 50 to 40. Our toughest 2009 omissions go from “not so tough” to “agonizingly tough.”
Monta Ellis: Let’s add this to the collective bargaining agreement: If you crash a motorcycle or scooter after signing a big-money contract, every living NBA player from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s gets to split your salary for one season.
Andrea Bargnani: His ceiling? Memo Okur. Is this a good thing for the No. 1 overall pick of a 2007 draft that included LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy? Probably not.
Rudy Gay and Rodney Stuckey: Either 1-2 or 2-1 for this year’s “Most Overrated Young Player” Award. Although Trent from Royal Oak, Mich., makes a good point: “Stuckey was drafted with the pick acquired from Orlando (aka the Darko pick) and was the sole reason for the Chauncey trade. He’s potential redemption for two horrific moves directly tied to Dumars. He ain’t going nowhere.” Good point. I’d put him higher if he played defense.
Luol Deng: Signs of life lately. I caught the Bulls in person recently and it’s astonishing that they aren’t good or even half-decent. Of all the lousy coaching hirings recently (Terry Porter, P.J. Carlesimo, Michael Curry, Sam Vincent, Reggie Theus, Marc Iavaroni), what’s funny is Vinny Del Negro was by far the worst. It’s even scarier in person when you’re sitting behind the Bulls’ bench; I know a reader once compared Vinny’s coaching to Shooter’s taking over Hickory High that first time, but actually, it’s more like watching an old person getting ready to go through a metal detector at an airport. Just complete confusion and panic and a lot of stopping and starting and glancing around. I feel bad even making fun of it. Let’s just move on.
J.J. Hickson: My favorite under-the-radar rookie and a legitimate 2009 Playoff X Factor. If he played for the Lakers, L.A. fans would be comparing him to a young Karl Malone right now.
Paul Millsap: Would have cracked the top 30 if not for his expiring (and dirt-cheap) contract, which makes him a Trade Value DNP since he’d never get traded for soon-to-be-irrelevant reasons. Let’s see what kind of contract he gets this summer. I love him for “four years, $32 million” … not as much for “five years, $60 million.”
Jason Thompson: I mocked him on draft day and he shoved it in my face like a cream pie. Top-notch energy guy, good defender, lots to like. You know, if Michael Beasley wasn’t such a colossal disappointment and semi-fraud, the 2008 draft could have ranked among the best ever (and certainly superior to the more ballyhooed ’07 class). Maybe it’s not loaded with Hall of Famers like the ’84 or ’98 drafts, but the list of rooks ranging from “definitely a future starter” to “future multiple All-Star” is abnormally high. Put it this way: That draft was so good that poor Alexis Ajinca stands out like Dan Aykroyd in the “We Are The World” video right now. He should switch jersey numbers to No. 32 so we can call him “32AA’s.” When I think of the worst possible bra size, I want to think of Alexis Ajinca.
Jeff Green: Great teammate, tough as nails, gives a crap, does whatever you need. He’s the anti-Beasley. What frightens me is that The Team That Shall Not Be Named somehow has become my favorite non-Boston team to watch. Love the Durant-Green-Westbrook foundation, love Scotty Brooks (who knew???), love the spirit of their crowds, love their style of play (attack off every miss, which is exactly how the Bulls should play). It continues to be cruel and unfair that this couldn’t have happened in Seattle.
Rudy Fernandez: Cheap contract, tons of skills and the female fans dig him. Although it’s hard to evaluate the Trade Value of Portland players fairly, because Kevin Pritchard is delusionally convinced every Blazers’ ceiling ranges from “Hall of Fame” to “One of the top 10 players of all-time.” Pritchard always gives you the feeling that he calls Michael Lewis once a week trying to convince him to write a “Moneyball” type book about the NBA … with Pritchard as the Billy Beane figure, of course. He’s just about worked the last nerve of the other 29 GMs. And that’s an understatement. I don’t know, I kind of enjoy him. There’s no question Jeremy Piven will play him in “Moneyball II: The Kevin Pritchard Story.” None.
