NBA

Shrinking Title Windows: Which NBA Greats Have the Best Shot at a First Ring?

We look at 10 great players who have done amazing things in pro basketball...except win a title. Who has the best shot?

January 23, 2024

Barkley, Baylor, Malone, Stockton, Iverson, Ewing, Nash. The common denominator? No NBA titles. Despite their Hall of Fame credentials, these NBA icons were never able to hoist the trophy at the conclusion of the postseason.

That’s not to take away from their greatness. Robert Horry has seven rings – with the Lakers, Spurs and Rockets – but no one would ever say he was anywhere near the greatness of those ring-less Hall of Famers.

Alas, there are several current players whose title windows are slowly shrinking and who could potentially join the pantheon of greats without titles. We give you the top 10 and detail how close they’ve come, their current outlooks, and future possibilities.

Chris Paul, age 38

The 12-time All-Star is considered one of the greatest point guards of all time, with on-court savvy matched by no one and at one time a devastating mid-range jump shot. But CP3 is now on his sixth NBA team – as a reserve with the Golden State Warriors – and still seeking a title.

The closest Paul has come to winning the title was when he was with the Phoenix Suns. In the 2021 NBA Finals, the Suns had the series tied 2-2 with the Milwaukee Bucks, but Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to victories in games 5 and 6 to clinch the title.

The outlook for CP3 isn’t great. The Warriors are one of the worst teams in the Western Conference (they’re currently +4500 to win it all on Tipico Sportsbook), and the days of dominance by Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are over. CP3 is in the third year of a four-year $120 million contract – with the final year non-guaranteed – and he could be trade bait prior to the Feb. 8 deadline. Hopefully for him, he will be dealt to a contender.

One thing CP3 needs to do is stay healthy in the playoffs. He’s been injured five times in different postseason series.

James Harden, 34

The Beard is 22nd among all-time NBA scoring leaders, a former NBA MVP (2018), a 10-time All-Star and a three-time league scoring champion. But his scoring average this season is seven points less than his career average, and he’s lost some of his explosiveness to drive to the basket.

Harden, now with his fifth team, once was a member of a young and dynamic Oklahoma City Thunder team that also had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. That team never won a title, losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals – Harden’s last season with OKC.

Harden had a nice run with the Houston Rockets, but – after teammate Chris Paul suffered a hamstring injury in the 2018 Western Conference finals – the Warriors rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to win games 6 and 7 and then go on to beat the Cavaliers for the title.

Harden has a chance at the NBA title with the LA Clippers this season. The team has potential future Hall of Famers Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook and are among the top teams in the West, currently sporting the fourth-shortest odds to win it all (+800).

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Russell Westbrook, 35

Westbrook averaged a triple double for an entire season four times from 2016 to 2021 and was NBA MVP in 2017. He has been part of several “superteams” – the Oklahoma City Thunder with Kevin Durant and James Harden; the Los Angeles Lakers, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis; and his current team the Los Angeles Clippers, with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and James Harden.

Westbrook’s best title shot came with the Thunder, who lost in the 2012 NBA Finals to the Miami Heat. The Rockets also lost twice in the West finals.

But “Westbrick” – as his critics like to call him because of his wildly inaccurate 3-point shots at times – has a NBA title shot this season. The Clippers are among the top teams in the West and have a two-time NBA champion in Kawhi Leonard.

Damien Lillard, 33

“Dame” was a loyal soldier for 11 seasons in Portland — one of the most consistent, clutch and well-liked players in NBA history. He’s averaged over 25 points per game for his career and is 49th on the NBA all-time scoring list. But despite three 50-plus-wins seasons and eight playoff appearances, Lillard and the Blazers never reached the NBA Finals and only got to the conference finals once.

But the 2013 Rookie of the Year and seven-time All-Star has taken his talents to Milwaukee, where in his first season with Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are No. 2 in the East. Dame, “The Greek Freak,” and an excellent supporting cast that includes Khris Middleton will give Lillard his best-ever chance to win his first title. The Bucks currently have the third-shortest odds to win the title on Tipico at +420.

Joel Embiid, 29

Injuries have nagged at the 76ers center throughout his career, but he still captured the 2023 NBA MVP award, is a six-time All-Star and two-time NBA scoring champion.

But Embiid has never been able to lead the Sixers past the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they have lost five of the past six years – three of those series going to Game 7 — largely because Philly has been unable to put enough talent around him. They’ve tried James Harden, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler, but none of those pairings have stuck.

It also doesn’t help that the 76ers are in the same conference as the Celtics, Bucks and Heat.

