William K. Wolfrum's picture

    Lords of the Ring: Will Lebron, KD and Derrick Rose keep the rest of the NBA ring-less?

    When Michael Jordan won his first NBA Championship with the Chicago Bulls, he was 28 and defined his career. As much as that, however, he defined an entire era in the NBA. Because while Jordan and the Bulls went on to win five more titles, a plethora of other great players went on to search for other ways to define themselves.

    Jordan’s prime coincided with the prime years of many other superstars, such as Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Dominique Wilikns and others. By the time Jordan was done, only a scant few got to taste NBA glory – Hakeem Olajuwan and Clyde Drexler (who won two titles when Jordan went to play baseball) and David Robinson (who, along with Tim Duncan, won a title once Jordan’s prime was over.) For nearly a full decade, the NBA Championship Trophy was held by few.

    When Lebron James and the Miami Heat won the NBA title this week, James was 27 and defined his own career. Gone were the taunts of “choker.” In what can only be described as a Jordanesque performance, James took apart a marvelously talented Oklahoma City squad, dominating on all levels and playing with a ferocity rarely seen in any sport. After a career that has seen him win three MVP trophies, James finally added the word “Champion” to his resume.

    Much like Jordan’s first title, James’ first ushers in a new age in the NBA. When Jordan’s Bulls won in 1991, it meant that legends like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas were done winning titles. It also meant that stars like Barkley and Ewing would never win a title.

    Of course, even after James’ performance, it still doesn’t demand he be compared to Jordan on even ground. After all, Jordan won six NBA titles. James still has a long way to go to reach that standard, and it’s very likely he never will.

    The last two years in the NBA, however, has introduced us to Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose. On the young side of 25, and showing signs of being future Hall of Famers, it’s very hard to imagine those two players going through their careers without winning an NBA championship ring. For James to win more championships, the road seemingly will always go through those two, and their substantial potential for detours.

    What does that mean for the rest of the NBA? It means another shutout. Kobe Bryant is done winning championships. As is Dirk Nowitzki. As is Paul Pierce. Of those who have never tasted NBA glory, Dwight Howard is the new Patrick Ewing, and Steve Nash the new John Stockton. And players such as Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Blake Griffin and others may light up the stat sheets and highlight reels, but they will likely never see their names in lights.

    While it’s difficult to see Durant or Rose get shut out of Finals victories, one should not bet against James at this stage. A few years ago, Tiger Woods (who shares a birthday with James) shocked everyone by making a substantial run at Jack Nicklaus’ record for golf majors. While that run has been stalled, it continues. Now it is James’ turn to go head-to-head with a legend. Legends are made to be challenged.

    Five more titles is difficult to visualize, but James should not be counted out. In 2012, he became the man he was always supposed to be. The 2011 loss to the Dallas Mavericks forced a sea change in James’ focus. While he still played with joy and maintained a jovial image, the maturing he went through was obvious to all. And his play was truly brilliant, even by his own lofty standards.

    None of this means that James-led teams will sweep NBA titles for the next several years. But with James, Durant and Rose around, it means that many a great basketball player will now go through their NBA careers without a ring.


    Crossposted at William K. Wolfrum Chronicles



    Too much, too soon, bro.

    He's won one (1) championship.

    That's 1 (one.)

    Also, "playing with a ferocity rarely seen in any sport?" 

    Remember the leg cramp? As in, "cramp" in the "leg?'

    Leg + Cramp.

    Yeah, ummmmmm.... Ferocious.



    Agree with Q--too soon to draw any of these conclusions.  Impossible to say whether Miami would have gotten by the Bulls had Rose not been injured.  Miami was lucky this time in the way the Bulls were not and luck with injuries always can be a decisive factor in the NBA playoffs.  Beyond that factor, with free agency a lot of roster change can occur very quickly in the NBA among players determined to maximize their chances of winning a ring.  

    I'd agree that it doesn't look too promising right now for Kobe to get ring #6 but all that could change very rapidly if the Lakers are able to pick up a key player or two to put them right back in the hunt (not that I want that; I respect Kobe's night in and night out effort and work ethic but have never liked him).  Rondo is locked up for awhile yet with Boston but would anyone want to bet the ranch he won't be traded now that the end of the Garnett-Allen-Pierce-Rondo era looks to be over?  