Eric Gordon: Every Clippers fan feels Gordon is like one of those kids from a bad family who has a ton of potential, but there’s still an overwhelming chance that his parents (in this case, Donald Sterling and Mike Dunleavy) will screw him up. And actually, that’s how this will probably play out. Ladies and gentlemen, your Los Angeles Clippers!
Kevin Love: Bill Laimbeer 2.0 with better passing skills and without the Cobra Kai streak. You have to love a country where Love’s best rookie card (Upper Deck’s ’09 SPX set, the signed autographed jersey card) goes for one-eighth the money of Beasley’s card … and yet, Miami could offer Beasley for Love right now and Minnesota would make a face and hang up. Whatever.
Russell Westbrook: The rookie MVP of the Table Team for guys who bring a ton of stuff to the table, but also take a fair share of stuff off it … but still, he wins you over in the end. I like him. He is definitely not a point guard. This much we know. I’d like to be the chairman of the “Is He A Point Guard Or Not?” Committee. I have a rare talent for quickly spotting breast implants, dentures, bad toupees and shooting guards masquerading as point guards.
Jameer Nelson: The toughest omission. With that contract (five years, $33 million), he easily would have made the cut if he wasn’t out with a shoulder (copyright: Al Michaels).
OK, let’s get to the top 40. But before we do, allow me a little air dribbling first.
(Slamming my hand down emphatically on an invisible basketball.)
(Still doing it.)
(Still doing it.)
(You fired up yet? You feeling it? YOU FEELING IT?????)
All right, let’s get this party started …
D. Lippitt/Einstein / Getty Images
Group K: “Ridiculous For You And For Us”
40. Chauncey Billups
Remains the same “slightly past-his-prime, slightly overpaid and genuinely overrated crunch-time” guy; it’s just that he got traded to one of the most selfish, me-first, rudderless playoff teams in recent memory. Now he’s getting the credit for Denver’s “turnaround” with nobody mentioning the other factors (Carmelo is a better all-around player, Nene has been shockingly effective, the Nuggets’ bench is better, the pieces complement each other, etc.). Here’s my theory: Denver was like a post-college buddy who had a horrendous girlfriend, finally broke up with her, then married the next cute girl who liked him. Does that mean he married poorly? Not necessarily. She might have been perfect. But deep down, we all knew he was so ecstatic to be away from the previous witch that he would have fallen head over heels for anyone. So that’s what Chauncey turned out to be for the Nuggets — the pleasant follow-up girlfriend to the nightmare witch. If Denver had swapped Iverson for Kidd, the same “turnaround” would have happened. I am convinced.
39. Hedo Turkoglu
His last season of being the “underrated and underpaid go-to guy on a contender.” I actually thought he was better last season than this season, but whatever. Check out the ’02 Kings again, an entertaining team that never ended up winning the title but secured a place in our hearts (as well as the All-Ugly Hall of Fame). Back in 2002, did you ever think Hedo would be their most relevant player from 2007-09? In a million years?
38. Devin Harris
Hey, TNT, here’s a list of “people to show after every basket Harris scores in the 2009 All-Star Game” (in descending order from “most funny” to “not funny”): Mark Cuban, Jason Kidd, Ric Bucher, Avery Johnson, Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Cuban a second time, Marc Stein, Dikembe Mutombo, the stars from “Trust Me,” Mark Cuban a third time, Holly Hunter, Marc Stein a second time, Matthew Lillard, John Havlicek.
37. Andris Biedrins
Shopped a little too vigorously by Don Nelson lately for my liking. Does Nellie realize Biedrins doesn’t turn 23 until April? (As opposed to Yi Jianlian, who turns 33?) This remains the most logical match for Amare if Biedrins’ base-year deal didn’t screw up any Trade Machine scenario.So Amare, you don’t like playing defense? Good news! You have something in common with the rest of my starting five! Which reminds me…
Group J: “Everything Must Go! Everything Must Go!”
