The NBA’s True Untouchables

As we wrote last week, Jim Buss has stamped the untouchable label on Andrew Bynum‘s forehead. Well congratulations, Mr. Bynum. Thanks to the only higher-up that counts, you’re probably even impervious to Archimedes’ Death Ray. Less impressively, you’re now the only player in this elite class not among the NBA’s top ten players. But that begs the question: Who are the rest of these untouchables? The best and the untouchables are certainly not mutually exclusive, nor are they completely overlapping. Some have rings, some don’t. They do, however, share one exclusive trait: If they depart for another team, it would gruesomely devastate the infrastructure of that city’s fanhood. Here’s the list of the NBA’s only truly untouchable players.

1. LeBron James – Let’s get the obvious out of the way. He’s on the cusp of an NBA title, he’s the best player in the league, and he just signed a six-year deal. You simply don’t trade the best player in his prime. But what if Oklahoma City offers Durant and Westbrook, the NBA’s best non-Miami duo? (Not that it would ever happen.) Riley still wouldn’t pull the trigger, because No. 1 is always better than No. 2 + No. 3.

2. Dwyane Wade – This one’s simple. Chalk up Wade’s lifelong career in Miami to the hometown hero effect. LeBron may be the Heat’s best player, but Wade is the leader to the fans because he was drafted there. He’s been with the team through thick and thin. He’s carried the city to a title. He’s celebrated, laughed, smiled, cursed and cried with the Heat. When the LeBacle became a summer phenomenon, it was Wade who remained loyal. That’s why he’s the last to be introduced at home games. That’s why he’s at the center of every poster, picture and interview. That’s why he’s untradeable. He’s the centerpiece of everything that’s right and true about basketball. Trading him away would be a knife through the heart.

3. Amar’e Stoudemire/Carmelo Anthony – The Knicks have spent too much time, too many dollars and too many lost seasons to ever give up on their dynamic duo. That’s why the demand for a Chris Paul trade will never go away, even if the Knicks lacks the assets to pull it off. New York is too impatient to ever give up on these two. While it may be a smart move in the long run if New York never snags that elusive title, it’ll never happen. No one’s willing to go through another two-year salary-dumping bonanza.

4. Kevin Durant – If Wade is a hometown hero, then Kevin Durant is a United States hero. Instead of announcing his new contract on television, he simply tweeted it. No interviews, no press conference. And not only that, he remained loyal to a city no one knew anything about before they got a basketball team. On the court, he’s deferential to a fault. How many NBA superstars do we criticize for not getting the ball enough? He’s polite, well spoken and gives back to the community. If the Thunder let him go, the principles upon which America is built may just collapse.

5. Dirk Nowitzki – Mark Cuban already loves rewarding players with excessive contracts after middling, short-lived success. Even if Dirk’s otherworldly playoff performance doesn’t end in a championship, don’t expect Cuban to let go. More importantly, Dirk’s game isn’t predicated on the merits of being 25 years old. If shooters get better with age, then don’t expect Dirk to ever decline. Sure, his minutes may need to be reduced in the long run, but the one-footed fallaway will never disappear. And neither will Cuban’s infatuation.

6. Derrick Rose – MVP. Conference Finals appearance. 22 years old. The Bulls lucked into their savior thanks to the NBA Draft Lottery and will ride him as far as he can take them. Coach Tom Thibodeau and Rose have forged a joint identity that will define their individual careers. No matter what moves the Chicago front office makes, the Rose/Thibodeau era will be defined by defense and the upper limits of Rose’s ceiling. Because they have already found success in their current formula, don’t expect it to ever change. He may not be the best in the league, but he might just be the most untouchable.

7. Tim Duncan – Not that anyone’s looking to acquire him, but San Antonio will not let him do the “I’m old and am going to sign with a contender” routine. Considering everything he’s done for the team, the Spurs will re-sign TD just to stick him on the end of the bench. Till death do them part.

8. Blake Griffin – Los Angeles hasn’t hit it big on a draft pick in forever. That and Mike Dunleavy is no longer the GM, so he can’t ruin the team. When contract time comes around the Clippers will offer a max deal, the state of California and the kitchen sink to guarantee that Griffin stays.

Before you jump down my throat for leaving off certain guys, here are some notable players left off the list and why I left them off:

Kobe Bryant – Jim Buss loves Bynum and hired Mike Brown. Don’t be surprised if an aging, disgruntled Kobe is dealt somewhere at the end of his current contract.

Dwight Howard – LeBron 2.0? I’m not willing to believe the rumors that he’s going to re-sign with Orlando quite yet.

Chris Paul – Same as above, minus “The Decision.”

Joe Johnson – Atlanta is just waiting to be dismantled. As much as the Hawks fans will enjoy a No. 3 – No. 6 seed over the next five years, it will never bring them a title.

Paul PierceKendrick Perkins may not be Paul Pierce, but his swift departure to Oklahoma City should should be an indicator that Danny Ainge is willing to pull the trigger on whomever, whenever. Pierce may be Boston’s sweetheart, but Ainge knows that this team, as currently constructed, will never surpass Miami in the East.

Who do you think is truly untouchable in the NBA?

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