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Thursday, June 30, 2005
Updated: July 21, 4:27 PM ET
NBA's rank and file

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

I know, I know – it's another NBA column. But we couldn't allow the offseason to start July 1 without an emergency edition of America's favorite annual column gimmick, "Which NBA player has the highest trade value?" Hold onto your seats – I'm holding you hostage for 4,400 words and roughly 48 separate paginated screens.

A quick recap of the rules:

Paul Pierce
The rumblings are getting louder that Paul has worn out his welcome in Boston.
A. Salaries matter. Would you rather pay Chris Bosh $9.7 million for the next three years or Paul Pierce $47 million for the next three?

B. Age matters. Would you rather have Ray Allen for the next five seasons or Andrei Kirilenko for the next 12?

C. Pretend the league passed the following rule: For 24 hours, any player can be traded straight up for any other player without cap ramifications. So if Team A tells Team B, "We'll trade you Player X for Player Y straight up," would Team B make the deal or not?

D. Concentrate on degrees. For instance, neither the Rockets nor Suns would pull the trigger on an Amare-Yao trade. But at the very least, the Rockets say, "Wow, Amare's available?" while the Suns would say, "There's no way we're trading Amare." That counts in the big scheme of things.

E. Make the list in reverse order (Nos. 40 to 1). So if Carmelo Anthony comes in at No. 19, players 1 through 19 are all players about whom Denver would probably say, "We hate giving up 'Melo, but there's no way we can pass up that deal." And they wouldn't trade him for any player listed between Nos. 19 and 40.

Before we continue, let's bid adieu to the following players from last year's Top 40 who couldn't crack this year's list for the following reasons: Lamar Odom (No. 22 last year) had a "Maybe I should just fail another drug test so I don't have to play with Kobe anymore" look on his face from January on … Peja Stojakovic (31) has been exposed in the Post-Divac/Webber Era as someone who can't make his teammates better or create his own shot, as well as someone who may or may not have a pulse … Nene (37) might need to go back to using his last name … Carlos Boozer (38) had a promising career derailed by bad judgment (leaving LeBron) and suffocatingly bad karma (from stabbing a benevolent blind millionaire in the back) … and Joe Dumars has definitely passed the "If I trade him now, everyone will know I screwed up" point with Darko Milicic (40).

The toughest omissions from this year's list:

Mike Bibby (No. 29 last year) – I can't get over that Defcon 2 Stinkbomb in the Seattle series (when he made Luke Ridnour look like Bob Cousy). He also has four years and $51 million remaining on his bloated contract, which was apparently consummated at 4 a.m. after the Maloofs spent the night at Rain doing body shots off Tara Reid.

(But would you trade Bibby and Peja for Kobe? Hmmmmmm.)

Michael Redd (26) – Quality guy, great shooter, perfect third banana on a good team … but he lost trade value luster because he's eligible for a big-money extension this summer. At $3 million a year? Love him. At $12 million a year? Ugh.

Steve Francis (22) – Seems like his actual value (undersized shooting guard, head case and coach-killer) finally surpassed his perceived value (franchise guy). In a related story, you can download John Weisbrod's resume as a PDF file at the end of this column.

Stephon Marbury and Lenny Wilkens
Steph still leads the league in most diamonds per bling ... so he has that going for him.
Stephon Marbury (20) – Partly because he's the three-time MVP of the "When he's your best player, you better start thinking about who's representing you at the lottery drawing" team, partly because anything's possible with Isiah as the GM. Hey, that reminds me – do you think Phoenix's brain trust was sitting around when the following exchange happened:

GM Bryan Colangelo: "God, Q sucked in that Spurs series, we gotta get rid of him."

Coach Mike D'Antoni: "Come on, nobody wants a guy with a bad back who chokes in big spots?"

Colangelo: "Just for the hell of it, should I call Isiah and see if we get Kurt Thomas for Q and a No. 1?"

