Some will try to tell you that the decade doesn't end until December 2010, but those are the same people who insisted that we rang in the millennium a year early. I'm not one of those people. The opportunity to name your all-decade team in the NBA only comes along, oh, once every 10 years or so. It's time to unveil mine.
The criteria for such things are always subjective -- that's what makes it fun to debate. There are a couple of ways to do this, and I was tempted to name a starting five and a bench -- mostly because of the decline of the dominant center in the 2000s. Eschewing the first-, second-, and third-team format would've made room for deserving forwards who didn't fit the center mold (Amar'e Stoudemire, Elton Brand) or wing players who deserve an honorable mention (Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter). But I'm willing to give that up in exchange for the traditional format of three teams, each with two guards, two forwards and one center. Let the debate begin.
|Kobe here is a no-brainer. (Getty Images)|
G: Kobe Bryant. No debate here. Kobe is the best shooting guard since you-know-who. His four titles in the decade -- and the fact that he's still going strong at the close of it -- made this a no-brainer.
F: Tim Duncan. The Big Fundamental is the most polished big man of our time. He doesn't come close to the glitz of Kobe or Shaq, but his three titles in the decade have him tied with them in the category that matters most.
F: Kevin Garnett. K.G. shook the label of being one of the greatest never to win a title when he tried on Celtics green-and-white for size in 2007-08. One of the best defensive players of his generation and a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Garnett gets the nod over Dirk Nowitzki.
C: Shaquille O'Neal. He won three titles with Kobe and one without him. We're watching the Big Aristotle in his Big Decline, but he was the best center in the universe for nearly the entire decade -- and still occasionally musters something close to that influence even now.
|Iverson's decade includes an MVP and three scoring titles. (Getty Images)|
G: Allen Iverson. It's sad to watch A.I.'s decline. But at his best, he was one of the top 6-foot players in NBA history. Nine All-Star appearances, a Finals appearance, an MVP award, two All-Star MVPs and three of his four scoring titles came during the decade. Culturally, his transformational role as hip-hop's crossover ambassador made him one of the most popular and influential players of his era.
F: Dirk Nowitzki. If not for that epic collapse against Miami in '06, Dirk would've edged Garnett for first-team honors. One of the best and most versatile 7-footers ever to play on the offensive end, Dirk has led the big man's migration to the perimeter.
F: LeBron James. Like Dwyane Wade, LeBron missed the first three years of the decade while he was busy chasing championships at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary's. But he's already on his way to being one of the all-time greats. No player has ever made a bigger impact straight out of high school. All he needs to do is fill up the next decade with championships.
C: Yao Ming. Yes, Yao would've been so much more if not for the injuries. But remember, he's still a seven-time All-Star who has singlehandedly spearheaded the NBA's growth in its most formidable non-U.S. market. Even if he never returns to full health, Yao's impact on the business of the NBA will be felt for decades.
|Wallace won four Defensive Player of the Year awards this decade. (Getty Images)|
G: Ray Allen. One of the most prolific 3-point shooters of all time, Allen's numbers are declining with age. But only Reggie Miller has made more buckets from beyond the arc, and Allen has made eight All-Star appearances this decade.
F: Paul Pierce. The Truth is, Pierce was making second-team All-NBA in the second year of the decade. He won his first championship in the eighth year of the decade, and remains one of the league's most feared clutch scorers in the last year of the decade. He's averaged 20-plus points eight out of 10 years, has shot more than 45 percent from the field six times (including this season to date) and he has been durable -- Pierce has played at least 79 games eight times this decade.
F: Carmelo Anthony. Melo has mellowed, adding maturity and defense to his diverse and lethal scoring arsenal. He's averaged 20-plus points for seven consecutive years, including a league-high 30.5 this season. In five years, if you're wondering how good Kobe would've been if he were 6-8, take a look at Melo. He could close the decade with his first scoring title, and he's only getting started.
C: Ben Wallace. The guy playing for the Pistons now who goes by the same name? He's not that Wallace. That Wallace was one of the most feared defensive players of the decade, and a big reason those Pistons teams went to two Finals and won a championship. Why not Dwight Howard, you ask? Wallace had more All-Star appearances during the decade (4-3), more Defensive Player of the Year awards (4-1) ... and, um, more championships (1-0). He was top five in blocks four times and top five in rebounds six times, with two rebounding titles. Dwight will have to wait until next decade.