THE LAST SIX NBAchampions have had two things in common: They've played outstanding basketball,and they've been relatively frugal. Since the 2000--01 season, the team thatwon the title had a total payroll right around the league average. Big spendershaven't fared nearly as well. No team with the league's highest total salaryhas won a playoff series since Portland in 2000. (In three of the past fiveyears the team with the highest payroll has missed the playoffs—that'd be NewYork each time.) There's a solid chance that that trend will be bucked thisyear: The Suns, the No. 2 seed in the West, had basketball's priciestroster.
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SI PLAYERS NBA POLL
Who is the best dunker in the NBA?
LeBron James, Cavs F 30%
Vince Carter, Nets G 29%
Josh Smith, Hawks F 20%
Dwight Howard, Magic F 7%
Suns center Amaré Stoudemire finished fifth (3.1%).... Celtics forward GeraldGreen, the 2007 slam dunk contest champ (and SI PLAYERS diarist), tied foreighth with '06 winner Nate Robinson (1.1%).... Carter and Smith are also pastdunk contest winners; James has never accepted an invitation to participate inthe contest.... Howard leads the NBA in dunks this season (249). Stoudemireranks second (177).
[Based on a survey of 271 NBA players]
For an expanded version of the poll, go to SI.com/players.
Tiff of the Week
RED SOX PITCHER Brendan Donnelly so dislikes Marinersoutfielder Jose Guillen—the two have feuded since they were teammates inAnaheim three years ago—that after he struck out Guillen on April 10, Donnellystared him down. Guillen shot back a mean look of his own. The benches emptied,but no punches were thrown. Guillen said, "He can just send one of thebatboys to come and get me ... and we can take care of this like men." Towhich Donnelly (above, right) said, "A comparable quote would be, 'Meet meat the bike rack after school.'" The next move is Guillen's—and he just maystick out his tongue.
Gift of the Week
THE TOUGHEST agent in the business has nothing on agood old-fashioned clerical error. Consider that the Eagles paid their starrunning back Brian Westbrook a $3 million roster bonus he was due. Then theypaid him again. Until Westbrook, who signed a five-year, $24.9 million deal in2005. gives back the extra cash—and he says he will once he figures out exactlyhow much he owes, since the money was taxed—the team runs the risk taking asalary-cap hit. To avoid that, Philly filed a grievance with the NFL.
86.5 M (POR*)
82.4 (PHO)58.8 M (LAL)
59.7 (MIA)29.6 M (LAC)
42.0 (CHA)*Lost in firstround of playoffs. All other high and low teams missed the postseason.