The conclusion of the NBA finals, which doubled as Dallas’ first NBA championship and Cleveland’s first major victory in the finals in any professional sport since 1964, forces us to face a harsh reality.
Namely, that this offseason looks like it’s going to be extended a bit.
The threat of an NBA lockout has been looming for the past two years. But we have been too distracted by the fascinating story lines (love them or hate them, when the MoHeatos play, we can’t help but watch), and the high level of play on the court to see it coming.
Additionally, there has always been the hope that the NBA will learn from the follies of the NFL.
But, as the great Bill Simmons highlighted last week, the two leagues are in unique situations. The NFL has a problem figuring out how to divide their ungodly profits, whereas the NBA has no such profits to divide.
There is sure to be excessive coverage on the status of NBA labor negotiations in the coming weeks, especially after the draft ends (hey, give Dan Gilbert credit—he did win something before LeBron did).
So, to take my mind off of this depressing reality, I came up with a little exercise, one rooted entirely in fantasy. It’s a little wacky, yes, but bear with me.
Did anyone else notice how many washed up stars played small roles in these playoffs?
In game 6 of the finals alone, we saw Jason Kidd making key plays down the stretch, Juwan Howard clanking two free throws, and Mike Bibby watching the game from his front row seat.
That got me thinking: what if they weren’t so old? In other words, if we could put every NBA player in a time machine and set them back to the age of their best season, which team would win the title?
The prospects of such an idea should make any NBA fan giddy.
The league, already the deepest it has been since Jordan’s gambling suspension (I mean baseball experiment!), would receive a massive infusion from former greats regaining their abilities. Every game would be an all-star game (see, I told you this would get your mind off of the lockout).
After playing with the idea in my head a little bit, I set out to rank what I shall call the Ageless Wonder teams.
These rankings are certainly open for debate, but an important stipulation is that the goal is to rank the best team, not the best collection of individual talent.
A team with four stud point guards but nobody else of note would be incredibly fun to play with in a video game, but it wouldn’t win many games.
There is, of course, no way to know for sure how well each team would mesh. As we saw with LeBronGate, sometimes a superstar’s play actually suffers when he is surrounded with other studs.
Additionally, this exercise heavily favors older teams. Players such as Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant certainly have great things ahead of them, but it is impossible to predict how they will perform in the future.
So, we are forced to pick them in their current form, even though that may not the best they have to offer. With veterans, we can be certain that we are picking their best season.
The result is that both the Bulls and the Thunder fail to crack the list.
This exercise would give the Bulls an improved Kurt Thomas and Carlos Boozer, but aside from that the team would essentially look the same as the 2010-2011 version. Ditto for the Thunder.
These would be good teams, certainly, but they wouldn’t be good enough to compete with the super-squads that did make the cut.
Finally, a note about the statistics: I have listed the actual stat lines for each player in what I deemed to be their best season.
This does not mean that I expect each player to replicate those same stats when put together on the Ageless Wonder team, as each player would no doubt get fewer touches.
The purpose is merely to demonstrate what each player was capable of in his prime.
So, without further ado, here are the top teams, starting with the teams that just missed the cut.
PG: Steve Nash, 06-07. 18.6 PPG, 3.5 REB, 11.6 AST
SG: Vince Carter, 00-01. 27.6 PPG, 5.6 REB, 3.9 AST
SF: Grant Hill, 99-00. 25.8 PPG, 6.6 REB, 5.2 AST
PF: Channing Frye, 10-11. 12.7 PPG, 6.7 REB, 1.3 AST
C: Robin Lopez, 09-10. 8.4 PPG, 4.9 REB, 0.1 AST
Bench (of note)
Aaron Brooks, 09-10. 19.6 PPG, 2.6 REB, 5.3 AST
Mickael Pietrus, 06-07. 11.1 PPG, 4.5 REB, 0.9 AST
Marcin Gortat, 10-11. 10.2 PPG, 7.9 REB, 0.9 AST
Choosing between the Bulls and the Suns for the last honorable mention spot was a tough call. I decided to put the Suns in here because this would be one of the most entertaining teams ever assembled.
