By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

Given that there's a six-day break until the Finals kick off, as well as countless WNBA games not to watch, this seemed like the perfect time to break out my annual column gimmick: "Which NBA player has the highest trade value?"

A quick recap of the rules, in case you missed last year's column:

Mike Bibby
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Mike Bibby didn't score many points with the Sports Guy.

A. Salaries matter ... would you rather be paying Tony Parker $3 million for the next two years, or Mike Bibby $70 million for the next six?

B. Age matters ... would you rather have Chris Webber for the next five years or Amare Stoudemire for the next 15?

C. Pretend the salary cap suddenly got expanded to $70 million (making any trade possible), then ask yourself one question: If Team A tells Team B, "We'll trade you Player X for Player Y straight-up," does Team B make the deal or not?

D. Concentrate on degrees. For instance, neither Phoenix or Boston would make a Paul Pierce for Stephon Marbury trade, but the Suns would at least call in their basketball people to discuss it, while the Celtics would say, "No bleeping way we're trading Pierce!" That counts in the big scheme of things.

E. Make the list in reverse order, Nos. 40 to 1. So if Stevie Francis ranks in at No. 14, players 1 through 13 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. 15-40.

Before we get to this year's Top 40 ...

Players from the 2002 list who didn't make the cut
Lamar Odom (last year: 40) -- Seems headed for one of the most disappointing careers in recent memory, right up there with Coleman, Micheal Ray, Tarpley and Billy Owens ... on the bright side, the Player's Union voted his LA house "Best Place to Borrow a Bong When You're In Town" for the third straight season.

Glenn Robinson (38) -- Couldn't he change his nickname from "Big Dog" to "Bad Apple"? As Charles Barkley would say, numb-ah one, he stole his nickname from Antoine Carr. And numb-ah two, doesn't Glenn "Bad Apple" Robinson have a much better ring?

Michael Olowokandi (37) -- After that ill-fated contract push, I can't imagine how any NBA team would feel comfortable giving him a multi-year deal for $40-to-50 million this summer ... although if Devean George can make $4.5 million a year, anything's possible. By the way, did you know that "Olowakandi" is the Nigerian phrase for "Joe Barry Carroll"?

Jalen Rose
Jalen Rose never met a shot he didn't like.

Jalen Rose (34) -- Not quite good enough to carry his own team, just competitive enough to sabotage things if he isn't the No. 1 guy. And yes, I'm disappointed.

Antonio McDyess (33) -- Isn't it uncanny how the Knicks bring in All-Star forwards right as they're hitting the other side of the mountain? This has been going on since the '70s. Call it the Spencer Haywood Syndrome. I can't wait until Antoine Walker is playing for them in 2005.

Darius Miles (31) -- Unless LeBron miraculously saves his career, it looks like I haven't been this wrong about an NBA player since Bo Kimble. What a disaster. Couldn't the Cavs do everyone a favor and trade Ricky Davis for Quentin Richardson, just because A) they want to make sure that Ricky and LeBron never cross paths, not even to shake hands, and B) the greatest comedy team since Abbott and Costello could be reunited for 82 games a year?

Karl Malone (25) -- One of my rules for this list: When somebody's so old that they have a daughter get drafted by the WNBA, they're off the list.

Dikembe Mutombo (24) -- Another rule: When somebody's sitting on the bench and there's a pool of formaldehyde under their feet, they're off the list.

Jerry Stackhouse (12) -- Let's just say that I was drinking when I made Stack No. 12 last year.

Toughtest omissions for this year's list
Andre Miller (last year: 13) -- Brutal at the World Championships, even worse with the Clippers ... and yet he could be an All-Star again if he lands on the right team. We'll see. There wasn't an unhappier looking NBA player last year, with the exception of everyone who had to play with Ricky Davis.

Rashard Lewis -- Making $58 million over the next six years. Seems a little steep.

Kwame Brown (last year: 36) -- I have absolutely no idea where his career is headed over the next 10 years. None. You think he has nightmares about MJ screaming at him, then wakes up in a cold sweat every night?

Steve Kerr
The Admiral should just endorse his playoff check to Kerr.

Steve Kerr -- What about that performance last night?!?!? That had to be the most inspiring sports sequence in years -- it felt like watching a Disney movie or something. Steve Kerr comes off the bench, dusts off the cobwebs, drains a few 3s and saves San Antonio's season. Unbelievable. I love sports.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim (last year: 29) -- You know what you're getting at this point: 20 and 9 every game; he doesn't make anyone better; he's never played on a winning team in his life; and he's on the hook for $26 million over the next two years.

