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Which one of Curry’s ringless Western rivals can take the throne?

With the Warriors retooling on the fly, the championship window for four future hall-of-famers is still open...but for how long?

The superstar’s road to an NBA title is a treacherous adventure. Success in this arduous endeavor offers the intoxicating lure of athletic immortality, but the path is littered with the broken hearts of many great men who failed.

In days gone by, monster ballers like Karl Malone and Charles Barkley collected MVP’s, Olympic fame, and enough All-Star appearances to blanket a hall-of-fame plaque. Yet, they never tasted championship glory, becoming footnotes in history during the eras of Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon a.k.a. champions.

Over the past decade, the NBA trophy has continued to circulate in an extremely exclusive group of living legends. These killers we recognize on a first name basis: Kobe, Dirk, LeBron, Kawhi, and Steph. The first two are retired, and the latter three are hellbent on securing a couple more rings to put the finishing touches on their legacies.

2019 NBA All-Star Game
Steph and LeBron both snagged three rings apiece in the last decade
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

But what about the rest of the league? There are plenty of other MVP’s and dominant superstars who are thirsty for the crown. They’re also in danger of watching their window of opportunity slam shut.

The Warriors have won five straight Western conference crowns. Which ringless conference superstar will step up to keep the Dubs from six straight?

Anthony Davis

The six-time All-Star is a 6-foot-10, 253 pounder who finishes at the rim like a monster, has a legit three-point jumper, and has the agility to guard multiple positions. For his career, he has averaged 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks on 51% shooting from the field. He is very much in the conversation for best big man in the league.

But if you let Zach Kram of The Ringer tell it, there’s much more to be desired from “The Brow”:

“The highlight of Anthony Davis’s Pelicans career is a first-round playoff series win. That’s it, that’s the whole thing, and if Davis gets his wish and is traded from New Orleans soon, the Pelicans’ rampage through Portland last season will remain the apex of his first NBA stop.

In only one other season with Davis did the Pelicans even finish with a winning record; in no other season did they win a single playoff game.“

That’s odd, I thought the highlight of Davis’ career was tackling Steph into the crowd while “Unanimous” drilled a buzzer-beating triple.

The Warriors went a combined 8-1 in playoff games vs Davis’ Pelicans, including booting him out of the postseason the last time he was there.

Davis gave up on the Pellies and forced their hand in a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers. Now that he is flanked by future hall-of-famers LeBron James and (cough, cough) Dwight Howard, this is clearly his best chance to win a title. He is only 26 years old after all, plenty of time to steer his narrative into championship glory.

Then again, the rest of the men on this list were once 26, and they are still ringless...

Russell Westbrook

“NOBODY PLAYS HARDER THAN WESTBROOK!”. This is something you’ll hear all the time if you tune into the daytime talk shows. The stats may lend some credence to that, as the 6-foot-3 combo guard has averaged a freaking triple-double for three straight seasons. Folks, that would be hard to do in NBA2K, let alone in real life against the greatest players on the planet.

Westbrook’s ferocity and effort have been enough to win an MVP trophy and for his personal brand to explode. But all that extreme effort has been for naught when the playoffs roll around. His Oklahoma City Thunder teams were on the wrong end of three straight first round exits, with last season’s crushing end coming by the hands of his personal rival Damian Lillard.

After 11 championship-less years in Oklahoma City, the Thunder finally cut ties to their hero, shipping him off to Houston. If the Thunder make Westbrook a statue, it’s going to be a solid gold bust of him looking exhausted on the bench like a burnt out Popeyes employee.

Westbrook once posted the highest usage rate in NBA history; how much more of a pounding can his joints take from his explosive style? How much gas does Russ have left in his tank? Can he adjust his ball-dominant game alongside James Harden?

James Harden

Much like his two-time teammate Westbrook, Harden was an MVP winner during the age of the Warriors, which is basically a consolation prize for those who can’t win a title.

Harden’s regular season numbers have been positively berserk, though.

Unfortunately for “The Beard”, the basketball gods don’t award world titles for 82-game season heroics. Harden’s Rockets has suffered the most postseason punishment of any franchise during the brutal reign of the Warriors, with four of Houston’s last five playoff trips ending in humiliating defeat to the Golden Empire.

Rox 4 out of last 5 eliminations have come from the Dubs

Harden just turned 30 and is coming off of a season where he had the second highest usage rate in NBA history. The season before that, he tallied the 10th highest usage rate of all time. If you look at the list, there’s only two players in the history of the game who are in the current top 10: Westbrook and Harden. How much more dribbling into double teams can these guys do before Father Time waves his arms and bellows, “ENOUGH!”?