(Colangelo and D'Antoni laugh hysterically for five seconds. Then they stop laughing.)

Colangelo (grabbing phone): "You call his office, I'll call his cell!"

Baron Davis (19) – Only because the Hornets had a fire sale for him last February and the best they could do was "Speedy Claxton, Dale Davis, cash considerations and a $200 Starbucks gift card."

Jason Kidd (14) – Five years and a staggering $75 million remaining on his contract; hasn't been healthy in two years; clearly lost a step from microfracture surgery (especially on defense); turns 33 next March; plays on a team with two younger players making the max (Jefferson and Carter). Couldn't you see him getting moved to a Western contender this summer? And what would happen if he was traded to Dallas, where Devin Harris was seen wearing J-Kidd's Mavs throwback on Spike TV's "The Rookies" two weeks ago? Would Harris keep wearing the jersey? Would this turn into a "Single White Female"-type thing? Should he really wear a throwback of a guy who's still in the league? Can we get a ruling on this?

Eddy Curry – Knocked off only because of the irregular heartbeat fiasco. And you might think I'm making a "well, the good thing is, at least we finally know he has a heart" joke, but Curry was downright unstoppable at times last season. And I never thought I would use the words "Eddy Curry" and "unstoppable" unless a buffet table was involved.

Shaun Livingston – A prediction: He'll crack the top 20 on next year's list.

Rashard Lewis
Any team worth it's salt would show the Lewis-Sager interview EVERY time he stepped into their building.
Luol Deng – He'll make next year's list as well. By the way, I want to know how Colangelo won Executive of the Year when he parleyed Deng's rights (No. 7 overall in 2004) to Chicago for their 2005 pick (No. 21 overall). Even Rob Babcock at his absolute apex wouldn't have traded down 14 spots without getting anything else back. All right, maybe that's not true.

Rashard Lewis – It's never a good sign when your team starts playing better in the playoffs because you traded in your uniform for a four-piece suit.

Rasheed Wallace – The toughest omission on this year's list. And yes, I still feel cheated that we never saw 'Sheed hand his championship belt to Duncan last week and pull the "you're all right, LaRusso, you're all right" routine.

Onto the Top 40 …

Group H: "Cost-effective Building Blocks"
(Important note: Because of their potential, their teams wouldn't trade the next four guys in any realistic deal, but it would also be stupid to pretend that they're more valuable than the next 37 guys on the list. That's why we're sticking them here.)

40. Ben Gordon – Andrew Toney, The Sequel.

39. Kirk Hinrich – A mortal lock for the Token White Guy starting spot on the 2006 World Championships team.

38. Andre Iguodala – Untouchable for the Sixers.

37. Al Jefferson – Ditto for the Celtics.

Group H: "We're always willing to talk"
36. Tony Parker – Starts a six-year, $70 million extension next season, which seems steep for a point guard who doesn't create shots for his big men, and clearly had the yips in Game 7. But they seem pretty comfortable with him – he's the most likable import from France since the Rougeau Brothers.

(Although listening to sportswriters in their 40s and 50s drooling over Eva Longoria in the stands was enough to make anyone nauseous. If I'm doing that 10 years from now, you have permission to shoot me in the head at point-blank range. I'm not kidding. Actually, if I'm still writing this column 10 years from now, you have permission to shoot me in the head at point-blank range.)

35. Vince Carter – The good news: VC averaged close to 29 points per game, six rebounds per game and five assists per game after the All-Star Break and seems sufficiently recovered from his scarring Toronto experience (in which the Raptors and their fans unrealistically expected him to play hard every night when he was making $14 million a year). The bad news: He reverted to 2002-04 Vince in the Miami series, to the point that TNT producers probably considered cutting Barkley's microphone off because you could tell he was just dying to describe Vince with a certain five-letter word that wouldn't have been very nice.