Gary Payton (last year: 19) -- Only because of his age and the amount of miles on GP's odometer right now.

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

Group 1: "Available for the right price"
40. Gilbert Arenas -- See accompanying sidebar.

39. Antoine Walker -- Probably his final appearance on this list, given the amount of minutes he's logged over the last seven years, as well as his evolution into a 3-point gunner who doesn't rebound and can't get to the rim. I think we've seen the best of him. Just remember that, along with Paul Pierce, Walker coaxed an absolutely absymal group of teammates into the second round of the playoffs this spring. That counts for something.

Notes on Gilbert Arenas
Just a few months ago, I questioned Arenas in a column and received an inordinate amount of e-mails from Warriors fans urging me to watch him for a few games. One guy even told me, "I've been a season ticket holder for 25 years and I'm telling you, Gilbert Arenas will be one of the best 10 players in the league in two years."

Well, those are strong words. So I watched more than a few Warriors games over the past three months -- partly because they were the only team still on when I came home from work, partly because I liked watching them -- and all those Warriors fans were right about Arenas. He's as talented as any guard right now.

The positives: Only 21 years old ... other than Kobe and T-Mac, he has the best first step in the league ... unstoppable when he's feeling it ... only started getting PT in March of 2002 ... has the biggest UPPPPPPPPP-side of any free agent since Tracy McGrady three years ago.

The negatives: By all accounts, a major head case, so much so that some teams are reportedly scared to sign him this summer ... one of the most immature players in the league -- sometimes he would get so riled up about bad calls, Eric Musselman would actually take him out of games in the final two minutes ... isn't a natural point guard, which was why the Warriors played Earl Boykins so much in crunch time ... probably has the worst body language of anyone in the league.

But couldn't you chalk up most of those weaknesses to his age? And after watching Billups, Bibby, Marbury and everyone else need 5-7 years to mature, doesn't it seem like a decent bet that Arenas will be considerably better in 2006 than right now? Since he was a second-round pick, the Warriors can only offer him $4.5 million a season this summer ... so anyone offering five million or more can have him. And if a team like Denver or Utah doesn't step in, they're crazy.

38. Antawn Jamison -- The quintessential "Good stats on a bad team" guy.

37. Mike Bibby -- Yes, the $80-million contract extension was ludicrous. Yes, he sucked this season. Yes, that performance against the Lakers in the 2002 playoffs was tainted a little -- in retrospect -- by the fact that every point guard lights up the Lakers. But Bibby missed the first third of the season with an injury, and Rick Adelman hurt his confidence coming back by playing Bobby Jackson so much in crunch-time (really, I like Bobby Jackson, but are you winning a championship with him as your point guard?). Maybe that enormous contract didn't help, either. So Bibby ended up having an off-season. It happens.

36. Jamal Mashburn -- Reasonable money ($8 million a year), reliable production (gives you a 21-6-5 every night), always plays hard. And he's only 30. By the way, looking back, isn't it amazing that the Kidd-Jackson-Mashburn threesome self-destructed in Dallas like that? When I'm premiering my show "What The Hell Happened?" on ESPN6 one day, that will be one of the first episodes.

35. Tony Parker -- The toughest guy to gauge on this list, only because the Finals could make or break him. Has there ever been more pressure on a young player? If Parker holds his own against Kidd, the Spurs win the series. If Kidd steamrolls him like he destroyed everyone else this spring -- and the odds seem pretty good -- not only could the Spurs lose the series, but they'll have no choice but to pursue Kidd this summer. So Parker either loses his job or goes to New Jersey in a sign-and-trade ... where he has to replace the same guy who just kicked his rear end. Now that, my friends, is pressure. Anyway, we'll see.

34. Ray Allen -- When you're making $12 million a year, nobody should ever write the following words about you: "He played much harder after he got traded."

33. Caron Butler -- Similar numbers to Allen and Pierce as a rookie.

32. Rasheed Wallace -- Counts among his heroes Martin Luther King, Bob McAdoo, and Floyd from "True Romance."

31. Michael Finley -- I was never the biggest Finley fan until Game 5 of the Spurs series this week, when the Mavs were ready to roll over and die, but Finley and Eduardo Najera wouldn't let them lose. Inspiring stuff. You win championships with guys like that.