Vince Carter and Grant Hill never played in the Suns’ “Seven Seconds or Less” offense while in their primes, yet each still put up impressive stat lines (Carter with the Raptors, Hill with the Pistons).
Imagine what they could have done in offense that encouraged them to shoot, keep shooting, and shoot some more!
The fun would continue even as the starters took a rest, as Aaron Brooks is always good for two or three jaw dropping plays per night.
He also makes two or three boneheaded ones that make you say, "Oh, right. He's Aaron Brooks."
This team would also be deadly from 3-point range. They have six legitimate sharpshooters (everyone but Lopez and Gortat), and the worst shooter of the group is Hill at a respectable 34.7 percent clip.
This killer shooting, combined with the veteran experience of Steve Nash, is why I believe they would beat the Bulls (a 145-141 shootout would be my guess).
The problem, of course, is that their defense is lacking, and they would get absolutely dominated inside.
A starting tandem of Channing Frye and Robin Lopez doesn’t even cut it in today’s league, let alone this star-studded fantasy world.
This Suns team would put up some exciting, potentially record-breaking numbers—just not in the wins department.
PG: Chauncey Billups, 05-06. 18.5 PPG, 3.1 REB, 8.6 AST
SG: Landry Fields, 10-11. 9.7 PPG, 6.4 REB, 1.9 AST
PF: Amar’e Stoudemire, 04-05. 26 PPG, 8.9 REB, 1.6 AST
C: Ronny Turiaf, 08-09. 6 PPG, 4.6 REB, 2.1 AST
Bench (of note)
Anthony Carter, 07-08. 7.8 PPG, 2.9 REB, 5.5 AST
Toney Douglas, 10-11. 10.6 PPG, 3 REB, 3 AST
Shawne Williams, 10-11. 7.1 PPG, 3.7 REB, 0.7 AST
Aside from a slight boost from a pre-knee surgery Stoudemire and a more prolific (and less pudgy) Anthony, the Knicks only have one significant upgrade.
But it’s a big one.
Chauncey Billups was a shell of his former self this season, preventing the Knicks from fielding a true “Big Three.”
Trading the current Billups for the 2005-2006 version gives the Knicks a huge boost. His numbers were certainly impressive, but they have never told the whole story of what he brings to a team.
In his prime, he was the floor general, leader, and most clutch player on a Pistons team that made six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances, went to the finals twice, and won a championship.
In short, Billups is a winner.
His playmaking abilities are also the perfect fit for this Knicks team, which already boasts two elite scorers in Anthony and Stoudemire. They need a pass-first point guard to maximize their potential, and Billups is just that.
However, like the Suns, this team lacks the defensive firepower and depth to be a serious contender in this fantasy league.
Aside from the "Big Three," the Knicks only have role players, and bad ones at that.
Carter, Douglas, and Williams don’t even qualify as players “of note,” but I felt like I needed to choose at least some reserves for the Knicks. Needless to say, the teams ahead of them would exploit this lack of help.
If the Knicks acquire another elite talent in the next year, they could move a few spots higher. But with the impending lockout and the changes to the salary cap that are sure to follow, this seems unlikely.
Okay, that was the last mention of the lockout, I promise. Don’t think about the lockout. Don’t think about the lockout.
PG: Rodney Stuckey, 10-11. 15.5 PPG, 3.1 REB, 5.2 AST
SG: Rip Hamilton, 05-06. 20.1 PPG, 3.2 REB, 3.4 AST
SF: Tracy McGrady, 02-03. 32.1 PPG, 6.5 REB, 5.5 AST
PF: Chris Wilcox, 06-07. 13.5 PPG, 7.7 REB, 1 AST
C: Ben Wallace, 02-03. 6.9 PPG, 15.4 REB, 1.6 AST
Bench (of note)
Ben Gordon, 06-07. 21.4 PPG, 3.2 REB, 3.6 AST
Tayshaun Prince, 04-05. 14.7 PPG, 5.3 REB, 3 AST
Charlie Villanueva, 08-09. 16.2 PPG, 6.7 REB, 1.8 AST
Greg Monroe, 10-11. 9.4 PPG, 7.5 REB, 1.3 AST
The Pistons receive the largest boost from this exercise, jumping from a 30-win lottery team to one of the top teams in the NBA.
