Each NBA team’s all-time starting five, and which current players are most likely to eventually make the cut


With no live basketball to watch, NBA debate season is in full effect. The Michael Jordan documentary, “The Last Dance” has helped fuel much of it, with people wondering how His Airness would fare in the modern game, and what current stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry would have accomplished in his era.

One age-old debate that continues to rage is about each NBA team‘s all-time starting five. What would the best five-man unit look like for each franchise?

We went through this exercise before the 2018 season, but this seems like a great time to bring it back to the forefront with some updates. There weren’t a ton of changes to the actual teams, but players like Giannis Antetekounmpo and Rudy Gobert earned their spots over the past couple of years, which means some players had to get bumped. As a bonus, we also added the active players who have the best chance of one day cracking each franchise’s all-time lineup. Some have their places all but assured barring injury, while others are extreme long shots.

Alright, first thing’s first … the rules:

(PLEASE READ CAREFULLY BEFORE RIPPING US ON TWITTER):

1. In order to represent a team, a player must have played for the franchise for at least five seasons.
2. A player can only represent one team. For example, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can either be a Laker or a Buck, but not both.

The rules led to some excruciating decisions, but they also opened up the door for more players to be selected. The idea was to come up with five players who best represent your franchise and your franchise alone.

We tried as best we could to stick to the five traditional positions, but there had to be some leeway in order to get the best players in. Basically look at it this way: Could these five players be on the court together at the same time? In all cases the answer is yes, and in most cases it would lead to some incredibly entertaining results.

Let the debate begin.

Atlanta Hawks

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All-time starting five:

PG: Lenny Wilkens | SG: Lou Hudson | SF: Dominique Wilkins | PF: Bob Pettit | C: Dikembe Mutombo

Close calls: Al Horford has a legitimate case at center, having played nine seasons with the team and making four All-Star appearances, but Mutombo won three Defensive Player of the Year awards and made two All-NBA teams during his five seasons in Atlanta. Joe Johnson was a tough cut at shooting guard, but Hudson’s peak with the Hawks was better, including a second-team All-NBA appearance.

Active player most likely to join: Trae Young – The emerging point guard has all the makings of an eventual franchise hero, but there’s obviously a long way to go. Bumping Hudson and moving Wilkens to shooting guard seems like the most likely path.

Boston Celtics

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All-time starting five:

PG: Bob Cousy | SG: John Havlicek | SF: Larry Bird | PF: Paul Pierce | C: Bill Russell

Close calls: Kevin McHale and Sam Jones would have made it if we were more strict about the positions, but sliding Havlicek to two and Paul Pierce to four seemed reasonable given their size and skill sets. Dave Cowens also makes a strong case, but the Celtics are just too loaded.

Active player most likely to join: Jayson Tatum – I mean, we had to pick someone, but this is a near-impossible list to crack. Godspeed, Jayson.

Brooklyn Nets

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All-time starting five:

PG: Jason Kidd | SG: Otis Birdsong | SF: Richard Jefferson | PF: Buck Williams | C: Brook Lopez

Close calls: Derrick Coleman has a case at power forward, but Williams made three All-Star teams as a Net and Coleman’s legacy in New Jersey/Brooklyn is one of disappointment.

Active player most likely to join: Caris LeVert – Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are already on other teams, so that leaves LeVert, who could slide in at shooting guard for Birdsong with a long and healthy career, especially if the Nets have prolonged success.

Charlotte Hornets

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All-time starting five:

PG: Muggsy Bogues | SG: Kemba Walker | SF: Dell Curry | PF: Larry Johnson | C: Emeka Okafor

Close calls: The Hornets/Bobcats history makes it a bit tricky, but Gerald Wallace certainly has a case at small forward. Glen Rice and Alonzo Mourning are fondly remembered as Hornets, but each only played three seasons in Charlotte. Walker’s scoring ability would allow him to play shooting guard alongside Bogues in perhaps the smallest backcourt in NBA history.

Active player most likely to join: Cody Zeller – It’s hard to believe, but Zeller is eighth in career win shares with the Hornets, ahead of Okafor. A few more seasons with Charlotte, and Zeller might just earn the center spot.

Chicago Bulls

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All-time starting five:

PG: Derrick Rose | SG: Michael Jordan | SF: Scottie Pippen | PF: Bob Love | C: Artis Gilmore

Close calls: Shooting guard was a tough one, but outside of that the list pretty much wrote itself (kidding, in case your sarcasm detector is malfunctioning). Jordan wasn’t the only obvious pick, as Pippen and Gilmore are both Hall of Famers. Rose was on his way there until devastating injuries hit, and Love was a three-time All-Star. If you’re wondering where Dennis Rodman is, he only played three seasons in Chicago. Chet Walker was a four-time All-Star for the Bulls in the early 1970s, but he couldn’t unseat Pippen.