36. Amare Stoudemire
Bruce in Phoenix recently begged me, “Can you hold off on the Trade Value column until some GM is dumb enough to offer us too much for Amare? I don’t want them to know that he sucks now!” Hey, Bruce? I think they know. Why do you think you’re getting so many pu-pu platter offers? It would help if Amare grabbed a rebound or switched correctly on a high screen more than twice per quarter. I still say the Amare era is salvageable — stick the kid on a team with a good point guard (Chicago?), tell him to just worry about putting the biscuit in the basket (New York? G-State?), or trade for him and say, “We love you, you’re our franchise guy” (Sacramento? Memphis? Indiana?) and I think he’d start slapping up 29-9s again. With a smile on his face.
Group I: “Cost-Effective Building Blocks”
The latest D’Antoni salary bumpee is averaging a 20-13 with 56 percent shooting since New Year’s. Yeah, he’s a lousy defender … but should we really pick nits when he’s on the books for $1.76 million this season and $2.68 million next? The Knicks have settled sexual harassment suits for three times that much. (No, seriously. They have. It wasn’t a joke.) By the way, he’s one of only two American white guys to crack the top 40.
34. Brook Lopez
And here’s the other. That has to rank among Brook’s career highlights, right up there with making the Elite Eight, getting drafted in the lottery and beating his brother two months ago in a “Who can bounce higher on a king-sized bed without spilling an ice cream sundae?” contest at The Plaza Hotel.
33. O.J. Mayo
Here’s a gifted kid who could have become a Pippen-like defender with 3-point range, only he’s developing losing habits and reprehensible shot selection as The Man on a hopeless lottery team. The shame of all shames is Miami could have just taken him at No. 2 — Riley even wanted to, but he couldn’t summon the requisite testicular fortitude — and the Juice would have ended up as the Pippen to Wade’s MJ. Instead, he’s hoisting up bad 3s as Marc Gasol curses under his breath in Spanish and Gay looks like he’s thinking to himself, “The next time I get the ball, it’s going up and I don’t care if I’m trapped in the corner with three guys on me.” As Michael Corleone screamed after the Joey Zaza assassination, “This is not … WHAT I WANTED!” (Wait a second, did I just quote “Godfather III?” I’m clearly running out of movies and need to retire soon.) I knocked him down to No. 33 even though he’s talented and can’t be blamed for what’s happening.
32. Al Horford
31. LaMarcus Aldridge
Quality young forwards with great contracts on winning teams. But you never know about the young’uns. Take it from the guy who once proclaimed that young Amare Stoudemire was the second coming of Moses Malone.
Group H: “You’ll Have To Bowl Us Over, But We’re Listening”
30. Kevin Martin
Seems a little high until you remember he’s averaging 27 a game with 46 percent shooting on 3s since New Year’s. Wouldn’t you try to pry him from the Maloofs right now? If I’m Houston’s Daryl Morey during the All-Star break, I’m buying Patron shots for the Maloofs until 3 a.m. Sunday, then offering them T-Mac and a 2009 No. 1 for Martin and Kenny Thomas’ deal that expires in 2010. Then again, Daryl went to MIT — he probably couldn’t do three shots without passing out or giving away Luis Scola straight up for Channing Frye. Bad plan.
Speaking of Kenny, did anyone see the irony of the Kings’ retiring C-Webb’s number last weekend even though his lavish extension genuinely murdered their franchise for the last six years of this decade? Continuing the girlfriend analogies, the poor Kings were like a buddy who had the greatest, most life-altering girlfriend for five years … right until she gained 30 pounds, gave him VD (in this case, Kenny’s unwieldy contract) and left him relatively destitute until 2010. But seriously, thanks for the memories, C-Webb! This is your night!