This team is loaded with scorers, even on the bench.
Well, with the exception of Ben Wallace, who never shot better than 49% from the foul line in a season. Yes, he is that awful at shooting the basketball.
Offensively challenged though he might be, Wallace is actually the perfect center for this team.
He doesn’t need many touches to be effective, he loves doing the dirty work, and his motor would keep the more fragile players (McGrady, Gordon) focused and motivated.
This team does lack the star power of the others on this list, but the depth is superb. And, as we saw with the Mavericks, such depth can wear other more talented teams down.
Prince could start at power forward, but he is better suited at small forward—and so he comes off the bench. This gives McGrady a solid backup and the second unit an imposing defender.
The balance of this team would also be key in their success.
At all five positions, they have the ability to plug in either a scorer or a defensive stopper, giving them the flexibility to adapt to any situation. They also have an underrated all-around player in McGrady, whose brilliance in the 2002-2003 season doesn’t get enough credit.
This would, quite simply, be a team that nobody would want to play—similar to the real life Pistons during their impressive run earlier this decade.
However, as solid as these Pistons would be, they just don’t have enough elite talent to crack the top five.
PG: Gilbert Arenas, 05-06. 29.3 PPG, 3.5 REB, 6.1 AST
SG: Jason Richardson, 05-06. 23.2 PPG, 5.8 REB
SF: Quentin Richardson, 03-04. 17.3 PPG, 6.4 REB, 2.1 AST
PF: Hedo Turkoglu, 07-08. 19.5 PPG, 5.7 REB, 5 AST
C: Dwight Howard, 10-11. 22.9 PPG, 14.1 REB, 1.4 AST
Bench (of note)
Jameer Nelson, 08-09. 16.7 PPG, 3.5 REB, 5.4 AST
Chris Duhon, 08-09. 11.1 PPG, 3.1 REB, 7.2 AST
J.J. Redick, 10-11. 10.1 PPG, 1.9 REB, 1.7 AST
Brandon Bass, 10-11. 11.2 PPG, 5.6 REB, 0.8 AST
With Agent Zero in his prime, the ability to drain 3-pointers from four positions, and Dwight Howard in the middle, this Magic team was by far the toughest omission from the top five.
Turkoglu, who may or may not have outstanding warrants in Portland for breach of contract and Toronto for robbery, returns to top form.
Often forgotten because of his subsequent demise is the fact that Turkoglu became the Magic’s most clutch player during their run to the 2009 NBA Finals. He was the only one who seemed to truly want the ball in his hands in pressure moments.
Slotting him in at the power forward spot fits with the Magic’s philosophy of surrounding Dwight Howard with shooters.
Of course, with the younger and more improved versions of J-Rich and Q-Rich, these Magic have not only shooters but also slashers and high-risers.
This team would be lethal on the fast break, as Howard’s rebounding prowess would allow the guards to leak out a little bit after an opponent’s shot instead of worrying about crashing the glass.
And, if you recall the 2002 and 2003 Slam Dunk Contests, a young Jason Richardson on the break is a fan’s dream and an opponent’s worst nightmare.
Defensively, Arenas, J-Rich and Q-Rich would be free to be much more aggressive. Their mistakes would be covered by Howard, arguably the best defensive player in the NBA today and winner of three straight Defensive Player of the Years awards.
This team, therefore, has both elite talent and pieces that fit together nicely.
But as I decided where to rank each team, I asked myself a simple question: would this team have won this year’s NBA title? And if so, would it have been close?
With every team in the top five, I am positive that they would have defeated the 2010-2011 Mavericks or the 2010-2011 Miami Heat. With this Magic team, I’m just not sure.
The bench is solid but not spectacular. Turkoglu leaves something to be desired at the power forward spot.
But my main issue with this team has little to do with ability and everything to do with the intangibles.
Any team that has so many pure scorers runs the risk of chemistry problems.
