The NBA Finals has been one of the most anticipated sporting events today. It is a seven-game series and the emotion and passion alone from the players is entertaining enough. With the scrutiny of the entire globe, it is hard to imagine the pressure to perform well for both the players and the coaches.
Year after year, we see different teams make it to the Finals with identities unique to their own; the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls in the '90s, the ball movement heavy San Antonio Spurs of the '00s, and lately the best shooting team of all time in the Golden State Warriors.
While it is easy to point to a single player and say he is the reason they won the championship, we still have to remember all 15 players in a team contributed for more than 82 games including the regular season. So yes even the guy that logged in zero minutes in the Finals must get credit for helping his team win but where is the fun in doing that?
This list will look at the players that played poorly for their respective championship teams. Here are 10 NBA players from the '90s who don't deserve their championship rings, and 10 from the '00s who don't.
20 John Salley – Detroit Pistons (1990)
1990 is a much different time in contrast today. Here is a fun little tidbit, in early 1990 an animated series finished its first season, the series is called The Simpsons you might have heard of it. The NBA itself saw an evolution, no longer do we see the stars of the ’80s like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson dominate the same way, and it seemed as though it was to pave way for the new guard. The 1990 Finals saw the Detroit Pistons beat the Los Angeles Lakers in five games.
One Piston that played particularly poorly that series was John Salley. Salley averaged 6.6 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game in 28.6 minutes per game while shooting an abysmal 37.5% from the field.
19 Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers (2000)
A popular debate back then and even to this day is whose team was the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 2000s. On one side we had Kobe Bryant, a young athletic scoring guard and on the other side, we had Shaquille O’Neal, the most dominant player in the history of basketball.
During the 2000 Finals, it was clear as day it was still Shaq’s team. Bryant had a poor Finals against the Indiana Pacers as he averaged 15.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 4.2 APG while chucking it up at only 36.7% from the field and 20% from three in six games.
18 Brian Shaw – Los Angeles Lakers (2001)
The second championship run for the Los Angeles Lakers was sprinkled with a couple of interesting storylines. First of we had the fabled 15-1 run in the playoffs as the most dominant team at the time, and next, we had Allen Iverson and his awe-inspiring 48 points in game one to give the Lakers their first loss in the playoffs.
Amidst the story and drama, Brian Shaw was quietly having a bad Finals run as the aging point guard averaged 3.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, and 2.8 APG on only 30% shooting from the field. Despite the poor performance from the backup, the 2001 Lakers are still considered one of the best teams of all-time.
17 Mark Aguirre – Detroit Pistons (1990)
If you are not familiar with Mark Aguirre, he was a short but bulky small forward for the Dallas Mavericks and the Detroit Pistons. Aguirre even had a season where he averaged 29.5 PPG while shooting over 50% from the field. The guy could absolutely score the ball.
So in 1990, everyone looked at him as the second or third option as a scorer but ultimately he, along with Salley, was disappointing. Aguirre averaged 9.6 PPG on 33% from the field, while during the regular season, he averaged 14.1 PPG on 48.8% shooting. Simply put, Mark underperformed, but luckily for him, the Pistons still won the championship that year despite his poor play.
16 Tyronn Lue – Los Angeles Lakers (2001)
Remember what we said about Allen Iverson and his amazing performance? One of the best moments in NBA history came with AI and Tyronn Lue. Lue seemingly had AI’s number as he forced tough shots after tough shots from the MVP but alas, late in the game Iverson found himself isolated in front of the Lakers bench with Lue guarding him, AI stared Lue dead in the eyes and faked a hard baseline drive, then in one motion, pulled the ball back between his legs as he hit the tough jump shot sealing the game for the Philadelphia 76ers. After the shot, AI stepped over Tyronn Lue to solidify his performance as one of the best of all-time.
The only reason Lue is on this list is that Iverson deserved the ring far more than Lue.
15 Bill Cartwright – Chicago Bulls (1991)
The first of six championships, the 1991 Chicago Bulls was the foundation and the blueprint of success that followed the franchise. That year the Bulls bested the returning Los Angeles Lakers in five games, capturing Michael Jordan’s first of six Finals MVP and Finals win.
While MJ definitely showed up on his first Finals appearance, the same cannot be said about Bill Cartwright. Cartwright had a solid 8.8 PPG and 5.0 RPG but if you take into account the fact that he played 32 minutes per game it is hard to give him credit.