29. Caron Butler
Just like Martin, an enticing piece for a contender … and really, for us as well, because warriors like Tuff Juice should be in the playoffs every year. Three ideas from the Picasso of the Trade Machine: Butler to Houston for Luis Scola, Shane Battier and a 2011 No. 1; Butler, Juan Dixon and Darius Songaila’s crappy contract to Atlanta for Marvin Williams, Speedy Claxton’s not-quite-as-crappy contract, Acie Law and a future No. 1; and Butler plus Etan Thomas’ crappy contract to Portland for Travis Outlaw, Raef LaFrentz’s Expiring Contract (you knew it was coming) and all the insurance money that comes with Raef’s Expiring Contract.
(Important note: My hopes for a logical Butler trade might be unrealistic since you can obtain a free “Fire Ernie [Grunfeld]” T-shirt simply by e-mailing a dude at ErnieGone@Hotmail.com. I’m not making this up. When some random fan is giving away FREE T-shirts to get his GM fired, you know something has gone horribly wrong.)
28. Josh Smith
Tailed off less than expected after inking that worrisome $58 million extension … although he’s the captain of the 2009 “Why The Hell Are You Shooting 3s?” All-Stars, missing 41 of 54 this season (24 percent) and missing 324-for-438 for his career (26 percent). But by all means, Josh, keep chucking ’em up like you’re paying three shots for a dollar at one of those amusement park hoops with the tiny rims. You might win that stuffed animal yet!
27. David West
And as we’ve been predicting for two years, the Ben Wallace Memorial Underrated/Overrated Cycle is complete: The still-underpaid West had no business making the All-Star team yet made it anyway. Next up for the Underrated/Overrated Cycle: Turkoglu after someone (over)pays him $50 million for four years this summer. That will be fun. I hope it’s John Paxson, just for comedy’s sake.
Group G: “Just Know, He’s Worth More To Us Than To You”
26. Rajon Rondo
Number of 23-and-under point guards in NBA history who started for consecutive 60-win teams: Zero. Stay tuned. Also, he made a sneaky statistical jump from last season to this season: 10.6 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.6 rpg, 1.7 steals and 49.2 percent FG, to 11.2 ppg, 8.3 apg, 5.1 rpg, 2.0 steals, 50.4 percent FG. Factoring in the typical jumps as players get older (as well as better free-throw shooting), we might see the following peak season for Rondo some day: 16.1 ppg, 10.8 apg, 7.2 rpg, 2.5 steals, 55.4 percent FG. It’s in play. We also should mention that he’s a good defensive player and immensely fun to watch. All Suns fans will now light themselves on fire with a framed photo of Bob Sarver dunking off a trampoline.
25. Greg Oden
24. Andrew Bynum
The two toughest calls in the column. Oden would be in “Group I” if I didn’t invoke the Darko/Dumars Corollary: Namely, that his Trade Value is artificially high only because his GM would never admit, “Holy mother of $#%@ did I screw that pick up!” House and I discussed this during our preview podcast, but it’s worth rehashing here: Oden lacks a basketball fluidness that every other great center had. He has more of a power game — all quick bursts, some occasional flashes, some “wow” rebounding/defensive plays, but ultimately it’s just hard to imagine him consistently dominating games. He’s all over the place. And that’s before we get to his structural issues, the cloud lingering over him and the way he apparently retreated into a shell off the court. Awesome person, interesting talent, some real promise … but would you bet on his putting it all together? If I offered you $10,000 on “over/under for Oden’s career All-Star appearances: 4.5,” would you want the over or the under? I’d want the under. It’s just the safer bet. As for Bynum, I would have bumped him to Group E if Kobe hadn’t intentionally injured his teammate’s knee Jeff Gillooly-style. (Just kidding, Lakers fans. Just kidding. Jokes. Settle down.) Either way, it’s a bad sign for Portland’s 2007 draft that (A) the Blazers don’t even have the best under-22 center in their own conference, and (B) we’re still four groups away from getting to the guy the Blazers passed up.
