5 Stars “On The Clock” For An NBA Title
While every player technically is on the proverbial “clock” when it comes to winning an NBA title, there are several superstar players in today’s league that are in need of at least another Finals run if not a championship in order to quiet the masses. These are players who have been considered either the best or one of the best at their individual positions, but have yet to lead their team all the way to the promised land.
It isn’t that the players on this list are fully to blame, as basketball is clearly a team sport, but as the unquestioned leaders of their respective teams these are all players who are expected to find success at a certain point. With Miami looking as strong as ever, teams like Indiana and Golden State looking to take the next step, not to mention the even younger teams just waiting in the wings for their own opportunities, nothing is guaranteed regardless of how special these individuals are. These are the guys who will need to reach the mountaintop within the next few years in order to avoid being caught and eventually passed by the next generation:
#5 Deron Williams – Brooklyn Nets
2012-13 Stats: 18.9 PPG, 7.7 APG, 3 RPG,
2012-13 Team Outcome: 49-33 Regular Season, First-round exit
For years, Williams has been the walking, talking, balling ‘barbershop’ response to anyone claiming Chris Paul was the best point guard in the league. Whether you agree with that assessment, you’d have to place Williams in the discussion among the league’s best point guards over the course of his career. Prior to now, his teams have always been a bit over-matched in terms of having to face stacked Lakers teams during his time in Utah, and more recently the South Beach Superteam known as the Miami HEAT. Williams enters the ninth year of his career with perhaps his strongest case for a title run, as his Brooklyn Nets acquired the services of veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. While you certainly wouldn’t start a franchise with players possessing so many miles on their bodies, this is Williams’ moment to get the most out of a one-to-two year window with a very talented core. With a 2013-14 estimated team salary of over $102 million, a figure that dwarfs its nearest competitor by nearly $15 million (New York Knicks), this is an organization with a “right now” attitude, and Williams absolutely needs to be of that mindset.
#4 Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder
2012-13 Stats: 28.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, 7.9 RPG
2012-13 Team Outcome: 60-22 Regular Season, Second-round exit
We’ve reached the point in the article where the audible exclamations of, “Hey, that’s not fair…” on behalf of Durant are expected. Regardless of it being fair, as last year’s abrupt ending can be attributed in some part to his partner-in-crime Russell Westbrook being injured, this will become Durant’s reality sooner than you may think. If anything, Westbrook’s untimely injury should teach us just how sacred opportunities are. Even though Durant is about a month shy of his 25th birthday and likely has another decade of great basketball ahead of him, we are reminded that there are simply no guarantees in life. While I fully expect the Thunder to once again be in contention, with the rest of the league, and specifically the Western Conference, growing stronger around them there are no certainties about the number of chances Durant will have to win a title. LeBron James doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, and neither are the upstart Warriors and Clippers within their own conference. Still plenty of time, but because of the tremendous amount of respect we have for Durant’s game and potential, he belongs on this list. He has the individual accolades and now he just needs a ring in that trophy case.
#3 Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers
2012-13 Stats: 16.9 PPG, 9.7 APG, 3.7 RPG
2012-13 Team Outcome: 56-26 Regular Season, First-round exit
Put simply, you cannot be the near-universally accepted “best” at anything in life without accomplishing a standard level of success in life. Yes, Paul’s teams have qualified for the postseason in five of his eight seasons, and he’s definitely done an impeccable job at making something out of ‘nothing’ from a roster standpoint (especially early on), but there really are no acceptable excuses from here on out. Not that Paul is making any, as he is one of the league’s greatest competitors and would probably tell you the very same thing. In terms of chances, this 2013-14 Clippers roster, while not perfect, is easily the best group of players Paul has led, especially when you factor in the addition head coach Doc Rivers and his staff to the bench. Paul’s addition, even to a team with all the high-flying excitement that Blake Griffin brings, was the moment that altered the Clippers’ franchise. Now, it’s time for Paul to take this team even further, as expectations are through the roof.
#2 Dwight Howard – Houston Rockets
2012-13 Stats: 17.1 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 2.4 BPG
2012-13 Team Outcome: 45-37 Regular Season, First-round exit (L.A. Lakers)
Paraphrasing a life’s lesson once bestowed upon me, at a certain point, excuses become just that: an excuse. As Howard enters what will be his 10th NBA season, life won’t afford him very many (if any) ‘reset‘ buttons from this point on. As one of the league’s most physically dominating forces, when healthy, Howard has to hope he’s finally found the proper mix of players to run the court with in Houston. As he heads into his second full season following career-altering back surgery, Howard is looking to rekindle the type of play that had most people placing him in the discussion for the league’s top-three players following his 2009 Finals run as the leader of the Orlando Magic. At that point, Howard was such a destructive force to all aspects of the opposing team’s offense in how was able to disrupt the pick-and-roll and recover in time to protect the rim. As he enters what should be his prime years in the league, the time has come for Howard to show that he is not only still a dominating presence on the court, but the leader his young locker room is certain to need. Even though an immediate run to the Finals may be unrealistic due to a natural adjustment period, Howard also has a new wave of improving big men to contend with in the near future. Regardless of what those whom are understandably disenchanted with him have to criticize, Howard is still the league’s most physically dominant big man. His time, fair or not, is now.
#1 Carmelo Anthony
2012-13 Stats: 28.7 PPG, 2.6 APG, 6.9 RPG
2012-13 Team Outcome: 54-28 Regular Season, Second-round exit
Anthony continues to be one of the more polarizing basketball players in today’s league. No, not to any fault of his own, and not due to any recent scandal or negative event, but simply due to how his game is judged by the hoops-loving public. While some will argue until blue in the face that Anthony is one of the league’s best regardless of the game or season outcome, others are far more harsh in their criticism of his lack of playmaking and consistent effort on both ends. The reality is, no matter how you feel about Anthony, he remains not only one of the best offensive players in the game, but one of the more lethal offensive weapons we’ve seen over the last 30 years. Even though Anthony’s Knicks qualified for the semi-finals for just the first time in well over a decade, the time has come for him to lead this team even further. After witnessing, or even suffering through (if you will), several of his 2003 NBA Draft class contemporaries win multiple titles, we are sure Anthony would also agree that it is well-beyond time for him to take that next step in his career.