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Shaun Powell

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant was the 13th pick in the 1996 Draft.
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Most Valuable? Here's a whole different way to look at it

Posted Feb 1 2011 11:54AM

Forbes recently ranked the NBA franchises according to their projected value and once again the Knicks, who haven't won a championship since 1973, are stretching a dynasty into the next decade.

It's a business, after all, and a healthy one for a team blessed with prime real estate and the good fortune to be surrounded by tons of people with disposable income. Forbes says the Knicks are worth more money ($655 million) and make more ($64 million) than any team in basketball. And you only thought they wasted more.

But what about the players? Which ones hold the most value to the NBA? That's a subjective question, for the most part, because value isn't so easily defined. Joe Johnson owns the richest contract in the league. Rashard Lewis is No. 2 on the salary list this season, after Kobe Bryant. Does that mean Johnson and Lewis are the gold standard? No and no. Johnson hasn't taken the Hawks past the first round, nor can he fill Philips Arena. Lewis is the No. 3 option on a team that can't win a road game.

Here's how we'll define value: box office and national TV appeal, ability to entertain, and degree of global name recognition ... in addition to talent, accomplishments and franchise clout. Does the player sell tickets and move merchandise? Or is he just a very good player who doesn't resonate beyond his home base? Basically, there's no complicated formula here; you know value when you see it.

That said, what 20 players generate the most bank for the league? Here's our totally unscientific guess:

20. Steve Nash. At 37, not quite worth the full price of admission anymore, but people will still pay to see fun fundamentals and the well-placed pass.

19. Tony Parker. He dropped several spots once Entertainment Tonight and TMZ stopped leading their shows with him. Yet, he remains the most ratings-friendly player for the ratings-challenged Spurs.

18. Shaquille O'Neal. He may be over the second hill, but there is no bigger celebrity in basketball. If Shaq walked down a street in Siberia with only one passer-by, he'd be recognized.

17. John Wall. Flashy and fun-to-watch Generation Next point guard has a faithful youth audience on the social networks and is the only rookie to hawk his own sneaker.

16. Paul Pierce. Mr. Celtic, who bleeds more green than Warren Buffet, is still a major player for Boston, ranked No. 4 by Forbes. Celtics will make 30 national TV appearances this season, most of any team, thanks partly to Pierce.

15. Deron Williams. He may never gain John Stockton-like icon status in Salt Lake, although the franchise would surely feel the pinch if he leaves in two years when his contract is up.

14. Pau Gasol. Staples Center is obviously Kobe's kingdom, but the championships and ratings and sizzle didn't return to the building until Gasol arrived and replaced No. 18 on this list.

13. Amar'e Stoudemire. Those gazillion-dollar courtside seats at the Garden almost seem like they're worth every Benjamin again, thanks to one man.

12. Carmelo Anthony. He may not hold as much value as the last few maniacal months would lead you to believe, although if he lands in Brooklyn (via Newark) or Manhattan this summer, New York will enhance his status.

11. Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks have been a hit for over a decade in Dallas thanks to Dirk, second only to Tony Romo in a Cowboys' town.

10. Tim Duncan. He does nothing, from a personality or style standpoint, to merit mention here. He just wins and rakes in the postseason money.

9. Kevin Garnett. KG saw his appeal soar when he went from Minnesota to Boston, an outhouse-penthouse transfer that meant big bank (and postseason ratings) for the league.

8. Chris Paul. If you think the Hornets, ranked 26th out of 30 by Forbes, are struggling to find a buyer now, imagine what they'd fetch without Paul.

7. Derrick Rose. Quiet and private by nature, he lacks the commercial clout of others in the top 10. Still, he's already the biggest star in the No. 3 market and making a push for his first MVP.

6. Kevin Durant. Deep in the heart of football country, folks have fallen in love with basketball, mainly because of Durant, who almost single-handedly breathed life into the former Seattle Sonics.

5. Blake Griffin. Surprised to see him this high on the list? After a three-month career? Griffin highlights are a nightly must-see, and it helps to work in L.A., even in Kobe's shadow, where not even the stigma of playing for the Clippers has hurt.

4. Dwyane Wade. Seven All-Star appearances plus an easygoing style makes for good box office and endorsement opportunities for Wade, even if he must share the spotlight in Miami.

3. Dwight Howard. All biceps and smiles, Howard is second only to Shaq among commercial-friendly big men. Why else are the national networks showing small-market Orlando 25 times, more than the Lakers and Heat? He also built that new $480 million arena, which would be yet another Orlando souvenir shop without him.

2. LeBron James. The Cavs could become the first team to go from best to worst in the regular season. Plus, the franchise value according to Forbes lost $120 million. All because of a one-hour prime time special.

1. Kobe Bryant. The pro basketball Pied Piper. Wherever he goes, sellouts and ratings follow. Not only does he generate buzz (good and bad) among multiple generations of fans, he keeps a glamour team playing deep into spring and therefore fattens the NBA wallet. David Stern would love to clone him for the Knicks.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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