The NBA season is rapidly approaching and teams are entering with optimism and hope. Unlike the NFL, not all teams believe they can make a drastic turnaround to the postseason but there’s the desire to improve. Youth is healthy in the league as many rising stars are looking to carve out their place in the sport and help their team make the right steps in progression. Ultimately, a team will need a superstar to get to the top priority of becoming a contender. The NBA is the one sport where superstars are more vital than just chemistry of the best core group working together.
Many teams are expecting to improve thanks to the elevation of games of their budding superstars while others are just hoping to hold onto their superstars. Teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder are in a different position of trying to satisfy LeBron James and Kevin Durant enough to stay with their franchises for years to come. It all comes down to value. Every team has one player they value more than the rest of the roster no matter how much they want to preach “team ball” or pretend everyone is equal.
With trades, free agency and other loopholes causing players to change teams more than ever in the NBA, we’re going to expand on value. Who does your team think is the most important to the success of the on-court and off-court aspects of the game? Due to the difference in positions of franchises right now, there’s varying logic of what they each value most such as established stars, the face of a franchise, hot prospects or the legacy of a veteran. Take a trip around the league as we find out who exactly is the most untouchable player on each of the thirty NBA teams.
29 Atlanta Hawks – Al Horford
The Atlanta Hawks have a couple of very valuable assets with Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap on the team but Al Horford is clearly the most untouchable player. Atlanta improved from 38 wins to 60 wins last season with the biggest difference being the return of Horford following injury. With his superb defense and an underrated offensive game, Horford is one of the best centers in the NBA and the Hawks will do everything in their power to re-sign him next summer when he enters free agency. Horford gives you consistency and a presence that’s very hard to find, making him the most important player in Atlanta.
Boston Celtics – Marcus Smart
At just 21 years old, the future is bright for point guard Marcus Smart as the Boston Celtics view him as their most important building block. Smart is entering his second season after a lackluster rookie year and is expected to see a bigger role on the team. While guards Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley may be better than him at the moment, Boston values Smart more due to his potential and young age. When trading Rajon Rondo last season, the faith was in the hands of Smart to become the primary ball handler to lead their offense as the rebuilding team looks to make progress.
28 Brooklyn Nets – Brook Lopez
With the Brooklyn Nets in a very tough spot of not having a first round pick in this year’s draft but also not having a roster that can compete for more than a late playoff seed, the team’s success depends on Brook Lopez. Lopez ended last season on fire with a dominant two month period and earned a new three-year contract extension as the Nets decided to build the short term future around him. The main issue for Lopez is health concerns with his surgically repaired foot but when healthy, he’s among the best offensive big men in the NBA and the last hope for Brooklyn.
27 Charlotte Hornets – Kemba Walker
The point guard has become the most important position in the NBA with most teams having a very good to great option. Kemba Walker is the Charlotte Hornets’ hope to be the point guard of the team's future. Already a great offensive weapon, Walker has become the face of the Hornets’ franchise. Last season saw Charlotte fall out of the playoffs with the signing of Lance Stephenson being a failure and Al Jefferson suffering from injuries but Walker showed progress. With many rotating parts and questions in Charlotte, the only thing certain is the team's belief in Walker.
26 Chicago Bulls – Jimmy Butler
The Chicago Bulls are in a very weird place. Derrick Rose has been the face of the franchise for years but after dealing with many injuries, Rose has declined and can no longer be the best player on a contending team. Joakim Noah is on the decline and Pau Gasol is getting up there in age, leaving Jimmy Butler as the new star on the team. After giving Butler a new contract extension this summer, Chicago showed just how much they believe in him. Butler is one of the best two-way players in the NBA and should be a consistent all-star that the Bulls will not want to part with anytime soon.
25 Cleveland Cavaliers – LeBron James
Duh. The Cleveland Cavaliers franchise relies on LeBron James. We all saw how horrible the team was during the years James spent with the Miami Heat and one season into his return to Cleveland, they went back to the NBA Finals. With five consecutive trips to the Finals and no significantly strong competition, the East should be renamed the LeBron James Conference. James is not only the most untouchable player on the Cavaliers but the most untouchable player in the entire league. There’s no scenario in which an offer can warrant moving James. Cleveland will likely overpay Tristan Thompson just to keep King James happy in fear of him potentially leaving again. That's what being truly untouchable is like.