Active player most likely to join: Lauri Markkanen – We had to pick someone, and the path at power forward is much easier than the other four spots. We haven’t seen enough from Markkanen quite yet, but he’s probably the only active Bull with even a small chance.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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All-time starting five:

PG: Mark Price | SG: Kyrie Irving | SF: LeBron James | PF: Larry Nance | C: Brad Daugherty

Close calls: LeBron only played four seasons in Miami and is in his second with the Lakers, so there was no debate about putting him on the Cavs’ all-time team. Austin Carr has a case at shooting guard, but Kyrie had four All-Star appearances as a Cav to Carr’s one, and helped bring the Cavs their only title. Irving is more than capable of playing off the ball, as he displayed in three seasons with LeBron, so we’ll put him alongside Price.

Active player most likely to join: Tristan Thompson – We haven’t seen enough from the young Cavs yet and Kevin Love is on the Timberwolves’ all-time team, so Thompson becomes the most likely — though he’ll need some monster seasons to close out his career for it to happen.

Dallas Mavericks

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All-time starting five:

PG: Derek Harper | SG: Rolando Blackman | SF: Mark Aguirre | PF: Dirk Nowitzki | C: Sam Perkins

Close calls: Steve Nash was more than worthy at point guard, but he had to be placed on the Suns’ all-time squad. Michael Finley was considered at shooting guard, but Blackman made one more All-Star Game and played two more seasons in Dallas. Perkins was more of a power forward in his days with the Mavs, but we know he could have been an excellent stretch-five. His stiffest competition at center was Shawn Bradley, so … yeah.

Active player most likely to join: Luka Doncic – Barring injury, Luka could take one of the guard spots as soon as he hits five years of NBA service. When all is said and done, he could compete with Dirk as the greatest Maverick of all time.

Denver Nuggets

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All-time starting five:

PG: Fat Lever | SG: David Thompson | SF: Alex English | PF: Carmelo Anthony | C: Dan Issel

Close calls: Dikembe Mutombo could be the Nuggets’ most famous center, but his best years were in Atlanta and Issel may have beaten him out anyway with his Hall of Fame credentials. Anthony and English would be one of the best scoring frontcourts in NBA history, with Thompson and Lever providing excitement from the backcourt. This would be a fun team to watch.

Active player most likely to join: Nikola Jokic – Issel is a Hall of Famer but Jokic is well on his way to supplanting him at center, particularly since Issel’s best seasons were in the ABA.

Detroit Pistons

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All-time starting five:

PG: Isiah Thomas | SG: Joe Dumars | SF: Grant Hill | PF: Bob Lanier | C: Bill Laimbeer

Close calls: It seems like a crime to leave Chauncey Billups off the squad, but there’s just no room for him with Thomas and Dumars. It was super tight between Ben Wallace and Bill Laimbeer (both four-time All-Stars), but ultimately Laimbeer’s two-way ability made him slightly more qualified than the defensive specialist Wallace. Laimbeer’s shooting makes him a better fit alongside the out-of-position Lanier as well.

Active player most likely to join: Andre Drummond – His days in Detroit are over for now, but perhaps Drummond’s huge statistical seasons will look better as they age. 

Golden State Warriors

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All-time starting five:

PG: Stephen Curry | SG: Klay Thompson | SF: Rick Barry | PF: Paul Arizin | C: Wilt Chamberlain

Close calls: Talk about an offensive juggernaut. The only position up for debate was power forward, where Nate Thurmond has a very strong case, and Draymond Green is probably a couple more seasons away from earning the spot. Since the Warriors perfected small-ball, it’s only fitting that their all-time starting five would employ the same strategy, so we went with Arizin, a 10-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA selection, alongside Barry.

Active player most likely to join: Draymond Green – He’ll likely disagree, but Green is still a couple of good seasons away from taking over Arizin’s spot.

Houston Rockets

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All-time starting five:

PG: Calvin Murphy | SG: James Harden | SF: Tracy McGrady | PF: Moses Malone | C: Hakeem Olajuwon

Close calls: Malone is probably best remembered as a 76er, but he only had four great seasons there as opposed to five in Houston, and his best individual season was in Houston (31.1 ppg, 14.7 rpg, MVP) in 1980-81. His fit alongside Olajuwon would be incredibly fun to watch. Rudy Tomjanovich was considered at small forward, but ultimately couldn’t compete with McGrady’s peak seasons.

