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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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SG ERIC PIATKOWSKI

$3 million

The younger Kyle Korver (six years at $25 million) is a good option as a shooter off the bench, but the 12-year veteran Piatkowski is the better value. He's a career 40.1% marksman from beyond the three-point arc--his instant offense recalls that of Steve Kerr during the Bulls' run of titles--and he will accept any role. To wit: He stayed with the Clippers for nine seasons.

PG CHAUNCEY BILLUPS

$5.9 million

Nobody else on this squad can match his fearlessness in crunch time (not that there will be many close games with this group). He's cocky enough to come off the bench, demand the ball and beat the buzzer with a three-pointer. The 2004 Finals MVP with the Pistons, Billups is the perfect answer to Robert Horry, a.k.a. Big Shot Bob.

PG LUKE RIDNOUR

$1.6 million

Entering his third season, this runner-and-gunner has the look of a young Nash. He needs to improve his jump shot, but he's a magical ball handler who makes brilliant decisions in the open court. For a 24-year-old, Ridnour also has exceptional leadership skills. His teammates will barely notice that Nash has left the floor.

THE

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