Group F: “We’ll Discuss Him, But You Can’t Tell ANYONE”
23. Steve Nash
He’s the Jennifer Aniston of the NBA: A sympathetic figure who brings a ton to the table and just wanted to have kids (or in Nash’s case, win one title), only now his window is closing and he’s considering the sperm donor route (or in Nash’s case, a mercy trade to a contender with a better chance of winning, like Portland). By the way, Sarver is absolutely Angelina Jolie in this analogy — he ruined everything and doesn’t even feel bad about it. The Shaq trade equals the time Jennifer’s wasting by dating John Mayer — ultimately, it’s a wasted year for her ovaries. Amare Stoudemire was Brad Pitt, the guy who should have made it happen and didn’t. And I think Marc Stein was Us Weekly.
22. Tony Parker
Very fair contract ($37.7 million remaining, expires 2011) for someone who has proven he can be (A) be one of the top three guys on a championship team, and (B) a photogenic trophy husband for a famous female celebrity. Weird aside: One of my favorite random blogs is www.luxist.com, which updates the listings and purchases of big estates in Miami, California and New York (all with some dramatic price cuts recently, which makes it all the more riveting when you find out that Beck reduced the price on his Malibu house and you picture him frantically writing a new album for cash). They have links, pictures and prices to every house and it’s a phenomenal time-waster. So recently, this blog revealed that Tony’s San Antonio house went on the market. Gated community, master suite with a fireplace and a giant master bath, pool, basketball half-court with the Spurs logo on it. The price? A little less than $900 grand! What?????? Tony wasn’t even rolling in a seven-figure house? Or is that how cheap it is to live in San Antonio? I need more info. Now I want ESPN.com to hire a luxury real estate columnist.
(Come on, like you wouldn’t read that? You just clicked on that link and looked at Tony’s house! I know you did! STOP SHAKING YOUR HEAD AT ME!)
21. Joe Johnson
Peaked as a scorer two seasons ago (25.0 ppg., 47 percent FG), but his assists are up, he has been stepping up in crunch time and his team is headed for 50 wins despite losing Josh Childress and whiffing on the Acie Law pick. Joe Johnson, I’m proud of you. Your team shouldn’t be this good.
Victor Baldizon / Getty Images
Group E: “Effectively Untouchable”
20. Al Jefferson
(Shaking my head.)
(I happened to be watching when he tore his ACL on Sunday and did the “no, no, no, come on, no” routine and everything. Ruined my night.)
(He’s my favorite non-Celtic, hands down, nobody else comes close. Durant is second, Duncan is third, Ginobili is fourth, Brandon Roy is fifth … and Sasha Vujacic is last.)
(The symmetry between the most ingenious low-post player of all-time coaching the kid with the best current low-post moves — and the kid suddenly making The Leap as a result — was almost too good and too cool to be true. I feel for everyone in ‘Sota. It always sucks when someone gets hurt, but when it’s a good kid who matured as a player and person, took less money to stay on a crappy team, then became The Man with little to no help and no veterans to guide him? Then it really sucks.)
(I can’t talk about it. Hence, the parenthesis. Just know that he was No. 9 on last week’s list.)
19. Chris Bosh
This year’s Pau Gasol: Bosh has been unhappy for a while and it’s starting to reflect in his play. I went to a Clips game in December when Bosh wreaked havoc (31 easy points) but had one of those grim, tortured, trapped, KG-circa-2006 looks on his face. Not good. I call it the “I didn’t realize when we decided to have our third kid that my wife would gain 75 pounds” face. That’s why Team Simmons has stopped at two. Wait, am I talking out loud?
