By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

I planned on writing a post-March Madness column for today, but I'm still reeling from the Final Four. Good Lord. Those three games were like a collective Reverse ESPN Instant Classic. Has the Sports Priest pronounced last rites on college hoops yet?

Vince Carter
A grounded Air Canada causes a big drop in Vince Carter's value.

Anyway, since the NBA is unquestionably superior to college hoops these days -- if only because it raided their talent pool -- it seems like the perfect time to break out my annual game, "Which NBA Player Has the Highest Trade Value?"

Here's how you play:

A. Salaries matter ... would you rather be paying Pau Gasol $5 million for the next three years or Shareef Abdur-Rahim $50 million for the next four years?

B. Age matters ... would you rather have Karl Malone for the next three years or Shawn Marion for the next 12?

C. Pretend the salary cap suddenly got expanded to $100 million per team and ask yourself one question: If Team A tells Team B, "We'll give you Player X for Player Y," does Team B do it or not?

D. Concentrate on degrees ... for instance, neither Boston nor Toronto would make a Vince Carter for Paul Pierce trade, but the Raptors would at least consider it, while the Celtics would be thinking, "No bleeping way!" That counts in the big scheme of things.

E. Make the list in reverse order, Nos. 40 to 1. That means if Stevie Francis ranks in at No. 16, players 1 through 15 are all players about whom Houston would probably say, "We hate giving up Stevie Franchise, but we can't pass up that deal." And they wouldn't trade him for any of the players listed at Nos. 17-40.

Without further ado, here's my list of 40 players, in reverse order:

Group One: "Available For The Right Price"

Lamar Odom
Talented Lamar Odom is worth pursuing, but he's one failed urine test from a yearlong suspension.

40. Lamar Odom -- No player's stock fell more dramatically over the past season ... unfortunately for Clippers fans, when Alvin Gentry mentions "fighting through screens," Lamar thinks he's talking about a clogged bong pipe ... two drug suspensions on his record (one more and he's out for the year) ... a mortal lock to change teams after the season.

39. Antawn Jamison -- The ultimate tweener ... seems destined for one of those "Good stats on a crappy team" careers ... you could make a case for Jason Richardson as the Token Warrior in this spot.

38. Glenn Robinson -- One of the better Second Bananas in the league ... penalized for stealing his nickname from Antoine Carr.

37. Michael Olowokandi -- As Pete Carroll would say, "I'm as shocked as you guys!" ... the only legitimate center under 30 in the entire league ... remember when we thought he was the worst No. 1 pick in the history of the league? ... if they redid the 1998 draft, the Kandi Man probably goes fourth behind Nowitzki, Pierce and Carter ... with that said, I wouldn't give him $60 million to $70 million this summer unless I was at gunpoint.

36. Kwame Brown -- Seems totally lost and overwhelmed, but there's no way the Wizards would admit that ... keeping that No. 1 pick instead of dealing it for Elton Brand might have been MJ's biggest mistake since not signing a pre-nup ... yikes, I think I just turned into Peter Vecsey.

35. Michael Finley -- I always thought he was a little overrated, personally.

34. Jalen Rose -- Finley vs. Rose makes for an interesting call.

33. Antonio McDyess -- "Knee Problems" + "Guy who relies on jumping ability" = "Scary" ... last year he was ranked No. 12 on this list ... also gets demerits for leaving Phoenix and Jason Kidd ... what power forward in his right mind would willingly leave Jason Kidd?

32. Tyson Chandler -- Genuinely impressive at times this season ... you have to love any 19-year-old who blocks shots and rebounds in traffic ... if they redid last year's draft, Gasol would go first, Chandler would go second, Richardson would go third, and Joe Forte would go 155th.

31. Darius Miles -- Baby KG ... one of my four or five favorite players in the league ... not sure why he hasn't had his Breakout Stretch yet (the way Tracy McGrady emerged near the second half of his third season) ... plus he spawned that whole "Antennae Signal" thing with Quentin Richardson, which is always fun to break out in a crowded bar ... the highest-ranked guy on this list who still lives with his mom.

Group Two: "You'll Have To Bowl Us Over"

Steve Nash
Dallas point guard Steve Nash averaged 17.9 points and 7.7 assists this season.

30. Jermaine O'Neal -- Portland giving up on O'Neal for Dale Davis was the underrated Bad Trade of the past 10 years ... penalized here because he disappears for large chunks of time and still hasn't developed any money-in-the-bank low-post moves ... you just get the nagging feeling he could be better.