I chose a pre-trigger happy Gilbert Arenas to avoid any locker room issues, but he has always been a score-first point guard. With J-Rich and Q-Rich each requiring double-digit shots per game as well, I just don’t see the three of them finding a way to effectively share the basketball.
Of course, the team should run through Dwight Howard. But up until this point in his career, he has been too easy-going to demand the ball and take over in pressure situations.
As we saw in this year’s finals, the only way for a team to survive pressure and defeat an elite team is to have impeccable chemistry or an unquestioned leader.
This Magic team has neither.
PG: Derek Fisher, 01-02. 11.2 PPG, 2.1 REB, 2.6 AST
SG: Kobe Bryant, 08-09. 26.8 PPG, 5.2 REB, 4.9 AST
SF: Ron Artest, 07-08. 20.5 PPG, 5.8 REB, 3.5 AST
PF: Pau Gasol, 09-10. 18.3 PPG, 11.3 REB, 3.4 AST
C: Andrew Bynum, 09-10. 15 PPG, 8.3 REB, 1.1 AST
Bench (of note)
Lamar Odom, 07-08. 14.2 PPG, 10.6 REB, 3.6 AST
Joe Smith, 96-97. 18.7 PPG, 8.5 REB, 1.6 AST
Theo Ratliff, 00-01. 12.4 PPG, 8.3 REB, 1.2 AST
Shannon Brown, 10-11. 8.7 PPG, 1.9 REB, 1.2 AST
Steve Blake, 08-09. 11 PPG, 2.5 REB, 5 AST
This team is talented and deep.
Joe Smith, before he became a bust, was on the NBA All-Rookie First Team. Theo Ratliff, before he became “Theo Ratliff’s expiring contract,” was an all-star, believe it or not.
The difficulty in constructing this team was not which players to choose, but which versions of them.
With nearly all of the players in this exercise, picking the best season was pretty easy.
The typical pattern for each player is steady improvement in his first few years, two or three peak seasons, and then decline. I just had to decide which peak season was the best fit for the team.
However, the Lakers have four players that do not have a clear-cut “best” version: Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and of course, Kobe Bryant.
To explain Kobe’s career in terms of a pop-culture analogy that may or may not fail miserably, consider the career path of Lamar Odom’s sister-in-law, Kim Kardashian.
Kim was at her hottest early in her career, but she didn’t really understand how to capitalize on it. She used her looks to become a socialite, had great times, but generally was an unknown commodity.
The height of this phase of her career came in 2007 with the release of the “illicit tape.” The tape brought her fame, but it was not the best use of her talents…well for her, anyway.
She then realized that her tape had generated a great deal of buzz, and capitalized on the momentum with a reality TV show later that year.
She became a hot commodity on the dating market as well, and was linked to Reggie Bush for a couple years (back when he was still Reggie Bush) and soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, people still viewed her as someone who was chasing fame, and she lacked the public’s respect (read: playing for the wrong reasons).
Today, she is still in the public eye, but she is much more careful about how she presents herself.
She is a savvy businesswoman—and if you had told me five years ago that I would write that sentence, I would have asked you what you were smoking.
Her looks may not be as stellar as they once were, but she has adapted. Instead of chasing the Reggie Bushes and Cristiano Ronaldos of the sports world, she targeted a much more awestruck and submissive mate in Kris Humphries (kind of like Pau Gasol, actually).
I mean, come on, he bought her a $2 million engagement ring. By all accounts, the late-stage Kim has proven to be the most savvy.
Coming full circle, isn’t that exactly the same trajectory as Kobe’s career? He was enormously talented early in his career (read: hot), but never quite understood the team concept.
In short, he was immature. He was uncomfortable playing second fiddle to Shaq, so much so that in the summer of 2004, he blew up a team that had made four finals appearances in five years (and won three of them).
In his middle years, he put up the best numbers, but received criticism for playing with a “me-first” attitude.
The apex of this phase of his career came in the 2005-2006 season, when he dropped 81 points in a game against the Raptors…and then quit on his team in game seven of the first round against the Phoenix Suns, scoring only one point on three shots in the second half. There’s still hope for you, LeBron.