Group 2: "You'll have to bowl us over"
30. Chauncey Billups -- You can't penalize him for the Nets series, playing on a bum ankle against the best point guard in 15 years. Judge him by all the clutch shots he drained from November to May, including those backbreakers in Game 6 of the Philly series. Only a handful of guys made as many big shots this season. Have I mentioned that Rick Pitino and Chris Wallace gave up on him after 50 games?

29. Nene Hilario -- If they did the 2002 Draft over again, Yao would go first, Stoudemire would go second, Nene would go third, Butler would go fourth, and Nikoloz Tskitishvili would go 456th.

28. Richard Jefferson -- On a different team, maybe he wouldn't crack the top 40 ... but Jefferson spent his formative years racking up big game experience and learning the ropes from Jason Kidd. Wouldn't that increase your hoops IQ exponentially?

27. Eddy Curry -- Shhhhhhh ... he averaged nearly 19 points and 7 boards a game during the last two months of the season.

Tyson Chandler
Chandler has quietly become a head above the rest.

26. Tyson Chandler -- Shhhhhhh ... he averaged nearly a double-double in February and March before getting injured.

(Note about Chicago: If Jay Williams ever gets going, yikes. Also, if you were the Bulls, wouldn't you package Donyell Marshall, Eddie Robinson and Jamal Crawford to bring Antoine Walker back home? Who doesn't make that trade, Boston or Chicago? Seriously, I want to know.)

(By the way, I'm really enjoying myself right now.)

25. Peja Stojakovic -- One of those "Good guys on a great team" players that are especially tough to gauge (like Parker, Bibby and Jefferson). In Peja's case, if you switched him with Jamal Mashburn right now, would the Kings lose anything? Probably not. And would Peja make New Orleans better than they already were with Mash? Probably not. Then again, would Mash be able to give monosyllabic interviews and sound like Ivan Drago? Probably not.

Group 3: "Building blocks"
24. Elton Brand -- Averaging 19 and 11 for his career ... and he's only 24. With that said, why do his teams keep ending up in the lottery? Does he have Shareef-itis?

23. Vince Carter -- Only because Toronto would never trade him straight-up for the previous 17 players, and only because a healthy VC puts butts in seats. We know a few things about him after five years: A) He's probably the softest NBA star of my lifetime (knock him down once and he's shooting jumpers for the game); B) he desperately needs to change teams; C) his trade value will always be higher than his actual value; D) he was better three years ago than he is now, which defies explanation; and E) he's the ultimate cautionary tale for LeBron James (translation: when you're handed too much too soon, this isn't necessarily a good thing).

22. Ron Artest -- Either he's a 10-time NBA All-Star in the making, or he's the first player to commit a "Flagrant foul, Level 4: Homicide." There's no in-between. Personally, I think you win championships with guys like this. He just needs a real coach. And some Zoloft.

21. Baron Davis -- Penalized only because of the bum knee.

20. Shawn Marion -- I liked his game more two years ago, before he fell in love with his (mediocre) jumper and stopped doing quite as many "Matrix" things. It's like when Jim Carrey gets bored making successful $200 million comedies, so he makes the random crappy drama that nobody sees. That's Marion's jumper. There should never be a Phoenix game where he doesn't get at least 10 rebounds. Seriously.

Steve Nash
Someone had to get Dirk the ball, right?

19. Steve Nash -- The second-best point guard in the league, as well as one of the 10 best point guards of the past 25 years. And yes, that's a future column.

18. Pau Gasol -- Great roto numbers, tons of offensive talent ... and no defense whatsoever. I think I could post up some of these Euro guys.

17. Ben Wallace -- Can you win a title when someone who can't score is one of your two best guys? Of course not. But if you already have a 50-win team, then you stumble into the No. 2 pick and have eight figures in cap space to play with ... well, suddenly the Ben Wallace Era is looking better and better. Perfect situation for him right now. Especially if Darko is for real. Would you bet against a white guy named Darko? Me neither.

(Just out of curiosity, who blinks first if there was a "Wallace, Darko and Tayshaun for Shaq" trade on the table, Detroit or LA? Hmmmmm.)

16. Kenyon Martin -- One of the few current stars who remind me why I miss the Bird-Magic-Isiah Era so much: Tough as nails, never gives an inch, would rip your heart out to win a game, always delivers when it matters. Just a great basketball player. I really enjoy watching him -- I wish everyone played like this.

