Prior to a recent Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder game, ESPN’s Tim Legler conducted a mock draft between the two franchises. Legler took the five best players from each team, which resulted in Kevin Durant being the number one pick. While it’s very difficult to argue the NBA analyst’s selection, it does leave room for a large debate. Here at EBONY, we’ve taken six of the NBA’s marquee players to raise the question, “Which current NBA Star would you build your franchise around?” Have a little fun and weigh-in!

LeBron James, SF Miami Heat

Career Averages: 27.6 ppg 7.2 reb 6.9 ast 1.7 stl .8 blk

Two-Time NBA MVP, Five-Time All NBA First Team, Three-Time All NBA Defensive First Team, Two-Time NBA All Star MVP, 2003-2004 NBA Rookie of the Year, Eight-Time NBA All-Star

Since entering the league in 2003, LeBron James has arguably been the biggest star that the NBA has seen since Michael Jordan. James entered the league directly from high school after being drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the number one overall pick. The 18-year-old phenom was immediately deemed the team’s leader, and eventually led a very surprising franchise to the NBA Finals in 2007 versus the San Antonio Spurs. Despite the Cavs falling short in the series, James’ abilities seemed to be reaching the next level. While no one can argue what the Akron native can do on the court, his ability to close out games has been widely criticized.

After spending the 2010-2011 season with the Miami Heat, James led the second seeded franchise to a finals re-match versus the Dallas Mavericks. The Heat entered the series as the heavy favorites with a huge amount of momentum. King James made tremendous strides in becoming a closer after shouldering the load and carrying his team passed the top seeded Chicago Bulls in a hard fought 4-1 Eastern Conference Finals win. However, as soon as the naysayers were quieted, LeBron completely faded at the most crucial time for the Heat. After averaging 24, 28 and 26 points per game in the three previous playoff series, James’s scoring average fell to 17.8 ppg in the NBA Finals.

While the two-time league MVP has had his shortcomings throughout his NBA career, his talent is undeniable. At 6’8 250lbs, the former scoring champ has the ability to do virtually anything on the basketball court. He can dominate on both offense and defense, while simultaneously making his teammates better. The star forward will always be heavily scrutinized until he proves that he can become a consistent closer, which will leave him virtually unstoppable. However at 27 and in the prime of his career, will James ever develop the killer instinct that has eluded him for 8 seasons?

Kobe Bryant, SG Los Angeles Lakers

Career Averages: 25.4 ppg 5.3 reb 4.7 ast 1.5 stl .5 blk

2008 NBA MVP, Two-Time NBA Finals MVP, Nine-Time All NBA First Team, Nine-Time All NBA Defensive First Team, Four-Time NBA All-Star MVP, Twelve-Time NBA All-Star

At 33 years of age, Kobe Bryant is showing no signs of slowing down at all. The Lakers star is currently leading the NBA in scoring with a 28.1 ppg average and has his team sitting in the number three seed in the Western Conference. Known as “The Black Mamba,” Kobe has become the heir apparent to Michael Jordan. Similar to Mike, Kobe was seen as just a scorer that didn’t make his teammates better and wasn’t strong enough on defense. Bryant went on to be named to the NBA’s All Defensive Team in nine of his 15 professional seasons. In addition to becoming one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, the Philadelphia native has amassed five NBA titles with two Finals MVP trophies to his credit.

Despite the Mamba’s accolades, he’ll be turning 34 in August and is nearing retirement. After being drafted 13th overall out of Lower Merion High School in 1996, Kobe has endured 15 grueling NBA seasons, which include 208 playoff games. Although he’s accumulated an excessive amount of mileage on his body, Bryant still embodies everything you want in a franchise player. He has successfully responded each time he was faced with adversity throughout his career. With so much experience under his belt, the NBA’s scoring leader has built a Hall of Fame resume thus far. However, at nearly 1,500 career games, would you build your franchise around the soon-to-be 34 year old shooting guard, today?