Then, after the summer of the trade demand, Kobe finally began to understand that winning demands personal sacrifices. He no longer put up the sexiest numbers, but his team made three straight finals appearances—winning two of them.
And this time, he did it as the unquestioned team leader, though his supporting cast certainly deserves credit.
A tough decision, certainly. It’s tempting to take 2005-2006 Kobe and his ridiculous 35.4 PPG, which is ninth all time, and second only to Michael Jordan since 1967.
But ultimately, as I stated earlier, this is about assembling the best team, not the best collection of individual talent.
So, I decided to take Kobe (and Artest, Gasol and Odom) on the back end of his career, when the athletic ability hadn’t diminished too much but the smarts had kicked in.
Partly because I’m not sure I made the right call in choosing the older versions and partly because the teams ahead of them are so ridiculously good, I can’t put the Lakers any higher than fifth.
This Lakers team would certainly have taken this year’s title, and Bynum wouldn’t even have needed to clothesline J.J. Barea to do it.
PG: Tony Parker, 08-09. 22 PPG, 3.1 REB, 6.9 AST
SG: Manu Ginobili, 07-08. 19.5 PPG, 4.8 REB, 4.5 AST
SF: Richard Jefferson, 04-05. 22.2 PPG, 7.3 REB, 4 AST
PF: Tim Duncan, 02-03. 23.3 PPG, 12.9 REB, 3.9 AST
C: Antonio McDyess, 00-01. 20.8 PPG, 12.1 REB, 2.1 AST
Bench (of note)
DeJuan Blair, 10-11. 8.3 PPG, 7 REB, 1 AST
George Hill, 09-10. 12.4 PPG, 2.6 REB, 2.9 AST
Gary Neal, 10-11. 9.8 PPG, 2.5 REB, 1.2 AST
As with every Spurs team in the Duncan era, this group is not especially sexy—but it would get the job done.
It’s hard to say this about a sure-fire hall of famer with four rings, but Duncan is underrated.
Much of this can be attributed to his demeanor and style of play. He doesn’t attempt to draw attention to himself, and he has never been interested in his individual numbers.
And let’s face it: his teams were also pretty boring to watch.
But as I looked back through Spurs history to compile this list, I was struck by two things: just how remarkable this guy was, and how many more titles he could have won with a little luck.
And again, I say this about a guy who won four championships.
Duncan’s numbers peaked between 1999 and 2004 (from when he was 23 to 28 years old).
In that five season span, he averaged over 22 points and 12 rebounds every season. He also won Most Valuable Player in 2002 and 2003.
After 2004, Duncan never again averaged more than 12 rebounds, and exceeded the 20 PPG mark only twice.
Unfortunately for him, the prime of his career never quite coincided with the primes of the players around him.
When the Spurs won the title in 1999, David Robinson was 33 years old. While he was still a dominant defender, his production was not on the level it once was.
As Robinson's unspectacular numbers that season (15.8 PPG, 10 REB) show, Duncan was the driving force behind that title.
In 2003, Robinson was 37 years old and on his last leg. Duncan, then, won two titles with an aging sidekick in Robinson.
How many more could he have won if the two hadn’t been so far apart in age?
On the other side of Duncan’s career came Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. But unlike Robinson, who came along a few years too early, they came along a few years too late.
Ginobili’s debut came in the 2003-2004 season, but he didn’t hit his stride until 2004-2005. Similarly, Parker entered the league in 2001-2002 but didn’t hit his prime until 2004-2005.
With this group, Duncan won titles in 2005 and 2007, but by then he wasn't quite as dominant as he once was.
He was smart enough and selfless enough to recognize this and rely more on his younger teammates, and winning two additional titles with this group certainly has to be considered a successful run.
But again, I can’t help but wonder whether this group would have been considered one for the ages had their primes all coincided with one another.
Of course, with my time machine, we can do just that.
The Spurs also benefit from a rejuvenated Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess. This gives them arguably the strongest starting five of any team on this list—though the Celtics might challenge that (but we’ll get there).
The problem is a serious lack of depth. The trio of Blair, Hill and Neal are a solid, rugged group, but they leave something to be desired.
