James and Bryant decided to buy each member of the 2010 NBA All-Star team a pair of custom-made "Beats by Dr. Dre'' Monster headphones. James bought them for his 12 Eastern Conference teammates, while Bryant did the same for the 14 other Western Conference all-stars. TrueHoop »

Getting out the vote II

October, 7, 2008

Lest you get the impression from my last blog post that every NBA player is endorsing Barack Obama for president, take note of Kings center Spencer Hawes.

Hawes is a staunch Republican and is firmly in the John McCain camp. "Keep on going. Let's get four more years," he told Elie Seckbach of AOL Fanhouse. "I look at the tax bracket and the tax things and that's a big issue that affects us especially."

And check out what Carmelo Anthony told Seckbach.

Call it the Michael Jordan Effect.

Like Jordan, who in 1990 famously refused to publicly support Harvey Gantt, an African-American Democrat running for a North Carolina Senate seat against right-winger Jesse Helms, by stating "Republicans buy sneakers too,'' Anthony claimed to be staunchly non-partisan.

"I like both, the Democrats and Republicans, '' Anthony said when asked about the historic 2008 presidential race. "Because Democrats and Republicans buy my shoes.''

In case you didn't know, Anthony has his own version of Jordan Brand sneakers.

The Republican party, of course, is most often associated with the rich and wealthy, and while many current athletes may be bucking that trend by supporting Obama, their employers are not.

Team owners across the four major sports overwhelmingly support John McCain, and they're speaking with their wallets, not necessarily their mouths. Through the end of June, owners had reportedly given or raised roughly $3.2 million for McCain, compared to just $615,000 for Obama.

Differences of opinion, of course, are nothing new between players and owners, a battle that's correctly been described as "the rich vs. the wealthy.''

No matter how you slice it, though, both groups buy sneakers, something I'm sure 'Melo's well aware of.

Getting out the vote

October, 2, 2008

"Either you slingin' crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot"
--Notorious B.I.G. ("Things Done Changed")

Unfortunately, that's the perspective of too many young black men -- that if they can't make it as a rapper or a hooper, the drug trade is all that's left for them. In an effort to tear down that self-defeating mindset, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Corey Brewer recently has been promoting Respect My Vote, a nonpartisan voter registration campaign that plans to bring more than 250,000 new voters to the polls this November.

Brewer, a supporter of Barack Obama, believes Obama would not only bring about a change in the nation's approach toward foreign policy, healthcare and the economy, but also provide much-needed hope for young black men.

"If we finally get a black president, it'll show a lot of guys that you don't have to be an athlete to make it in the world," Brewer said in a telephone interview between training camp practices Wednesday. "Guys can say, 'If a black man can be president, I can do anything I want to do.'"

Respect My Vote focuses on registering people between the ages of 18 and 29 who have not attended any form of college. Statistics show 93 percent of African-Americans in that demographic failed to vote in the recent presidential primaries.

Brewer, 22, realizes he easily could have been among that group if he hadn't attended Florida on a basketball scholarship.

"When you go to college, everybody on campus is excited about the elections and telling you to vote, vote, vote," Brewer said. "There are booths out and everything. That's why I was so excited to vote in 2004. But a lot of people that don't go to college think their vote doesn't count, that it doesn't matter if they don't vote. I know a lot of my friends I grew up with -- most of them didn't go to college, and I don't think they voted either. So I want to help them see that their vote does count."

Brewer is one of several NBA players to publicly endorse Obama. Greg Oden endorsed him last season, and LeBron James donated $20,000 to his campaign. James also recently met Obama backstage when both appeared on "Late Show with David Letterman." James gave Obama an autographed basketball.

"They were both trying to play it cool," one observer said. "But you could tell LeBron was really excited."

Brewer said the upcoming election has been a hot topic among players.

"You hear a lot of talk," he said. "Everybody's like, 'Yeah, we have to support Obama. We need change.'"

Brewer spoke a lot about the problems with the economy and said that while he has a guaranteed multimillion-dollar contract, he hasn't forgotten where he came from -- tiny Portland, Tenn.

"The economy might not affect me that much, but a lot of my family has been affected by it," he said. "I didn't grow up with money, so I know what it's like to be on the poor side. And it's not just about yourself; it's about other people in the world.