Active player most likely to join: None – PJ Tucker is probably the closest, but no chance.

Indiana Pacers

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All-time starting five:

PG: Mark Jackson | SG: Reggie Miller | SF: Paul George | PF: Jermaine O’Neal | C: Rik Smits

Close calls: Chuck Person was knocking at the door at small forward or even power forward, but ultimately the two-way ability of George and O’Neal won out. It’s a toss-up at point guard between Jackson and Vern Fleming, but Jackson led the team to its only NBA Finals appearance while ranking consistently among the league leaders in assists.

Active player most likely to join: Victor Oladipo – He’ll need to get back to full health, but Oladipo could eventually make the list if he leads the Pacers to playoff success.

Los Angeles Clippers

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All-time starting five:

PG: Randy Smith | SG: Ron Harper | SF: Danny Manning | PF: Blake Griffin | C: Bob McAdoo

Close calls: It was a close call, but we decided to put Chris Paul on the Pelicans/Hornets, which cleared the way for Smith, a two-time All-Star with the Buffalo Braves before they moved to California. Elton Brand deserves to be on this list, but Griffin’s multiple All-Star appearances and All-NBA selections give him the edge. Corey Maggette also gets an honorable mention at small forward.

Active player most likely to join: Lou Williams – He’s only in his third season with the Clippers, but Williams could slide in at point guard or shooting guard if he continues his prolific bench scoring and the Clippers have postseason success.

Los Angeles Lakers

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All-time starting five:

PG: Magic Johnson | SG: Jerry West | SF: Kobe Bryant | PF: Elgin Baylor | C: Shaquille O’Neal

Close calls: Were it not for Kareem’s brilliance with the Bucks, he’d be the center here. Instead we go with Shaq, who had three of the most dominant years of any big man in NBA history while leading the Lakers to back-to-back-to-back titles from 2000-2002. There’s some positional finagling going on with West, Bryant and Baylor, but there’s no way we could leave any of them off. Snubs include George Mikan, James Worthy, Pau Gasol, Jamaal Wilkes and Gail Goodrich, but there’s just no room in this franchise.

Active player most likely to join: Anthony Davis – LeBron is on the Cavs’ all-time team, so that leaves us with Davis, who could conceivably crack the list of Laker greats if he stays healthy and continues to improve. It’s a long shot, but he certainly has the talent.

Memphis Grizzlies

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All-time starting five:

PG: Mike Conley | SG: Tony Allen | SF: Mike Miller | PF: Zach Randolph | C: Marc Gasol

Close calls: No surprise that four of the five members come from the “Grit N’ Grind” era, the only period of sustained success in Grizzlies history. Pau Gasol had better statistical years than Randolph, but Z-Bo probably means more to the franchise and played on better teams. Rudy Gay also has a case at small forward, but isn’t remembered nearly as fondly as Miller.

Active player most likely to join: Ja Morant – He’s less than a year into his career, but Morant has shown potential to crack the list, probably replacing Allen in the second guard spot or sliding Allen to small forward and bumping Miller.

Miami Heat

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All-time starting five:

PG: Tim Hardaway | SG: Dwyane Wade | SF: Glen Rice | PF: Udonis Haslem | C: Alonzo Mourning

Close calls: Chris Bosh is obviously much better than Haslem, but Bosh had to be on the Raptors. So that meant it was between Haslem and Grant Long for power forward, and Haslem easily wins that one. One could argue for Eddie Jones over Rice, but it’s a tough sell.

Active player most likely to join: Bam Adebayo – He’s just emerging in his third season, but given the lack of stars at power forward, Adebayo could eventually take the spot. Jimmy Butler also has a chance to eclipse Rice at small forward.

Milwaukee Bucks

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All-time starting five:

PG: Sidney Moncrief | SG: Ray Allen | SF: Marques Johnson | PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo | C: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Close calls: Two years ago Giannis wasn’t on this list, but likely back-to-back MVPs make him a clear-cut selection, bumping out Bob Dandridge. Bucks fans also get to claim Kareem, who is placed here instead of the Lakers for his six thoroughly dominant seasons, including three MVP awards and leading Milwaukee to its only NBA title in 1971. Two-time All-Star Glenn Robinson has a case at small forward, and Sam Cassell was excellent in his five seasons in Milwaukee, but ultimately Johnson and Moncrief are more iconic Bucks. Oscar Robertson only played four seasons with the Bucks to end his career, so he wasn’t eligible.

Active player most likely to join: Khris Middleton – Given the current trajectory of both Middleton and the Bucks, he could eventually end up on the team in the small forward slot.

