Every NBA team’s all-time starting five, ranked from 30 to 1
Here are the ground rules for this very important exercise
Since we're in the dregs of the NBA offseason, it felt like the right time to stir up some debate. We came up with the all-time lineup for every NBA franchise, but that wasn't good enough. Then, we ranked them.
Here's what you need to know about the methods we used. First, each player can appear only once. Shaq, for instance, can't be on both the all-time Magic and Lakers squads. Each player is on the team we most associate him with. Sometimes, that simply came down to number of games played. Other times, it was just a general feeling. And every once in a while, it meant calling an audible if a player was overshadowed on his primary team (such as Mark Jackson, a Knick in our books, who appears on the Pacers squad).
Second, position matters, to an extent. We're not rolling out a team of all centers. Yet with that said, there's some margin for error to accommodate the most talent -- especially with the No. 1 team on this list. NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew D. Bernstein
New Orleans Pelicans
PG: Baron Davis SG: Eric Gordon SF: Ryan Anderson PF: David West C: Anthony Davis
New Orleans gets the short end of the stick at point guard, since Chris Paul is a Clipper in our book. Coupled with the Pelicans' brief history, there's not a whole lot to work with for this franchise. But hey, at least they have Anthony Davis!
PG: Muggsy Bogues SG: Dell Curry SF: Anthony Mason PF:Larry Johnson C: Al Jefferson
Mason could theoretically be a member of the Knicks, but he wasn't quite good enough to make that all-time team. So he slides down to the Hornets, who will gladly take his hard-nosed defense and screen-setting. There are two other Charlotte stars who were eligible for this team, Glen Rice and Alonzo Mourning; they show up on this list, just not with the Hornets. NBAE/Getty ImagesLou Capozzola
PG: Jason Kidd SG: Kerry Kittles SF: Richard Jefferson PF: Buck Williams C: Brook Lopez
The Hornets and Pelicans have an excuse for their lack of historical splendor, since they're relatively recent expansion teams. The Nets have existed since the NBA-ABA merger, however. That this team has historically been so mediocre is just depressing. William Hauser-USA TODAY SportsWilliam Hauser
PG: Andre Miller SG: David Thompson SF: Alex English PF: Dan Issel C: Dikembe Mutombo
With 391 career regular-season games in Denver, plus the iconic shot of his lying prone on the court with the ball held over his head, Mutombo goes down as a member of the Nuggets historically. And with apologies to Fat Lever, Andre Miller is our choice for Denver's starting point guard. You just can't go wrong with the Professor. NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew D. Bernstein
PG: Kyle Lowry SG: DeMar DeRozan SF: Vince Carter PF: Amir Johnson C: Jonas Valanciunas
Toronto's NBA existence has been kind of weird. On the wings and in the backcourt, the Raptors have had quite a bit of talent through the years, including snubbed PG Damon Stoudamire. In the frontcourt, though, it's been slim pickings for Toronto -- outside of Chris Bosh, who ended up on the Heat in this exercise. Still, Amir Johnson is criminally underrated; he belongs on this list, if only because the Raptors don't have many other choices. Jed Jacobsohn/Allsport via Getty Images
Los Angeles Clippers
PG: Chris Paul SG: Ron Harper SF: Blake Griffin PF: Elton Brand C: DeAndre Jordan
There's an argument to be made that the Clippers' best all-time lineup is four of the current starters (including J.J. Redick) plus Elton Brand. We're rolling with Ron Harper here, though, for his defense and ballhandling. If you insist on Redick, that's fine. Either way, this team isn't particularly great. APMark J. Terrill
PG: Sidney Moncrief SG: Ray Allen SF: Bob Dandridge PF: Glenn Robinson C: Andrew Bogut
