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A Perfect Team
IAN THOMSEN
October 24, 2005
THE CLOSEST thing nowadays to the perfect NBA team? Easy, the defending champion Spurs, whose mix of selfless stars and steady role players, youthful exuberance and veteran savvy--and a wisely managed payroll--is the NBA's gold standard. My orders were simple: to construct a team that could conquer San Antonio. The roster would, like the Spurs', place a premium on teamwork and chemistry. I could choose talent from any team except San Antonio, but my payroll couldn't exceed the luxury-tax threshold of $61.7 million. Initially I made the mistake most of us would: I greedily harvested superstars, from Shaq to Kevin Garnett to Jason Kidd, leaving me $75 million over the tax. � So I enlisted the help of one of the league's top general managers, who offered to be my adviser in return for anonymity. First, he talked me out of building my team around Shaq, who would be a worthy combatant for Tim Duncan but whose $20 million salary would devour one third of my payroll. Instead the G.M. suggested the fresh (cheaper) legs of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. "Now we surround them with some older guys," said the G.M., who endorsed my suggestion to dump Garnett in favor of the more complementary Rasheed Wallace at a savings of $7.7 million. Kidd's salary of $16.4 million was also judged unwise with MVP Steve Nash available for $9.6 million. "This isn't easy," admitted the G.M. as he scoured NBA rosters for low-cost shooters and defenders who would embrace secondary roles. � In the end we produced the following roster. "You have players with ability, their salaries fit," said the G.M. "The only thing you could use is a little more shooting." Even in a perfect world, you can't have everything.
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October 24, 2005

A Perfect Team

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With three years left on his rookie contract, Krstic is the best value among centers. The 7-footer averaged 18.3 points in the Nets' opening-round playoff loss to Shaq and the Heat. He could be especially important in the postseason, coming off the bench to score in the half-court on those (rare) nights when the transition game isn't working.

C-PF ANTONIO MCDYESS

$5.5 million

The 31-year-old McDyess is the type of veteran (see Finley, Michael) that the Spurs covet: high on talent, low on maintenance and salary. Despite a painful run of knee injuries, he's still rugged enough to defend fours and fives, he can score in the post, and he accepts any role as long as he's contending for titles.

PF DWIGHT HOWARD

$4.5 million

Only 19, he already blocks shots and rebounds like a veteran. He still needs to improve with his back to the basket, but he is destined to become a dominant player--a big man who can score in transition and make plays in the post with equal skill. His talent, temperament and body type suggest the second coming of Duncan.

SF RON ARTEST

$6.5 million

Deep down he's a team player who will happily accept coming off the bench as long as the starters are playing hard and the club is winning. On this squad he becomes a souped-up version of Bruce Bowen, able to clamp down on Ginobili while consistently scoring in double figures. Artest is, for all his problems, the classic Pat Riley player.

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