In the wake of the 2012 NBA playoffs and the quest for the O’Brien Trophy, I decided to attempt to assemble an NBA squad that would be realistic, stay under the salary cap and immediately contend for the title. Obviously, the first and final aspects of the aforementioned expectations are subjective by nature, but I tried to come as close to imaginarily fulfilling them as possible.
I also invented a few guidelines pertaining to specific player pools that I couldn’t draw from, such as LeBron James, Jeremy Lin and Kyrie Irving. I felt it was unfair to consider these types of players because of their unique circumstances.
James represents the class of underpaid superstar who elected to take pay cuts in pursuit of a championship—Dwayne Wade also falls into this category. Lin represents the group of breakout players whose efforts this season are almost guaranteed a large pay out come this offseason, therefore their 2011-2012 salaries aren’t a fair indicator of their worth. Lastly, Kyrie Irving, very simply, embodies the young-ins who are still on their cheaper rookie contracts.
Despite removing several significant players from the applicant pool, I still felt that I conjured up an affordable, competitive, well-balanced, veteran-laden cast headlined by three stars.
Point Guard: Tony Parker
Salary: $12.5 million
Parker is coming off one of the best, if not the best, seasons of his highly esteemed career. He managed to put up 18.3 points a game on 48 percent shooting, while simultaneously dishing the ball out to the tune of 7.7 assists a game.
He's a proven player, and most importantly, a leader and winner. His three NBA championships and Finals MVP Award can attest to that.
Parker’s ability to carve out the defense and finish at the rack is rivaled by few in the game today. Over the past several seasons, he has also developed a steady and effective mid-range jump shot.
HoopData.com shows that Parker made over 45 percent of his 10- to 15-foot jump shots this past season and finished at the rim a staggering 65.7 percent of the time.
Parker would orchestrate the game on the court and control the locker room off the court.
Shooting Guard: Tony Allen
Salary: $3.15 million
Allen received four first-place votes for this season’s Defensive Player of the Year award. He finished in sixth place and first among guards. With his combination of athleticism, length and grit, it makes it easy to see why so many consider him the league’s premiere perimeter defender.
Allen’s offensive skills aren’t quite up to par with his defensive ones, but he's still able to get out on the break and finish around the basket.
His primary role would be to frustrate and contain the other team’s best perimeter, offensive player.
Small Forward: Kevin Durant
Salary: $15.5 million
In his short, yet illustrious career, the 23-year old Durant has already established himself as one of the league's best. He has amassed two scoring titles and three All-NBA first-team selections in only five seasons.
His freakish length, athleticism and 6'9" frame make him nearly impossible to guard on the offensive end, and he hasn’t even scratched the surface of his potential development on the defensive end.
He has a hunger for victory and a knack for leadership.
Durant would be the team’s primary offensive option and weapon and crunch-time performer.
Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge
Salary: $11.8 million
LaMarcus has emerged as one of the league’s top power forwards over the past two seasons. In those two seasons, he’s averaged roughly 22 points, 50 percent from the field and 8.5 boards a game.
Aldridge made his inaugural All-Star appearance this season and was named to his second straight All-NBA team.
The former Longhorn standout utilizes his length and finesse to finish around the basket and a silky smooth mid-range jump shot to keep the defense honest.
Aldridge would be the main source of interior offense and would bring youth and energy to the squad.
Center: Marcin Gortat
Salary: $6.79 million
Marcin Gortat has developed into one of the league’s top five centers. You could argue that his improvement over the past two seasons has come as a result of his time with Steve Nash and that his removal from that system would prove detrimental to his success.
I would argue, though, that he has always been a strong player, but wasn’t able to showcase his talents until recently because of his time playing behind Dwight Howard.
Regardless of what you believe, his statistics imply that he's a reliable, 15-point, 10-rebound a game performer.
The Polish Hammer has also improved his shot-altering ability on the defensive end, as evidenced by his 1.5 blocks this past season.
Gortat would be a threat around the cup and in the pick-and-roll on offense and would anchor the club in the key on defense.
Backup PG: Delonte West
Salary: $1.18 million
West’s personality issues could pose problematic for team chemistry and locker room morale, but for his kind of production, and at only a million a year, it’s worth the risk.
Backup SG: J.R. Smith
Salary: $2.5 million
Smith is as explosive offensively as they come. Whether it’s the dagger tre-ball or the acrobatic, alley-oop, Smith’s play could lead and fuel the second unit.
Backup PF/C: Ivan Johnson
Johnson is very similar to LaVoy Allen. He’s a high-energy, backup big who can provide extra production and fill in where necessary. Just ask the Hawks and Al Horford.
Backup PF/C: LaVoy Allen
Allen is a hard-nosed post player who’s good for five and five off the bench on any given night.
Backup Forward: Steve Novak
Novak was the most accurate assassin from beyond the arc this past season. His presence would draw post defenders away from the paint and provide driving lanes for Parker and Durant.
Backup Guard: Gary Neal
Neal is a reliable, spot-on shooter from 15-plus feet.
Backup Small Forward: Gary Forbes
Salary: $1.5 million
He’s a serviceable sub for Kevin Durant for five to 10 minutes a game.
Oh, and capable of dropping 78.
The 13-man roster works out to roughly $56.6 million when using each player’s salary for the 2011-2012 season*.
Given the NBA’s team salary cap of $58.04 million that was utilized this past season, that would leave almost $1.5 million to work with for midseason acquisitions and 10-day contracts in case of injuries.
* All salary numbers via Spotrac.com.
Check Out: The Bench Review