18. Carmelo Anthony
Melo in 2006-07: 65 games, 28.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 47.6 percent FG, 26.8 percent 3FG
Melo in 2008-09: 37 games, 21.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 44.3 percent FG, 40.0 percent 3FG
What was a better season? This season. His points dropped, but here’s why …
- 2007: 22.4 FGA, 8.7 FTA
2009: 17.0 FGA, 7.0 FTA
So basically, he gave up six shots a game to other guys, rebounded a little more, improved his 3-point shooting and worked harder on defense. He’s better now. That’s the second-biggest reason they’re winning (narrowly trailing the Billups/girlfriend analogy). And if you don’t think he’s still the crucial Nugget, check this out:
- Melo in wins: 23.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.0 apg, 47 percent FG
Melo in losses: 16.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 38 percent FG
17. Danny Granger
If the Artest melee never happens, Indiana finishes ahead of Boston in 2005, we’re picking No. 17 instead of No. 18, and we have Danny Granger right now. (Wait, we won the title last year? Why am I driving myself crazy with dumb hypotheticals right now?) So in a weird way, the Artest melee turned out to be GOOD for the Pacers? Kind of? Maybe just a little? Nobody made a bigger leap than Granger this season, with the possible exception of NBA-TV on Tuesday nights.
(That reminds me: We’ve had our first negative impact from the watershed GP/C-Webb combo. … That’s right, it’s the new fad of other NBA studio talent trying to emulate them by making bad jokes, overlaughing and whooping it up like they’re warming up the crowd at the ESPYS. What are the odds of Steve Smith and Cheryl Miller having an inspired moment of comedy together? Say, 200-to-1? That’s not stopping them from trying. Let’s nip this in the bud. Like, right now.)
16. Manu Ginobili
We’ll translate this section to 2009 NBA studio speak:
Host: “Bill, who do you like?”
Me: “I gotta be honest, if Manu is healthy this spring, I think the road to the 2009 title still goes through San Antonio.”
Generic Co-Host X: “Remember ‘Mork and Mindy’? Manu Manu!!!!!”
Host: “I knew you were goin’ there!”
Generic Co-Host X: “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!!!!!!!!! JAH-NOH-BLEEEEEE!!!!!”
Me: “You’re making my ginose bleed!”
(Everyone breaks up laughing.)
15. Pau Gasol
The starting center on the “Guys Who Are So Much More Impressive In Person” Team. Wonderful player to watch. Terrific passer, smooth low-post moves, runs the floor much better than you’d think, and he always pulls out two flying-out-of-nowhere tips from weird angles. Seems like he’d be fun to play with, too. I always leave the Staples Center wildly impressed by him. Right team, right fit. But can you win a title with him? Hmmmmmm.
Group D: “Only If They Asked to Leave”
14. Paul Pierce
13. Dirk Nowitzki
Too much history with their respective teams, too much left in the gas tank. By the way, check out the 1998 draft again, for old time’s sake. … And remember that it was amazing Pierce fell to No. 10 at the time. You don’t get many drafts in which two future Hall of Famers go No. 9 and No. 10. Not to mention that Michael Olowokandi went first (FIRST!!!!), UNC’s Vince Carterand Antawn Jamison were swapped for each other, Nowitzki’s rights were swapped for (gulp) Tractor Traylor, Rashard Lewis fell to No. 31, and there was an entire All-Head Case Starting Five of ’98 picks withBonzi Wells, Ricky Davis, Keon Clark, Rafer Alston andJerome James. Would you watch a documentary on the ’98 Draft? I feel like I would.
12. Deron Williams
A Utah fan sarcastically e-mailed this week, “I can’t wait for your Trade Value column, you haven’t come up with a way to pump up Chris Paul at Deron Williams’ expense in weeks.” I’m taking the high road.
11. Kevin Garnett
Add this to the “Tim Duncan is much greater than he gets credit for” files: KG is one month younger than Duncan. Garnett has played 1,048 regular-season games and 73 playoff games; Duncan has played 873 regular-season games, 155 playoff games and 128 college games. From a mileage/age standpoint, Duncan probably has 117,000 miles on him and KG has 112,500. But Duncan is more of an impact guy than KG at this point, which is less of a reflection on KG and more of a testament to Duncan. The guy is NOT aging. More on this in a second.