Kevin Durant, SF Oklahoma City Thunder

Career Averages: 26.2 ppg 6.6 reb 2.8 ast 1.2 stl 1 blk

Two-Time All NBA First Team, 2008 NBA Rookie of the Year, 2010 All-Star MVP, Two-Time NBA All-Star

Kevin Durant is one of the NBA’s brightest young stars in the league today. The defending scoring champ has his Oklahoma City Thunder team in a battle with the Spurs for the number one seed in the Western Conference. Durant is also second in the league in scoring with an average of 27.9 ppg, just shy of Kobe’s 28.1 average. At 6’9 235lbs, it’s difficult to find any weakness in KD’s game. The former University of Texas star has become an assassin in every sense of the word. Within his ability to accumulate points by the bunch, he’s managed to notch several game winning shots throughout his four year NBA career.

At age 23, “The Durantula” has helped his team to improve in each season. After leading the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals in 2011, they are the favorite to represent the West in the 2012 NBA Finals. With the immense talent and the killer instinct you expect of a franchise player, would Kevin Durant be your choice to build your future around?

Dwayne Wade, SG Miami Heat

Career Averages: 25.2 ppg 5.1 reb 6.2 ast 1.8 stl 1 blk

Two-Time All NBA First Team, Three-Time All NBA Defensive Second Team, 2006 NBA Finals MVP, 2010 NBA All-Star MVP, Seven-Time NBA All-Star

Although Allen Iverson created the blueprint for undersized shooting guards, the 6’4 220lb Dwayne Wade took it to the next level upon his entrance into the league in 2003. “The Flash” was taken by the Heat with the fifth pick in the draft, after leading the University of Marquette to a Final Four appearance the year before. Wade’s momentum continued throughout his pro career, directing the Heat to an NBA Championship in 2006 and being named the Finals MVP.

The eight year veteran has been a marquee player in the NBA, and would widely be seen as the best shooting guard in the game if not for one Kobe Bean Bryant. Wade has tasted both championship victory and defeat, after falling short to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals. The lone bright spot in last year’s loss was the play of the Chicago native. Wade experienced an awful shooting slump throughout the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bulls, but bounced back tremendously in the Championship series. The Flash raised his averages to 29 ppg, 8.7 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.7 blocks throughout the six game series. The irony of it all, this wasn’t the first time that Wade stepped up his play on the big stage. En route to earning his ’06 Finals MVP trophy, the former Marquette standout put on one of the greatest series runs in league history. The star guard averaged a mind-blowing 34.7 points per game, with just fewer than eight rebounds, four assists and three steals in a 4-2 series win.

While he may be seen as an undersized player for his position, D-Wade plays with an unmatched amount of tenacity, heart and an unwavering killer instinct. A seemingly fearless athlete, he gives his team 110 percent on each end of the court. The Chi-town baller would easily have been a perennial first team defensive player, if not for Kobe Bryant consistently snagging the honor. When playing at full strength, it’s hard to argue anyone’s selection of the 30 year old shooting guard to lead their franchise. Wade is undoubtedly seen as one of the game’s best closers, and may be on his way to a second finals MVP trophy if the Miami Heat fulfills expectations this time around.

Chris Paul, PG Los Angeles Clippers

Career Averages: 18.7 ppg 9.9 ast 4.5 reb 2.4 stl .1 blk

2008 All NBA First Team, 2009 All NBA Defensive First Team, 2006 NBA Rookie of the Year, Five-Time NBA All-Star

Since 2005, the NBA would be hard-pressed to find a better point guard than Chris Paul. After being taken with the fourth overall pick by the New Orleans Hornets, Paul has been the true definition of a franchise player. CP3, as he’s known around the league, single-handedly led the Hornets to their first ever division title in 2008 and the second seed in the western conference. After defeating the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, the Hornets pushed the 2007 defending champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games before falling short.