24 Dallas Mavericks – Dirk Nowitzki
Following a disappointing offseason that saw free agent center DeAndre Jordan break a verbal agreement with the Dallas Mavericks to stay with the Los Angeles Clippers, it put things in perspective for Mavs fans. Likely not competing for a championship this season, the main objective of the franchise and its fans is to celebrate the remaining years left of Dirk Nowitzki’s career. One of the few Hall of Fame caliber players left in the NBA to spend his entire career on one team, Nowitzki is worshiped by Dallas and is one of the rare instances in which loyalty on both sides means he’ll never be on another team.
23 Denver Nuggets - Emmanuel Mudiay
The rookie point guard comes to the Denver Nuggets as one of the most promising talents from this year’s NBA Draft. Emmanuel Mudiay chose to pass on college and spend a year playing basketball professionally in China before coming to the NBA. Mudiay has all the skills to become a star point guard and Denver believes in him enough to have traded Ty Lawson away in the offseason. The Nuggets have some other talented assets like Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari but none of them have lived up to their potential nor do they have ceilings as high as Mudiay.
22 Detroit Pistons – Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond is one of the most talented young power forwards in the NBA but this season is finally his chance to break out. During his time with the Detroit Pistons, Drummond has been forced to share minutes and the paint with Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. Both men have left Detroit and it’s now Drummond’s time to shine. Not even 23 years old yet, Drummond is a double-double machine and should only get better. The biggest problem for Drummond is he’s one of the worst free throw shooters in the league. That will need to change, but for now the Pistons are looking to give Drummond more touches and hoping he becomes the star they desperately need.
21 Golden State Warriors – Stephen Curry
Very few star players in sports have a connection with their team’s fan base like Stephen Curry does. Ever since he was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 2009, Curry has been loved by the Bay Area fans and they were rewarded for their loyalty last season. After leading the Warriors to an NBA Championship and winning the regular season MVP Award, only a select few players are as untouchable as Curry. If the Warriors were offered LeBron James or Kevin Durant, they would still turn down the deal as Curry’s bond with the fans and likely historical legacy with the franchise should keep him in Golden State for his entire career.
20 Houston Rockets – James Harden
After struggling to become relevant and move up the ranks of the Western Conference for years, the Houston Rockets struck gold when trading for James Harden. Giving up very little for what Harden turned out to be, the Rockets finally found their first superstar since the days of Hakeem Olajuwon. Harden has taken his game to new heights and carried Houston to their best season in almost twenty years last season, finishing second in the MVP voting behind Stephen Curry. Unless something goes wrong, the Rockets should be looking at Harden as someone who will be the face of their franchise for the next decade.
19 Indiana Pacers – Paul George
Paul George missed most of last season due to a broken leg and it’s seemed to cause the NBA world to forget just how tremendous he’s been over the last couple of seasons. George was on the cusp of entering the elite tier of the NBA thanks to his outstanding two-way skills. The Indiana Pacers completely changed their identity this season after trading center Roy Hibbert and losing free agent power forward David West to the San Antonio Spurs. George becomes even more valued as the superstar who has to lead the team to any chance of returning to playoff success.
18 Los Angeles Clippers – Chris Paul
Despite being on one of the most stacked rosters in the NBA, Chris Paul is still by far the most untouchable member of Los Angeles Clippers. Paul is still the best pure point guard in the league thanks to his elite game as both a wise scorer and superb facilitator. As great as Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the other stars on the team are, their success goes along with the play of Paul and the Clippers know it. Most importantly, Paul is an excellent defender and the Clippers will have to slow down the likes of Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and many other great point guards to achieve success in the playoffs.
17 Los Angeles Lakers – Kobe Bryant
Many will throw a flag at Kobe Bryant being the most untouchable member of the Los Angeles Lakers due to his declining play, injury issues and age. Bryant is still far too valuable for the Lakers to ever realistically entertain the idea of trading or letting him go. The legacy and star power still makes them one of the most must see teams in the league with ticket sales and merchandise doing well thanks to the power of Kobe. Regardless of if it harms the team’s success, Bryant will continue to play and play at the style he wants to and the Lakers will not risk losing him and damaging his legacy with the franchise.
