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Posted: Friday April 2, 2010 11:46AM; Updated: Friday April 2, 2010 1:29PM
Ian Thomsen
Ian Thomsen>INSIDE THE NBA

Weekly Countdown (cont.)

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Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal
The Kobe-Shaq tandem in Los Angeles was, without a doubt, much stronger than the current Kobe-Pau Gasol duo.
AP

On to the rest of the Countdown ...

3 Questions rescued from the spam

Who is a better supporting player for Kobe Bryant in his championship games: Shaquille O'Neal or Pau Gasol?
-- Wiiu

That's an interesting phrasing of the question. When Shaq was a Laker and he was the dominant force in basketball, Kobe was viewed as the younger "supporting" scorer on the perimeter. Today, the Lakers are built around Bryant, with Gasol providing the support.

The bottom line is that the duo of O'Neal and Bryant is stronger than that of Bryant and Gasol -- no one should argue with that.

Months prior to the NCAA tournament, I felt that if the Nets got the first pick, they should take Evan Turner. Turner isn't far behind John Wall in talent, and since they have Devin Harris, they should fill the need for a two-guard. It appears the LeBron infatuation in New Jersey is over, so the Nets should concentrate on acquiring other free agents to complement their roster: David Lee (rebounds, doesn't need plays run for him, great finisher) and Rudy Gay (outside shot, great finisher) would be excellent additions, making the Nets "Oklahoma City East" with a young team ready for the fans in Brooklyn.
-- Albeon, Ridgeland, S.C.

Turner isn't far behind Wall, and most teams would love to have him. One highly respected scout rates Wall as No. 1 and Turner as No. 1a. Ultimately, most teams would use the No. 1 pick on Wall, who can become a star at both ends of the floor.

The few teams that might be interested in moving the No. 1 pick or using it for Turner would be those with an elite point guard already, such as Chicago (Derrick Rose), New Orleans (Chris Paul) or Utah (Deron Williams), which owns the unprotected rights to New York's pick this year. In the Nets' case, I doubt the presence of Harris would preclude them from taking Wall at No. 1. Harris was an All-Star last year while playing alongside Vince Carter, but his role as point guard of a team that until recently threatened to become the worst in league history is proof that he is not indispensable.

With Michael Jordan at the helm, do you think the Bobcats have a chance at landing LeBron over the summer? Of course, no one knows what James will do, but do you think Jordan brings enough to the Charlotte franchise to be able to lure the King?
-- Sam, Matthews, North Carolina

No chance. The Bobcats are over the cap, which means he would be signing for the mid-level exception and a cut in salary of $10 million annually. Charlotte is one of the league's smallest markets, which would hurt his value with Nike and other sponsors, and it is less prepared to win a championship than his current Cavaliers.

All things being equal, Jordan may be able to lure free agents to Charlotte. But how often are all of the important factors equal? Good players will be more interested in their salary, role and title potential than in Jordan's charisma. Being Michael Jordan won't do much for his team on the court, but behaving like Michael Jordan -- which means exhibiting the work ethic and intelligence that separated him from others on the court -- will make a huge difference. Now that Jordan is investing his own money in the team, I believe we'll come to recognize the old virtues in him.

2 Vastly different teams

ALL-EXCESSIVE TEAM
These expensive players proved detrimental for a variety of reasons.

G Yao Ming, Rockets ($16.4 million): Foot surgery sidelined him for entire season.

F Elton Brand, 76ers ($14.9 million): His contract and style of play have set back Philly's plan to rebuild with young athletes.

F Darius Miles, Trail Blazers ($9 million): His presence on their payroll ruined the Blazers' hope for a max free agent last summer.

G Michael Redd, Bucks ($17 million): Major knee surgeries for two straight years have doomed this investment.

G Gilbert Arenas, Wizards ($16.2 million): While Arenas lost much of that income because of suspension, he is on the books for another four years at $80 million.

TOTAL: $73.5 million. These five players gathered on one team would instantly vault that roster over the luxury-tax threshold.

ALL-JUDICIOUS TEAM
These bargains do not include players on rookie contracts.

C Juwan Howard, Trail Blazers ($800,000): He helped carry Portland through injuries to Oden and Joel Przybilla.

F Matt Barnes, Magic ($1.6 million): He's started 50 games as Orlando's most accurate shooter on the wing.

F Grant Hill, Suns ($3 million): At 37, he's missed one game while providing 30.2 minutes, 11.4 points and 5.5 rebounds.

G Arron Afflalo, Nuggets ($1.1 million): Coach George Karl believes he'll be a better defender than predecessor Dahntay Jones.

G Thabo Sefolosha, Thunder ($2.8 million): He's started every game while leading the way defensively.

TOTAL: $8.5 million. These players combined cost less than the $10.5 million the Knicks are paying Curry this season.

1 Big difference between winning and losing

The luxury tax. Eleven teams are above the tax threshold this season. Ten of them will make the playoffs. All told, those 11 teams are on track to average 53 victories each.

The 19 teams below the tax threshold will average 35 wins this season. Among them, only the Hawks are on track to win as many as 53 games.

This breakdown is one of the big reasons owners are expected to take a hard line on cutting back salaries. Teams cannot hope to win a championship without paying the tax.

The teams below will have to the pay the tax:

Teams Above Luxury-Tax Threshold
Team Payroll (in millions) Win Pace
Lakers $91.3 61
Mavericks $87.8 54
Cavaliers $84.9 64
Celtics $84.8 53
Knicks $84.6 30
Magic $82.1 58
Spurs $78.4 50
Nuggets $75.3 53
Suns $75.0 53
Heat $72.8 44
Jazz $72.0 53

These teams will get by without having to pay it:

Teams Below Luxury-Tax Threshold
Team Payroll (in millions) Win Pace
Hornets $69.6 38
Rockets $69.2 41
Bucks $69.1 46
Bobcats $68.6 43
Wizards $68.3 24
Bulls $67.9 39
Raptors $67.8 40
Pacers $66.7 30
Warriors $66.6 24
Hawks $65.1 53
76ers $64.5 29
Timberwolves $62.8 15
Kings $60.5 27
Nets $60.1 10
Clippers $59.2 30
Pistons $58.6 26
Trail Blazers $58.2 50
Grizzlies $57.1 43
Thunder $55.9 50

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