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…

13. Gilbert Arenas

By Sam Rubenstein

If you didn’t know that Gilbert was whatever you want to call him, whether it’s quirky, enigmatic, normal in a crazy world, insane, brilliant in a stupid world, then you know now. This summer has brought us one piece after another about his persona, which is, let’s say different from what you expect from an NBA player. He’s won over alot of people’s hearts this summer because of any number of factoids about him, all of which paint the picture of the most unique personality in the league. Basketball-wise here are the facts: Of the four players that were scoring about 30 per game last year, Gilbert was the only one on a team with anything resembling balance. He doesn’t play defense and he has other guys on his team that can score and play their roles so all he has to worry about is offense, where he dominates. Now, since this was the summer of Gilbert in the media, we’ll step aside and you can re-read about his various eccentricities or whatever term you prefer to label him so he doesn’t get offended.

Esquire.

The more sobering Mike Wise article that Lang linked to this morning.

The original “altitude” news.

Don’t call him quirky.

Our Starting 5 with audio.

Behind the scenes of our KICKS cover shoot. Gilbert was there.