29. Shareef Abdur-Rahim -- Has he ever been on a winning team? ... seemingly headed for a Buck Williams-type career.

28. Stephon Marbury -- And this even seems a little high ... other than Kenny Anderson, has there been a bigger disappointment in the past 10 years? ... Phoenix should move him to shooting guard, find a bigger guard to handle the ball (one of those Alvin Williams/Eric Snow types), and run Marbury along the baseline off picks (the same way Philly does with Iverson, Portland does with Damon Stoudamire and To Be Announced should do with Duke's Jason Williams).

27. Peja Stojakovic -- Should be the Crunch-Time Guy for Sacramento ... bonus points here because he's the worst interview in the league ... he makes Shaq look like Bernie Mac.

26. Steve Nash -- The new-age Stockton, but crossed with Kelly Leak ... knocked down a few spots only because of his injury history ... eminently more tradeable with Van Exel aboard, which doesn't mean that the Mavs would ever think about dealing him ... just for the hell of it, which team would blink on a "Nash & Finley for Vince Carter and cap fodder" trade, Dallas or Toronto?

Group Three: "Building Blocks"

Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol, left, and Karl Malone rank among Building Blocks for different reasons.

25. Karl Malone -- Ranked this high only because it would take a startling offer for the Jazz to deal him, even at his advanced age ... he means too much to the franchise ... I mean, without the Mailman, they wouldn't have choked in all those playoff series ... just for the record, anyone who looks at his (admittedly impressive) career stats and deduces that he's the "Greatest Power Forward of All-Time" should be periodically electroshocked ... thank God we don't have Robo-Journalists in the NBA.

24. Dikembe Mutombo -- A dying breed: the shot-blocking center who can dominate a game without scoring ... think Atlanta would trade Theo Ratliff and Toni Kukoc for him?

23. Ray Allen -- Never ended up making The Full-Fledged Leap this season ... if anything, he regressed a little bit ... as a Celtics fan, he still puts the fear of God in me, though.

22. Rasheed Wallace -- Relatively baggage-free this season ... there's still time ... bonus points for that hysterical Sports Illustrated photo of Sheed on his cell phone during a charity function ... if that was framed and signed, I'd bid $300 for it on eBay.

21. Pau Gasol -- Now we understand why NBA scouts were drooling over him last summer ... that reminds me, why are scouts always described as "drooling" or "salivating"? ... wouldn't the best scout be a Saint Bernard?

20. Elton Brand -- Still can't believe the Bulls traded him.

19. Gary Payton -- Seems like the right spot for him, if only because he's 33 ... I also can't imagine the Sonics turning down Andre Miller or Baron Davis for GP ... has any player vacillated between "Totally Untradeable" and "We Are Definitely Receptive To A Trade" more times than Gary Payton?

18. Antoine Walker -- My baby's all growns up! ... on pace for an astonishing 3,500 minutes this season ... nobody does more for their team ... he still gets booed at home from time to time, even though he's the heart and soul of the C's and they're 11 games over .500 ... go figure.

17. Shawn Marion -- The Matrix ... nobody's better at doing the Little Things ... other than Andre Miller, he's the best-kept secret in the league right now ... you have to feel bad for him, going from J-Kidd to Marbury ... that's grounds for a Prozac prescription.

16. Ben Wallace -- That's right, Ben Wallace ... and no, I'm not kidding ... he's like a 21st century version of Dennis Rodman, only without the baggage ... you think the Pistons are 44-29 right now simply because of Jerry Stackhouse? ... I didn't have the gonads to place Wallace higher than Chris Webber on this list, but believe me, I thought about it ... and we haven't even mentioned his hair yet ... "Nobody is more underrated than Ben Wallace!" will be a running theme of the first few weeks of the NBA playoffs ... just wait.

Group Four: "Borderline Franchise Guys"

Jerry Stackhouse
Nope, that's not a misprint. Jerry Stackhouse is a Borderline Franchise Guy.

15. Steve Francis -- Ranked No. 10 on this list last season, but this whole thing with the recurring migraines is truly scary ... if he gets a clean bill of health, he moves into the Top 12 ... along with Cuttino Mobley, he took part in my favorite segment of "The Life" of all-time (when they went down to the Houston Ferrari dealership in sweatsuits and looked at Ferraris) ... somebody needs to give them their own sitcom ... and Moochie Norris could be the wacky neighbor ... I should be running a network.