Group C: “It Makes Us Angry That You’d Even Ask”
10. Derrick Rose
Sneaks into the top 10 because of his ceiling (spacious), contract (cheap for four or five years) and extraneous circumstances (bad team, bad coach). As I wrote in December, he’s like a $300,000 Bentley parked in front of a $100,000 house for this crappy Chicago franchise. But here’s my one concern after finally seeing him in person: He’s missing that swagger/leadership/vocal component that every great point guard has. Rose carries himself like a ninth grader playing varsity — never speaks, keeps to himself, doesn’t want to ruffle feathers. (I’d chalk this up to the whole rookie thing, but he carried himself that way at Memphis as well. That’s just who he is: soft-spoken, humble and mortified by any attention.) Now, Rondo acted the same way as a rookie and struts around two years later like he owns the place, so there’s hope. … Although the swagger from Allen, KG and Pierce definitely rubbed off on him. Who will rub off on Rose during a revolving door of young guys, panic trades and bad free-agent signings during these next few years? You got me. I just know that I watched Chris Paul as a rookie and he owned his crappy team. Rose never made me feel that way. And so I am nervous. Just a little.
9. Brandon Roy
You might be able to make the Finals with Roy as your best player and crunch-time guy some day, as long as he’s leading one of those deep, unconventional, 1989 Pistons-type teams. He’s a killer at the end of games and a Duncan-like leader to boot. I’d say more, but we’re at 152,000 words right now.
8. Kevin Durant
Put it this way: I had a lot to do this week. I am trying to finish a book. I had to finish this column. My wife and daughter returned from a trip late Monday night and I wanted to see them. I am flying to Phoenix on Thursday and had to take care of all the dumb stuff people have when they are about to leave for a trip. On Tuesday night, under normal circumstances, I would have rather given myself a two-foot-long paper cut instead of going to the Staples Center and spending three hours with Lakers fans. I went there anyway. Only three teams would have dragged me out of the house: The LeBrons, the Celts, and Durant’s Future Former Team. That’s the list.
(Before you make fun of my bromance with KD, explain how a kid who just turned 20 four months ago has basically been averaging a 29-8 with 49-88-45 percentages and this isn’t a national story. I mean, you should be tired of hearing about Durant by now. By the way, he’s averaging 31.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg and 45.4 mpg over the past 12 games, six of them wins. Here’s his game log if you don’t believe me. And check those numbers compared to a 21-year-old LeBron in Year 2, or Kobe’s third season when he turned 20. Hmmmm. What do you think Durant has to do to crack one of the first three segments on “PTI”? Score 40 for five straight games? I’m just curious. Again, he’s 20. He’s can’t drink yet. This whole paragraph is making me feel bromantic.)
Bill Baptist / Getty Images
Group B: “Lemme Save You Some Time: N-O”
7. Yao Ming
Moving well enough that I’m temporarily retiring the “Yao Muresan” jokes. Houston would never deal him unless it was for one of the next six guys. Quick question though: Yao is one of the 10 most famous athletes in the world, right? So what would the top 10 look like? I had a great argument about this with someone recently and we honestly couldn’t figure it out — definitely Yao and Tiger, definitely Beckham and Federer, definitely Phelps, maybe Thierry Henry, maybe a Formula One guy (I won’t even embarrass myself by guessing), maybe Kobe … and then … I mean … does LeBron make the list? Brady or (Peyton) Manning? Nadal? More soccer players? Any female tennis players? How do we figure this out? I have mentioned this question to a few different people and drawn a sweeping range of answers. Maybe there’s no answer. My head hurts.
Group A: “Completely and Utterly Untouchable”
6. Kobe Bryant
You have to admire a future Hall of Famer with more than 1,000 NBA games on his odometer for playing 103 straight games and nearly 4,100 minutes last season, killing himself on the Redeem Team last summer, then playing another 51 straight games (and counting) this season. … And during all of that, he somehow added two moves over the summer, MJ’s late-career fallaway and that funky pivot move after he fakes the foul-line jumper. If all that’s not enough, he’s the clear No. 2 choice for MVP behind LeBron, as one of the only guys who delivers the goods every time you see him in person. I headed to Staples on Tuesday knowing Kobe would show up for four quarters. How many current guys can you say that about? Three? Five? Of everyone in the NBA this season, he has the most to gain historically over these next four months: If the Lakers win the title, he becomes one of the top 10 players ever, and that’s that.