    Given Rose's style of play I would think there would be questions as to whether his knee injury will have longer term consequences on either his effectiveness or his longevity, or both.  Chicago has other question marks going forward.  None that have anything to do with whether they'll be an excellent team or not--they will--but about just how far they can go. 

    Realizing he is personally unable to make Hardin's open looks for him when Hardin gets those off double-teams or traps on him, Durant  knows he needs to get physically stronger or remains at risk of being pushed around at closing time.  His teammate Nick Collison said that, although Durant is stronger than he was in college, teams then would just pick him up at midcourt so he wouldn't have enough time to get to within 25 feet of the basket at closing time.  Durant clearly is not remotely afraid of the moment and has the closer mindset and all the shots.  He just needs to get a bit stronger.  Hardin will likely have to show up if OKC is going to win a finals with their current configuration.  

    The big difference between Durant and James as closers is that because of his superior strength James can always get to the basket at closing time or draw a double team and get a wide open look for a teammate.  He played confident instead of timid these finals and Miami's role players did likewise, making many of the open looks they got this time around.  

    I can't say that I like him but I don't despise James any longer.  It seems clear that he badly wants to be liked and he has made some poor decisions and choices of words that reflect a lack of maturation on his part which he seems to have made major strides in moving beyond.  Like many superstar athletes he seems to have pretty narrow horizons as a human being, caught in the bubble as he is, and so to me he is not particularly interesting.  Time will tell whether he reverts to the old, fragile LeBron next season or whether he is able to keep his focus.

    In retrospect it seems as though last season James and Wade both may have been less effective playing together than they might have been because of the awkwardness of the "alpha" question.  I thought LeBron seemed reluctant to step into that role last season--perhaps he thought others would think he was being selfish if he asserted himself in that role?  This season James became the clear alpha.  Wade is still an outstanding player but his body is beat up and he cannot as consistently dominate as he once could.  It has to have been pretty brutal on his ego to hear all the talk about how James is the alpha and he is not the best player on the team he brought James and Bosh to.  But he's mentally tough and a basically a winner (although he has taken to whining even more than James in transition when he doesn't get calls on the offensive end--good on Rondo for calling the Heat on that during that series) and I think he just decided he wouldn't let all the crap get to him in the service of trying to get that second ring. 

    I'm by no means ready to concede even the Eastern conference championship to Miami going forward although barring injuries to key players the road to the finals will be presumed to run through them for the time being.     

    I think Wade's aging a bit, 30 now, and that'll continue down its slope in these coming years as well, which could become difficult for the team to handle. I mean, you're paying him a lot of money, and he was the big guy, but what if... he loses a step... tires more... doesn't pick up as many free throws... etc. What and how does James handle that? Also, Bosh is only gonna pick up more injuries as he ages. A lot of people loved him in Toronto, but he's slight. Next year, I'd say some young, aggressive teams would be smart to bang Bosh some more, and wear on Wade all they could. 

    What do you guys think of Ray Allen apparently interested in going to Miami? I think that would be an unbelievable fit, even with Allen on his last legs. I'm quite curious as to what the Bulls are going to do, as well. Where the hell is Articleman?


    I heard today that Dwight Howard is off the Rockets. I give him two years until he wants out of there.

    I love Ray Allen.  He is looking at off-season surgery to try to fix his ankle and the threshold question is how that will go and whether he is likely to be more like the player he was early this season or last season, or whether he will be significantly impaired for the rest of his career, both with his shot (which suffered a lot, even his free throws, because of the ankle problems, in the playoffs) and defensively where he had to get pulled at times in the playoffs because of matchup problems.  (When healthy he is an excellent, and much underrated, defensive player in my view.) 

    Even if it's the latter, even if he'll be good for maybe 15-20 minutes a game, just putting him in late in games will force teams to pay attention to him (unless he proves he's permanently lost his ability to shoot long on account of the ankle), which opens up opportunities for other players.  He's a pro's pro so won't create locker room problems if he cannot start.  To the contrary, he's the kind of guy teams would want to have around.  I really hope he does not go to Miami.  Sheesh.  Give someone else a better chance, Ray, please, if you're gonna leave us... 

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