December 15, 2009
All-Decade Team: NBA
By Ian Thomsen,
In a sign of how the game changed this decade, I decided to make Shaquille O'Neal the only center on the 12-man roster. Yao Ming might have joined him if not for his injuries, and young Dwight Howard was dominant for only three years (he'll be the likely first-team center for the next decade). Instead, I used the backup center spot to make space for Carmelo Anthony, a small forward with a post-up game. That's the same kind of trade-off general managers and coaches have been making since traditional centers have begun to grow extinct.

This is a diverse team. One-third of this roster didn't attend college (including Dirk Nowitzki). Four of these future Hall of Famers fulfilled their potential as No. 1 picks (Shaq, Tim Duncan, LeBron James and Allen Iverson), while another four turned out to be monumental surprises after being picked outside the top eight (Nowitzki at No. 9, Paul Pierce at 10, Kobe Bryant at 13 and Steve Nash at 15). As much as the NBA has been influenced by players from abroad, Nowitzki is the only true international (not schooled in America) to make this team as well as become MVP.
Starting Lineup
Steve Nash
Teams in 2000s: Mavericks, Suns
NBA debut: 1996
Nash was already an All-NBA point guard with the Mavericks before he returned to Phoenix (his original NBA home) as a 30-year-old free agent in 2004. Instead of declining, Nash exploited Mike D'Antoni's offense to emerge as a two-time MVP (joining Magic Johnson as the only point guards to win more than one) while becoming the most clever and entertaining player of modern times.
Kobe Bryant
Team in 2000s: Lakers
NBA debut: 1996
The league's most ruthless winner, Bryant led the Lakers to the 2009 championship after winning three titles with Shaq to launch the decade. He reinvented himself as a team leader while winning titles in different styles, originally as a sidekick to Shaq and then as a dominant go-to star who learned how to carry his teammates. You may not love him, but you must respect him.
LeBron James
Team in 2000s: Cavaliers
NBA debut: 2003
He arrived in 2003 as the most hyped high school player in modern memory -- and James still exceeded expectations. By his third year, he was leading Cleveland into the second round as a 22-year-old; by his fourth year he was in the NBA Finals; and last season he earned his first MVP award (with more sure to come). He has dominated his position over the last five years, and yet, when it is time to look back on his career, we'll come to realize this wasn't even his best decade.
Tim Duncan
Team in 2000s: Spurs
NBA debut: 1997
The greatest power forward in NBA history and the Player of the Decade, Duncan was the reason San Antonio became the only team to make the playoffs every year of the decade. He was the most valuable team player of his era, an active defender who chased pick-and-rolls out to the three-point line and yet hustled back to protect the rim and control the boards. Offensively, the Spurs played through him as a passer in the post, and his dependable mid-range jumper off the backboard will be part of his highlight reel when he checks into Springfield.
Shaquille O'Neal
Teams in 2000s: Lakers, Heat, Suns, Cavaliers
NBA debut: 1992
He won three titles with the Lakers and another after being traded to Miami while fortifying his status as the dominant force of his generation. Shaq was the player of the post-Jordan era whom opponents schemed to defeat by hoarding front-line talent and running double (and occasional triple) teams at him in the post. He was a high-maintenance star who tended to burn bridges on his way out of town -- but he was also worth the trouble.
Kevin Garnett
Teams in 2000s: Timberwolves, Celtics
NBA debut: 1995
Though Garnett was the 2004 league MVP with Minnesota, he was criticized for failing to lead the undermanned Wolves to an NBA Finals. Those complaints turned into cheers with his trade to the Celtics in 2007, when Garnett joined with Pierce and Ray Allen to lead Boston to its first championship in 22 years. Garnett will go down as one of the great defenders of his era.
Jason Kidd
Teams in 2000s: Suns, Nets, Mavericks
NBA debut: 1994
Mr. Triple-Double instantly transformed the laughingstock Nets into two-time NBA finalists, in 2002 and '03. He won 50 or more games with all three of his franchises in the decade, and he was among the best defensive point guards.
Dwyane Wade
Team in 2000s: Heat
NBA debut: 2003
Undersized at 6-4 and undervalued as the No. 5 pick in 2003, Wade shocked the NBA by driving Miami to the 2006 championship and earning a ring before LeBron and Carmelo Anthony -- picked ahead of him in that draft -- could win one. He has turned into a (slightly smaller) East Coast version of Kobe, creating plays for himself and teammates while fearlessly attacking the basket.
Dirk Nowitzki
Team in 2000s: Mavericks
NBA debut: 1998
Nowitzki's steady improvement culminated in an MVP award in 2007, nine years after the Mavs picked him up in a draft-night trade for Robert (Tractor) Traylor. As a 7-footer with sensational three-point range, Nowitzki created more mismatches than anyone in the league, in addition to routinely rebounding in double digits and developing as a playmaker to facilitate offense following Nash's departure.
Paul Pierce
Team in 2000s: Celtics
NBA debut: 1998
After reaching the 2002 conference finals as a 24-year-old go-to scorer, Pierce matured -- with the help of coach Doc Rivers -- to become an all-around playmaker while the Celtics were attempting to rebuild with youth. When those youngsters were traded for Garnett and Allen, Pierce was ready to do everything from scoring to creating to defending LeBron on his way to becoming Finals MVP in 2008.
Allen Iverson
Teams in 2000s: 76ers, Nuggets, Pistons, Grizzlies
NBA debut: 1996
At 6-1, he was arguably the toughest player in the league, willing his 76ers to the 2001 Finals after earning the league MVP award that season. Don't dwell on his recent woes, and instead focus on all of the times Iverson was knocked down and got back up again to torch the opposition. How did someone so small grow to be so dominant?
Carmelo Anthony
Team in 2000s: Nuggets
NBA debut: 2003
He noses out Tracy McGrady for the final spot on the roster based on his success in helping to lead Denver to the conference finals last season, as well as his gold-medal performance with the Olympic team. Anthony has never missed the playoffs -- as a 19-year-old rookie, he lifted the Nuggets to a 26-game improvement -- and he appears to be following a promising career path similar to Pierce's.
Phil Jackson
Team in 2000s: Lakers
Seasons as a head coach: 19
Not only did he lead the Lakers to six Finals and four championships over the decade, but also he found time to reclaim a damaged relationship with Kobe to help Bryant become a championship leader -- something that many people believed was irredeemable. No coach gets more done by saying less than Jackson, who enters the next decade with an NBA-record 10 championships overall.
General Manager
Gregg Popovich/R.C. Buford
Team in 2000s: Spurs
Worked together since: 1994
GM Buford (pictured) did the exhaustive legwork and brought the options to president-coach Popovich, who had final say over all decisions. Together they formed the best management team in the league, maintaining a disciplined payroll over this decade while continuously mixing and matching role players to fit around Duncan, Tony Parker (last pick of the first round in 2001) and Manu Ginobili (a second-round pick in 1999 who debuted in 2002). The Lakers won more championships this decade, but the Spurs claimed three of their own while becoming the third team in NBA history with 10 50-win seasons in a row.

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