"Plus, the stock market's been going down. So while we may have money, if it's in stocks, that affects us too."

We often criticize today's athletes -- particularly the black ones -- for not taking stands on political or social issues. "There are no more Alis and Jim Browns," we often lament. Brewer said that's not fair.

"I think we do get a bad rap because when a few athletes get portrayed in a negative way, everyone thinks all athletes are the same," he said. "But a lot of guys really do want to help out."

Jennings' move paying off

September, 23, 2008
Brandon Jennings, the high school phenom who recently put an interesting twist on the preps-to-pros paradigm, has signed a four-year, $2 million deal with the burgeoning apparel company Under Armour.

The former Oak Hill Academy point guard, who was regarded by many as the top player in the class of 2008, stunned the basketball world in July by announcing he would play professionally in Europe instead of following the common path to the NCAA.

The decision has proven to be a lucrative one for Jennings, who turned 19 years old Tuesday. After signing a three-year, $1.65 million deal with Euroleague team Pallacanestro Virtus Roma of Italy (Jennings can opt out after each season to enter the NBA draft), he signed on to become the face of Under Armour in basketball.

Under Armour, a well-established brand in football and cross training, is hoping the electrifying Jennings will give it the push it needs to puncture the basketball market.

"I've always prided myself on being one step ahead of the pack and true to my beliefs -- like my journey to play professionally in Europe,'' Jennings said. "I look forward to my role as a global ambassador for Under Armour."

The 6-foot-2 Jennings, a native of Compton, Calif., is currently in Rome, preparing for his Italian League debut in early October. He, along with his mother, Alice Knox, and younger brother, Terrence Phillips, will live in Rome for the entire season.

If Jennings becomes a lottery pick in the 2009 NBA draft, many believe he'll set a trend that other top high school players will follow: forgoing an unpaid year in college to play for pay overseas. Some think it could eventually force the NBA to eliminate its rule that players must be one year removed from their high school graduation before entering the draft.

"By choosing to play in Europe as a high school player, Brandon is doing what no other basketball player has ever done,'' said Sonny Vaccaro, the longtime sneaker mogul who advised Jennings on his move to Europe. "This will go down in history as a landmark decision: from Compton to Rome -- Brandon Jennings did it first.''

Jennings had signed a national letter of intent to attend Arizona. But in his first crack at the SAT, he failed to score high enough to qualify. He took the test two more times, but each time it was red-flagged by The College Board.

That's not completely unusual for players who score low on their first test, and many believe Jennings would have eventually been allowed to play at Arizona in the fall. However, he tired of waiting for a resolution and decided to go overseas.

Known for wearing throwback, '80s-style haircuts such as the high-top fade and the Gumby, Jennings is one of the most charismatic players around. A flashy passer with plenty of no-looks in his arsenal, he set a school record at powerhouse Oak Hill, alma mater of Carmelo Anthony, Jerry Stackhouse and Rod Strickland, by averaging 35.5 points last season.

He also scored a school-record 63 points in one game and averaged 7.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 steals in earning the 2008 Naismith High School Player of the Year Award, the 2008 Parade Magazine Player of the Year Award and the 2008 EA Sports Player of the Year Award.

Sorry I've been out of action for awhile, but I'm deep, deep undercover. Can't say where I am, but I've trekked through mountains recently, hunting down my story (joking of course, sort of).

Anyway, I saw the news about Gilbert Arenas being out until December or January after undergoing yet another left knee surgery.

Wow, this is beginning to look bad for the Wizards.

Look, every GM makes mistakes, even the league's best. Joe Dumars drafted Darko Milicic over Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. Bryan Colangelo drafted Andrea Bargnani over Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Kiki Vandeweghe signed Kenyon Martin to a max contract. And so on.

So Ernie Grunfeld's decision to sign Arenas to a $111 million contract doesn't mean he is a bad GM. In fact, he's a very good one.

But the decision could haunt the franchise for years.

I thought Washington overpaid Arenas this offseason whether he was healthy or not. My thinking was that if the Wizards pay him $111 million when they've already invested big money in Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, that trio had better be able to lead the Wiz to the Finals.

I don't believe they can. In fact, with the East getting stronger, they may not even get the Wizards out of the first round every year (or any year). So the Wizards potentially locked themselves up financially for an exciting team that would be first- or second-round and out every year.