Ray Allen
Ray saying he was playing to win and not for a big contract was his greatest performance since the Jesus Shuttlesworth days.
Here's the smoking gun with Vince: Would he have lasted two quarters in that Spurs-Pistons series (on either team) before checking into full-scale "Not going with 25 feet of the basket/only launching 3s/spending the fourth quarter on the bench with a white towel over his head" mode? Of course not. And since that's the direction basketball is going – for better or worse – "star players" like VC and Francis are useless for anyone hoping to win a championship. They're just not tough enough.

34. Ray Allen – Coming off a contract, career year. And he's already 30. But after watching some of those playoff games he had … I mean, are there 15 players that can have a bigger impact on a single game than Ray Allen?

33. Zach Randolph – After signing a gargantuan extension and subsequently sticking a 37-cent stamp on the season, Randolph should only be making top-40s for lists like "Most Likely To Get His GM Fired" and "Most Likely To Launch the First-Ever 'Should He Still Count Against the Cap If He's Serving Five-to-10?' Debate." But how many reliable low-post guys are there under 25? And what if the FDA green lights a new form of medication for semi-crazy power forwards who should be twice as productive as they actually are? We're keeping him on the list for one more year (but that's it).

Group G: "You'll Have To Bowl Us Over"
32. Larry Hughes – Everyone keeps talking about Redd and Allen this summer – why doesn't anyone mention Hughes? He's only 26, gives you a 22-6-5 every night, plays three positions, defends well enough that he made the 2005 All-Defensive team, never does anything beyond his means, and he even supplants Troy O'Leary as the "best black athlete with a name that makes him sound like he should be bouncing at Sully's Pub." Other than some durability issues, what am I missing here?

31. Richard Jefferson – I can't shake that putrid 2004 Olympics performance out of my head. He's making $83 million through 2010? Really? You're telling me the Nets will feel good about that one in three years?

(Another wrinkle: It's impossible to judge someone properly when they're playing with a guy who makes everyone else better. For instance, BJ Armstrong, Luc Longley, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr and Scott Williams all looked better than they actually were during their time with MJ (just ask the teams that overpaid them). Same for Byron Scott, A.C. Green, Kurt Rambis and Michael Cooper with Magic, or Danny Ainge, Cedric Maxwell and Gerald Henderson with Bird. And even though J-Kidd isn't in the same class as those guys, he inflated the values of Kerry Kittles, Todd MacCullough, Aaron Williams, Keith Van Horn, Lucious Harris and Kenyon Martin from 2001-2003. There's a decent chance we could be including Jefferson in that group some day. You've been warned.)

30. Ron Artest – Only 25 years old, one of the best all-around players in the league, a talented rapper and lyricist, and if that's not enough, the odds of him instigating another melee during an NBA game have to be at least 100-to-1. The fact that Larry Legend kept him during last February's trade deadline when they clearly could have moved him for point guard help – that tells me something. Whether that something is "Ron Artest must be really good" or "Larry Legend must be really crazy" remains to be seen.

(Ducking lightning bolt.)

29. Elton Brand – In Year One of the "Bill Simmons as Clippers season-ticket holder" Era, I watched E.B. up close and personal for an entire season. Here's what you get: A reliable rebounder and surprisingly good shot blocker; a hard worker who never takes a night off; a deadly shooter from 15-to-18 feet if he's open; and absolutely, positively, unequivocally, no low-post moves whatsover. He's one of those guys where you look up at the scoreboard and say, "Wow, Elton has 24 points? How did that happen?" Still, the Clippers can't trade him because he's one of the few blue-chippers out there who don't mind playing for them. In fact, that's how they should start his profile in the 2005-06 Clippers media guide: "One of the few stars in the league who doesn't mind playing for us!"

28. Richard Hamilton – I'm down with the Reggie Miller analogy here, right down to the goofy looks. Although Reggie was a little more valuable because he could shoot 3s. Then again, Reggie never won a ring.

