We spend all season talking about coaching and rules changes and free agents and trade possibilities and defense and three-pointers and dunks and crossovers, but it's the talent that matters, and the talent comes from the draft.
Which is why this era of the NBA is being defined by 2003, which may go down as the best draft in NBA history.
Of course, it's up to LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, primarily, but also Chris Bosh, Kirk Hinrich and maybe Chris Kaman. Not Darko Milicic, of course, but he may, in the end, not be as displaced as he has seemed.
It's all about winning championships, so the Kids of 2003 have a long way to go.
There always will be considerable debate on which draft was the best. Of course, if you are counting championships, you could just pick the one —1956 — with Bill Russell since he was on 11 championship teams. Actually, that draft built the foundation for a dynasty since the Boston Celtics acquired Russell in the draft through a trade, drafted Tom Heinsohn with their territorial pick, which then was in place for the attendance-deprived NBA to place college stars with the pro teams from their area, and got K.C. Jones with a second-round pick. Jones, though, was finishing military service and didn't join the Celtics until 1958.
It was the big men, Russell in 1956 and Wilt Chamberlain in 1959, who defined that era, though for star power the 1960 draft was impressive with Oscar Roberston, Jerry West and Lenny Wilkens in the first round, when there were just eight teams.
That is the kind of depth that really defines a draft, and modern NBA historians like to point to 1984 for likely the best and deepest draft of top talent ever.
It did, and like no one other than Russell, as Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls won titles between 1991 and 1993 and again between 1996 and 1998. In the intervening seasons, Hakeem Olajuwon's Houston Rockets won the two championships, making it a run of eight straight for the Class of '84.
And from that class also came some of their main victims with Charles Barkley, the No. 5 pick in that draft, his Phoenix Suns losing to the Bulls in 1993, and John Stockton at No. 16 with his and Karl Malone's (Class of 1985) Utah Jazz losing to the Bulls in the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. The 1984 draft was even deeper in talent with Sam Perkins starting on the 1991 Los Angeles Lakers team that lost to the Bulls and playing sixth man on the 1996 Seattle Sonics team that also lost to Chicago, and Otis Thorpe playing the running mate role for Olajuwon on the 1994 Rockets.
Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning back-to-back in 1992 was supposed to represent the next great draft, and although O'Neal got his championships, it wasn't until Mourning backed him up last season that he finally got one after years of missteps and physical problems.
And now comes the trio, James, Anthony and Wade.
That discussion generally excludes Kobe Bryant, who, at least now, is probably better than those three. Bryant is a better defender than any of the three, and that probably was most evident in the World Championships. Perhaps Bryant isn't the most liked among his peers, but that team needed him. When the game became the most crucial, especially during the loss to Greece, the three reverted to their offensive tendencies. Bryant would be the least likely to. He also has already played on three championship teams and has that certain competitive desire, the basketball version of "it," that perhaps only Wade comes closest to at this point. Though at 28 and entering his 11th season, Bryant is an old timer in this NBA.
So if you did that 2003 draft over, it probably would be James, Wade and then likely Anthony though some would prefer Bosh, though mostly for size.
So let's start with James. He may the most amazing player ever with so many flaws.
He doesn't defend particularly well, isn't a great shooter and has moments at the free-throw line that are surprising for a top player.
But we've never seen anyone like this in pro basketball. James, at about 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds is built like a center with the quickness and instincts of a point guard. You couldn't make a player like him because you'd never dream anyone his size could possess that combination of strength, agility and know-how.
If he remains healthy, he could destroy virtually every offensive record in the books, perhaps except for the few seemingly unapproachable ones set by Chamberlain in a different era.
PBT: The Pacers were too tough for the Knicks, but Miami is a different animal. The clubs face off in the East finals, starting Wednesday night.
Do they compare?
A look at the stars of the 2003 draft, and how they compare to the greatest draft of all time -- 1984.
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