But I guess they could've hung their hat on the fact that at least Gil would've filled up the arena.

Now, he may not even do that. We have to seriously wonder if he'll ever be the same player again. He'll be back no doubt, but will he be as good as he was before his knee injuries set in?

For the sake of the Wizards and their fans (and Gilbert, too), I hope so.

But we certainly can't be sure.

Redeem Team vs. Dream Team

August, 22, 2008

This will be my last entry for a week or so because I'm going on vacation next week. I'm going to assume Team USA is taking gold, though.

I love the fact that the Americans are slaughtering all comers, really, I do. But I must admit that they've taken some of the fun out of these Olympics.

I wake up bright and early whenever they play, looking forward to seeing a competitive game, then they blow the doors off these supposed challengers within the first eight or nine minutes.

I watch the entire game, but once they go up by 20 or so, it loses some of its juice.

It's been a weird experience. On the one hand, I want them to blow everyone out by 30-plus to erase all doubt about U.S. hoop supremacy. But once they start doing that, it gets kind of boring.

So on the other hand, the viewer in me wants a fairly close game, just to make it exciting. But if it's too close and Team USA actually has a chance to lose, I get too uncomfortable knowing the U.S. might go down.

So all things considered, I'll take the blowouts.

I really think this team could challenge the original Dream Team. Remember, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were both past their primes in 1992. Magic had sat out the previous NBA season after retiring because of his HIV, and Bird, who was falling apart because of injuries, had just finished his last NBA season.

The rest -- Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen and Christian Laettner -- were in their primes, so it would indeed be a barn burner.

I'm thinking the Dream Team might win if the teams played by NBA rules because Ewing, Robinson and Barkley would be terrors inside.

Their size and inside dominance would be a bit nullified with international rules, though, because of the trapezoid lane, so the Redeem Team might win in international play.

The individual matchups:

Magic vs. Jason Kidd: Even though Magic had been in retirement, he gets the edge because he was the greatest point guard ever and Kidd, at this stage, is past his prime.

Bird vs. Carmelo Anthony: Melo wins only because by then, 35-year-old Bird was done (literally) and his back had limited him to just 45 games the previous season.

MJ vs. Kobe Bryant: With all due respect to Kobe, it's obviously MJ.

Barkley vs. LeBron James: Barkley was a beast and was dominant in Barcelona, but I'll take LeBron, who I think is proving he's the best player in the world right now.

Robinson vs. Dwight Howard: This is a close call that could go either way. I'll call it a wash.

Ewing vs. Chris Bosh: Bosh has been impressive in these games, and he might have an edge over Patrick in international ball, but I'll go with Ewing.

Drexler vs. Dwyane Wade: Man, this is a tough one. Drexler was fantastic, but I'm going with Wade, who has been better than everyone but LeBron.

Stockton vs. Chris Paul: People are going to trip, but I'm going with Paul. Maybe I'm not giving Stockton his props, but when it's all said and done, I think CP3 will be better.

Pippen vs. Deron Williams: Going with Pippen, who was a fabulous defender. But D-Will has been great in these games.

Laettner vs. Tayshaun Prince: Gimme Prince.

Malone vs. Carlos Boozer: Obviously, The Mailman.

Mullin vs. Michael Redd: Gotta go with Mully.

Too bad we'll never see them play each other.

On another note, I love the Celtics' signing of Darius Miles. We all know Miles has gobs of talent, and if he's truly healthy enough to play again, he'll be a steal for Boston.

I know he's been one headache after another because of his immaturity, but with their veteran leadership, the Celtics won't put up with any foolishness from Miles. My guess is that he'll be on his best behavior and that he'll mature a lot by being around Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and the rest of Boston's true professionals.

Remember, 6-9 Miles is just 26 years old (he'll turn 27 during training camp), so again, if he's healthy, he should still have something left. His length and athleticism should make him a nice fit for the Celtics' defense.

Boston was my pick in the East anyway, but now the Celts are even stronger. A repeat? I'm still thinking about that one.

