With the NBA Finals in full swing, there is only one thing on everyone’s mind: rings. Players like Jayson Tatum, Andrew Wiggins, and Al Horford have the opportunity to earn their first piece of hardware. Then you have the Warriors’ Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, & Steph Curry who could each snag their fourth!
Every year, the Finals gets me thinking about all of the other superstar NBA players who never earned the title of champion. It is no secret that the benchmark for most superstars is whether or not they have a ring. Especially in today’s debates. For some players, there is even a debate on why they didn’t earn more rings. When I think about all of the great players who have played in the NBA that should have won a ring, there are a few that come to mind.
The Importance Of Rings
You see it in every debate. Who is the GOAT? Who is the best PG? Who is the best scorer? Doesn’t matter, always comes back to rings. Now more than ever, championships are what make a player great even though it is a team accomplishment. Kind of like how QBs have a “wins and losses” stat, it just doesn’t make a ton of sense. The superstars get all the credit – see The Last Dance – and it has become the most important part of their resume.
If a player wants to be great, they need a chip. While I personally believe a player’s career success is not determined by championships, it is obviously a key contributor. I mean, what else do they play the game for if not to be the best? Players will tell you how much a title means to them, and fans will be just as quick with dismissal if they don’t have one.
The Door Is Still Open
Now, there are several players that come to mind that actually still have a shot at the prize. I am going to refrain from running through the obvious rookies and players under 30 and focus on the superstars who still need to get over the hump before their short windows close.
Most of these guys are guards, and I believe that is due to the nature of today’s game being so guard-oriented. Let’s start with the most obvious, and that is Chris Paul. CP3 has been in the league for 17 seasons and already has a Hall of Fame resume. Not only has he led the NBA in steals and assists multiple times each, but he has also been a part of 11 All-NBA teams and nine All-Defense teams.
CP3 is a baller, but it seems he comes up short every year. Which incredibly hard to watch because he is my favorite player, but the good news is that the door is still open. He was knocking on the door several times with the Clippers and Rockets, but he finally made an NBA Finals with the Phoenix Suns in 2021 only to lose game seven to the Bucks. After dropping a game seven to the Dallas Mavericks, this Suns team may have one more run left, and it could be CP3’s last run as well.
Speaking of CP3 and the Rockets, James Harden is still searching for the title of NBA Champion. After losing to LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and the rest of the Miami Heat in 2012, The Beard was shipped out from OKC to Houston. In Houston, he had some great success but was never able to make an NBA Finals appearance.
Even when CP3 made his way to Houston, the two set a record for wins with the Rockets, but could not overcome the Warriors in the West. An MVP trophy and several gut-wrenching losses in Houston later, he ends up a Brooklyn Net with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They even got Blake Griffin to join them in BK, but it was still not enough to secure a Finals birth.
Now, The Beard is in Philly with Joel Embiid and you can see him exiting his prime. He may have a season or two left as a key contributor for a team, but we may soon see Harden back in the sixth man role that got him his recognition in the first place before we see him win a chip.
Coming out in 2003 with a class that included LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Bosh, and others, expectations were obviously high. For nearly two decades we have seen Carmelo Anthony dominate the NBA. As one of the more dangerous scorers in NBA history, it is shocking that he has not been a part of a Finals team. From his days in Denver with the Nuggets to the end of his days in the Big Apple, Melo has had no shortage of talent around him.
Since leaving the Knicks, Melo has bounced around the league, joining teams with high hopes that ultimately fell short. Stints in OKC, Houston, and Portland all ended in the same result as other years. He finally gets an opportunity in LA to win a championship and they pull the ultimate choke job throughout the season.
While Melo still has a season or two where he can contribute off the bench as a scorer, his time in the league is coming to an end. If he is not able to get it done with a contender soon, he could go down as one of the best players to miss out on a ring. I hope he is able to close the deal in 2023.
Dame Dolla has been one of the most exciting players in the league over the last decade. After putting on some March Madness heroics at Weber State, Lillard quickly becae a lottery pick and proved why from the jump. Forming one of the best back court duos with fellow mid-major alumn, CJ McCollum, Portland was a threat to make a run for a number of years.
Unfortunately, despite some insane buzzer beaters, they were never able to make it to a Finals searies and CJ was shipped out to New Orleans breaking up the duo. Now, heading into the 2022-23 season, the Trailblazers have some work to do if they want to see Lillard capture his first ring in Portland.
With some rumors suggesting Dame could be on his way out of Portland, they will need to secure a big name if they plan on keping him in town. While he has been adamant about finishing his career in Portland, things can change in an instant as they have for so many other NBA stars. A chip would immediately catapult him into the top PG of all-time coversation. So, whether he leaves Portland or recruits another big name player, like Brad Beal or Zach Levine, Lillard has to lock in a ring before it is too late.
It feels like Paul George is much older than he is because of how long he has been in the league. At just 31 years old, PG13 wrapped up his 12th season in the NBA this year. He has gone from battling the LeBron-led Heat and Cavaliers teams with the Pacers, to scrapping it out in a stacked Western Conference. Now with the Clippers, he has some work to do to capture a ring.
Known as Playoff P, the nickname has not been a good one. PG is noticeably worse in playoff performances and it has shown in his last few runs. Although he is currently paired with one of the best two-way players in the league, Kawhi Leonard, he has not been able to lead the Clippers to a Finals appearance. Kawhi tore his ACL in 2021-22 season, so they get a pass this year as Leonard missed the entire season recovering. But come October, some things will need to change in LA or Paul George may see another championship window close on him.
Check out some of Dan’s other Stadium Rant content here. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_tf40 and check in with his podcast The Fastest 40 on Spotify, Anchor, Apple Podcasts, & anywhere you listen to podcasts!