We asked our writers a simple question: Which 23-or-under player would you want as the foundation of your team?
Why 23? Ask MJ -- that was the age at which Michael Jordan scored 63 versus the Celtics in the playoffs and made the leap from star to Air.
Ask LBJ -- the new No. 23 recently celebrated birthday No. 23.
It's no surprise who is the King of our survey, and LeBron James alone would be enough reason for the league to smile about its future. But then you add Paul, who appears to be pulling ahead of LeBron in this season's MVP race, and Howard, who ranks ahead of Paul in our voting, and suddenly you have the kind of building blocks the league hasn't seen in several generations.
But even beyond that, the great news for the NBA is that the list of potential franchise players age 23 or younger has about 23 (or so) legitimate names -- from All-Stars (LeBron, Dwight, CP3, B-Roy, Melo) to high-upside guys (Deron Williams, Monta Ellis, Al Jefferson, Rudy Gay, Josh Smith, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andrew Bynum) to hot rookies (Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Thaddeus Young) to possible competitors for next year's rookie of the year award (Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, Greg Oden).
With that much talent in the mix, we asked our writers to pick a wild card, too: Who else has the greatest upside?
So, here they are, the 10 best players 23-and-under to build a dream on:
Click on the names below to see our writers' ballots and comments:
Henry Abbott | J.A. Adande | Jon Barry | Maurice Brooks | Chris Broussard | John Hollinger
Ric Bucher | Chad Ford | Chris Palmer | Jalen Rose | Chris Sheridan | Marc Stein | David Thorpe
LeBron James: 65 points (13 first-place votes)
Dwight Howard: 48 points (9 second-place votes, 4 third-place votes)
Chris Paul: 40 points (4 second-place votes, 7 third-place, 1 fourth-place, 1 fifth-place)
Deron Williams: 10 points (1 third-place vote, 3 fourth-place, 1 fifth-place, plus 1 WC vote)
Carmelo Anthony: 10 points (1 third-place vote, 3 fourth place, 1 fifth place)
Kevin Durant: 8 points (3 fourth-place votes, 2 fifth-place votes, plus 3 WC votes)
Greg Oden: 3 points (3 fifth-place votes, plus 2 WC votes)
Andrew Bynum: 3 points (1 fourth-place vote, 1 fifth-place, plus 1 WC vote)
Brandon Roy: 3 points (1 fourth-place vote, 1 fifth-place vote)
Monta Ellis: 2 points (2 fifth-place votes)
Michael Beasley: 2 points (1 fourth-place vote)
Luol Deng: 1 point (1 fifth-place vote)
Others receiving wild-card votes: Thaddeus Young (2), Joakim Noah (1), Rajon Rondo (1), Derrick Rose (1), Josh Smith (1)