As much as I have come to learn never to discount Tim Duncan, I still can’t put the Spurs any higher than fourth.
PG: Rajon Rondo, 10-11. 10.6 PPG, 4.4 REB, 11.2 AST
SG: Ray Allen, 00-01. 22 PPG, 5.3 REB, 4.6 AST
SF: Paul Pierce, 05-06. 26.8 PPG, 6.7 REB, 4.8 AST
PF: Kevin Garnett, 03-04. 24.2 PPG, 13.9 REB, 5 AST
C: Jermaine O’Neal, 02-03. 20.8 PPG, 10.3 REB, 2 AST
Bench (of note)
Carlos Arroyo, 03-04. 12.6 PPG, 2.6 REB, 5 AST
Delonte West, 08-09. 11.7 PPG, 3.2 REB, 3.5 AST
Jeff Green, 08-09. 16.5 PPG, 6.7 REB, 2 AST
Glen Davis, 10-11. 11.7 PPG, 5.5 REB, 1.2 AST
Troy Murphy, 08-09. 14.3 PPG, 11.8 REB, 2.4 AST
Nenad Krstic, 05-06. 13.5 PPG, 6.4 REB, 1.1 AST
Let’s get one thing out of the way: with Shaquille O’Neal, this team would have topped the list, without a doubt.
However, because his retirement means that he is no longer on the Celtics roster, he is ineligible.
Still, this team throws out a starting lineup consisting of three sure-fire Hall of Famer's (Allen, Pierce, Garnett) in their primes, a guy with the potential to get there (Rondo), and a six-time all-star (Jermaine O’Neal).
It’s almost unfair to imagine them with Shaq in there and Jermaine O’Neal coming off of the bench.
The nagging question about this team is whether everyone would mesh as well as the current Celtics do.
When the “Big Three” came together in the summer of 2007, Allen, Pierce and Garnett recognized that their window of opportunity for a championship was closing fast.
They put any ego issues aside for the betterment of the team (Ubuntu, as Doc Rivers called it), and experienced great success.
The question is, would they have done that in their primes?
By all accounts, the three have been great teammates throughout their careers. But such a star-studded lineup would almost guarantee that someone would be unsatisfied with their role.
Still, this team would simply be too talented not to figure out how to win. And more importantly, everyone meshes quite well.
Rondo is the ultimate distributor at point guard, always trying to set teammates up rather than looking for his own shot.
Allen has been a sharpshooter throughout his career, but in his prime he was especially deadly.
Pierce is the guy I would expect to sacrifice his numbers in order to focus on being a rugged defender and doing the dirty work. He also could take over in the clutch.
Garnett would be dominant on both ends of the floor. Although he typically struggles in clutch situations, this team has so many options that it wouldn’t need to rely on him for every minute of every game as the Timberwolves once did.
Jermaine O’Neal would get less touches on offense, but he was a great defender and rebounder in his prime. O'Neal would be able to provide ample second chance opportunities.
Finally, these Celtics have a number of options on the bench, although they lack anyone spectacular.
It’s a tough call, but I believe their superior team structure would allow them to beat the Lakers, and their superior talent would allow them to beat the Spurs.
However, they wouldn’t quite be able to get by the top two teams on this list.
PG: Mike Bibby, 00-01. 15.9 PPG, 3.7 REB, 8.4 AST
SG: Dwayne Wade, 08-09. 30.2 PPG, 5 REB, 7.5 AST
SF: Lebron James, 09-10. 29.7 PPG, 7.3 REB, 8.6 AST
PF: Chris Bosh, 09-10. 24 PPG, 10.8 REB, 2.4 AST
C: Juwan Howard, 95-96. 22.1 PPG, 8.2 REB, 4.4 AST
Bench (of note)
Mario Chalmers, 10-11. 6.4 PPG, 2.1 REB, 2.5 AST
Mike Miller, 06-07. 18.5 PPG, 5.4 REB, 4.3 AST
Udonis Haslem, 06-07. 10.7 PPG, 8.3 REB, 1.2 AST
Erick Dampier, 03-04. 12.3 PPG, 12 REB, 0.8 AST
Jamaal Magloire, 03-04. 13.7 PPG, 10.3 REB, 1.1 AST
Zydrunas Ilgauskas, 04-05. 16.9 PPG, 8.6 REB, 1.3 AST
I know I said that the statistics were only a guideline, not what we should actually expect from each player.