Some of the thoughts floating through my mind while watching Team USA rout Greece Thursday morning:

  1. Whew! I'm a bit relieved. There's still a long way to go to win the gold medal, but after so-so performances against China and Angola, this demolition bolstered my faith in the NBA stars. I've never wavered from saying they'll win gold, but this was good to see. Their defense was spectacular, and they solved Greece's zone with great dribble penetration.
  2. Dwyane Wade is back. All the way back! In fact, he may be better than ever, what with his added strength from his newfound love of lifting. I admit that I was among the skeptics. I thought Wade would still play at an All-Star level, but I had strong doubts as to whether he'd ever reach his 2006 form again. I wasn't sure that he should have even been on Team USA because I thought he'd be a lesser duplication of Kobe Bryant. But Wade's been far better than Bryant -- offensively and defensively. Hopefully, he can stay healthy for the upcoming NBA season (not just healthy enough to play, but fully healthy and free from nagging injuries) because he's putting himself back in the conversation with LeBron and Kobe for the game's premier player. Oh, and Michael Beasley's prediction that Miami will return to the playoffs next season is looking better and better.
  3. Dallas is in trouble. Jason Kidd -- God bless him because he's had a terrific career -- is fading. It's understandable; I mean, he's 35 years old. You can't play in your prime forever. With Chris Paul and Deron Williams, Team USA will be fine, but the bigger concern is the Mavericks. Last season's desperation move is going to haunt them big-time because Kidd doesn't have elite play left in him, at least not on a consistent basis. When you look at the point guards Kidd has to face out West, the Mavs will be at a disadvantage many, many nights: Paul, Williams, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Baron Davis, Monta Ellis. Rick Carlisle's a strong coach and Dallas, while no longer a contender, can still make the playoffs, but I won't be shocked if they don't. The Lakers, New Orleans, San Antonio, Utah, Houston and Phoenix are all ahead of them, so they could be in a dogfight with Denver, Portland, Golden State and the Clippers for those seventh and eighth seeds.
  4. Chris Bosh has really impressed me. He's been tremendous. His versatility (able to play big inside while guarding the perimeter as well) has been key for this team. He's already a star, but he may make the jump to superstar next season. If Jermaine O'Neal is healthy and close to the player he used to be, the Raptors could be a threat in the East.
  5. I love being the undisputed basketball king of the world (i.e., whipping every other country by 30-plus), but I have to admit that the struggles of the past eight years have made these Olympics more interesting. For basketball fans, this is now must-see TV. I mean I'm really hyped for these games, which certainly wasn't the case before 2000 when we were waxing everyone in dunkfests.
  6. The loss to Greece in '06 was a blessing in disguise. Team USA wouldn't be taking these games as seriously if it had waltzed through that tournament, and the wake-up call may have come on this Olympic stage. Now, we're totally engaged, especially defensively. We've got most of our best players, as well as stars willing to be role players. We should roll. Let's see what happens against Spain on Saturday.

Beasley has all the (interviewing) skills

August, 8, 2008

After recently spending about 15 minutes with Michael Beasley, I can tell you this: he's going to be great. He has all the tools necessary to make it big.

And he'll be productive on the court as well.


I'm talking about Beasley's interview skills. Unless his mouth gets him in trouble and he begins muzzling himself (or gets muzzled by Pat Riley), reporters are going to love this guy.

His well-documented silliness was definitely there. Sometimes he broke out laughing for no apparent reason. But he also had a refreshing sense of candor that I hope stays with him throughout his career.

For instance, he's already penciled the Heat into the 2009 playoffs.

Chris Broussard: Miami, a lot of expectations this year. Do you think y'all are going to get back to the playoffs.

Michael Beasley: Yeah.

Broussard: It's that easy, huh? So it's more a matter of winning (in the playoffs), not getting there?

Beasley: Getting to the playoffs, I mean, it's not easy. Otherwise, we would have been there last year. But if we play together like we're supposed to, that's cake.

(He also told me he's better than Shawn Marion. But before you start any "team dissension rumors," know that he gave "The Matrix" tons of love and respect. He wasn't bragging at all. He just answered my question honestly.)

Broussard: Best small forward -- Michael Beasley or Shawn Marion?

Beasley: Come on, man (laughing).

Broussard: Are you playing power forward this year?

Beasley: I don't know what I'm playing. Hey Shawn, you my man. I'm sorry, but I've got to pick me (laughing). He's going to average more points than me though.

