There is an old saying that life isn’t always fair. That rule is no different when it comes to the world of the NBA. Numerous players in the league’s long history have yielded Hall of Fame individual statistics, yet they lack one key piece to add to their trophy collection. That would be the exclusive NBA championship.
Players like Karl Malone and Charles Barkley headline the “Greatest Players to Never Win a Championship” class. There are some current NBA stars that are getting dangerously close to joining that group. Some old, some new, these 10 players look to achieve the one criteria to avoid being donned with that title. These NBA players could realistically win their first ring this season.
Doncic is just 22 years old, so he has plenty of time to try and win his first championship. Will that be with the Dallas Mavericks? That remains to be unseen. Doncic receives honorable mention because if he was able to lead the Mavericks to a title, it would be just as improbable as when Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavs in 2011.
The Mavericks will always be a playoff-contending team with Doncic leading the way; however, the duo of Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis has not yielded the playoff results. The team has made the postseason twice and has been eliminated in the first round. Making the NBA Finals could be a stretch, but we shouldn’t completely doubt the man who will be in the conversation for MVP.
This entirely rests on if Kawhi Leonard comes back this year. Leonard was reportedly expected to miss a big part of the season due to surgery for a torn ACL. That surgery kept Leonard from participating in the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns. Had Leonard played, there’s valid evidence to support that the Clippers would have defeated the Suns and made their first-ever NBA Finals.
Instead, George had to carry the Clippers by himself in a series that reached six games. It appears that “Playoff P” has finally returned to full form. If Leonard can come back healthy, look out for the Clippers as a darkhorse to make a championship run.
It’s been a long time since Anthony has played for anything this meaningful. Back in his Nuggets days in 2009, Denver nearly took down the Lakers but fell to Kobe Bryant in six games. Since then, the farthest Anthony has made it was the second round with the New York Knicks in 2013.
Anthony has bounced around with the OKC Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers, but nothing more than a first-round playoff experience. With his role featuring him coming off the bench in a more Kyle Kover-like role, Anthony could be a key bench piece for a Lakers championship run. After all, it was Anthony that said “the timing was right.” Maybe, it will be time for the 37-year old to finally get the ring he never won.
Many fans want to dissect the play of Ben Simmons’ offensive struggles in the second round of the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks. What fans forget is that Simmons was an All-Star and runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year for a team that was the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Given what returns to the 76ers, there is no reason why the team couldn’t run it back to be the top dog in the east.
A lot of this falls on Simmons’ ability to translate production on offense. Simmons has been subject to trade rumors all offseason, but he remains with the team. Again, the 76ers were good enough to be ranked higher than both the Bucks and Nets last year. Don’t forget that.
It was roughly a year ago that the Miami Heat dismantled the Bucks and made the NBA Finals. Much of that core remains with Duncan Robinson resigning, Tyler Herro entering Year 3, Bam Adebayo looking like an All-Star, and the addition of Kyle Lowry. Would it surprise anyone in the league if the Heat led the league in defensive efficiency this season with Butler leading the way?
Butler is often forgotten about when top players in the league are talked about in the media. He is easily a top-10 player in the league and one of the best two-way players in the league. If the Heat can get back to the Finals, maybe their fortunes will turn towards championship rings.
Booker nearly won his first championship this past season as the Suns rose to the NBA Finals. Booker has risen to All-Star status and is one of the league’s best overall shooters. There were times that Booker was compared to the likes of Kobe Bryant and Steph Curry with his scoring abilities.
With that said, Booker shot down any Kobe comparisons. That was large because Booker has zero rings, while Bryant finished his career with five. The Suns bring the main core that made the Finals last year. Assuming Booker can play like an All-Star again, why can’t the Suns make it back to the Finals?
Speaking of making a run back to the finals, there isn’t a player that wants to make it back more than Chris Paul. The 36-year old is getting dangerously close to making the Mount Rushmore for players that have never won a championship. It took six games for the Bucks to beat the Suns in the Finals, including a 50-point game from Giannis Antetokounmpo. That was how close he was to get off this list.
Instead, he enters another year hoping to get that first ring. He could have taken less money and potentially joined up with close friend LeBron James in Los Angeles. Instead, he took a little less money and signed a four-year deal to stay in Phoenix. Paul wants to win on his terms, just like Giannis did in Milwaukee. You can’t fault him for giving it another try.
The MVP-runner up led the 76ers to their first No. 1 seed since the days of Allen Iverson. When it comes to Philadelphia legends, Embiid is likely going to be talked about with the likes of Iverson, Charles Barkley, and Hal Greer. However, outside of Greer, Embiid is treading water towards being like those former greats and being ringless.
Embiid has never played in the Conference Finals, making it as far as the second round two times. He was bounded by the quadruple bounce of Kawhi Leonard’s last shot, and then by Trae Young and the Cinderella Atlanta Hawks. Embiid could have won MVP last year if he didn’t get hurt. If he stays healthy the entire year, the 76ers could make a long playoff run.
It’s time that Russell Westbrook realized you don’t need to average a triple-double to win in this league. While nobody is saying what he did last year, as well as four times overall in his career, isn’t impressive, Westbrook is entering the final years of his prime without an appearance in the NBA Finals. The Lakers are his fourth team in four years, so at this point, it’s either now or never.
Westbrook will have his best surrounding cast since the days of playing Kevin Durant and James Harden. LeBron James and Anthony Davis won a ring without Westbrook in 2020. However, both players need Westbrook to help them win another. Both parties know what is at stake. Can Westbrook fill the void of being a role player though? If so, he could finally be a champion.
The MVP’s chances of winning a title, like Paul George, rest solely on if his partner in crime, Jamal Murray, will be healthy. Towards the end of the year, Murray tore his ACL. He is expected to come back sometime in 2022. The Nuggets do not need to rush him back because the combination of Jokic, Aaron Gordon, and Michael Porter Jr. is good enough to lead the Nuggets to a playoff spot.
If Murray can come back healthy in the playoffs, the Nuggets are a Conference Finals contender. After all, the Nuggets made the Conference Finals in 2020 before falling to the Lakers. That is precisely why the team acquired Gordon at the trade deadline to bolster the interior defense. With MPJ entering a contract year and potentially his best season, the full cast in Denver might be enough to make the NBA Finals.
There is no player with the best chance of getting off this list than James Harden. The starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Harden, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant, and Blake Griffin is fueled with NBA awards. The bench features Patty Mills, James Johnson, Bruce Brown, Nicolas Claxton, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Paul Millsap.
The veteran talent on this team is unbelievably deep. Players join teams for less money because they believe they have a chance to win a title. That’s exactly what Griffin, Aldridge, and Millsap did. With Durant leading the way, Harden could be the best No. 2 since Dwyane Wade playing with LeBron. That combo won two titles. All Harden needs is one.
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