Everyone praises players such as Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kobe Bryant for spending their entire careers with one team. All those players were incredibly successful and are happy how their careers panned out. However, we knock players such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Wilt Chamberlain for leaving their teams to win a championship when it seemed like a championship was in reach their current situation. Despite these criticisms, they made the right decision in leaving their teams as they won a championship and added onto their legacy.
An NBA player’s ultimate goal is to win a championship. Even if they are the 13th guy and played one minute in the Finals, they are so proud of it. Patrick McCaw will be remembered for winning three rings and now has a legacy he would never have if he did not win a championship. Rings aren’t the best way to compare players, but they impact legacies so heavily.
As fans, we criticize Karl Malone and Charles Barkley for not winning a ring. Though Barkley left Philadelphia to try to win a ring, he would’ve done anything to join another team that was already competing if it meant winning a championship. Malone played 18 years with the Jazz and didn’t make the Finals until his 12th year in the league. If Karl Malone played in today’s league, he would’ve given up after year 8 or nine. Malone and Barkley were in an awkward state where they were playing for contenders, but they would always be on the outside looking in. Similarly, the same is happening with James Harden. The Rockets are competing as they brought in Russell Westbrook and decided to get rid of their center, but what if this is a massive failure? Harden should leave and go to a contending team. Players who care about winning and their legacy will take a pay cut and sacrifice stats for a championship.
Though a team could hurt a player’s chances at a ring, a player can hurt a team’s chance at a ring. Monta Ellis prevented Stephen Curry from being the first scoring option and had he not been traded Golden State might have never won a championship. Allen Iverson, as good as he was, really could never lead the 76ers to a title even with another star, same with Carmelo Anthony. Ballhogs absolutely kill a chance at competing unless they are very efficient and offering something else besides scoring. I am skeptical if James Harden could be the best player on a championship team because he hasn’t shown to bring anything besides scoring in the playoffs.
And then there are players who financially sink a team. Kendrick Perkins was a role player who is a solid defender, but nothing too special. If Kendrick Perkins is traded, the Thunder could have kept James Harden and would’ve almost certainly won a championship. Grant Hill signed with the Orlando Magic to play with Tracy McGrady and compete for a championship. Instead, the Magic were at best, a playoff team, and prevented them from building around McGrady. The Knicks always make poor signings and it prevented them from either rebuilding or held their young players back. Incompetent franchises seriously inhibit players from reaching their full potential and hold them back from contending.
And then there are teams who might be great but will never win a championship. The Jazz thought they could win a championship and Karl Malone and John Stockton never got a ring because of it. Same with Steve Nash, Chris Paul, and Elgin Baylor. Chris Paul might win a championship, but he will be in his late 30s and it will be obvious he was ring chasing. Elgin Baylor was really unfortunate as he retired at the beginning of the 1971-72 season and the Lakers won the championship that season. Steve Nash was on Suns teams that were really close to making a Finals and winning one but could just not get it done. Had he stayed with the Mavericks, he would’ve won a championship as early as 2006. This is the worst-case scenario as it is hard to tell whether that team will actually win a championship.
There are many players who are stuck in situations that will never yield them championships. Damian Lillard is almost guaranteed to not win a championship in Portland as the Trail Blazers simply aren’t talented enough. James Harden has yet to make a Finals in Houston and it’s likely that he never will. At this point in their careers, it would be in their best interest to request a trade. Kevin Durant realized he would not win a championship in Oklahoma City and left. Though people will claim that these championships are “not as valuable”, I am firmly against that argument because no championship is easy to win. The Warriors needed Kevin Durant as much as he needed them. And of course, when mentioning a new team, everyone mentions Giannis Antetokounmpo. Unlike Harden and Lillard, Giannis is 25 and has plenty of time to win a championship. There are also some players who can’t get it done in the playoffs and need another star to help them win a championship, just like Paul George. Though the Clippers did disappoint, he is not the only option on his team and with a better scheme, the Clippers could win a championship. I firmly believe that a star should always try to win a championship rather than make money because there are so few opportunities to win a championship.
Being loyal was something of the past and is really a luxury now. Giannis Antetokounmpo will be a free agent next summer. It might be in his best interest to sign with a contender like the Celtics, Heat, Mavericks, or Raptors to ensure or increase his chances at a championship. May it ruin parity? Oh, it definitely could, but Giannis probably doesn’t want to stay long term. He also doesn’t seem like someone who would do something like LeBron or KD, but it might be the right choice.