LeBron Wins Championship: Ranking 12 Best Active NBA Players Without a Ring

Marilee Gallagher@mgallagher17Contributor IIJune 23, 2012

LeBron Wins Championship: Ranking 12 Best Active NBA Players Without a Ring

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    Going into the 2012 NBA Finals, there was no question that the pressure was on LeBron James and company to bring the Miami Heat a championship.

    With the amount of talent they had and a full year to really build on that talent and to develop team chemistry, the only thing standing in the way of LeBron's first ring was a bunch of kids. Sure, these kids were well disciplined, incredibly talented and one of the best teams in the NBA, but when it came down to it, they didn't have the playoff experience that LeBron and the Heat did.

    It really was a moment of clarity, but more importantly, finality for James as after a nine-year career filled with both triumphant wins and devastating defeats, he could finally breathe a sigh of relief at taking home the first of what he hopes is several rings.

    James was no doubt the best active athlete in the NBA to never win a championship. Now that he has one, however, it is time to look at the best of the rest who haven't quite reached championship glory.

No. 12 Elton Brand (Philadelphia 76ers)

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    A former Rookie of the Year, Elton Brand has been a pretty solid player throughout his career. The 13-year NBA vet has battled injuries, but when healthy, he has been a key contributor to both the LA Clipper and Philadelphia 76er teams he has played on.

    After two years and a National Player of the Year honor, Brand decided to leave Duke University and declare for the NBA draft.

    A top talent, Brand was taken first overall by the Chicago Bulls—a team that was yearning for a resurgence back to the success of the teams of the 1990s captained by Michael Jordan. Brand, as a result, was expected to be the beginning of a new Bulls dynasty—a successor to Jordan himself.

    Even though his numbers with Chicago were great as he averaged a little over 10 rebounds and 20 points, he didn't fit into the Bulls' future plans and was dealt to the Clippers—the team where he spent the majority of his career.

    With the Clippers, Brand earned his second of two All-Star appearances and averaged 20-plus in four consecutive seasons. He helped lead the team to a playoff appearance in 2006 and helped them win their first series since 1974.

    Now with the 76ers, Brand has become a veteran presence on a team with a lot of young and talented players. His experience has been key, and he has become a vital piece on the team.

    Although his numbers and minutes have gone down, Brand has developed a very reliable 18-foot jumper that really has helped his team execute their fast-break, pull-up and shoot style of offense.

    Although the Sixers are not championship ready yet, coach Doug Collins has developed the players and worked with their raw talent to create success so far. It would not be surprising then to see Brand win his first ring with this team a few years down the line.

No. 11 Tracy McGrady (Atlanta Hawks)

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    Currently with his sixth NBA team, Tracy McGrady is a veteran player who has made his mark on several teams on both the East and West Coast. In his 15th year in the league, McGrady has been one of the better players to never have won a ring.

    A seven-time All-Star and two-time scoring champion, McGrady is currently playing for the Atlanta Hawks and seeking out another playoff berth. In the 2012 season, his role came off the bench as he averaged 5.3 points in 16.1 minutes a game.

    Having spent four seasons with the Orlando Magic, McGrady owns a handful of franchise records including most points in a game with 62 against the Washington Wizards. With the Magic, McGrady also led the team to three playoff appearances. 

    In his 15 years in the league, McGrady has been to the playoffs eight times. Showing a period of absolute playoff dominance, he averaged 30-plus points in four consecutive seasons, although each time, his team fell short.

    A veteran in this league, McGrady's role has been reduced to role player instead of playmaker. Still, his presence off the bench is something most contending teams could use en route to securing a championship.

No. 10 Amar'e Stoudemire (NY Knicks)

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    Coming off 10 strong years in the NBA, Amar'e Stoudemire has been a great player for both the Phoenix Suns and the New York Knicks.

    With the Suns especially, Stoudemire has really shone brightly and was one-half of a great pick-and-roll that some have compared to the likes of John Stockton and Karl Malone.

    In 2003, Amar'e took home the Rookie of the Year honors by averaging 13.5 points and 8.8 assists per game. He's a six-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA second team selection. Despite a series of injuries, Amar'e has managed to play through them and is still regarded as one of the better players in the game.

