The NBA is full of great players. It doesn’t matter how much people like LaVar Ball try to argue that they could beat a legend like Michael Jordan in a one-to-one game, it simply isn’t true. We could use this as a rule of thumb for most if not for all sports. Nine times out of 10, sometimes 10 times out of 10, whenever an amateur tries to go up against a professional, the guy who does it for a living will come out on top. No player ever made it to the NBA without having any talent.
Just go around and ask all of your friends who played basketball in high school and even those who played in college and never made it to the pros. If they are honest, they will agree that the guys who make it deserve to be where they are for the most part. Sure, it is easy for us to sit on our couches and say we could shoot free throws better than DeAndre Jordan, which most of us who played basketball at any level probably could, and disregard the fact that this is a guy who pulls in almost 14 rebounds per game.
So if they all deserve to be there, how do we separate the players whose name will be written in history books from those who are just professionals? Aside from All-Star games and individual awards, the most important thing an NBA player has to chase is a title. It doesn’t matter how Kobe and LeBron fans argue that they could be better than Michael Jordan. Unless one of these guys wins more than six NBA titles, Jordan will remain the king of basketball.
But more than those two, some fantastic players have never and will never win championships. So here we separated a few players who still have a chance but would do themselves an enormous favor if they decide to switch teams.
15 Russell Westbrook
Whether he wins it or not, Russell Westbrook is an MVP in his own right. This guy crushed Oscar Robertson’s triple-double record this season while carrying a team that without him would undoubtedly be fighting for a lottery pick this off-season. It is not crazy to argue that Westbrook will not win a title while he remains in Oklahoma City. Unless Sam Presti manages to do something crazy like re-signing both Kevin Durant and James Harden, a title for Oklahoma City is still a long shot especially with Westbrook as their go-to guy in the clutch.
Sure, he had his moments this season in the final minutes of given games, but it doesn’t take a specialist to recognize that Westbrook usually makes horrible decisions when the game is on the line. A move to a team with a real closer to help him out and a change of attitude are the only two things that could get Westbrook a title anytime soon.
14 Hassan Whiteside
After two years away from the league, Hassan Whiteside came back to the NBA in the 2014-15 season and proved that for some people second chances could work out. In his two seasons with Sacramento, before he left the league, Whiteside only played 19 games and averaged 1.5 points. Since his return to Miami, this athletic center has taken the league by storm. Just this season he averaged 17 points and 14.1 rebounds per game, helping his weak team to a record that saw them miss the playoffs because of a tiebreaker.
It would be a tragedy if an entertaining big man like him were to go his entire career without winning a title. But in order for that to happen, he will have to say goodbye to Miami and join an already established team; because no matter what kind of magic Pat Riley pulls, no team he puts together that does not include James and Wade will manage to win a ring with Erik Spoelstra on the bench.
13 Mike Conley
The only reason for Mike Conley to leave Memphis would be to win a championship. The only guy in the NBA who makes more money than Conley is LeBron James. And no matter how many people might argue against it, Conley’s salary is fair when we take in account how much this guy represents for his team and that franchise. Conley has played for the Grizzlies for almost 10 years, and he has done his best to take the team as far as he could. The problem is that Memphis doesn’t attract enough quality players to make a championship run.
Meanwhile, Conley is the kind of point guard who would be able to play key roles in many teams able to realistically challenge for a championship. San Antonio comes to mind is a place where he would be extremely successful and most likely would win a title within one or two years.
12 Nikola Jokic
Straight from Serbia to stardom, it only took Nikola Jokic two seasons with the Denver Nuggets to establish himself as one of the big men who will dominate the NBA in the future. At 21 years old, this guy managed to finish the 2016-17 season averaging 16.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Those are incredible numbers for somebody that young, also considering that he played an average of fewer than 28 minutes per game. Should he continue to improve at the rate he has been growing, the only thing between this guy and a potential championship run is his team.
Denver is a team with a lot of young talent, but as it happened with Oklahoma City, it is very unlikely that the Nuggets will manage to keep their young stars as they reach their prime and get reinforcements necessary for a playoff run.
