It’s a funny world we live in when players like Mark Madsen, Beno Udrih, and Darvin Ham have NBA finals rings, and Karl Malone, John Stockton, Reggie Miller, and Charles Barkley don’t. Of course those first names are the typical 10-12 men on championship rosters who also deserve rings, but there is something to be said for the greats who never win championships. Charles Barkley has said that he doesn’t believe that him never winning a championship diminishes his career any, nor does it to Karl, John, or Reggie. He may be right, but why did he go to Houston? Why did Karl go to L.A.? To win a championship, right? This year actually saw two great players win that elusive championship, Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton. Two players who in their prime may have been one of the top ten players at their respective positions ever. Did anyone really predict 10 years ago that Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning would take bench roles in order to win a championship?Every sport has those guys who never won a championship and it puts a damper on there career. Basketball has the names above, baseball has guys like Barry Bonds (amongst other things), Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn (sorry a little hometown flavor), and Alex Rodriguez. Football has Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, and Barry Sanders. These guys were at once considered the best at their sport but never won the big one. The NBA has a few superstars right now that may be the new crop of guys who were great, but never won a championship. It may be a case of having success with a team in the early years and having to be in the “rebuilding stage.” Perhaps an injury has cost them valuable years off of their career. Or simply the team they play for is wasting the prime years of the stars career by not putting any talent around them. Here are some guys in the league right now who may become the Malone/Stockton/Miller/Barkley/Ewing’s of this era:
Allen Iverson: Right now he is the “Best player without a Ring” in my opinion. He’s a former MVP (’01), scoring champion (’99, ’01, ’02, ’05), and a seven time All-Star. He did play in the Finals in 2001 against the Lakers, but the Sixers were dispatched in 5 games. It’s just a simple case of Allen having the supporting cast early in his career, and just not having it lately. Somebody who takes a beating every season the way he does, it makes you wonder just how much longer he is going to be able to play. Reggie Miller was a gunner just like Allen was, not as fast, but played in a Finals and was one of the best in the league. The truth is I could never see Allen taking a bench job somewhere to win a title. He is too prolific a scorer and is too much of a leader to be subjugated to come off of the bench or taking a supporting role somewhere. He is either going to lay in waist in Philadelphia, or he is going to get traded to somewhere that he might get a chance to win, and it might happen this season.
Kevin Garnett: You can make a really strong case for Kevin too. A former MVP (2004), 8 time All-Star, 6 time all-NBA, and 6 time all Defensive team. He is the player in the league who has been with the same team the longest after just finishing his tenth season in Minnesota. KG is perhaps the best all-around player in the league, but he has had only one instance where his team got out of the first round of the playoffs. If anyone in the league is having his prime years wasted, it is Garnett. He has never played in a Finals and with the direction of the T-Wolves he may never, unless he gets traded. But you can’t get return value when you trade Garnett because he is one of the most indispensable guys in the NBA. The rumor is he might go to Chicago, or New York. Whatever the case may be, Garnett needs a change of scenery.
Grant Hill: Some people forget just how promising and great of a player Grant Hill was before the 2000-2001 season. In his first six seasons he only missed 25 games. He averaged 21.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, and 6.2 apg in that span. Was a Rookie of the Year, 5 time All Star, and an All-NBA first team player. Then came his devastating ankle injury. In the past five seasons he as only played 135 games. He misses an average of 55 games a year now. Perhaps only Len Bias’ tragic story is worse than Grant Hill’s. A player with so much talent and promise brought down because of an injury, or death in Bias’ case. Grant has obviously lost the best portion of his career due to injury, and may not be able to ever recover. He did show signs of his former self in 2005, being an all-star and playing in 67 games. However, being injury prone and in the twilight of his career may drive contenders from taking a chance on Hill.
Steve Nash: Well whenever you win back to back MVP’s (’05 and ’06) your name gets automatically attached to guys like Russell, Bird, Jordan, Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain, Malone, Duncan, etc. Whether it is fair or not to call Steve Nash a great player he has the hardware, but no jewelry. After just finishing his tenth season, Nash collected his second straight MVP and second straight loss in the Western Conference Finals. For a guy who really didn’t become a starter until the 2000-2001 season, he has made a great career for himself after being dismissed as already having played his best basketball. Of the guys involved in this list, he is the one who has the best chance to succeed. Both losses in the Conference Finals came at the behest of an injury to a key player. In 2005 it was Joe Johnson, and in 2006 Amare Stoudamire. With the return of Stoudamire, the Suns are expected to be a top five team in the NBA next season, which may get Nash off of this list.
Paul Pierce: Another guy like Garnett who has only tasted the Conference Finals once, and has recently been stuck on mediocre to bad teams. Heading into his ninth NBA season he too has been a trade rumor for a couple of seasons now, and like Garnett and Iverson it would be hard to get full value in return. Pierce is always in the top 8 in scoring, and is a 5 time all star. He is also one of the most reliable and clutch players in the league. He logs in a lot of minutes and always seems to make big shots or free throws in crunch time. If there is one player in this league who could benefit the most from having an inside presence on his team it may be Pierce. Pierce is a three tool offensive player who can post up smaller forwards, drive past big defenders, or shoot over either. Perhaps the only other forwards of that talent are Garnett and Nowitzki. His career is a little resemblance of Reggie Miller’s. A good scorer who was overshadowed by the great scorers in the league. The way Iverson, McGrady, and Bryant overshadow Pierce, is the way Jordan, Barkley, and Drexler overshadowed Miller.
These guys with the exception of Nash may be headed where Malone, Stockton, Barkley, Miller and Ewing ended up. I always wondered why those five didn’t just decide to pull a deal like what happened with the Lakers in 2004. Take the mid level and just try to win the championship with 4 or 5 future Hall of Famers. That would have thrown a wrench in Jordan’s 6 championships. Maybe that’s the idea. Have these guys get together and go down and play for MJ in Charlotte before LeBron James seals the fate of all these guys the way Jordan did to guys like Malone and Stockton. Playing together may be their only hope.