(Later, we started talking about his interests outside of basketball.)

Broussard: Do you have aspirations off the court, whether it be acting or comedy. I feel like you've got the personality for that.

Beasley: I could do anything. Hey, TV producers, movie producers, Sean John, anybody -- I'm the guy. I could act. I could sing. I could rap. Nah, I can't sing right now, or rap right now. Not happening.

Broussard: Can you rap better than Shaq?

Beasley: Oh, I can rap better than Shaq. This is like the sixth time (this summer) I said something about Shaq. I really don't want to get beat up, but I can rap better than Shaq.

Broussard: What did you think of his freestyle (about Kobe)?

Beasley: I think it was funny. I mean, him and Kobe played together so I don't know what they did on their free time … but it was a great rap (laughs). No, it wasn't -- because he was talking about Kobe. Kobe, don't be mad at me. It was a good rap, I guess.

Broussard: The fact that (it was a freestyle and) he could flow on the beat for so long was pretty impressive.

Beasley: You think so? He kept stopping.

Broussard: He was stopping because he went with the chorus, so his freestyle was affected.

Beasley: You trying to get me beat up. Hey Shaq, he said all this. I ain't say this.

(Beasley said all this and more in a long, relaxed interview that should be up on video next week (Wednesday, I think) on some ESPN platform. Check it out when it drops, and let's hope "Beastley" doesn't lose his candor and fun-loving nature.)

Team USA on point

August, 4, 2008

I've been getting up early -- very early on Sunday (3 a.m. ET) -- to watch Team USA run through its exhibition opponents. So far, I've seen nothing to make me think they'll win anything but the gold medal.

When the roster was first announced, I thought they were a big man short, but it seems like Jerry Colangelo and crew made the right decision by going with just three versatile bigs. As long as Dwight Howard stays healthy, I don't foresee any problems.

When the situation calls for post offense and banging inside, Howard is more than up to the task, and when they need bigs who can defend near the 3-point line, Chris Bosh is there. Plus, they've been able to use LeBron James at not just the 4 but also the 5-spot.

Obviously, that's nontraditional, and in keeping with that theme, Nike will unveil a two-minute, 30-second commercial about Team USA on Tuesday. I was able to check out the ad, and I have to admit, it's pretty fly.

The best thing about it is that it's set to the music of the late, great Marvin Gaye. While the players are shown in various highlights, Gaye's historic rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles is played. Gaye is also shown singing the song at various points during the commercial, including the beginning.

Gaye's version of the national anthem was incredibly controversial at the time because he sang it over a drum machine, which changed the entire rhythm and melody of the song. That's what I mean by "nontraditional.'' Now, however, Gaye's performance is viewed as a classic.

The song is real cool and mellow, and the Team USA footage matches because it's not high-flying, jaw-dropping material. The players are shown getting off the team bus, going through layup and jump-shooting drills and making basis passes. There's only one slam in the whole thing.

While I prefer thunder dunks during my "SportsCenter" highlights, this is a nice change of pace, especially with Gaye's smooth vocals playing in the background. Shorter 30- and 60-second versions of the commercial will begin running Friday.

While this commercial is hot, it's not as nice as the Hyperdunk joint that's been running lately. You know the one that is about four or five minutes long and centers around some so-called playground legend getting slammed on -- and consequently, losing his girl -- by a young, short, Hyperdunk-wearing neophyte. It comes off like a movie trailer.

Anyway, back to Team USA, I saw that my man Chris Sheridan wrote about a potential point guard controversy brewing over Jason Kidd's "benching'' during the second half of Sunday's win over Russia.

I don't think it'll be a controversy, but it's clear that Deron Williams and Chris Paul are the team's best point guards. I actually think Williams has played the best. His penetration of the zone defense has been terrific.

Its en vogue to call Paul the world's best point guard right now (heck, I did it in my last blog), but Williams is right there with him. In the Olympics, when teams go zone, it's a no-brainer that either Williams or Paul has to be on the floor because they are scoring threats, as opposed to Kidd.

I caught major heat for saying Paul Pierce probably isn't one of the league's Top 10 players. Everyone seemed to miss the word "probably,'' though, and assumed I was saying he's definitely not.