Kenyon Martin
"Dear J-Kidd, thanks for helping me get a big money deal. Love, Kenyon."
27. Kenyon Martin – Using the same question from the Vince paragraph, could the self-proclaimed "Bad Ass Yellow Boy" have survived/thrived in that Pistons-Spurs series? And the answer, obviously, is "yes."

26. Ben Wallace – This seems about right, although hearing announcers and writers constantly pimping him has become tiresome – he went from being wildly underrated to slightly overrated in the span of two seasons. If he's so invaluable, then why did Detroit seem more effective in the Finals with McDyess and 'Sheed playing together? More important, does anyone else keep waiting for Wallace to look into the camera, tilt his head, unleash one of those Eddie Murphy smiles and sing, "Unce … tice … fee times … a mady … "

Group G: "Shhhhhh … We'll Discuss Him, But You Can't Tell Anyone"
25. Shawn Marion – Skewered by the usual suspects (you know, the guys who come on TV shows and start screaming about how so-and-so isn't showing any heart or so-and-so is embarrassing himself) for his gawd-awful Spurs series (7.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 39 percent shooting) … but what did you expect? San Antonio didn't allow him to shoot open 3s, Phoenix's running game never got going, and Marion can't create his own shot. So what's left? Doesn't change the fact that he's a good player.

24. Paul Pierce – I kept waiting to see the following post on Craigslist this week: "Available: NBA superstar making max money, three years left on the deal, once led us within two wins of the NBA Finals, surprisingly durable for a shooting guard who attacks the basket, gives you a 25-6-6 every night, still in his prime, can be a little moody, probably just needs a change of scenery. Asking: 90-95 cents on the dollar (but willing to discuss). Please keep hush-hush. If interested, reply to Mormon44@gmail.com."

23. Pau Gasol – Should we be concerned that he hasn't remotely improved in four years? Seriously, look at his stats. Why can't I shake the feeling that he's really 35 years old? On the bright side, he looked positively unstoppable against Trinidad and Tobago in the 2004 Olympics.

22. Allen IversonRollin' down the street, smokin' indo, sippin' on gin and juice … (laid back) … with my mind on my money and my money on mind …

21. Joe Johnson – Great way to separate diehard NBA fans from casual NBA fans: When Johnson broke his face during the Dallas series, the casuals said, "Well, that's all right, they still have Q and Jimmy Jackson," while the diehards said, "Oh, boy, they're screwed." But with Johnson eligible for max money and Phoenix needing to cut payroll, J.J. could end up being the best young player on the market since Wes Unseld gave up on Rasheed Wallace about 12 years too early.

Group F: "Cost-Effective Building Blocks, Part Two"
20. Chris Bosh – The runaway winner of the 2005 Shareef Abdur-Rahim Award, given annually to a tantalizing young star on a losing team who everyone assumes will keep getting better and better, when the reality is that he's close to hitting his ceiling already, and his numbers look so good mainly because he was playing 35-40 minutes a game on a bad team. Remember I told you this when Bosh is making $15 million a year on a 22-win Toronto team five years from now, and he's the subject of 370 trade rumors before the 2009 draft.

19. Gilbert Arenas – Scoring averages each season: 10.9, 18.3, 19.6, 25.5. And he turns 24 next January.

(Note to Warriors fans: Take a deep breath. Hold it. Hold it. Exhale.)

Chauncey Billups
Do they get the NBA Finals in Louisville? We hope you were watching Rick.
18. Chauncey Billups – Before Game 7 of the Finals, everyone kept saying how Duncan had the most at stake … in retrospect, wasn't it Billups? If he made a few big shots and the Pistons prevailed, he would have been included in every future discussion about clutch guards who elevated their play when it mattered, along with guys like Dennis Johnson, Clyde Frazier, Isiah Thomas and Sam Jones. And maybe there's still time for that. But Chauncey has gotten it done enough times that another heroic Game 7 would have altered his place in history. Too bad.