Minnesota Timberwolves

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All-time starting five:

PG: Ricky Rubio | SG: Doug West | SF: Wally Szczerbiak | PF: Kevin Love | C: Kevin Garnett

Close calls: Only a handful of players have spent at least five seasons in Minnesota, so it was slim pickings outside of the Kevins. Sam Mitchell gets the longevity award at small forward, but ultimately Szczerbiak was more effective. As for the guards, the only other real options were Corey Brewer, Anthony Peeler, Troy Hudson and Micheal Williams. Yikes. Andrew Wiggins could have been in contention if he weren’t traded to the Warriors.

Active player most likely to join: Karl-Anthony Towns – Too bad Towns isn’t a guard or small forward, but he could still eventually take over for Love or Garnett if he continues on his current path.

New Orleans Pelicans

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All-time starting five:

PG: Chris Paul | SG: Jrue Holiday | SF: Eric Gordon | PF: David West | C: Anthony Davis

Close calls: Again, because of the strange Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets history, we only get to choose from New Orleans Hornets and Pelicans, not the old Charlotte Hornets … even though that’s actually the same franchise. Confused yet? Long story short, it limited the options to eight players who have played at least five seasons, and Peja Stojakovic made the Kings’ all-time lineup, with the other two being Darius Miller and Jason Smith. As a result, we had to move Gordon to small forward, but he’s played there with the Rockets for stretches so we know he’s capable. It’s easy when there’s no debate.

Active player most likely to join: Zion Williamson – He’s only played 19 NBA games, but the potential is obvious. 

New York Knicks

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All-time starting five:

PG: Walt Frazier | SG: Earl Monroe | SF: Bernard King | PF: Willis Reed | C: Patrick Ewing

Close calls: An iconic Knick who helped bring New York its last NBA title in 1973,  Earl Monroe was bumped off the Wizards team by Bradley Beal, so he replaces Richie Guerin at shooting guard. Technically King only played four seasons in New York, but he was on the team for five seasons (missed one due to injury) so we’ll count it. Allan Houston has a case at shooting guard, but he isn’t remembered as fondly as Monroe. Harry Gallatin had a great career, but just ran into too much competition from King and Reed.

Active player most likely to join: RJ Barrett – It’s way too early to tell, but it seems like Barrett is the only active player with any chance.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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Oklahoma City Thunder

All-time starting five:

PG: Gary Payton | SG: Russell Westbrook | SF: Kevin Durant | PF: Shawn Kemp | C: Jack Sikma

Close calls: Lest we forget, the Thunder used to be the Seattle SuperSonics, which gives them a pretty stacked team. Ray Allen had five great seasons in Seattle, but loses out to Westbrook’s MVP season and triple-double wizardry. Players like Spencer Haywood, Rashard Lewis and Detlef Schrempf also come to mind, but there’s just nowhere to put them.

Active player most likely to join: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – It’s going to be tough to crack this lineup, but SGA has shown incredible potential in his first season in OKC.

Orlando Magic

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All-time starting five:

PG: Jameer Nelson | SG: Anfernee Hardaway | SF: Nick Anderson | PF: Horace Grant | C: Dwight Howard

Close calls: Two of the franchise’s best players, Shaquille O’Neal and Tracy McGrady, each only played four seasons in Orlando and were therefore placed on other teams. Darrell Armstrong makes a case at point guard, but Nelson helped lead his team to the Finals. Hedo Turkoglu had some great years with the Magic, but a failed PED test tarnishes his legacy a bit.

Active player most likely to join: Nikola Vucevic – He’s already sixth in Magic history in career win shares, so Vucevic could make a case if he stays with Orlando for a while.

Philadelphia 76ers

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All-time starting five:

PG: Allen Iverson | SG: Hal Greer | SF: Julius Erving | PF: Charles Barkley | C: Dolph Schayes

Close calls: Moses Malone is the most glaring omission, but he ended up on the Rockets (see Houston’s entry for explanation). Other than that, Billy Cunningham probably has the best argument, but he’s stuck behind Barkley and Dr. J. Similarly, no chance Mo Cheeks was beating out Iverson or Greer.

Active player most likely to join: Joel Embiid – Trust the process, if he can stay healthy. Still just 26, Embiid has the chance to be the best center in franchise history.

Phoenix Suns

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All-time starting five:

PG: Steve Nash | SG: Kevin Johnson | SF: Walter Davis | PF: Shawn Marion | C: Amar’e Stoudemire

Close calls: Charles Barkley had his best years with the Suns, including an MVP and a Finals appearance, but he only played four seasons with the team. It was a tough call at shooting guard between Johnson and Paul Westphal, but Johnson averaging over 20 points and 10 assists for multiple seasons is hard to ignore. Alvan Adams is probably the biggest snub here, but Marion (four) and Stoudemire (five) each made more All-Star teams as members of the Suns than Adams’ one appearance.