14. Baron Davis -- Stock could rise if he becomes The Man this spring for a genuine playoff sleeper ... still seems to be getting better, which is always a bonus ... hopefully, he won't get sidetracked by the New Orleans nightlife next season ... another candidate for a Breakout Party in this year's playoffs.

13. Andre Miller -- Splendid season for a terrible team ... shades of Micheal Ray, GP, DJ and Clyde Frazier in his game ... also a dead ringer for Richard Pryor, as ESPN's Jason Jackson always points out ... we need to get this guy on a good team ... as strange as this sounds, Miller needs five wins to lead the Cavs to the most improbable 30-win season in NBA history.

(While we're on the subject, Ohio reader John Kenny writes, "The Cavs have to be the exact opposite of the Montreal Expos. Every one of our good players goes on to fall off the face of the planet when he leaves or is traded. Sura, Mills, Henderson, Potapenko, Knight, Price, Ehlo. What happened to these guys? Even Shawn Kemp wasn't immune. He went from averaging 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists to 350 pounds, 100 illegitimate children, and 7 minutes in one trade. People should be praying that Andre Miller doesn't leave.")

12. Jerry Stackhouse -- Maybe the most surprising development of the season: Jerry Stackhouse becoming a cerebral player who makes his teammates better ... frankly, I'm still stunned ... even Hillary Swank making the leap from "90210" to "Academy Awards, Best Actress" wasn't this shocking ... there's hope for Stephon Marbury yet.

Group Five: "Franchise Guys"

Chris Webber
Chris Webber's a Franchise Guy, but he's not Untouchable.

11. Vince Carter -- Even Oracle's stock didn't drop this fast ... as soon as Vince went under the knife for surgery, I was predicting the "Ewing Theory" for the Raptors, and yes, there are witnesses ... they're 6-0 since ... I used to believe that Vince was the 21st century version of Dominique Wilkins; now I'm thinking that's an insult to 'Nique ... traded within the next three seasons, mark my words.

10. Chris Webber -- Hey, it's the most overrated guy in the league! ... good for two ankle injuries, 10 game-losing shots, three soap operas and one playoff collapse per season ... you know what's really amazing? The Kings could offer C-Webb to Detroit for Ben Wallace this summer and the Pistons would say no ... so why wasn't Wallace ranked higher than Webber on this list? ... frankly, I don't know.

Group Six: "The Untouchables"
Now here's where it gets impossible; none of the next nine guys are headed anywhere. Remember, degrees.

9. Jason Kidd -- Put it this way: I don't think Jason Kidd is getting traded again anytime soon.

Seven guys whose rankings were negatively affected by their salaries
  • Jamison -- 6-year contract for $85 million; expires in 2006-07.
  • Finley -- 7-yr; $102.3 million; 2005-06.
  • Rose -- 7-yr; $93m; 2006-07.
  • Marbury -- 6-yr; $70.9m; 2004-05.
  • Malone -- 4-yr; $66.5m; 2002-03.
  • Webber -- 7-yr; $122.7m; 2007-08.
  • Garnett -- 6-yr; $126m; 2003-04.
  • 8. Allen Iverson -- Isn't ranked higher only because of age (he'll be 27 in June), baggage (you're always waiting for the other shoe to drop with him), and durability (he's absorbed an Emmitt Smith-type pounding over the past few years -- the Sixers are having trouble keeping him on the court) ... with all of that said, the road to the Eastern Conference title still goes through Iverson ... the toughest player in the league, bar none ... also the most fun superstar to see in person with good seats, for all the trash-talking, swearing and general ribaldry involved ... you'll learn new ways that the word "F---" can be used in a sentence.

    7. Tracy McGrady -- Hold on.

    6. Paul Pierce -- Here's the best argument in this entire column: McGrady vs. Pierce. Let's break it down:

    McGrady is 18 months younger ... Pierce is a better all-around offensive player, mainly because he's fearless going to the basket ... they're even defensively, although McGrady could be a Pippen-caliber defensive player if he wanted it badly enough ... Pierce has a terrible habit of making dumb fouls and getting into foul trouble ... McGrady has a terrible habit of mailing in certain games and refusing to break a sweat ... Pierce never takes a night off ... McGrady is slightly more unstoppable when he's on ... Pierce is more durable (he hasn't had a major injury yet, other than nearly getting stabbed to death before last season) ... McGrady suffers from those chronic back problems, always a red flag ...

