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…

38. Sam Cassell

By Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell, as told to Sam Rubenstein

Sam Cassell is probably the most underrated player in the history of the NBA. The guy only went to one all star game. That’s incredible. People don’t give the point guard enough respect in the NBA. You look at Sam, he takes the worst teams in the world and goes there and changes the s–t around. Not only with their play, but with their personality.

I talked to Sam, and he said to me “I like getting traded. I get a f–kin bonus everytime I get traded. The first thing I did when I went to L.A., I told the big man you gonna cuss me out, and I’m gonna cuss you out. If I do something wrong, you straighten me. If you do something wrong, I’m gonna straighten you. And everybody else gonna fall in line here.” That’s a point guard. You gotta have the repsect of your team. You gotta see if a guy got some heart, if they will follow him. Any team Sam was on, they would follow him. In the biggest brawl ever in Compton, LA, they’d be ready to kill everybody, That’s what kind of guy he is.