Active player most likely to join: Devin Booker – He’ll need to lead some winning teams, but Booker is the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future and should put up some huge career numbers.

Portland Trail Blazers

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All-time starting five:

PG: Damian Lillard | SG: Clyde Drexler | SF: Jerome Kersey | PF: LaMarcus Aldridge | C: Bill Walton

Close calls: Walton gets the five-year qualification even though he only technically played four seasons with the Blazers (he missed one due to injury). Rasheed Wallace has a case at power forward, but Aldridge’s four All-Star appearances with Portland trump Wallace’s two. Kiki Vandeweghe had five strong years with the Blazers, but Kersey was a key cog on some of the best teams in franchise history. By that logic you could argue for Terry Porter to take Lillard’s place, but Lillard’s All-NBA selections push him over the edge.

Active player most likely to join: CJ McCollum – With a few more strong seasons, McCollum could take over at shooting guard, with Drexler silding to small forward instead of Kersey.

Sacramento Kings

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All-time starting five:

PG: Tiny Archibald | SG: Oscar Robertson | SF: Peja Stojakovic | PF: Chris Webber | C: Jerry Lucas

Close calls: Jack Twyman probably has the best case here as a Hall of Famer who put up big scoring numbers in the 1950s, but Stojakovic is associated with those great Kings teams of the early 2000s that were legitimate title contenders. Mitch Richmond had six All-Star seasons in Sacramento, but couldn’t unseat Robertson or Archibald. Had DeMarcus Cousins played a few more seasons with the Kings, he’d be in the mix at center, but Lucas is a Hall of Famer and five-time All-NBA performer.

Active player most likely to join: De’Aaron Fox – The Kings appear to be on the upswing, so if Fox can lead them to some playoff success, he could eventually be considered for the list.

San Antonio Spurs

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All-time starting five:

PG: Tony Parker | SG: Manu Ginobili | SF: George Gervin | PF: Tim Duncan | C: David Robinson

Close calls: This might be the only franchise where there’s pretty much zero debate about the list. The only case you can really make is for Kawhi Leonard over Gervin due to his NBA Finals MVP and two Defensive Player of the Year awards, but Gervin made nine All-Star teams and led the league in scoring four times. Plus, Leonard had a bitter breakup with the franchise and has since played for two different teams.

Active player most likely to join: None – Let’s not waste our breath here. With DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge both on different all-time teams, there are really no active Spurs to consider.

Toronto Raptors

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All-time starting five:

PG: Kyle Lowry | SG: DeMar DeRozan | SF: Vince Carter | PF: Chris Bosh | C: Antonio Davis

Close calls: Not much argument here, with four of the five starters already designated as (young) franchise legends. Kawhi Leonard will fondly be remembered by Raptors fans for bringing them their first NBA title, but that will likely be his only season with the franchise, so he doesn’t qualify.

Active player most likely to join: Pascal Siakam – A homegrown talent who just keeps improving, Siakam could help usher in the next wave of Raptors success. He could eventually take over for Bosh, who we could put on the Heat team.

Utah Jazz

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All-time starting five:

PG: John Stockton | SG: Pete Maravich | SF: Adrian Dantley | PF: Karl Malone | C: Rudy Gobert

Close calls: Mark Eaton originally had the center spot, but Gobert has supplanted him over the last two seasons with back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards to go with his two All-NBA selections and one All-Star appearance. Andrei Kirilenko might be worthy of inclusion, but he’s not unseating Malone.

Active player most likely to join: Donovan Mitchell – By all accounts, Mitchell will sign a long-term deal to stay in Utah and continue to be the face of the Jazz. Maravich didn’t have an extended peak with the Jazz (five-plus seasons), so that spot could be Mitchell’s for the taking.

Washington Wizards

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All-time starting five:

PG: John Wall | SG: Bradley Beal | SF: Gus Johnson | PF: Elvin Hayes | C: Wes Unseld

Close calls: Beal makes his way into the lineup, unseating Earl Monroe (who we moved to the Knicks squad). Hall of Famer Walt Bellamy has a case at center or power forward, but Unseld and Hayes were key members of the Wizards/Bullets’ only title in 1978. Gilbert Arenas had three All-NBA seasons for Washington, but doesn’t have Wall’s longevity. Antawn Jamison was also considered at small forward, but Johnson had five All-Star appearances to Jamison’s two.

Active player most likely to join: None – With Beal and Wall already on the team, none of the other Wizards can really be considered at this point in their careers.





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