The Bucks were one of the teams that suffered most from the "only use each player once" rule. Milwaukee loses out on Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a result -- but the Bucks keep Ray Allen. As for point guard? Fans of the modern game might take Sam Cassell over Sidney Moncrief, but the five-time All-Star was one of the more underrated players of the '80s. NBAE/Getty ImagesGary Dineen
PG: John Wall SG: Gilbert Arenas SF: Antawn Jamison PF: Elvin Hayes C: Wes Unseld
The Wizards trot out our first dual big-man lineup, with both Hayes and Unseld dominating the boards and starting Washington's transition offense as John Wall sprints down the court. As long as we can keep Gilbert Arenas out of trouble, this is a pretty solid squad. Geoff Burke-USA TODAY SportsGeoff Burke
PG: Ricky Rubio SG: Kevin Martin SF: Kevin Love PF: Kevin Garnett C: Karl-Anthony Towns
That's right -- we're putting KAT on this list after just one year. That's how much faith we have in Towns, especially with Kevin Garnett serving as his mentor. Since we have those two patrolling on defense, we can slot Kevin Love in at small forward and not worry about giving up too much on that end of the floor. As for point guard? Stephon Marbury is an obvious choice, but we don't want a repeat of the drama that unfolded last time Starbury was alongside KG. With that in mind, Ricky Rubio is the pick. Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SportsBrace Hemmelgarn
PG: Derek Harper SG: Jason Terry SF: Michael Finley PF: Dirk Nowitzki C: Tyson Chandler
Grooooooosssssssssssssssss. This team leaves you shaking your head and remembering just how bad the Mavericks have been during the franchise's history. Dirk Nowitzki, on the other hand, is so spectacular that he buoys the Mavs' ranking on his own. In Dirk we trust. Getty ImagesRonald Martinez
PG: Mark Jackson SG: Reggie Miller SF: Paul George PF: Dale Davis C: Rik Smits
Mark Jackson slides into point guard for the Pacers despite arguably being more of a Knick during his career. As for power forward, Jermaine O'Neal deserves mention here for his six All-Star appearances with Indiana. He was an outstanding scorer but an uneven defender; for that reason, we're taking Dale Davis' stout defense and rebounding at power forward, with Rik Smits holding down the middle. Reggie Miller and Paul George are no-brainers, of course. Getty ImagesElsa
PG: Penny Hardaway SG: Nick Anderson SF: Dennis Scott PF: Rashard Lewis C: Dwight Howard
The Magic barely lose out on Tracy McGrady, whom we went back and forth on for days before deciding that he was a Rocket, not a Magic. It was an incredibly tough decision. An easier choice? Dwight Howard at center, since that Shaq guy abandoned Orlando and sealed his fate as a Laker. Of course, Stan Van Gundy would love this team. So there's that. Getty ImagesKevin C. Cox
We'll ignore Rasheed Wallace's role in the "Jail Blazers" era and focus on how Sheed was one of the smartest players in basketball history instead. And yes, LaMarcus Aldridge isn't on this list -- because he's overrated. @ me over it if you feel so inclined. NBAE/Getty ImagesSam Forencich
PG: Steve Nash SG: Dan Majerle SF: Shawn Marion PF: Connie Hawkins C: Amar'e Stoudemire
This is the quintessential Suns team -- incredibly entertaining, capable of winning a lot of games and too porous on defense to come anywhere close to a championship. Sports Illustrated/Getty ImagesJohn W. McDonough
PG: Lenny Wilkens SG: Joe Johnson SF: Dominique Wilkins PF: Al Horford C: Bob Pettit
The Hawks low-key have a fantastic starting five, albeit one that depends on some old-school players. There are no weaknesses on this squad, even though the star power isn't exactly there, either. NBAE/Getty ImagesDick Raphael
New York Knicks
PG: Earl Monroe SG: John Starks SF: Carmelo Anthony PF: Charles Oakley C: Patrick Ewing
Apologies to Clyde Frazier, Willis Reed and Allan Houston, but this squad defines the Knicks' history and the recent Carmelo Anthony era. Starks might be the "weak link," in a basketball vacuum -- if you ignore the fact that he was the heart and soul of those infamous Knicks teams of the 90s. NBAE/Getty ImagesRocky Widner
