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…

25. Tony Parker
by Pascal Giberne

The first time I met TP, he was only 15 years old. Tony was the starting point guard of INSEP, a basketball team in France, and the kid was already murdering veteran players with his blazing speed and superior playmaking skills. While he was a promising young player, he didn’t get much buzz in Europe, and some NBA scouts had high school players like Andre Barrett and Omar Cook way ahead of him.

But Parker didn’t care. He was dreaming big and every time we talked basketball, he was asking me questions about the League: Iverson, Marbury, Kidd. “Tell me about Allen,” Tony would ask. “Is he that quick? How good is he? I don’t want to be like him, though I know I can score. Me, I want to become a true point guard. I really just want to help my team win…”

Did he ever. Looking at him now, nine years after I first saw him, it’s kind of scary. He is still murdering people, only now it’s not in a sub-par French pro basketball division but in the NBA. A regular at the Hollywood parties, thanks to sweetheart Eva Longoria, Tony has become a popular icon worldwide. Paparazzi loves him and he is now recognized as one of the most exciting point guards in the NBA.

And now, with Tony starting to shoot the ball like a sniper, the best is yet to come. Is there anything this kid can’t do?

Well…you know I love you Tony, and you’re my man, but how about stopping that rap thing? Really…