Group E: "Borderline Franchise Guys"
17. Carmelo Anthony – Much like with Tom Cruise, the ceiling has been completely removed for 'Melo. I'm prepared for anything – a mirror of Bernard King's career (right down to the personal probs), Mark Aguirre's career (right down to the sudden/inexplicable decline), Jerry Stackhouse's career (seven to eight years and a trade before he reaches his potential) or even Chris Mullin's career (gets his head straight, becomes a top-15 guy for five or six years). You name it, I'm ready.

16. Emeka Okafor – Fantastic rookie season capped off by an unexpected shattering of the Unintentional Comedy Scale on "The Rookies," when he told the camera (in all seriousness) that he was reading a book about hermaphrodites, adding, "Hermaphrodites are people with male and female gena- um, genitalia," as one of his posse members recoiled in horror. Other than watching my daughter trying to poop and ending up making the "Shaq trying to shoot free throws at the end of a game" face, that was the highlight of my summer so far.

15. Andrei Kirilenko – Battled injuries all season, postponing his breakout season by one year. On the bright side, that led to six months of "keep your chin up, Andrei" jokes.

14. Manu Ginobili – I'd feel better about him if he A) was a little more consistent, B) he was turning 24 in July instead of 28, C) he wasn't headed for the inevitable kidnapping saga with his family in Argentina which will absolutely be remade into a Russell Crowe movie, and D.) he wasn't going bald (which makes me wonder if he's in his early 30's – how would we know?). So let's stick him here to be safe.

Group D: "Practically Untouchable"
13. Dirk Nowitzki – Before the playoffs, he would have been No. 5 on this list. And then the following things happened …

A. He played with both hands around his neck for two straight playoff series.

B. The Rockets accidentally stumbled upon Dirk's kryptonite – guard him with a Pippen-like perimeter player who can take away his first step, then force him to settle for fallaways and 3s because he doesn't have a low-post game. Now every team will play him like this. For instance, he torched the Celtics last March because they were rotating LaFrentz, Blount, Jefferson and Perkins on him. Now they can just guard him with Pierce. And since he's too slow to drive by someone like that, what's left?

C. During the Suns series, he was revealed to be a four-letter word that doubles as the title of a 1999 movie starring Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams – between throwing Dampier under the bus, screaming at Jason Terry during Game 6 and sulking his way through overtime … I mean, would you want to play with him?

12. Jermaine O'Neal – He's a 3G Guy for me (great player, great warrior, great guy) and I still don't think he should have been suspended 15 games for punching that moron who wandered onto the court when Ben Wallace only got five games for starting the fight and helping to incite the crowd to "Maybe I'll lob a beer at Artest"-level proportions. David Stern's dumbest decision since shaving his mustache 20 years ago.

11. Kobe Bryant – We know Kobe hates Phil. We know Phil hates Kobe to the point that his entire book contained more Kobe-related potshots than an entire year of Peter Vescey columns. We also know that Phil is getting $30 million over the next three years to coach the Lakers. So what makes you think that the Lakers are keeping Kobe? I think they promised Phil that, if he came back, they would give him one last chance to make it work with Kobe … and if it wasn't working, they would quickly shop Kobe around and try to recoup 75-80 percent of his value back. And that Bynum pick played into everything – if they do end up rebuilding, they will already have one piece in place. So stay tuned.

Dwight Howard
Whenever a high school kid can be a lottery pick AND handle that pressure the future is pretty bright.
Group C: "Let Me Save You Some Time: N-O."
10. Dwight Howard – The man-child. For everyone wondering where the great centers have gone, just wait until you see this guy in three years. Remember, everyone thought Young Moses Malone was a power forward in the mid-70's. Things change.