Group 4: "Borderline franchise guys"
15. Allen Iverson -- When he was thriving two years ago, he was catching the tail end of that wave between the dreadful LJ-DC-Alonzo-Kenny-Penny Era (on its way out) and the Kobe-Pierce-KG-McGrady-Vince-Nowitzki Era (on its way in). So there was a small window for him, and Iverson stayed sane long enough to take advantage of it -- the Sixers came within three wins of the NBA title.

Eight guys whose rankings were affected negatively by their salaries
  • Jamison -- 6-year contract for $85 million, expires in 2006-07
  • Carter -- 6-y, $79.3 m, 2006-07
  • Bibby -- 7-yr, $80.5m; 2008-09
  • Walker -- 6-yr, $70.9 m, 2004-05
  • Finley -- 7-yr, $102.3 m, 2005-06
  • Webber -- 7-yr, $122.7m, 2007-08
  • Davis -- 6-yr, $85m, 2008-2009
  • Garnett -- 6-yr, $126m, 2003-04
  • Shaq -- 10-yr, $208.5M, 2005-06
  • Well, the league's just too good now. And given Iverson's immense amount of baggage, the incredible pounding that he absorbs for six months a season, and his dubious choice of friends, doesn't it seem like he could be entering that "Tyson right before he flew to Japan to face Douglas" stage of his career? Maybe that's why Larry Brown left treadmarks leaving Philly last week.

    14. Steve Francis -- Don't get me wrong: I love watching him. And he finally solved those bizarre migraine problems, which should pave the way for 10-12 more All-Star appearances. But poor Yao Ming played 82 games last season without anyone on his team figuring out A) where he likes the ball, or B) how to throw him an entry pass. Isn't that Francis's job? For God's sake, you have the next Bill Walton on your team, he's seven-&$%#%#-six, and you can't make the #$^&@# playoffs with him???? I'm riled up.

    13. Chris Webber -- Note to Sacramento fans: Your best player has missed 194 games over the past 10 years, not counting the recent playoff injury that submarined your team's title chances. And he's on the hook for another six years and $108 million. You can't feel good about this.

    Group 5: "Franchise guys"
    12. Jermaine O'Neal -- Please don't let him go to San Antonio ... for the rest of the league's sake.

    11. Stephon Marbury -- Living proof that the lightbulb can go off.

    10. Amare Stoudemire -- Back in my single days, my buddy Joe House and I developed "The Other Shoe" theory, which centers around the premise that "All women should be considered crazy until proven otherwise." Whenever one of us started hanging out with somebody, the other would always ask, "Did the other shoe drop yet?" In other words, did the new girl have any visible baggage? Was she hiding a trait that could potentially submarine the entire relationship? Was she way too close to her family? Was she secretly nuts? You'd be amazed how many times the other shoe ended up dropping.

    So what does this have to do with Amare Stoudemire? Well, during the middle of his rookie season -- the one in which he won "Rookie of the Year" and evoked comparisons to Moses Malone and Roy Tarpley -- his agent actually quit. Just threw up his hands and said, "You know what, I've had enough of this guy, have someone else be your agent when you're signing for $80 million in three years." That's a little disconcerting, no? And given that Amare played for about 19 high schools, and given that seven teams happily passed on him in last year's draft ... well, let's see where the other shoe drops with him before he moves into the "Untouchables."

    Group 6: "Practically untouchable"
    9. Paul Pierce -- A level below Kobe and T-Mac until he proves otherwise.

    Paul Pierce
    Until Pierce can slay the Nets, he's stuck where he is.

    8. Kevin Garnett -- Again, I'm willing to reconsider this whole "KG can't be the best player on a championship team" thing. But since they're probably trading him this summer, he can't be an untouchable, right?

    7. Jason Kidd -- Not since Isiah Thomas in the late-'80s has someone played point this perfectly. It's a clinic. Here's the astounding thing: He was doing 95 percent of the same stuff in Phoenix, except he couldn't take over games and score when it mattered. He just wasn't a reliable enough shooter; if anything, he looked scared taking big shots. So what happens in Jersey? He evolved into an end-of-the-game assassin, almost like he willed himself to become a clutch shooter (like a Jedi mind trick). You have to hand it to him. And yes, he's knocking on the Pantheon door right now.

    Group 7: "Untouchables"
    6. Shaq -- You have to love Charley Rosen. If Robert Horry makes that 3 in Game 4, the Lakers are still playing right now. And yet the Lakers end up losing the series, so it's Shaq's fault because he was carrying too much weight on him? Jeez, Charley, I thought it was Kobe's fault for being selfish and impossible? Let's blame them both. They're coming off three straight titles and playing with a collection of stiffs and has-beens because their front office has been asleep for five years ... clearly, Shaq and Kobe need to do more. Puh-leeeeze.

