Decisions, decisions. While contenders are deciding whether to pull off a trade that would push them over the top, and pretenders are deciding whether to dump salary, fire the coach, or both, we're just getting started in our pursuit of the Perfect Team.
|Chris Paul is working on his third consecutive season of averaging more than 20 points and 10 assists per game. (Getty Images)|
How about Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Tim Duncan? Sounds great, but that lineup would cost a whopping $90.3 million. That's $32.6 million over our stated limit of $57.7 million -- this year's salary cap -- never mind the $14 million we spent on our eight reserves: Jonny Flynn, Eddie House, Courtney Lee, Rudy Fernandez, Ersan Ilyasova, Joakim Noah, D.J. Mbenga, and Luc Mbah a Moute.
That capable, bargain-basement group has left us exactly $43,682,629 to spend on our five starters. I'll need to ask Indiana University business professor and basketball statistical guru Wayne Winston how many different lineups I could build with those constraints, but I went through at least a half-dozen on my own. If you're trying to build a team along with me, you'll quickly realize that it all starts with the most important position on the floor: point guard.
I think we can agree that the best in the business is Chris Paul. My eyes tell me that, and the stats back it up. Paul has the highest PER (player-efficiency rating) not only among point guards, but among all players in the league (30.34). (LeBron is second at 29.51.) The No. 2 point guard, Steve Nash, isn't even close at 22.95. The guy I like almost as much as Paul -- and indeed, could make a powerful argument to select -- is Deron Williams, whose PER is 20.14, barely ahead of Rajon Rondo (20.08).
If you decide that your organizational philosophy is to prioritize the point-guard position and spend big money there, we could have a healthy debate as to whether you prefer CP3, D-Will, Nash or even Tony Parker or Chauncey Billups. I like my chances with any of the top five picks in that draft. But here's the problem: With only about $43 million left to spend, you can't have a luxury point guard driving your team -- and Paul makes $13.5 million -- and have him passing to Kobe or Duncan, who both make more than $22 million. (As we move through our starting five in the next few weeks, you'll begin to appreciate how much number-crunching is involved in deciding who our point guard's go-to guy will be.)
Here's the alternative: Save money at point guard and spend it elsewhere. How do you do that? You could save about $1 million and go with Parker, but the dropoff in production wouldn't justify the savings. You could reach for significant savings and go with, for example, Derrick Rose, who makes $5.2 million. But again, the dropoff is significant, and even though Rose is hurting, he bears a fair share of responsibility for the way the Bulls are currently imploding.
PG: Chris Paul
PG: Jonny Flynn
SG: Rudy Fernandez
SG: Eddie House
SG: Courtney Lee
C: D.J. Mbenga
C-F: Joakim Noah
Want to go crazy and shave about $12 million off your point-guard obligations? Houston's Aaron Brooks is the best option, one I seriously considered. Not only is he lightning fast and dependable, but he also makes a microscopic $1.1 million. There are plenty of suitable options for a starting five spearheaded by the low-budget Brooks. But in the end, building the perfect team isn't solely about statistical measurements like PER or plus-minus. It's about putting a team on the floor that fits together -- about making sure that the talents of your best player mesh with those of the guy next to him.
With a $43 million cap on my starting five, I ran lineup after lineup, interchanging Brooks and Paul at the point. I liked every single combination better with the ball in Paul's hands. One of many reasons: clutch play. According to 82games.com, Paul was fifth in the NBA -- and first among point guards -- last season with 45.1 points per 48 minutes of "clutch time," which is defined as less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime with neither team leading by more than five. Kobe was first (56.7), followed by LeBron (55.9), Carmelo Anthony (54.4) and Dwyane Wade (49.2).
Just plug in a name, and the result is the same: The dropoff is greater from Paul to a money-saving replacement than it is at any other position on the floor. This is partly because of how good Paul is, and partly a result of how highly I value the point guard position. That's my right; this is my team, after all. So that's why, with the first pick in this draft, the Perfect Team has selected Paul as its point guard/coach on the floor/quarterback/Mr. Everything. Paul makes $13,520,500, leaving us $30,162,129 to spend on the rest of our starting five.
Easy, CP3. This team is being built in the land of make believe, so it doesn't mean you're free to clean out your locker and escape New Orleans. But as we give you four more pieces in the coming weeks, you'll see that it does mean you won't have to do literally everything for your team, as your job with the Hornets currently requires. You're going to have some help.
What kind of help will depend on how we prioritize the rest of our needs. A great point guard needs a dominant big man. But how dominant a big man can we afford while still surrounding our elite point guard with enough shooting and defense? Can we afford a big-time scorer at the two-guard spot, thus taking the scoring pressure off Paul and making sure we're not overly reliant on our low-post game?
These will be good problems to have, as far as I'm concerned, because my first pick was the most important. CP3 is going to play like an MVP and make the PTO -- Perfect Team Owner -- look much smarter than he is.