    Pierce gets major points because his teammates like him and respond to him when he's feeling it ... you couldn't say the same about McGrady ... McGrady has a smidgeon more athletic ability, but Pierce works harder on his offensive game and plays with more passion ... McGrady gives me the feeling that he's happy being "The Guy Who Could Be The Best Guy In The League If He Wanted To" ... Pierce gives me the feeling that he wants to be "The Guy Who Became The Best Player In The League Because He Wanted It Badly Enough" ... there's a difference ... and yes, this is all subject to change ... right now, I'm going with The Truth.

    Tim Duncan
    Tim Duncan's No. 3 overall, but No. 1 among non-Lakers.

    5. Kevin Garnett -- It will be interesting to see where he ranks on this list one year from now ... is it possible that KG is the greatest Second Banana of all-time -- like a combination of James Worthy, Kevin McHale and Scottie Pippen -- but he's just not capable of being the Crunch-Time Guy for a contender? ... not nearly reliable enough at crunch-time ... at some point, you have to evolve to the next level, and it just hasn't happened for him yet ... damn shame, too ... nobody in the NBA has more charisma, nobody in the NBA is more likable ... the sentimental favorite of this year's playoffs.

    4. Dirk Nowitzki -- If I were a Bucks fan, this guy would keep me awake at nights ... "The rights to Robert Traylor for the rights to Dirk Nowitzki" ... yes, folks, that trade actually happened on draft day '98 ... the entire city of Milwaukee will now light itself on fire ... put it this way: seven-footers with 25-foot range who can rebound and run the floor aren't growing on trees ... and Dirk Diggler hasn't nearly peaked as a player (just wait until he hones a few low-post moves) ...

    Bonus points here because he plays with such passion ... more bonus points because he possesses the most jaw-dropping/breathtaking 3-point shot since Larry Legend ... is anyone else secretly excited to see what Nowitzki is capable of doing in the World Championships this summer? ... I mean, any team with Dirk Nowitzki is a viable threat against the USA, isn't it? ... it's almost enough to convince Detlef Schrempf to come out of retirement.

    3. Tim Duncan -- How can he not be the MVP? ... the Spurs are on pace for the fourth-highest number of wins in the league even though Duncan is the only All Star-caliber player on their roster ... nobody ever talks about this ... clearly separated himself from KG and C-Webb this season -- 25.4 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.5 BPG, 50 percent shooting, superior defense and he's consistently double-teamed ... might get a little more recognition if he gave Pete Sampras his personality back ... along with Kobe and Iverson, one of the three best competitors in the league -- he hasn't taken a night off in five years ... major bonus points here because he's the only NBA player who consistently goes glass.

    Seven guys whose rankings were positively affected by their salaries
  • Chandler -- 4-year contract for 15.47 million; expires in 2004-05.
  • Miles -- 4-yr; $13.30m; 2003-04.
  • Nash -- 6-yr; $36.16m; 2003-04.
  • Gasol -- 4-yr; $13.9m; 2004-05.
  • Brand -- 4-yr; $15.78m; 2002-03.
  • Stackhouse -- 7 yr; $37m; 2004-05.
  • Kidd -- 10-yr; $65.00m; 2003-04.
  • 2. Kobe Bryant -- The most talented all-around player in the league ... I'd have him ranked No. 1 if all the stories about the "Hardened, Disillusioned, Chip-On-His-Shoulder Kobe" weren't floating around ... there's a chance (a slim chance, but a chance) that he's headed down the same road as Junior Griffey ... in other words, too much attention and too much talent wayyyyyyyyyy too soon, to the degree that it eventually affects his demeanor, his relationship with his teammates and his love for the game ... and the constant comparisons with MJ can't help ... couldn't Shaq retire for a year so we could see how Kobe handles having his own team?

    1. Shaquille O'Neal -- Seems a little dubious that he's ranked this high, right? After all, he turned 30 years old this season, he's always threatening to retire and he was responsible for "Kazaam."

    But here's the thing ...

    If the Lakers ever traded him, Shaq is competitive enough and vindictive enough that he would postpone his eventual retirement plans, then devote the next decade of his life to winning championships, haunting the Lakers and making them rue the day. And the Lakers know this. When motivated and hungry, he's the most dominant player in the league. Nobody can stop him. Nobody. Not even Duncan.

    And that's why the Lakers would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER trade Shaq, not under any circumstances ... which makes him the undisputed No. 1 player on this list.

    Until next year.

    Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2.