PG: Kyrie Irving SG: Mark Price SF: Craig Ehlo PF: LeBron James C: Brady Daugherty
The Cavs have to go small with their all-time team, starting two shooting guards next to Kyrie Irving. When you have LeBron James, who single-handedly lifts Cleveland's all-time squad in these rankings, such positional flexibility becomes a lot easier. WPPROD
PG: Isiah Thomas SG: Joe Dumars SF: Grant Hill PF: Dennis Rodman C: Bill Laimbeer
Dennis Rodman's presence at power forward means we don't need Ben Wallace at center; that's too much offensive ineptitude to overcome, no matter how good a hypothetical team with both big men would be. We just hope that this time-traveling version of Grant Hill can stay healthy. NBAE/Getty ImagesNathaniel S. Butler
PG: Oscar Robertson SG: Mitch Richmond SF: Peja Stojakovic PF: Chris Webber C: DeMarcus Cousins
The all-time Kings would have all of the passing you ever need, steady outside shooting, one of the greatest point guards of all-time and DeMarcus Cousins in the middle to dominate opponents. What's not to love?
PG: Mike Conley SG: Mike Miller SF: Shane Battier PF: Pau Gasol C: Marc Gasol
Are we overrating the Grizzlies? It's certainly possible. But this Memphis team has a perfect blend of defense, playmaking and perimeter shooting -- not to mention both Gasol brothers blocking Zach Randolph from the frontcourt. This might be our favorite team on the entire list. Deal with it. NBAE/Getty ImagesJoe Murphy
PG: Tim Hardaway SG: Dwyane Wade SF: Glen Rice PF:Chris Bosh C: Alonzo Mourning
Chris Bosh and Alonzo Mourning are the backbone of this all-time Heat squad. Zo's rim protection and Bosh's versatility would create nightmares for opposing offenses, while Tim Hardaway and Dwyane Wade would carve up defenses and create tons of open looks for Glen Rice. APMichael Conroy
PG: Kenny Smith SG: James Harden SF: Tracy McGrady PF: Robert Horry C: Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem Olajuwon, Tracy McGrady and James Harden combine to form an outstanding Big Three, Robert Horry is here for all of the clutch buckets, and Kenny Smith runs the offense. At first glance, Houston might seem kind of high on this list. In modern basketball, though, it's hard to beat Hakeem Olajuwon surrounded by shooters. NBAE/Getty ImagesNathaniel S. Butler
PG: John Stockton SG: Pete Maravich SF: Andrei Kirilenko PF: Karl Malone C: Mark Eaton
In a time of isolation and hero-ball, the Jazz stood as a beacon in the darkness, running pick-and-roll before it was in fashion. Give John Stockton and Karl Malone the modern rules, and they'd destroy the opposition. Pistol Pete gives this Utah team a little more scoring kick, and Andrei Kirilenko and Mark Eaton provide all the defense the Jazz need. NBAE/Getty ImagesDick Raphael
Oklahoma City Thunder
PG: Gary Payton SG: Russell Westbrook SF: Kevin Durant PF: Shawn Kemp C: Jack Sikma
We miss the Sonics, truly. But if moving Seattle's NBA team to Oklahoma City means that Gary Payton, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Shawn Kemp all get to play on the same (theoretical) team, then who are we to judge this relocation? Getty ImagesBrian Bahr
PG: Allen Iverson SG: Andre Iguodala SF: Julius Erving PF: Charles Barkley C: Moses Malone
If you search for "all-time Sixers teams," most will have Allen Iverson at shooting guard and Mo Cheeks at point guard. That's a sucker's bet, though, based on nostalgia for Cheeks. He was an outstanding PG, sure. If you want to put together the best basketball team, however, you start AI at point guard and have Andre Iguodala ply his versatile skills at shooting guard. The Sixers have a ton of guys who need the ball in their hands; Iguodala serves as the glue that keeps this team together. Bill Streicher-USA TODAY SportsBill Streicher
Golden State Warriors
PG: Stephen Curry SG: Klay Thompson SF: Chris Mullin PF: Draymond Green C: Wilt Chamberlain
Rick Barry? Pffffft. Paul Arizin? Yawn. Nate Thurmond? Meh.