Embiid is under contract with Philly through 2027, and maybe this season’s team can get it done. They are among the leaders in the East, with Embiid (35.0 ppg, 11.4 rpg) and Tyrese Maxey (26.0 ppg) leading the way. The Sixers have the fifth-shortest odds to win it all at the moment at +1000.

Jimmy Butler, 34

“Jimmy Buckets” is an indomitable force during the playoffs, able to put a team on his back and carry them far. In 2020, he led a 44-29 Heat team to an NBA Finals runner-up finish against the Lakers in the bubble in Orlando during the COVID pandemic. Last season, he led the seventh-seeded Heat to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Denver Nuggets in five games.

The six-time All-Star has the Heat currently in sixth place in the East and is averaging more than 21 points per game this season. He’s on contract with the Heat until 2026, but in the tough East, it’s hard to envision Miami consistently topping the Celtics, 76ers and Bucks on a yearly basis. The Heat are currently +3500 to win it all on Tipico.

Butler may need to seek a trade or explore free agency in 2026 at the ripe age of 36.

Derrick Rose, 35

The No. 1 overall pick out of Memphis in 2008 was named Rookie of the Year in 2009, MVP in 2011, and was a three-time All-Star from 2010-12. He led the Chicago Bulls to a 62-20 record in 2010-11 and a 50-16 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.

But in the first game of the 2012 playoffs, Rose suffered a torn ACL. He’s shown flashes but he’s never been the same, coming nowhere near the 20-plus ppg he enjoyed from 2009 to 2012. He’s been on five other NBA franchises and has settled in with the Grizzlies, where he’s averaging 8.4 ppg in 18 mpg.

The closest Rose has gotten to a title is 2011, when his Bulls lost to the Heat 4 games to 1 in the Eastern Conference finals.

With star Ja Morant out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, Rose’s chance of winning a title with the Grizzlies this season is basically zero. (Currently +20000, to be exact.) But if Morant and center Steven Adams can return to form next season, maybe Rose will be able to help them win a title in 2025.

Paul George, 33

“PG-13” has been one of the NBA’s most consistent producers for the past decade. He’s averaged more than 23 points per game in seven of the past nine seasons and is good for about three 3-pointers per game. The problem is, he kept having to play LeBron James in the playoffs.

With Indiana, his original team, George and the Pacers lost to James and the Heat in 2012, 2013 and 2014. And then PG-13 and the Pacers lost to James again after he moved to the Cavaliers. George has never gotten past the conference finals with any team, losing in 2013 and 2014 with the Pacers and in 2021 with the Suns.

This season, George has a legit shot at his first title. His Clippers are stocked with future – albeit past their prime — Hall of Famers Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

DeMar DeRozan, 34

One of the more obscure stars in the NBA for having played in Toronto his first nine seasons, the six-time All-Star has averaged more than 20 ppg for 11 straight seasons. But, like many other NBA stars, his title dreams were squashed by LeBron James. The Raptors lost to the King’s Cavaliers in three straight playoffs, including the 2016 Eastern Conference finals – the closest to a title that DeRozan has come.

In a one-month stretch from Dec. 13 through Jan. 13 in his final season with the Raptors, DeRozan scored 37, 45, 52, 35 and 42 points in separate games. He was traded in the 2018 off-season, and ironically the Raptors and Kawhi Leonard won the NBA championship that following season.

DeRozan has had an excellent three-year run with the Chicago Bulls, but their title chances don’t look promising with having to get past the Celtics, Heat and Bucks in the East to reach the NBA Finals. (The Bulls are currently +20000 this season to win it all.)

His contract with the Bulls ends after this season, and he will be one of the most prized unrestricted free agents on the market this summer.

Blake Griffin, 34

The 2011 Rookie of the Year and 2011 All-Star Slam Dunk champion ranks 168th in scoring all-time and 179th in rebounds. He played together with Chris Paul on the Clippers, a small man-big man duo that seemed to have title potential. The Clips won 56, 57 and 56 games in three consecutive seasons (2012-15) but lost to the Grizzlies, Thunder, and Rockets in the postseason.

Amid the COVID pandemic, Griffin joined a Brooklyn Nets superteam that had Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden, but the Nets fell to the Bucks in the Eastern semifinals.

Griffin has been without a team this season, and is awaiting an offer from a NBA team that might need his diminished services. It probably would be more enjoyable than handing out samples at Costco.

Alex Valdes
Alex Valdes is Web Content Manager at Tipico North America. He has written, edited and performed user and site analysis at MoneyTalksNews, NBC Sports, MSN, Bing, MSNBC, as well as newspapers and magazines.
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