11 Gordon Hayward
After four seasons away from the playoffs, Gordon Hayward managed to carry the Utah Jazz back into playoff contention. As a matter of fact, this year’s fifth place in the Western Conference standings was the best result the Jazz had since the 2009-10 season. It was also the first time they won the Northwest Division since the 2007-08 season. Don’t get this wrong, Hayward didn’t do it all on his own, but he was by far the greatest contributor to the Jazz’s campaign. He ranked number 15 in the win shares category, which estimates the number of wins contributed to a team by a player. Hayward ranked above guys like Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, and Kyle Lowry.
Unfortunately for him, if these playoffs proved anything, it is that even though he took the Jazz as far as the conference semifinals, it will be a long time before this team can realistically challenge for a title. On the other hand, Hayward will be a free agent in the 2018 off-season, so we could see him move to a place where he can actually win a ring.
10 Giannis Antetokounmpo
Few people have nicknames that describe them as well as the “Greek Freak.” This is a 22-year-old 6’11” 222 pound Greek beast. You can compare this guy to Minotaurs, or any kind of other Greek mythological creatures, and you could probably trace a parallel that even though most of those creatures are terrifying, so is this kid’s potential.
In just his fourth season in the league, Antetokounmpo has already become an All-Star and is averaging numbers like 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.9 blocks per game. It is ridiculous to think that somebody this good is playing for Milwaukee.
Antetokounmpo deserves a chance to play for a championship, and it will not come in Milwaukee most likely. So he would do himself a favor if he nudged the Bucks’ front office to trade him, even though they will probably not do it.
9 Blake Griffin
It’s hard to imagine a team that has been as disappointing as the Los Angeles Clippers over these past few seasons. Ever since they managed to pull together Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and other guys, the Clippers start each new season as if they actually had a shot at winning a championship. But it doesn’t matter who they add or how far they go; they never get even close to it. The closest they have gotten to a championship in the past 10 years were the conference semifinals. For God sake, this year they lost the first round to the Jazz. With three All-Stars on your roster, how could you possibly move forward after so many disappointments?
Well, we might not have a clear answer for the Clippers, but we do have an answer for their All-Stars. Get out of the sinking ship. Blake Griffin is not getting any younger, and it should have already sunk into his head by now that if he wants to win a title the first thing he has to do is get out of LA.
8 Brook Lopez
Watching a guy like Brook Lopez playing for the Nets is almost sad. The only reason for Lopez to still be playing in Brooklyn is either that he is the most loyal player basketball has ever seen, or that he legitimately loves money more than anything and assumes he would have to take a massive pay cut to go anywhere else. But in all seriousness, nobody consistently scoring over 20 points a game and pulling in anything over five rebounds should be punished to have to go their entire career without a shot at even challenging for a championship; unless they made a rational choice to follow the career path they are in.
One way or the other, Brook Lopez is turning 30 very soon, and his contract runs out in 2018. That’s the time when we will find out if Brook Lopez plans to stay in New Jersey and simply cash in more checks, or if he wants to go somewhere else and try to write his name in the history books.
7 John Wall
Countless number one overall picks have gone on to disappoint and pretty much infuriate fans all throughout the NBA. John Wall, however, is not one of them. Ever since being drafted out of Kentucky, Wall has been steadily growing as a point guard and establishing himself as one of the elite players in the NBA. Just this year he took his Wizards team all the way to the conference semifinals where they lost to the Celtics in a seven-game series. He even led the Wizards to their first division title since 1978-79. How crazy is that?
Now many people might argue that Wall could have a shot at winning a ring with the Wizards. But unless they manage to put one or two more superstars in the team, which is unlikely given that their cap situation is not one that would allow for something like that, Wall will probably only get a ring if he moves somewhere else.
6 Rudy Gobert
The argument here is pretty similar to the one made for Gordon Hayward. In the case of Rudy Gobert, however, he might have an even stronger case to argue that he has the potential to be a key player in a championship team. The reason behind that is that, while there is a significant number of great scoring small forwards in the league like Gordon Hayward, natural talents on the defensive end with athleticism like Gobert’s don’t appear too often.