Forget about the Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead in the Finals. Last season's Golden State squad was the greatest regular-season team ever, which means Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green make the cut as the best at their positions in franchise history. And they get to replace Harrison Barnes with Chris Mullin -- oh, and add Wilt Chamberlain to the squad, just for good measure. The only reason the Warriors aren't higher on this list is that we need to see the young Golden State stars keep it up for a few more years. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsKyle Terada
PG: Bob Cousy SG: Paul Pierce SF: Larry Bird PF: Kevin McHale C: Bill Russell
The Celtics are one of the NBA's greatest franchises, but so much of their glory came in the pre-modern era. We assume that guys like Bob Cousy and Bill Russell would be superstars these days, yet we'll never really know. That uncertainty bumps Boston's all-time team down this list by a couple of spots. NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew D. Bernstein
PG: Derrick Rose SG: Michael Jordan SF: Scottie Pippen PF: Toni Kukoc C: Artis Gilmore
It's terrifying to think how good Michael Jordan's Bulls could have been with a star center like Artis Gilmore on the team. Gilmore was one of the only players to give Kareem Abdul-Jabbar fits during Cap's prime; he'd fit perfectly with the greatest Chicago squads. Derrick Rose is a bit of an outcast, since Jordan would have the ball in his hands so much, but we're not passing on Rose for someone like B.J. Armstrong. Sorry. NBAE/Getty ImagesBarry Gossage
San Antonio Spurs
PG: Tony Parker SG: George Gervin SF: Kawhi Leonard PF: Tim Duncan C: David Robinson
Leave it to the Spurs to have the most complete all-time starting lineup -- a squad that's so good, we have to leave Manu Ginobili on the bench. The only argument against San Antonio is that the rule changes of the past 10 years might make the combination of Tim Duncan and David Robinson slightly less effective. Anyone making that point, though, forgets just how amazing Robinson was at his peak. He, Duncan and Kawhi Leonard would suffocate opponents on defense, and the Spurs' unstoppable motion-based offense would leave defenses wondering what just happened. Getty ImagesRonald Martinez
Los Angeles Lakers
PG: Magic Johnson SG: Jerry West SF: Kobe Bryant PF: Shaquille O'Neal C: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
No other team can top this list. Frankly, no other team has the embarrassment of riches boasted by the Lakers. Of all 30 teams, coming up with the starting five for Los Angeles was easily the most difficult decision.
You could easily go Magic/Kobe/Elgin Baylor/James Worthy/center of your choice, if you wanted to stick to tried and true positions -- and that squad would still be at the top of this list. But we're trying to get the best five players on the floor at once, and that means playing Kobe up a position and Shaq down one.
Kobe could play small forward; we're not worried about that. The concern most people will have is with Shaq at power forward. Won't the Laker surrender too much on defense with two centers on the floor?
It would be a valid point if we completely ignored the player Shaq was with the Magic and in his first few seasons in Los Angeles. He was a gazelle in the body of a rhinoceros, able to go coast-to-coast on his own or face up and blow past opposing defenders on the perimeter. He bulked up with the Lakers because of a lack of foul calls; if opponents were going to beat him up, Shaq decided to impose his will through sheer physical dominance.
The 1996-97 version of Shaq, though? That superstar could play next to Abdul-Jabbar. After all, what does James Worthy bring to the table that young Shaq couldn't do?
We're not leaving either Abdul-Jabbar or Jerry West off this list. Instead, we'll embrace positionless basketball for the greatest NBA team of all-time. Tim Duncan and David Robinson better look out. Once again, the Lakers stand in their way.