16 Memphis Grizzlies – Marc Gasol
The Memphis Grizzlies have become a consistent playoff team and that’s mostly thanks to the emergence of Marc Gasol as the best center in the NBA. Starting the all-star game last season and having one of the best years of his career, Gasol re-signed with Memphis as a free agent this summer. With Zach Randolph getting older, Gasol will likely have to pick up more of the slack very soon. The Grizzlies fans have fallen in love with the younger Gasol brother and he’s going to be there for a long time.
15 Miami Heat – Chris Bosh
The end of the “big three” era saw LeBron James leave the Miami Heat, while Dwyane Wade’s injuries started to get the better of him. This left Chris Bosh to step up and establish himself as “the man” in Miami. Bosh was having a superstar season last year before discovering a blood clot in his lungs and the Heat likely would have made the playoffs if not for the scary and bad news. With the addition of Goran Dragic and the breakout season of Hassan Whiteside, the Heat are looking to compete in the Eastern Conference as the top contender against the Cleveland Cavaliers. but it all depends on their new leader, Chris Bosh.
14 Milwaukee Bucks – Jabari Parker
With the Milwaukee Bucks having one of the youngest and most talented cores in the NBA, one asset remains more valuable than the others. Jabari Parker has a legitimate chance at blossoming into a superstar player. All of Milwaukee’s starters are very good but most have limited ceilings unlike Parker, who has a skill set above the others. Parker is coming back from a torn ACL and the team will be extra conservative in making sure he’s not pushed too hard because they value his role in the franchise’s future. As much we’re all looking for big things from the Bucks, it all starts and ends with Parker.
13 Minnesota Timberwolves – Andrew Wiggins
Andrew Wiggins was the man drafted before Jabari Parker in the 2014 NBA Draft and appears to be well worth the hype. Wiggins had a successful rookie season with the Minnesota Timberwolves. looking good on the court and putting up impressive numbers despite the team’s lack of success. The biggest step for Wiggins will be developing chemistry with fellow #1 draft pick, Karl-Anthony Towns, and having his play lead to more wins. With an interesting roster of promising young talent and a few veteran leaders, Minnesota’s future will be as successful as Wiggins can lead it to be.
12 New Orleans Pelicans – Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis is in the conversation with LeBron James as the most untouchable player in the NBA. At just 22 years old, Davis is already a top three player in the league and is just scratching the surface of what he can do. Davis does everything well on the court as one of the most dominant and efficient offensive players in the NBA, as well as an elite defensive force second to none. The New Orleans Pelicans locked Davis up long term on a very fair contract and should be a contender very soon because of him. Unless LeBron James is truly superhuman, Davis will overtake him to become the best player in the NBA at some point in the next few years.
11 New York Knicks – Carmelo Anthony
The very controversial Carmelo Anthony and equally controversial New York Knicks are a match made in heaven. Anthony has become heavily criticized in New York for his seemingly selfish style of play that does not benefit the other members of the team. Factor in the injury troubles that shortened Anthony’s season last year and you’d think the team would want to deal his enormous contract, but the lack of Carmelo also exposed how terrible and boring the team would be without him. If Anthony isn’t on the court, the Knicks best players are Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo. Not exactly the star power a team in New York is looking for, which means Anthony is necessary.
10 Oklahoma City Thunder – Kevin Durant
Much like Stephen Curry in Golden State, Kevin Durant has created a very special relationship with the community in Oklahoma City. The Thunder became a relevant franchise thanks to the ascension of Kevin Durant. Russell Westbrook is also a superstar but Durant is on another level, which he proved when winning the 2014 MVP Award. With Durant entering free agency next season, everyone will see just how loved he is in Oklahoma City as the fan base and organization will do everything in their power to keep him for the rest of his career.
9 Orlando Magic - Elfrid Payton
The very young Orlando Magic will need some of their prospects to mature into stars to make the progress they’re looking for. 21 year old point guard Elfrid Payton has the best chance at blossoming to a top player at his position. Payton’s rookie season was full of ups and downs last year but during his best period, Payton showed an ability to positively impact the game much more than fellow stars Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris. In fact, the other Magic starters all play their best when Payton sets them up with his facilitating and, for those reasons, Payton is the most valued and untouchable member of the Magic.