I proceeded to list some guys who are probably in the Top 10, and it just happened to come out to 10. It wasn't my intention to list a definitive Top 10.

But since I've been called out, I'll now list some guys who I think are definitely ahead of Pierce:

LeBron, Kobe, KG, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Amare Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade and Tim Duncan.

That's nine guys right there. There are several guys battling for that 10th spot, Pierce among them:

Pierce, Dirk, Nash, T-Mac, Carmelo, A.I., Yao (and, if fully healthy, Gilbert Arenas)

In a head-to-head comparison with Pierce, Dirk's struggles in the '06 Finals and the '07 first round hurt him, especially since Pierce came up huge on the big stage last season. But Dirk was carrying a team vs. being just one of three big options. That's a huge difference. That's why I don't say Pierce outplayed Kobe in the Finals, because while the Lakers had to worry about defending KG and Ray Allen, the Celtics could throw the kitchen sink at Kobe. Before last year's title, Dirk was ahead of Pierce, hands-down. If I were starting a team right now, I can't say I'd definitely take Pierce over Dirk. Pierce has more guts in the clutch, but as his team's top dog, Dirk has led his team to more wins.

In Nash vs. Pierce, Nash's weak defense and the fact that he's never gotten to the Finals work against him. T-Mac's poor playoff record (in terms of victories) would lead some to give Pierce the nod over him, but I'm not sure about this one, either.

Pierce's suddenly top-notch defense would also lead some to take him over Carmelo, but don't try to use the "Melo's not a winner'' card. I won't even mention Syracuse, but Melo has led the Nuggets (a 17-win team before he got there) to the playoffs every single year. Of course, he hasn't won a series, but he's not yet in T-Mac territory, either. And remember, Pierce wasn't regarded as a good defender before this season. Another tough call.

One highly regarded NBA scout gave me a list of his Top 50 players last season, based on statistics (40 percent output, 40 percent efficiency, 20 percent defense) instead of team wins. Pierce is ranked 21st on his list. Granted, Pierce's stats dropped last season because of the additions of KG and Ray, but on the scout's list that factored in wins, he had Pierce 26th.

Here's his Top 10 without factoring wins. This is based strictly off production:

  1. LeBron
  2. Dwight Howard
  3. Kobe
  4. Chris Paul/Manu Ginobili
  5. Yao
  6. Chauncey Billups
  7. Tim Duncan
  8. KG
  9. Deron Williams
  10. Jason Kidd

Bizarre list, I know. But this scout is very good, and his statistical analyses are usually on point. I've got a major beef with some of these guys being ranked as high as they are, though. Billups and Kidd obviously don't belong in the Top 10, and I don't think Ginobili does either.

On the trios, I initially had Utah in the Top 10, largely on the strength of Williams and Carlos Boozer. But I don't think Mehmet Okur gives the Jazz a big three yet. If he really balls this season, then of course they're on the list. And I may have given Dallas too much credit, with Kidd declining fast and with the recent uncertainty about where Josh Howard's head is at.

NBA's top trios

July, 31, 2008

First, it was about great teams -- the '60s Celtics, the '80s Lakers, Celtics, Sixers and Pistons.

Then, it was about great duos -- Jordan and Pippen, Olajuwon and Drexler, Kemp and Payton, Stockton and Malone, Duncan and Robinson, Shaq and Kobe.

Now, it's about trios, and Houston just created one. That's why the Rockets, assuming they're healthy and distraction free, suddenly are legitimate title contenders.

That being the case, here's my list of the league's top 10 threesomes. Remember, this is not a ranking of teams but of Big Threes:

1. Boston: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen
Three Hall of Famers. Two great closers (Pierce and Ray), one terrific defender and rebounder (KG). A 7-footer (KG), a slasher (Pierce) and a textbook jump shooter (Ray). A ring.

By the way, Pierce is nuts if he thinks he's the league's best player. I love his game and he was definitely the finals MVP. But Paul, don't get it twisted: You're probably not even in the top 10 (I feel like Roger Federer talking to Neil Everett): (In no particular order) LeBron, Kobe, Chris Paul, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire.

I like Paul's confidence, though.

2. San Antonio: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili
Duncan's aging, but I'm not ready to count these three out just yet. All three could end up in the Hall of Fame: Parker for being a key star on at least three title teams, and Ginobili for his success on the world stage.

3. Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol
If Bynum returns quickly to the form he displayed (17.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.1 bpg) in the three weeks preceding his injury, this will be the league's second-best trio, at least. And a fourth option like Lamar Odom only strengthens the Lakers' version of the Big Three.

4. Houston: Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Ron Artest
The main obstacles for the new-look Rockets are health and keeping Ron-Ron under control. If those two factors don't become issues, they will be sweet. We don't even have to talk about their defense. The league's second-best defensive team just added the best, most feared perimeter defender on earth, for goodness sakes.

And offensively, the Rockets now have three legitimate 20-point scorers. T-Mac's an old and weary 29 (entering his 12th season), so the addition of Artest will take some of the heavy offensive burden off his shoulders.

Plus, Artest gives them something some Big Threes lack -- an edge.

5. New Orleans: Chris Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler
These three have tremendous chemistry. There's no doubt that Paul lifts West and Chandler to another level, and the whole here is probably better than the sum of the individual parts.

Paul is the best point guard on the planet (though D-Will is right on his heels). West is one of the most versatile power forwards in the game who can punish the defense inside, outside and on the break, and Chandler is a great rebounder, a forceful presence defensively and a nice offensive complement to Paul. And as with the Lakers, a fourth-best player like Peja Stojakovic only makes the Bayou's Big Three that much stronger.

6. Phoenix: Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Shaquille O'Neal
This may be a stretch, but I'm betting that Nash has one more splendid year in him and that Shaq has one more decent run in him. Amare was a monster next to Shaq, and I'm going to give Shaq the benefit of the doubt and say that pride will motivate him to play well next season.

The Suns' days as a title contender are over, but this threesome must still be respected.

7. Detroit: Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace
Could be another stretch because in my opinion the Pistons, as currently constructed, are no longer contenders. But they'll probably finish with a fairly strong regular-season record. If new coach Michael Curry can get Billups and Wallace to turn back the clock two years, they'll be in business. But that's a big "if." Also, like the Lakers and Hornets, the Pistons have something of a Big Four with Tayshaun Prince.

8. Dallas: Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard
Man, I'm giving the old trios lots of credit. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Rick Carlisle and an offseason of meditation will help these three mesh better. Like Phoenix and Detroit ahead of them, they're done contending for rings, but they can certainly play better than they did last season. Almost went with Washington and Philly over them, but I had to admit that in the East, Dallas would be a force.

9. Washington: Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler
The last time these three were healthy for a significant stretch of time, they sent Eddie Jordan to the All-Star Game as coach of the Eastern Conference. The main downfall of this triumvirate is that there's no dominant big man. Yeah, Jamison was one of only four players to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds last season, but as good as he is, Jamison's not an overpowering force on the frontline, and that's what you need to be elite. He's barely a power forward.

10. Philadelphia: Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller
They've got a low-post scorer in Brand, a versatile slasher in Iguodala, and a prototypical point guard in Miller. I'd have them ahead of Washington's three if they'd played together before. And with Iguodala improving, they could climb the charts in the upcoming months.

Utah: Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer are absolutely one of the league's best tandems (assuming Boozer's late-season tumble wasn't a sign of things to come). But there's no third star. If either Mehmet Okur or Andrei Kirilenko can return to their All-Star form, the Jazz will have a threesome worthy of the list.

Denver: Again, A.I. and Melo make a fearsome Big Two, but it's a reach to make Kenyon Martin the third piece of a Big Three.

Portland: Prediction: Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden are going to lead the Blazers to the playoffs this year, which is saying a ton considering they're in the West. Hopefully, Oden gets his game back quickly.

Orlando: Offensively, Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis are arguably the best frontcourt in the league. Gotta get better on the other end, though.

Toronto: A lot of questions here. Can Jermaine O'Neal still play at an elite level? Can Jose Calderon play like the All-Star caliber point guard he's shown signs of becoming?

Miami: I think Michael Beasley's going to be all that. Dwyane Wade already is. But Beasley and Shawn Marion pretty much play the same position. It's hard to put much faith in the Heat considering Wade's penchant for getting hurt, Beasley's youth and Marion's inability to create his own shot, but this crew's got potential.