14 Stephen Jackson – San Antonio Spurs (2003)
In one of the more forgotten Finals in recent history, the San Antonio Spurs bested the New Jersey Nets back in 2003. The series ended in six games, with Tim Duncan leading the way as he carried the Spurs to its second championship, Duncan averaged 24.2 PPG, 17 RPG, 5.3 APG, and 5.3 BPG.
Fans these days say that Duncan carried that team and it is hard to argue otherwise, considering the team that surrounded him. Stephen Jackson was one of the underperforming role players that series, as he only averaged 10.3 PPG while shooting 37.7/35.7/50 from the field, three-point area, and the free throw line. Jackson definitely has Timmy to thank for his championship ring.
13 Horace Grant – Chicago Bulls (1992)
Another fun 1992 cartoon fact; the channel Cartoon Network was launched late that year. The channel gave many viewers a fun viewing experience and how we wish the same could be said about Horace Grant during that year’s Finals.
Grant was a solid role player for the Chicago Bulls that year during the regular season. He averaged a double-double with 14.2 PPG and 10.0 RPG in just a little over 30 mpg.
Naturally, everyone expected the same level of production from Grant during the Finals, but he just could not deliver. Grant’s numbers were all down even with the increased minutes, averaging only 9.2 PPG and 7.8 RPG on 37.8 MPG was a little underwhelming for a player we know was capable of doing so much more.
12 Bruce Bowen – San Antonio Spurs (2003)
A role player from the 2003 San Antonio Spurs, Bruce Bowen was never a scoring threat, Bowen has always been the defensive stopper for the Spurs and he is occasionally the second option when it comes to three-point shooting.
But in 2003, Bowen’s shot reached a new low as he only averaged 3.3 PPG while shooting 23.3% from the field and 28.6% from the three-point area. Again, thank you, Mr. Duncan, for carrying the team.
Bowen went on to win two more championship rings with the San Antonio Spurs in 2005 and 2007 respectively.
11 Scott Williams – Chicago Bulls (1993)
1993 was a roller coaster for the Chicago Bulls. They captured their third championship and their first three-peat that year, but they also lost Michael Jordan, who retired for the very first time to play baseball.
While the Finals that year will always be remembered for the John Paxson series-winner in Game 6, we tend to forget a player by the name of Scott Williams.
Williams was a role player at best for the Bulls, but he was given the opportunity to play more minutes in the big stage, as he logged in 26.5 MPG during the Finals. With the opportunity given, Williams wasn't quite that good, as he only averaged 4.7 PPG and 6.3 RPG on 40.7% from the field. The latter, especially, is unacceptable if you're a 6-foot-10 center who mostly operates in the paint.
10 Antoine Walker – Miami Heat (2006)
On paper, Antoine Walker played okay for the Miami Heat back in 2006. Walker averaged 13.8 PPG and 5.5 RPG, and while he shot a poor 39.1% from the field, he also shot 87 field goal attempts in six games against the Dallas Mavericks; in comparison, Shaquille O’Neal shot only 56 field goals that series.
While the whole Heat team, except Dwyane Wade, had their own problems, it was clear Antoine wanted to be the guy to save the series from slipping out of their hands.
Definitely, looking back at this Finals series, it will always be remembered for Wade’s amazing performance, as opposed to Walker’s ball hogging.
9 Kenny Smith – Houston Rockets (1994)
With Michael Jordan retiring, the Finals during 1994 was borderline unpredictable. During the event, we saw two teams led by their respective Hall of Fame centers, with the eventual champions Houston Rockets led by Hakeem Olajuwon and the New York Knicks led by Patrick Ewing.
The Rockets had a player named Kenny Smith, who is well known to be part of the Inside the NBA crew these days. Smith was the starting point guard for the Rockets and a decent one at that, but boy, did he underperform, only averaging 5.6 points and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 38.9% from the field in seven games.
8 Gary Payton – Miami Heat (2006)
Speaking of struggles, Gary Payton was at the tail end of his career back in 2006 when he played for the Miami Heat. Payton was nothing more than a backup point guard that was counted on to bring veteran leadership and stability.
Of course, Payton deserved a championship ring, but not in this fashion. Up to this day, no other point guard has won Defensive Player of the Year, so Payton certainly has a place in the Hall of Fame.
