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.
PG STEVE NASH
A team like this must be fun to watch. (Why go to all this trouble to re-create, say, the '93-94 Knicks?) Nash is the perfect quarterback to push the tempo, break down defenses with clever penetration, and keep everybody happy by distributing evenly and plentifully. The perfect answer to Tony Parker.
SG DWYANE WADE
You can't go wrong picking a player with his rare combination of hops, skill, killer instinct and humility--especially at his salary. Consider him a silkier, smaller version of Manu Ginobili. Wade's scoring average may plummet into the low teens on this team, but you won't hear a peep out of him.
C YAO MING