There's definitely strong competition at the top in this position, but Kobe Bryant has made it his mission to hang around the pinnacle of his profession as long as possible. Despite more than a decade in the league, he hears the whispers of reverence from his peers and loves it.
He's earned them, which is why it stings him even more that his team, as presently constructed, has no chance of competing for a championship.
|Kobe is the best player on the floor -- period. (Getty Images)|
Rankings note: Players are ranked in the order of their projected impact on the coming season. Upside is taken into account, but only for the next 12 months. Whether you're a bargain or a bad contract doesn't matter.
1. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers: Regardless of where he plays, he'll be the best player on the floor. Unless the Lakers get serious or trade him to a championship contender, his greatness will be in vain.
2. Dwyane Wade, Miami: Before his shoulder injury, Wade was putting together an incredible season while attempting to carry the Shaq-less Heat. He'll be back at 100 percent after recovering from a pair of surgeries this summer, and will again have to handle the brunt of the load considering how little Miami was able to accomplish during the offseason.
3. Tracy McGrady, Houston: The two-time NBA scoring champion got into 71 games last season and regained his typical form by midseason. He has handled sharing go-to responsibilities with Yao Ming nicely, and came up with a career-high assists total as a result. Rick Adelman can't wait to make the most of T-Mac's abilities.
4. Michael Redd, Milwaukee: Don't let last year's injury-shortened season detract from what Redd accomplished when healthy. He became a more efficient scorer, increasing his scoring average to a career-high 26.7 while displaying a better shot selection. The Bucks need to capitalize on his production while he's still in his prime.
5. Richard Hamilton, Detroit: The Pistons' masked man consistently gets the job done without a lot of flash, much like his boss Joe Dumars used to. Expect more of the same from Rip.
6. Vince Carter, New Jersey: He no longer has to deal with rumors that his days with the Nets are over, although he thrived in spite of that uncertainty last season. By not leaving for Orlando or Charlotte, Carter sent the message that he's committed to chasing a ring next to Jason Kidd and feels that partnership offers him the best opportunity to win. He's right, too.
7. Ray Allen, Boston: Considering how many open looks he figures to get in Boston, don't be surprised to see Allen at or near the top of the 3-point shooting categories. A lot of what he's been able to accomplish in his career has been overlooked due to his locations, but that should change now that he's back on the East Coast with a high-profile franchise.
|1. K. Bryant||1||SAME|
|2. D. Wade||2||SAME|
|3. T. McGrady||--|
|4. M. Redd||6|
|5. R. Hamilton||4|
|6. V. Carter||5|
|7. R. Allen||3|
|8. M. Ginobili||8||SAME|
|9. J. Johnson||7|
|10. A. Iguodala||19|
|Complete 2006 Rankings|
8. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio: Taking the summer off from responsibilities with Argentina should do wonders for his body. While Ginobili is one of those players who is at his best when he works himself into a rhythm, he needed the break and should be fresher for what will likely be another lengthy postseason run.
9. Joe Johnson, Atlanta: He might not publicly regret leaving Phoenix, but the Suns' success the past few years has to float around in his personal thoughts. Johnson was proven right that he's capable of being a team's franchise player, but wins have been scarce and aren't looming around the corner.
10. Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia: He picked up increased ball-handling chores and thrived once Allen Iverson left town. He averaged career highs with 18.2 points and 5.7 assists. He's always had an intriguing collection of skills, but is just now being freed up enough to fully learned how to use them.
11. Jason Richardson, Charlotte: The Bobcats are counting on him to come in firing, hoping he can loosen things up for the rest of the guys with his offensive prowess. As long as he takes smart shots and doesn't try and force the issue, he should deliver. Don't get down on him if he struggles early due to the change of scenery; Richardson is confident enough to overcome a slow start.
12. Kevin Martin, Sacramento: Despite the unconventional form, he has one of the sweetest strokes in the NBA right now. There isn't much the Kings can be sure about these days, but having wrapped Martin up with a five-year extension worth more than $10 million per, they can be certain one major piece is in place to begin the revitalization of the franchise.
13. Mike Miller, Memphis: Another of the league's new breed of long-range threats, Miller was pleased with what the Grizzlies were able to accomplish this summer and expects last season's disaster to be an aberration. He should get a lot of opportunities to bury 3-pointers in transition and should put up big numbers as the No. 2 option behind Pau Gasol.
14. Brandon Roy, Portland: The reigning Rookie of the Year has the challenge of keeping the positive vibe in Portland going strong and should succeed. Of his many attributes, the one that stood out most in his first season was how comfortable he looked. He's a natural, and he's only going to get better.
15. Ben Gordon, Chicago: Looking to solidify a lucrative extension before the season opens, Gordon might have to settle for less money than he's coveting if he doesn't want the situation to hang over his head. If it stays unresolved, he'll be under pressure to deliver in order to secure his next payday.
16. Raja Bell, Phoenix: He had arthroscopic surgery on his knee in July and came through smoothly. With no limitations expected, Bell will be counted on for his typical contributions on both ends, which have become strikingly similar to what Bruce Bowen offers the rival Spurs.
17. Monta Ellis, Golden State: Ellis is a 'tweener still trying to figure out how to match up and make the most of his quickness on the defensive end, but he has the offensive side of the game down cold. He's a special scorer and should benefit from increased opportunities with Richardson out of the picture.
18. Ricky Davis, Minnesota: One thing Davis has proven throughout losing stints in both Boston and now Minnesota is that he's a gamer. He'll fight you to the final whistle, and that type of attitude should prove to be a good influence on the Wolves' young wings during this rebuilding stage.
|Sept. 25||Power forward|
|Sept. 26||Small forward|
|Sept. 27||Shooting guard|
|Sept. 28||Point guard|
|Oct. 1||Top 50|
19. Jerry Stackhouse, Dallas: He might not start, but his contributions to the Mavericks' run at 70 wins last season can't be overlooked. His veteran poise and unflappable confidence offer a stabilizing presence for Dallas, helping maintain the team's efficiency over 48 minutes.
20. Cuttino Mobley, L.A. Clippers: He's a coaches' favorite because he does whatever is necessary, and will probably have to adjust to a new role due to L.A.'s injury concerns. Mobley will work with what he's given and make the most of it.
Also considered: Quentin Richardson, New York; Jamal Crawford, New York; Wally Szczerbiak, Seattle; Anthony Parker, Toronto; Michael Finley, San Antonio; Tony Allen, Boston; Sasha Pavlovic, Cleveland; Gordan Giricek, Utah; Damien Wilkins, Seattle; Luther Head, Houston; Juan Carlos Navarro, Memphis; Morris Peterson, New Orleans; Eddie Jones, Dallas; DeShawn Stevenson, Washington; Flip Murray, Detroit; J.R. Smith, Denver; Rodney Stuckey, Detroit; Charlie Bell, Milwaukee; Trenton Hassell, Minnesota; Ronnie Brewer, Utah; Thabo Sefolosha, Chicago; Carlos Delfino, Toronto; Marquis Daniels, Indiana; Kareem Rush, Indiana; Matt Carroll, Charlotte; Anfernee Hardaway, Miami; J.J. Redick, Orlando; Marco Belinelli, Golden State; Francisco Garcia, Sacramento.