(Now here’s where the Lakers fans e-mail, “But wait, he’s in the top 10 already!!!!!” They’re a delight.)
5. Dwyane Wade
Simmons, Oct. 24: “Loved him in the Olympics, loved him in the preseason, love him for a monster comeback season that will be the athletic equivalent of ‘Still D.R.E.’ I’m thinking something like 29.4 ppg., 6.2 rpg. and 5.8 apg. and a slew of ‘D-Wade is back and better than ever!’ stories starting in late November. You watch.”
Wade, Feb. 12: 28.4 ppg., 7.0 apg., 5.0 rpg. for a 27-24 Miami team.
(Note: I’d like to apologize for being off by one point, one rebound and one assist. I’m better than that.)
4. Tim Duncan
His finishes in the Trade Value column since 2001: No. 2, No. 3, No. 1, No. 2, No. 1, No. 3, No. 3, No. 4. Uncanny. Speaking of consistency, check out his 12 regular seasons (including this one) split into groups of three seasons …
- Duncan (first three years): 22-12-3, 52 percent FG, missed eight games.
Duncan (next three years): 23-13-4, 51 percent FG, missed eight games.
Duncan (next three years): 21-12-3, 50 percent FG, missed 31 games.
Duncan (last three years): 20-11-3, 52 percent FG, missed five games.
Then, remember that he also played 155 playoff games and averaged a 23-13-4 with 50 percent shooting, plus first-class defense and leadership. And sprinkle in the little fact that no Duncan team has ever lost even 30 games in a regular season. Translation: Greatest power forward ever, most consistent superstar ever and you cannot sleep on him in May and June.
3. Chris Paul
2. Dwight Howard
The small and big versions of each other: 23-year-old franchise players, a guaranteed 50 wins every season, statistical freaks, terrific teammates, good interviews, immensely fun to watch in person, disproportionately important to their teams. … Really, the only difference is that Howard has a legitimate flaw (free-throw shooting) and with Paul, you have to nitpick for something like, “Bigger point guards can post him up.” I like where this is going.
(Interesting e-mail from Jared in Bowling Green, Ky.: “Recently, I caught two different interviews with Dwight Howard and came to this conclusion — he’s the real life Josh Baskin. Never before have I seen a 23-year-old who actually reminds me of most fourth graders. I suggest that Dwight be cast as Josh Baskin if ‘Big’ is ever re-made with an all-black cast like they did with ‘Can’t Buy Me Love.’ He was made to play that role.” Is it a good thing that our No. 2 Trade Value guy was just compared to the kid from “Big” and the comparison worked? I can’t decide.)
1. LeBron James
Last February, I wrote that he didn’t have a ceiling. This year? I figured out his ceiling. At least for right now. At age 24, he’s a cross between ABA Dr. J (unstoppable in the open court, breathtaking in traffic, has the rare ability to galvanize teammates and crowds with one “Wow” play, even handles himself as well off the court) and 1992 Scottie Pippen (the freaky athletic ability on both ends, especially when he’s cutting pass lines or flying in from the weak side for a block), with a little MJ (his overcompetitiveness and sense of The Moment), Magic (the unselfishness, which isn’t where I thought it would be back in 2003, but at least it’s in there a little) and Bo Jackson (how he can occasionally just overpower the other team in a way that doesn’t seem human) mixed in … only if all of that Molotov Superstar Cocktail was mixed together in Karl Malone’s body. This is crazy. This is insane. This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. And to think, LeBron doesn’t even have a reliable 20-footer or a post-up game yet. See, this is only going to get better. And it’s already historic.
As a Celtics fan, I shudder for the future. As an NBA fan, I am pinching myself.
Until next year.