With summer dragging on and on and on before the NBA tips off, we’ve decided to initiate a multipart series that will be the definitive look at the best players in the NBA today.

Over lunch at the Outback Steakhouse (word to Steve Irwin), your crack SLAMonline.com staff sat down and ranked the 50 best players in the NBA today. We realize that’s kind of ambiguous, but that’s how basketball is and that’s how we like it. Basically, though, we tried to list the 50 guys we think have the most value to their teams, right now, at this moment. This doesn’t mean they’ll never be traded, and it doesn’t mean they’re due tremendous contract extensions, but it does mean — since value is king in the NBA — that over the next month or so we’ll run down the 50 guys that we think are the 50 best players, right here, right now.

Before long it’ll be time for our annual NBA team previews. Right now it’s time for some law and order…

10. Kevin Garnett
By Marcel Mutoni

Losing and failure to achieve one’s goals can do terrible things to a man. It can turn him against the world, and ultimately, himself. This is what I fear has slowly been happening to Kevin Garnett. The first signs started showing during the Lakers series in 2004 when he pushed Kobe and Shaq to a game 6 and had everyone tripping for a moment. He started saying things about how he needed to control his emotions and not let them control him; you could see him meditating and doing breathing exercises on the bench during timeouts; and when calls went against his team, he somehow kept his composure (recall that he got tossed in one of those games and barely said a word to the refs). Most saw this as a sign of maturation and growing up as a basketball player, and while I agreed with them (partially), I couldn’t help but feel that a part of who KG really is was dying. He was no longer the irrepressible man-child who lit up any arena the second he stepped foot in it by the sheer force of his personality. He was trying to become a cold-blooded assassin.

Flashes of the old KG had surfaced earlier in those playoffs. Recall game 7 of the first round, when Garnett and the Wolves finally shed the monkey off their back. While talking to reporters, before going out and destroying Webber and the Kings, Garnett showed why we fell in love with him in the first place: “It’s Game 7, man. That’s it. It’s for all the marbles….Sitting in the house, I’m loadin’ up the pump….I’m loadin’ up the Uzi. I got a couple M-16s, a couple 9s. I got a couple joints with some silencers on them…I’m just loading clips, a couple grenades. I got a missile launcher with a couple of missiles. I’m ready for war!”

Predictably, the critics savaged him in their columns and TV segments, but real heads knew where he was coming from and more importantly, realized that there was absolutely no way he was letting his team lose that game. 32 points and 21 rebounds later, what controversy?

Last season, not taking into account his commercials, I can probably count on both hands how many times I saw the man smile. Shit, Stringer Bell smiled more than KG. It was that kind of year; it’s turning into that kind of career. Losing will do that to you. Mismanagement will do that to you. By all indications, if things don’t change for the better in Minny, this is going to be Garnett’s last year as a Timberwolf. I can only hope that before it’s too late, Kevin Garnett heeds Scoop Jackson’s harrowing advice in SLAM from a couple of years ago (I’m paraphrasing here): “Don’t go dark on us, brah. Give us your light.”