But my goodness, the numbers for this Heat team are something else.
The starting lineup combines to average 122 points per game.
And more remarkable, that point total comes despite the fact that I did not choose Bibby’s or LeBron’s highest scoring seasons.
Bibby was much more of a scorer in his time with the Sacramento Kings, but scoring is merely one phase of the game and by no means the most important. He peaked at 21.1 PPG in 2005-2006, but that is not what this Heat team needs.
In Bibby’s third year in the league, with the then Vancouver Grizzlies, Bibby was at his apex as a playmaker, averaging a career high 8.4 assists.
That ability to distribute the ball, combined with his 3-point shooting ability, make the 2000-2001 Bibby the perfect choice for this Miami Heat team.
LeBron also put up higher scoring numbers at a different point in his career (31.4 PPG in 2005-2006)—but again, this team would have no trouble scoring. Instead, it needs LeBron to be the ultimate playmaker.
Say what you will about LeBron’s performance in this year’s finals...well, everyone already has. He certainly was not the player that his team needed him to be in order to win.
Having said that, on this fantasy team, that is exactly the type of player his team would need him to be: a lockdown defender and facilitator, just as likely to set up a teammate as he would be to create his own shot.
With all five starters more than capable of putting the ball in the hoop, LeBron’s perpetual hesitance to take control of a game at the expense of role players would actually make this team better.
Wade, Bosh, and Howard fill out the starting lineup quite nicely. But it's the bench that takes this team to another level and would allow them to squeak past Boston.
Mike Miller was injured all season, and showed only glimpses of his potency from behind the arc. A younger, healthier Miller gives these Heat a sharpshooter off of the bench that would force teams to either allow him open looks from deep or play the other four starters straight up.
Neither is a very attractive option.
This team also goes from having no centers in real life to having two all-stars coming off the bench—Magloire and Ilgauskas—and a productive Dampier.
It should be mentioned that Dampier’s sole productive NBA season miraculously coincided with the last year of his contract with the Golden State Warriors.
It was the second (and last) time he recorded more than 10 PPG, and the only time he recorded more than 10 REB. He promptly cashed in on his big year, signing with the Dallas Mavericks for seven years and $73 million.
Again, he only had a single productive year! Needless to say, he immediately proceeded to become “Erick Dampier’s expiring contract.”
And you wonder why we’re heading towards a lockout? OK, I swear, last mention of the lockout.
Back to the point: this team has solutions for all the problems that the real-life Heat had.
Shaky point guard play? Solved. No center? Solved. No depth? Solved.
Who knows, with such a deep team, maybe a fresh-legged LeBron would have gone off in the finals for 30 points per game.
At the very least, he wouldn’t have had any excuse.
PG: Jason Kidd, 02-03. 18.7 PPG, 6.3 REB, 8.9 AST
SG: Caron Butler, 07-08. 20.3 PPG, 6.7 REB, 4.9 AST
SF: Shawn Marion, 05-06. 21.8 PPG, 11.8 REB, 1.8 AST
PF: Dirk Nowitzki, 10-11. 23 PPG, 7 REB, 2.6 AST
C: Tyson Chandler, 07-08. 11.8 PPG, 11.8 REB, 1 AST
Bench (of note)
J.J. Barea, 10-11. 9.5 PPG, 2 REB, 3.9 AST
Jason Terry, 06-07. 16.7 PPG, 2.9 REB, 5.2 AST
Peja Stojakovic, 03-04. 24.3 PPG, 6.3 REB, 2.1 AST
DeShawn Stevenson, 06-07. 11.2 PPG, 2.6 REB, 2.7 AST
Brian Cardinal, 03-04. 9.6 PPG, 4.2 REB, 1.4 AST
A total cop out, I know.