    The unbiased version: Shaq looked heavy because he waited to get surgery on his toe -- stupidly, I should add -- then that same toe bothered him during the season, so he never played himself into shape like he normally does. And when his knees started bothering him, that was that. An honest mistake. I don't think there was anything vindictive or lazy about it; he just screwed up. And then the Lakers faced a team in the playoffs that wanted it a little more. End of story.

    Shaquille O'Neal
    It isn't his weight, it's carrying the Lakers that's ailing Shaq.

    Here's the bigger question: After winning three titles and proving everything he needed to prove, does Shaq even want this anymore? Is he willing to take the necessary steps to remain dominant? And if he walked away right now, after banking nine figures and winning a few rings, could you even blame him? That's why I have him ranked sixth. I don't think he likes working out during the off-season. I don't think he likes playing with Kobe. I think he knows that his teammates stink. And that his coach is probably calling it quits.

    So here's my one crazy prediction of the summer: Shaq retires within the next few weeks. The Lakers sign Jermaine O'Neal with the new-found cap space. And either Shaq returns one year from now, rejuvenated and ready to go ... or he spends the next few years kicking back and enjoying life. If that means more Celebrity Roasts, I'm all for it.

    5. Dirk Nowitzki -- Unbelievable offensive player. One of a kind. One of the few guys I would pay money to see. And if he really tore ligaments last week, then everything you're about to read is moot.

    But if it was just your basic sprained knee ...

    Well, I hope we won't look back at this whole "I don't want to take any chances with this sprained knee -- I'm perfectly happy to give away this chance at a championship because we'll have many more chances" debacle the same way we look back at Vince Carter's "Wait a second, there's no reason I can't graduate and play in Game 7!" decision two years ago. This may have even been worse. Seriously ... does MJ miss these games? Or Larry? Of course not. Even if he's hobbling up and down the court with the bulkiest knee brace on the planet, I'd rather have Dirk out there then Raef F---ing LaFrentz. Don't even get me started.

    4. Tracy McGrady -- Here's my favorite T-Mac tidbit, and you can look this up on his game logs right here on America's favorite sports website, Remember when everyone started to make noise about Kobe's 40-point game streak, how he could become the first person to average 40 in a month since Chamberlain? Well, T-Mac was cruising along, averaging 30 a game himself, and then he must have read one too many Kobe stories.

    Here's how he finished the last week in February: 4 games, 39.5 PPG.

    And here were his March numbers: 15 games, 35.9 PPG.

    Tracy McGrady
    T-Mac's best highlight would be if could convince Hill to retire.

    What a rivalry this should be ... and it's never happening as long as McGrady is trapped in Orlando. Couldn't David Stern stick a horse's head in Grant Hill's bed to get him to retire, just so Orlando could have the cap space this summer? And is the Commish losing his powers? How did the Lakers lose Game 6? How does Cleveland get LeBron? I'm starting to worry about him ... I think Barzini and Tattaglia might be ready to take some of his territory.

    3. Kobe Bryant -- Man, he sure doesn't look like The Next MJ when he's playing with a 400-pound Shaq, the Artist Formerly Known as Big Shot Rob Horry, Mark Madsen and that Pargo guy.

    (That reminds me, was "Pargo" his first name or his last name? Did we ever definitively find out? I would believe anything. Reminds me of the time I convinced my friend Butz that Siegfred and Roy's real names were Kenny Siegfred and Roy Jenkins. All right, I'm babbling ...)

    2. Yao Ming -- I am honored to be included in your prestigious list, and that you consider me as a taller version of Bill Walton ... I feel like a goat herder who just found an extra patch of grass, and decided to sit down to eat his lunch ...

    1. Tim Duncan -- In a perfect world, we should be able to judge the best player in basketball by figuring out the answers to the following questions:

    Does he make his teammates better? Would he have a more dramatic effect on average teammates than any other superstar? Would he be fun to play with? Would he fit in just as well with a group of talented players as he would with a bunch of role players? Would he do just about anything short of committing homicide to win a game? And when he's on a roll, are you watching him and saying, "There isn't anyone on the planet who could stop him?"

    With Duncan, you would answer "Yes" to every one of those questions. That's why he's the two-time MVP, that's why the Spurs might win another title, and that's why Tim Duncan is the most untradeable player in the league. Until next year.

    Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, and he's a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live.