Group B: "Only If They Asked to Leave"
9. Steve Nash – When my buddy Bug and I were bartending together, he found out something incriminating about one of the owners of our place, leading to Bug confidently announcing, "I'll always have my job at [name of the bar]." And I think Nash reached that point last season. No matter what happens, he'll always have his job in Phoenix. Even when he's in traction two years from now and having a cadaver's vertabrae inserted in his back.

8. Yao Ming – I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because of the whole "He's been playing constantly for three straight years and never had even two weeks to wind down and let his body recover" angle, if only because he did look worn down this spring. At the same time, you need a killer instinct to produce beyond a certain level … and I'm just not sure he has it. He's too nice of a guy. It's not in him. Still …

7. Tracy McGrady – Yao gets to play second-fiddle to T-Mac for the rest of their careers. So maybe it's a moot point. And just for the record, we can officially call "T-Mac for Francis, Mobley and Cato" one of the five most lopsided NBA trades of all-time. You know it's a terrible trade when the GM involved starts getting death threats and everyone has the same reaction: "Well, it was bound to happen."

6. Shaquille O'Neal – If only because of the way he hooked the Heat franchise up to the Juvenation Machine last season. With that said, I think the days of "Shaq: Unstoppable Force" are winding down to a close. Just seems like his body is slowly breaking down. I'm looking forward to his retirement – it's just going to be a series of stories along the lines of …

"Shaq quits job as sheriff in small Louisiana town, decides to become a professional alligator wrestler."

"Shaq accepts job as host of "Fear Factor;" Joe Rogan reportedly furious."

"Shaq hired as America West pilot, resigns from NASA's astronaut program."

"Notorious serial killer brought down by FBI and Shaq."

(Really, anything's possible.)

5. Kevin Garnett – As I wrote in April, Minnesota's lottery appearance slid KG into that Barkley/Iverson/Drexler group for spotty superstars who didn't guarantee their teams a playoff appearance just by showing up. Say what you want about Tim Duncan, but if he's playing 75-80 games, the Spurs are making the playoffs no matter what. You can't say the same about KG.

(With that said, I could see KG having a monster season next year. Remember, he's been resting since mid-April – I just see him training in one of those Clubber Lang-type gyms, where there's like one light bulb and the toilet is all taped up.)

4. LeBron James – Should be the No. 1 guy on this list. But LeBron's situation in Cleveland reminds me of one of those SNL situations with Will Ferrell, Eddie Murphy or Chevy Chase – yeah, they were the undisputed star of the show, and yeah, they had some great moments. But at some point, they outgrew the show and it became inevitable that they would move to Hollywood and start making big-money movies.

Dwyane Wade
Wade has seriously potential to be the greatest Marquette alum since Chris Farley.
In LeBron's case, he's the best young player in the history of the league – both statistically and aesthetically – as well as someone destined to become the biggest superstar in any professional sport (maybe ever). He's going to accomplish things that we didn't think were possible anymore – averaging a triple double for an entire season, leading the league in scoring and assists, stuff like that. Eventually, he's going to start "making big-money movies" (translation: play for one of the league's marquee franchises, either the Knicks or the Lakers), if only because it's in the best financial interest of everyone involved (and I mean, everyone). That's his destiny, and that's how this will play out. There's no other way. If the Cavs were smart, they would trade him now. But this is the same franchise that gainfully employed Jim Paxson. So anything's possible.

Group A: "Completely and Utterly Untouchable"
3. Dwyane Wade – (Still shaking my head over that rib injury.)

2. Amare Stoudemire – You could make a good case that he should be No. 1. In fact, that's exactly what my buddy House said last week when we were figuring out this list: "Stoudemire is my No. 1. He showed a level of upside unmatched by any player his age in these playoffs, with the exception perhaps of Wade (and Stoudemire is more valuable than Wade because of the position he plays). If San Antonio loses Game 7 tonight, you're telling me that they would flatly reject Amare for Timmy? I'm not so sure."

1. Tim Duncan – Actually, I'm sure. Tim Duncan is retiring as a Spur.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.