When ranking top 'fours,' Duncan rates first
Tim Duncan's flawless game puts him at the top of the list of the NBA's best power forwards.
A handful of e-mails are flagged each week for group discussion. Be sure to include your first and last names and city of residence if you want your question to be answered. Seriously, friends. Announce yourself to the masses.
Q: I know all the hype about LeBron James. But after Yao Ming's first 20 games in Houston and his impact on the team, can you tell me if the draft was held today, who would be picked No. 1?
A: We went to people smarter than us who actually make these decisions and there are a few teams out there who say (albeit insisting on anonymity) that they indeed would have picked LeBron last June if he had somehow made it into the draft. The majority, though, say they would have taken Yao, with or without the benefit of hindsight. Yao's outstanding start obviously makes it easier to say so now, but I believe that most teams would have gambled on the unique combination of Yao's size and skills. Although plenty of talent forecasters suggested Yao would not be able to do what he's doing now, the biggest Yao drawbacks were never basketball-related. They were mostly tied to Chinese government restrictions on Yao's leap to the NBA -- specifically how much training camp he'll miss every October while playing for his country, and how often the Chinese authorities plan to call him back every season.
Q: I have a comment and a question. First the comment. Recently you mentioned Allen Iverson and getting the "scroogie" from the USA Basketball selection committee. After discussing with some friends, we think that the correct spelling is "screwgie." "Scroogie" would be acceptable in monetary situations, but only then. For my question: Can Ricky Davis and Dajuan Wagner co-exist? Could this be a backcourt of the future, or does the Cavaliers' best bet center around having Dajuan play the two, Ricky the three, Darius Miles the four -- and trying to get a point guard? Or could the Cavs try something resembling the Bulls' second tour with Michael Jordan, where there was no clear point guard.
A: First a comment in response to your comment: Sorry. A scroogie is a scroogie. That's how Fernando Valenzuela's was spelled and that's how we spell it, too. And now an answer to your question: It's a great problem to have. The Cavs have lots of interesting youngs, in NBA parlance, and just imagine if they do land LeBron in the draft. They'll have a lot of similarly sized talent to set up either a trade for something they don't have (the pure point) or to play it the MJ-Pippen-Ron Harper way. Thanks, by the way, for giving me cause to bring up Harp, who's one of our faves. Now do me a favor and go straight to Brathaus or State Street Brats or whatever it's called and load up on a couple post-game reds, just like I did on my one and only trip to Madison for an NBA exhibition game a few years back. HEAVEN!
A: Good stuff, Nathan. But you didn't have to convince me. Gary's a certain future HOF inductee. Age, as you mentioned, is the only reason now why I'd take Kidd or Nash, although Nash has durability issues that Payton has avoided. The tantrums over the years, though, do bother me, and I'd venture to say they've done more in-house damage to various Sonic teams than you described. GP expecting another max deal in his mid-30s is another way of saying he wants to be the star. And there have been some bumpy times on the way to GP accepting all the kids the way he does now. But he looks as good as ever and I, too, hope he doesn't leave the Sonics. If he's smart, GP will accept a lesser salary going forward, as John Stockton has in Utah, to enable Seattle to keep him and add a free-agent piece to their ever-improving mix. Then the Sonics might really be back.
Q: So whom would you like to play for if you could choose? And what would you say your most memorable moment has been in basketball?
A: If I could play for anyone, it would have been my beloved Cal State Fullerton and then the Buffalo Braves. Those are my squads. Of course, the Braves no longer exist and neither did a college career for a slow lefty point guard who's only 5-foot-9 on a good day. Highlights? Excluding all those times I really schooled somebody down at the park -- how do you think I got this job? -- it would have be the time, as a rookie writer, that I trash-talked my way into a shooting contest with Elgin Baylor. I told him I could hit six shots with his hands in my face in 10 tries or less from my favorite spot on the baseline. Missed the first two, swished the next four, and then Elgin promptly mugged me on the next four shots after announcing that fouls were suddenly legal. An intensely competitive perfectionist to this day, just like his longtime Laker cohort Jerry West, Elgin simply couldn't bear to let me get off another clean shot. "Told you so," Elgin said, walking away in triumph. To which I replied: "Yeah, but when I tell my kids this story, it'll be how I scored four straight times on the great Elgin Baylor."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
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