Top 10 usage rates in NBA history

Chris Paul

Editor’s Note: GSoM’s own Joe Viray decided to handle this section, enjoy!

Look, we’ve all been promised that a certain player is the “chosen one” or that an up-and-coming talent is the “next big thing.” LeBron James more than lived up to the monumental hype surrounding his legendary performances at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, although his candidacy as the greatest to have ever played the game of basketball hit a snag when the Warriors dynasty rose to be the untimely spoiler to his seemingly linear narrative.

Paul, his Banana Boat buddy, seemed to be headed toward a dandy career trajectory of his own. Despite his relatively diminutive stature — standing at a flat 6 feet — Paul’s skills as a floor general were unmatched. Deemed by many as the successor and challenger to Magic Johnson’s status as the greatest point guard of all time, the Winston-Salem native took the NBA by storm after being drafted by the then-New Orleans Hornets fourth overall in the 2005 NBA Draft.

Paul has put up incredible numbers throughout his 14-year career. As of the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, Paul has career averages of 18.5 points, 9.7 assists (ranked third all-time behind Johnson and John Stockton), and 2.2 steals (ranked fifth all-time). He is also rising in the career assists leaderboard, with his 9181 total assists ranked seventh all-time. Only esteemed Hall of Famers such as Stockton, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Johnson, and Oscar Robertson stand ahead of him.

Career assists leaderboard

Such statistical excellence is backed up by success in garnering individual accolades and awards, consisting of nine All-Star appearances, four selections to the All-NBA First Team, three selections to the All-NBA Second Team, seven selections to the All-Defensive First Team, and two selections to the All-Defensive Second Team.

But such accomplishments, as impressive as they sound, could not bring him the ultimate validation: An NBA Championship ring.

The NBA has built its brand through its superstars’ individual exploits, which seemingly belies basketball’s true nature as a team sport that achieves its ultimate goal through collectivism and camaraderie. Paul’s accomplishments as an individual may have put him on a high pedestal in many fans’ perspectives, but his failure to get his teams over the hump during the playoffs is what ultimately renders that billing as highly questionable and foundationally unstable.

Look no further than his early playoff exits with the Hornets and the Los Angeles Clippers.

  • 2008: Second round exit (beaten by San Antonio in seven games)
  • 2009: First round exit (beaten by Denver in five games)
  • 2011: First round exit (beaten by LAL in six games)
  • 2012: Second round exit (swept by San Antonio)
  • 2013: First round exit (beaten by Memphis in six games)
  • 2014: Second round exit (beaten by Oklahoma City in six games)
  • 2015: Second round exit (beaten by Houston in seven games)
  • 2016 First round exit (beaten by Portland in six games)
  • 2017: First round exit (beaten by Utah in seven games)

After being traded to the Houston Rockets prior to the 2017-18 season, Paul’s partnership with James Harden finally got him over his career-long obstacle known as the Western Conference semifinals — only to run into a much bigger obstacle known as the Golden State Warriors.

  • 2018: Western Conference finals exit (beaten by Golden State in seven games)
  • 2019: Second round exit (beaten by Golden State in six games)

I’m not saying that Paul is an entirely broken promise — he has had an incredible career in terms of individual accomplishments and skills. But as the aforementioned list of shortcomings in the playoffs has explicitly shown, he has failed to live up to certain expectations that were bequeathed upon him when he entered the league. If James’ promise composition is made up of 90 percent fulfilled and 10 percent unfulfilled, then Paul’s fulfilled/unfulfilled ratio would probably be 60/40.

And boy, that 40 percent is one big gaping hole for someone as competitive and passionate as Paul. It isn’t entirely his fault — nagging injuries have cut some of his playoff journeys short, with the most recent example being his hamstring strain that sidelined him during the 2018 Western Conference finals.

But for someone who was anointed as the “Point God,” Paul is hardly godly these days, nor has he been consistently on point with his contributions on the court. Suffice to say, he is no longer in the running to be the greatest point guard of all time, or for being the second greatest point guard.

Heck, he’s not even the best point guard to have come out of the state of North Carolina, for that matter. We all know who that is.

Btw, Steph Curry’s Warriors have a cumulative record of 9-1 in postseason series against the teams those four guys played for. The Warriors have simply dominated these men for a half-decade.

It will be interesting to see how the next season shakes out with the Warriors vulnerable from injuries and roster upheaval. If those guys don’t take advantage of this particular window, there’s no guarantee that it will stay open.

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