    He has averaged over 20 points seven times in his career, and with Steve Nash, helped the Phoenix Suns to a 62-10 record in a lockout-shortened season. During that season, he also led the Suns to the playoffs, once again averaging 20-plus points, even though the team came up short.

    Now with the Knicks, Stoudemire is once again paired with a stellar offensive player in Carmelo Anthony. Under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, Amar'e is in a place that fits his personality well.

    He's also surrounded by great players. The main thing the Knicks are missing is a good coach who can bring all of that together. Then, the Knicks could become real contenders for an NBA championship.

No. 9 Vince Carter (Dallas Mavericks)

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    Fourteen years ago, a junior at the University of North Carolina named Vince Carter was selected fifth overall in the NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors. Today, Carter is still playing in the league, and despite a storied career, is still seeking his first NBA championship.

    Carter instantly emerged in the league as a star with high-flying dunks and incredible baseline drives to the hoop. In 1999, he won the Rookie of the Year Award, and in the following year, he made his first of eight All-Star teams and won the Slam Dunk Contest. He's also the 37th player in history to score over 20,000 points—a feat he accomplished in 2011.

    His success does not end there, as throughout his career, Carter has been a playoff fixture, narrowly missing out from being an NBA champion. In 1999, he helped lead the Toronto Raptors to their first ever playoff appearance, and in 2004, he took the New Jersey Nets to their first of three consecutive playoff appearances, each in which Carter averaged 22-plus points.

    In 2001 in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Carter etched his name into the record books as he set a record for most consecutive three-pointers made with eight.

    With his career winding down, Carter is running out of time to finally get a championship ring—something that could in fact cement his place in the Basketball Hall of Fame. 

No. 8 Carmelo Anthony (NY Knicks)

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    As a freshman in college, Carmelo Anthony was brilliant, helping a Syracuse team to its first national championship. In the NBA, Melo has seen some of the same success, except a professional championship ring is still missing from his trophy case.

    In 2013, Anthony will be entering his 10th season in the league and will be searching for his first championship. Spending the early years of his career with the Denver Nuggets, Melo became one of the more well-known players in the NBA.

    He was selected to the All-Rookie first team in 2003 and has been named to the All-Star team five times. He's one of the league's most prolific scorers and has averaged over 20 points in each of his nine seasons in the league.

    After playing in the 2004 Olympics, which has been considered to be one of the biggest disappointments in U.S. Olympic history, Anthony came back to captain and led the 2008 team to redemption and gold-medal glory.

    Anthony has reached the playoffs in each of his nine seasons played, but only once has he made it out of the first round of the postseason. Seven times, he has averaged over 20 points in the playoffs including last season with the New York Knicks where he averaged 27.8 points good enough for a second-best playoff high.

    On a new team with a new outlook, Anthony has a shot at getting that championship. Still, it will take a lot of passion and leadership just like he showed in the 2003 NCAA national championship and the 2008 Olympics, for Melo to celebrate the NBA's ultimate achievement.

No. 7 Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves)

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    Kevin Love has gotten better each year since making his debut in 2008. The former UCLA product and fifth overall draft pick has not disappointed for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Cranking out double-doubles like it's his job, Love has become one of the better power forwards in the game.

    In Love's rookie season, he played mostly off the bench, starting only 37 games. He played in 81 total games recording averages of 11.1 points and 9.1 rebounds a game. The following year, Love increased his numbers to 15 points and 11 rebounds a game still playing from the bench.

    Finally given his chance to start, Love exploded offensively averaging 20-plus points and a career-high 15.2 rebounds. It was also in the 2010-11 season that Love really emerged as a star in the league.

    He recorded his first and the 19th in NBA history's 30-30 game with 31 points and 31 rebounds. He received his first All-Star appearance as he replaced the injured Yao Ming and set a franchise record with 53 consecutive games with a double-double. Love finished the season as the Most Improved Player.

    In 2012, Love continued his improvement. He began the season with 15 straight double-doubles, scored 30-plus points in three consecutive games and recorded a career-high 51 points in a double-overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    He finished the season with a career-high 26 points per game and is currently being considered as a finalist to make the 2012 Olympic Team.

    Love likely won't win any championships any time soon if he stays in Minnesota. That said however, he's only 23, and his ceiling to impress has only gotten higher each year.