While playing as the floor general for the Hornets, the 26 year old turned the franchise into a contender despite very little surrounding talent. In his five seasons, the former Wake Forest standout led New Orleans to three playoff appearances and a division title. At the start of the lockout shortened 2011-2012 season, CP3 was dealt to the Los Angeles Clippers in a blockbuster trade. Paired with rising star Blake Griffin, the North Carolina native has turned a historically terrible franchise into the fourth seeded team in the western conference.

When a team invests in a franchise player, they assess an individual’s intangibles as much as they do his/her overall talent. Chris Paul possesses everything you look for in a point guard, with his ability to make everyone better and natural born leadership. Averaging just shy of 20 points, 10 assists and 3 steals per game; CP3 has been everything the Clippers could imagine. Similar to an NFL Quarterback, stability at the point guard position enables a franchise to fill in the pieces around him perfectly. Paul is poised to lead “Lob City” into the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

Dwight Howard, C Orlando Magic

Career Averages: 18.4 ppg 1.5 ast 13 reb 1 stl 2.2 blk

Three-Time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Four-Time All NBA First Team, Three-Time All NBA Defensive First Team, Six-Time NBA All-Star

Dwight Howard is the most dominant Center in the NBA since Shaquille O’neal. The 6’11 265lb big man exemplifies an anchor in a starting five having been named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in three of his seven professional seasons, and is poised to earn a fourth honor at the conclusion of this year.

Similar to LeBron James, Dwight Howard possesses a freakish amount of athletic ability for a person of his stature. His skill-set enables him to control the paint, which has made things very difficult for his opponents. Howard has displayed his game-changing abilities since being selected first overall in the 2004 NBA Draft. D-12’s arrival from Southwest Christian Academy high school in Atlanta meant he’d have a lot of growing to do. He proved to be a very fast learner and was nicknamed “Superman,” after donning the iconic superhero’s attire in the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest. Dwight earned six All-Star selections in his first seven seasons, which translated into making the Orlando Magic a legitimate contender in the NBA. The 2008-09 season saw Superman reach new heights, as he averaged 21 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks in route to Orlando’s first NBA Finals appearance since 1995. Although the Magic fell short against the Lakers, they fought hard in each of the five games in the series.

While it’s difficult to argue Dwight’s impact on the basketball court, his attitude has been the center of controversy as of late. Amidst trade rumors and a front office dispute, Howard has seemed to turn 2012 into an ongoing awkward moment. With his days in Orlando coming to a near close, he should continue to impact wherever he lands in the future. Considering his unique on-court ability and somewhat diva-like attitude, would Dwight Howard be your choice for building an NBA franchise?

The Editor’s Pick:

Each of these players listed would make excellent selections to build an awesome franchise. With all things considered, age and durability are key components in this decision. Kobe Bryant (34 in August) and Dwayne Wade (30), were naturally eliminated from contention, which was difficult with Wade being my favorite player in the league. LeBron James would arguably be the natural selection in most debates like this; however his lack of killer instinct is what scares me. His 2011 Finals disappearance did nothing to dispel his critics who seem to think he isn’t built for the big game. Dwight Howard is one of the very few true Centers’ in the league. However, his current display of character is enough to steer away the most loyal of supporters.

Ultimately my decision came down to Chris Paul and Kevin Durant. Each of these players are unquestioned leaders, exude unflappable confidence and make everyone around them better. With all things considered, I’d have to give the edge to Kevin Durant. He is one of the few players that is almost guaranteed to give you 28-32 points per night, and won’t flinch if the game comes down to the final shot. Durant is also improving on the defensive end of the court, as he continues to develop into an all-around NBA player. At only 23 years of age, “The Durantula” has yet to hit his prime, which is very scary!

Honorable Mentions: Carmelo Anthony SF (Knicks), Dirk Nowitzki PF (Mavs), Deron Williams PG (Nets)