8 Philadelphia 76ers - Jahlil Okafor
The Philadelphia 76ers are a complete mess. They keep tanking but losing out in the draft lottery and the picks they do get, end up being injured talent. Joel Embiid has yet to take the court and is expected to miss another full season which gives rookie Jahlil Okafor a chance to get 30+ minutes per game in the front court. Okafor was the hottest name during the college basketball season and was expected to go #1 before slipping to third behind Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell. With an instant opportunity and the lack of talent on the roster, Philadelphia will invest fully into Okafor as their hopeful future superstar.
7 Phoenix Suns – Eric Bledsoe
Few teams are as confusing to figure out as the Phoenix Suns. They entered last season with point guards Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas on the roster and ended the year with just Bledsoe and Brandon Knight following trades. With the controversy involving the Morris twins and the signing of Tyson Chandler, it’s hard to understand who exactly they value most but Bledsoe is their best talent so he’s likely the most untouchable. Despite being in trade rumors last summer, the Suns decided to keep Bledsoe for a reason and that’s because he’s a very impressive presence on both sides of the floor.
6 Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard
The Portland Trail Blazers showed exactly who their most untouchable player was during the offseason. Known for their starting five over the last couple of years, none of the men are still on the team aside from Damian Lillard, who was given a long term contract extension. LaMarcus Aldridge left on his own accord despite Portland desperately wanting to keep him but the team had no interest in bringing back Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews or Nicolas Batum. The decision to rebuild after losing Aldridge and locking Lillard up for the foreseeable future was enough evidence to show how much they value Lillard’s place in the organization, especially going forward.
5 Sacramento Kings – DeMarcus Cousins
During the offseason, one of the hottest stories was Sacramento Kings head coach George Karl wanting to trade all-star center DeMarcus Cousins but ownership refusing. Karl has acknowledged being in the wrong which is indicative of how the organization views Cousins and for good reason. Cousins was one of the best offensive players in the entire league last season and often shows signs of being dominant. If the Kings can put a good supporting cast around him, in hopes of competing for a playoff spot, Cousins’ reputation would improve. Unless he flat out demands to leave the team or problems arise with Karl again, there’s no way the Kings will let anyone steal Cousins away from them.
4 San Antonio Spurs – Kawhi Leonard
For years, many wondered what the future of the San Antonio Spurs would look like when Tim Duncan started to lose his greatness. Well, Duncan has been swimming in the fountain of youth his entire career and has yet to stop being a tremendous power forward but the Spurs have found their next star. Kawhi Leonard dominated the 2014 NBA Finals over the Miami Heat and won the Finals MVP Award. Leonard has only built on that winning “Defensive Player of the Year” last season and becoming the primary option on the offense. The Spurs blueprint to success will continue as they make Leonard untouchable and their new leader for the next decade.
3 Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry
The recent success of the Toronto Raptors should be credited first to the leadership of Kyle Lowry. No one leaves it all on the floor as much Lowry with his work ethic and hustle plays leading to back-to-back Atlantic Division crowns. DeMar DeRozan has been an important piece of the puzzle and DeMarre Carroll should add a new dynamic to the team but the identity is crafted by Lowry’s play. If you take Kyle Lowry off of this team, you’re stripping away its heart and for that the Raptors will not mess with a good thing, especially since Lowry gave them a great deal when he signed a very modest contract.
2 Utah Jazz – Rudy Gobert
Remember the name Rudy Gobert, as he’s going to become a force in the NBA this season. Already emerging as a great defensive player, Gobert helped lead the Utah Jazz to surpass their very low expectations last season and become a respectable team again. Gobert should improve immensely and Utah may be able to contend for a playoff spot again thanks to the big man. Other young talents like Gordon Hayward, Dante Exum and Derrick Favors factor in the future plans but none of them are untouchable commodities. Gobert could easily blossom into an elite center and eventual All-Star with the right progression and the Jazz see that.
1 Washington Wizards – John Wall
John Wall took big steps forward last season, improving his defense and passing game. Wall averaged a double-double for the first time in his career with 17.6 points and 10 assists per game. Most importantly, Wall matured and played intelligently rather than making careless mental errors like he has in the past. With the Eastern Conference wide open after the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wall can lead the Wizards to the second seed. The Wizards have believed in Wall and he’s only getting better and better.