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…

3. Dwyane Wade
By The Floor, as told to Jake Appleman

Not to sound clichéd, but when Applesauce told me he needed to interview me for the Slamonline top 50, I was like, “Write your own damn article! Quit stepping on me. I’m 94 by 50, this is going to be more scattered than Chucky Brown.”

And he was like, “Dude, I just don’t have the time. How can I find the right thing to say about a guy as revolutionary as D-Wade without going straight to the source? After all, I got this weekly Spanish league football/soccer column that 12 people are really into, and I got a busy weekend coming up.”

So feeling the friction—this is after all a normal occurrence for me; squeak, squeak and shit—I put up my final protest. I boricua-yelped like Gloria in White Men Can’t Jump and was like:

Why you think you can just walk all over me? You a hypocrite. I haven’t seen ya rusty ass in like 3 years; I haven’t given you burn in like 5 years. And you think you can just get my free opinion on one of my best friends, because you have a laptop, a deadline, and nothing to lose?

Anyway, I agreed. Because I love talking about Dwyane Wade. But I let him know that I’m sick and tired of people taking advantage of me without paying up. Converse used all that damn footage of me and Dwyane through the years for that “fall down 7 times, get up 8 times” campaign and I didn’t see any new shine! No polish, no new paint. Nothing! And then right after I called their reps, I got replaced by an ice rink for a week!

I told ‘em, too. I was like, “Go get Spike Lee and do a real commercial. Quit cutting highlights and making D-Wade money off of our relationship. Wood is bond, no unavoidable sexual innuendo intended.”

But you asked about our friendship and that’s what we’re here to talk about. For somebody that comes crashing to the ground so much, D-Wade has incredible balance, and I mean that in every way.

For starters, not only is he lightening with the ball, people forget that his mental acuity is right there with his flash. In the midst of all the late-game pandemonium, he’s savvy enough to recognize when to attack and when to involve his teammates. He knows that he can balance every fearless foray to the tin with a stepback J. He knows that for every time he risks his body while he’s young, the work he’s putting in on his 3-ball will balance that out and add some longevity to his already brilliant career.

He’s style and substance, smiles and smarts. For every wide “50 Most Beautiful people” grin, there’s an unparalleled knowledge of how to use the glass—I’d go as far as saying the window might know him even better than I do. For every highlight dunk, there’s this scientific, uncanny understanding of spacing; after he lulls you to sleep, he’ll always use his quickness to find the extra space on the floor to free himself for a jumper. For all the toothy, “aw shucks” innocence, there are hundreds of victims that suddenly realize that they just had their pockets picked.

He doesn’t have to blow directly by you, he can cross you up. He doesn’t have dodge you, he can go right at you. Balance, my friends. Balance.

And despite how much is made of our relationship when he comes crashing into me, few realize how often he eludes defenders and avoids the hits that would really hurt. His athleticism is that of an acrobat, and much of that has to do with this incredible sense of balance. He sees everything and he’s gifted enough to contort his body accordingly.

D-Wade isn’t just an island of solitary dominance that ISOS you to death when it really counts. He works with the system so that he can get the most out of the system and so the system can maximize his seemingly infinite abilities. He lets Shaq lead with his voice and he leads by example. Dwyane Wade is the air that counterbalances the carbon monoxide emitted from other Heated egos.

Most of all, he knows that his hard work will be rewarded. Did it ever strike you as odd that the guy that spent the most time crashing to the ground is also the one that appears on the Cover of GQ with his shirt off? That’s not a coincidence.

Along those same eerie lines, he knew that if he spent enough time hustling, I’d help to get him the call that would change the series. It’s not all about the officials, the superstar treatment and the Sternbot. There’s some karma there, too.

All of this flattery and he still flys under the radar in the LeBron/Kobe debate. We revel in Bron’s hype, we ponder Kobe’s enigmatic ways, and because Dwyane Wade is too good to be true, many of us outside Miami are numb to him.

I’m gushing, maybe you can tell. But after all, I’ve looked up to D-Wade for a while now. Ya’ll will continue to sleep on him (comparatively), but when June comes he’ll have the floor once again.

I mean, I’d say he’s the best player in the NBA, but what do I know, I’m only his pillow.

But who knows, you’re asking a floor to define a ceiling that doesn’t really exist yet.