But hear me out—slotting this Mavericks team in at No.1 isn’t as crazy as you might think.
In his prime, Jason Kidd was one of the most complete point guards in NBA history.
He led the Nets to consecutive finals appearances in 2002 and 2003, with a supporting cast essentially limited to Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin.
The only problem with choosing the younger Kidd is that he had not yet developed the jump shot that consistently buried the Heat in this year’s finals.
But in every other phase of the game—rebounding, defense, speed, ball handling, etc.—the younger Kidd is superior. Besides, this Mavericks team has enough jump shooters already.
Interestingly, of their five best 3-point shooters (Barea, Terry, Stojakovic, Stevenson, and of course, Nowitzki), four come off of the bench.
I think Terry would make more sense in the starting lineup, to balance that discrepancy out a little bit. He is also the only pure shooting guard on this team.
However, the Mavericks have been consistent in using him as a sixth man, so that is what he is here.
At the very least, such versatile options off the bench would give coach Rick Carlisle plenty of options and the ability to adapt to any situation.
It’s easy to forget, but Stojakovic was the leading scorer (and arguably the best player) on the Kings team that lost to the referees in the 2002 Western Conference Finals.
Did I say referees? I meant to say Lakers.
Aside from Stojakovic and possibly Kidd, the player receiving the biggest boost from this exercise is Shawn Marion.
There’s a reason he was picked in the first or second round in every fantasy draft from 2002 to 2007. Every year in that span, he averaged nine or more rebounds, two or more steals and one or more blocks.
He could do anything—that’s why they called him “The Matrix.”
He also put up points (16.8 per game for his career), but more importantly, he did so while maintaining a high shooting percentage. In the 2005-2006 season, for example, he shot 52.5%.
Of course, as the steals and blocks suggest, Marion was also a dominant defender.
He showcased that ability against LeBron on the way to the championship this year (which, by the way, he still doesn’t get enough credit for). But he would have been even more of a nightmare for LeBron with a younger set of legs.
Is that all? I feel like I’m forgetting someone…
Oh, right. Dirk.
Yes, the man has reached “first-name recognition” status. The basic test is that if you mention someone’s first name, regardless of the context, almost everyone in the room will know who you are talking about.
I realize that this is unfair for those with common names (Michael, Bill, Larry), but I like the test because it is completely unscientific yet works pretty well.
Think about today’s stars. Kobe. Shaq. LeBron. Carmelo. And now Dirk. That’s the list.
You could be talking about anything. If someone drops one of those names, you assume he or she is referring to the basketball player unless they specify otherwise.
With the possible exception of Carmelo (who gets in because of a cool name, marriage to TV personality LaLa Vasquez, impressive stats, and a memorable championship run with Syracuse in 2003), everyone on that list will undoubtedly go down as one of the top 25 players of all time.
Also interesting is that each player on that list has gained pop culture recognition. Everyone knows who these names refer to, whether they watch sports or not.
It clicked that Dirk belonged in this group just the other day. I was at the gym on Sunday evening, prior to game six, and the pre-game show was on TV.
Everyone, myself included, was more interested in the game than working out, and a small crowd had formed around the TV.
I overheard a girl and her boyfriend having a conversation about the series. They seemed very earnest, but it was pretty clear that neither of them knew much about the NBA—“Who’s winning the series?” was one of the questions asked.
When the screen showed LeBron’s way overused “we’re a desperate team” speech, the girl said, “LeBron seems so fake."
But in the first quarter, when Dirk fired up a jumper, she said, “Ohhh! I like Dirk, I hope he wins.”
Someone who knew almost nothing about basketball knew two names: LeBron and Dirk. Doesn’t that say all we need to know about the man?
You know, besides the fact that he's an incredible basketball player.
His biggest numbers may not have come in 2010-2011, but you can’t possibly tell me that any other version would be better than this year’s Dirk.
It goes without saying that Dallas' title hopes rest with him, both in real life and here.
So there you have it. The end result is the same, the Mavericks over the Heat in a nail-biter.
But the journey would be a little different, and the quality of play would be oh-so-nice.
We can only wish.