The former SuperSonic averaged 2.7 PPG, 2.0 RPG, and 2.0 APG on 22 minutes while posting an awful 36.8/14.3/33.3 shooting split in six games.
7 Steve Kerr – Chicago Bulls (1996)
The current head coach of the Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr is known to usher in the new space-and-pace era of the NBA. Bringing in innovative offense mixed with a formidable defense, Kerr is absolutely one of the best coaches in recent history.
As a player, Kerr was nothing more than a spot-up shooter throughout his NBA career. During the 1996 Finals, the Chicago Bulls looked to Steve to provide outside shooting against the defensive juggernauts, the Seattle Supersonics. Kerr then proceeded to shoot 4-22 from beyond the arc in six games for only 18.2% from three, which was certainly not the shooting exhibition the Bulls wanted to see.
6 Michael Finley – San Antonio Spurs (2007)
The last championship of the San Antonio Spurs during the 2000s came in 2007 when they were led by French point guard Tony Parker. Parker had remarkable Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers earning him Finals MVP.
As a collective, the Spurs played great that year, with the exception of Michael Finley. If you are not familiar with Finley, he is a good shooter with a knack for scoring, as seen in his early days with the Phoenix Suns and the Dallas Mavericks along with Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash. Finley only averaged 3.8 PPG on 26.1% from the field, which included shooting 1-12 from beyond the arc in four games.
5 Ron Harper – Chicago Bulls (1997)
Ron Harper was a top scorer for the Cavaliers and Clippers before injuries slowed him down, so when he got to the Bulls in the mid-'90s, he was mostly a defensive-minded role player at point guard. As such, he was tasked to guard John Stockton in the 1997 NBA Finals.
Unfortunately, Stockton got the better of Harper, as the Bulls’ point guard only averaged 4.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 2.3 APG on 34.4% from the field in over 27.0 MPG in six games.
The Bulls went on to win their fifth championship that year, but Harper could not have been proud of his awful performance during the Finals.
4 Sam Cassell – Boston Celtics (2008)
Sam Cassell found himself in a similar situation with Gary Payton two years prior. Cassell was an aging point guard looking to add a ring to his collection. Of course, the main difference between the two is that Cassell won a ring with the Houston Rockets.
As a backup point guard, Cassell played only 10 MPG and he only contributed 3.8 PPG on 37.5% shooting. Those numbers do not indicate how poorly he really played, but it scratches the gist of it all.
It is hard to fault the former Celtic for trying to win another ring, but his performance was certainly very forgettable.
3 Dennis Rodman – Chicago Bulls (1997)
Dennis Rodman is notorious for being one of the best rebounders in NBA history. He is also notorious for his unique personality off the court and sometimes that personality seeps in on the court. During the 1997 Finals, Rodman had one of his worst performance, as he only averaged 2.3 PPG and 7.7 RPG, while shooting 5-20 from the field. People speculate that Karl Malone might have gotten into Rodman’s head, hence his poor play in that series.
Thankfully Rodman and crew won the ring all, thanks to Michael Jordan, who averaged 32.3 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 6.0 APG. He is not called the GOAT for nothing.
2 Sean Elliott – San Antonio Spurs (1999)
The San Antonio Spurs won its first championship back in 1999 to kick off a long and storied dynasty. Led by twin towers David Robinson and Tim Duncan, the Spurs dispatched the New York Knicks in five games during the shortened NBA season.
One player from that team that underperformed was Sean Elliott. Elliott was a role player but even then, he still was a bit disappointing as he only averaged 8.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.0 APG on 5-18 shooting from beyond the arc for 27.8%, and overall 14-42 from the field, which is below average as he shot 33.3% overall in 36.2 MPG.
1 Jordan Farmar – Los Angeles Lakers (2009)`
In 2009 Kobe Bryant finally won his first championship without Shaquille O’Neal solidifying his place among the greats. The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Dwight Howard led Orlando Magic in five quick games.
Of course, it was the play of the Lakers’ role players that earned them the quick victory. Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, and Derek Fisher all played a considerable amount of minutes meaning the distribution of playing time was a bit blurry.
Jordan Farmar barely played as he only averaged 11.5 mpg but during the times he did, he played poorly. Averaging 3.4 PPG, the backup point guard barely contributed to winning as he also shot 12.5% from beyond the arc.