Let’s trace a parallel to back that up. Think back to the NBA champion Detroit Pistons team of 2004 that managed to take down the bulldozer that was the L.A. Lakers team of that year with Kobe and Shaq. Most of the players on the Pistons team could be replaced with similar guys, with one exception: Ben Wallace. Without his defensive tenacity, the Pistons would have never won that title, and Gobert is the kind of player who could perfectly fit into that description in this new generation.
5 Carmelo Anthony
It is no secret that Carmelo Anthony is one of the greatest scorers we’ve ever seen play. His problem, however, is that he most likely will never win an NBA title. It doesn’t matter how good Melo is, be it in Denver or New York; he just seems cursed when it comes to making playoff runs. In almost 15 years in the league, Melo has gone past the first round of the playoffs twice.
Meanwhile, he has had to watch all of the other four guys who made up the top five picks in the 2003 NBA draft win championships. Yes, Darko Milicic won a championship with Detroit, and the other three don’t even need to be named.
Going forward, nothing but a miracle would see Melo bring a title to New York as he is already 33. His one real shot at a ring would be to do the same thing LeBron, Wade, and Bosh did and put together a super team while enduring all the hate he would get from his native New York crowd.
4 Jimmy Butler
It seemed like Jimmy Butler would finally get to show what he was worth deep into the playoffs when Dwayne Wade decided to sign with the Chicago Bulls. The addition of Rajon Rondo was also a plus to the team on paper. But at the end of the day, they struggled to make it to the playoffs and lost fair and square in the first round against the Boston Celtics.
That defeat might mean that Dwayne Wade could decide not to pick up his player option for next season and become an unrestricted free agent, which would leave Butler with a team full of young talent, but young talent that will take some time to develop. At 27 years old, it might be the right time for the Bulls to let Butler go and get some more pieces for the future because they’re not going to win a title anytime soon.
3 Damian Lillard
Playing alongside CJ McCollum, Lillard was part of what was arguably the best backcourt in the league this season. Those two proved that playmaking skills, aggressiveness and great shooting touch from behind the arc could propel a team to look good when they go into the playoffs. Meanwhile, the rest of the team proved that you couldn't go anywhere if you don’t have good enough depth on the bench.
Sure, Portland is a young team with only three guys over the age of 25. But Lillard is 26, and he has so much potential that if he could go to a team like San Antonio or even Boston, he could very well be the guy to put them over the edge in series against the Warriors and the Cavs. Just imagine the epic battles we would get to watch if that ever happened.
2 Chris Paul
Can you be called one of the greatest point guards ever to play the game when you don’t have a ring to show for it? We certainly hope so, but in order to not even make that a debate, Chris Paul has to come to his senses and go to a team where he can win an NBA title. This is a guy who is so good and has been so good for so long that it is a tragedy that he has yet to win a ring. We’ve talked about the Clippers with Blake Griffin, and we could reinforce that for whatever reason, they are not a team that is going to win a title anytime soon, and that seems to be the overall consent.
So here is where we all put our hands together and pray to the gods of basketball that Chris Paul decides to make use of the 2017 early termination option in his contract with the Clippers. Any fan of basketball would agree that this is a guy who deserves a ring before he retires.
1 James Harden
The beard has never been as real as it was this season. The Bearded One played one helluva season of basketball, and if it weren't for Russell Westbrook and his triple-double mayhem, Harden would be a lock for the MVP trophy.
People can often be critic of Mike D’Antoni and his decisions, but the call to put Harden at the point guard spot was arguably the greatest thing that happened to the Rockets since they picked up Hakeem Olajuwon. But unlike Olajuwon, Harden probably won’t win a championship in Houston, and he probably found that out this offseason.
There are two main reasons behind that: one is that the D’Antoni way does not work in the playoffs. The closest it ever got to work in the playoffs was with Phoenix when he had that ridiculous team led by Steve Nash, and even then they couldn’t get past the conference finals. The second reason is that despite having good scorers to back him up like Eric Gordon and Lou Williams, to win in the playoffs you either have to constantly shoot lights out from the perimeter like the Warriors when it counts, or you need to have somebody who is a constant threat on the inside.
Harden has two more years on his contract before he can make use of his player option, and if by then they turned into the next generation of the Clippers, he should go somewhere where he can win and not be the next Chris Paul.