    It won't be long until the two-time All-Star and 2011 NBA Rebounding Champion becomes a household name in this league and on a contending team. Love could be the difference maker to helping bring home a championship.

No. 6 Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic)

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    Dwight Howard is one of a handful of current NBA stars who decided to forgo a college degree in exchange for entering the league right after high school. For Howard, the choice seems to have been a good one as he has experienced immense success as the first overall draft pick and as defender extraordinaire. 

    Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year Award winner and has been one of the best defenders in the league during his entire career. He has been named to the NBA's All-Defensive first team in four of his eight seasons in the league in addition to being named to the All-NBA team five times.

    Howard, who after winning the Slam Dunk Contest in 2008 received the nickname "Superman," has lived up to the moniker for the Orlando Magic. Having made the playoffs in five of his last six seasons, Howard is averaging a career-playoff double-double with 14.4 rebounds and 19.9 points. He's also averaging 2.8 blocks per game in the postseason.

    For Superman, his only Kryptonite has really been himself. Howard has come up in big moments, but sometimes, his ego has come into conflict with his coaches and teammates. Recently, he just bypassed free agency and was the story of the year as he decided to stay with the Magic for at least one more year.

    With a new coach and hopeful for a big offseason move, could 2013 be the year that Howard finally gets what he wants?

No. 5 Deron Williams (Brooklyn Nets)

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    Quickly making his mark on the league, the seven-year veteran Deron Williams is now ready to make his mark on something else by winning an NBA Championship.

    Along with Chris Paul, Williams is considered as one of the best active point guards in the game, with the stats to prove it. A three-time All-Star and twice named to the All-NBA second team, Williams has career averages of 17.6 points and 9.2 assists per game.

    Not wanting to take a break from basketball, Williams became the first marquee star to sign a contract to play overseas during the lock out. In one particular game with his Turkish team, Williams scored 50 points including going 7-of-10 from the three-point line.

    Upon returning back to the NBA after the lockout ended, Williams had none of the rust that some of his fellow players had. With the ultimate goal of leading the then-New Jersey Nets to their first playoff appearance since 2007, Williams had a great season including scoring a league-high 57 points in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats.

    Although the Nets are improving, it seems likely that Williams' best chance at a ring will come elsewhere. He's still young and still talented, and as a soon-to-be free agent, could have the opportunity to play for a contender.

No. 4 Chris Paul (LA Clippers)

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    With seven seasons already in the books for the 27-year-old Chris Paul, much has been accomplished.

    Upon leaving Wake Forest to join the NBA, Paul was drafted by the then-New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. In his first season with the team, he won the Rookie of the Year Award averaging over 16 points, two blocks and seven assists. 

    He has been to the playoffs in four of his seven seasons in the league and even has a gold medal as a member of the "Redeemed Team."

    In his entire NBA career, Paul has averaged no less than 15 points and seven assists per game. He has led the NBA in assists twice, and four of the last five years, he has led the NBA in steals per game.

    With these numbers, Paul is also the only player in NBA history to lead the league in steals and assists in back-to-back seasons. He set an NBA record by recording 108 consecutive games with a steal and is third on the all-time list with his career average of 9.8 assists per game. 

    Paul is probably the best player in the Hornets franchise, holding many of the team and rookie records. As a member of the Clippers, Paul is now paired with one of the NBA's young talents in Blake Griffin. This is his best chance at a ring, and with the way the team is built, it might not be long until Paul and Griffin get one.

No. 3 Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls)

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    For having just four seasons in the NBA, Derrick Rose has already done things that most NBA veterans haven't and at the ripe old age of 23; the kid is just getting started.

    Sitting on the list among vets who have been in the league for seven-plus years really shows how skilled and dominant Rose has been during his short time in the league. In his rookie season, Rose dazzled for the Chicago Bulls scoring 16.8 points and 6.3 assists per game and helping lead them to the playoffs where he dropped 36 points and 11 assists in his postseason debut.

    Since his rookie year, Rose has been named an All-Star and has led his team to the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. He won the MVP in 2011, making him the youngest player ever to do so.

    Rose's Bulls also finished the last two seasons as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference,  and if not for an injury in Game 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Bulls likely would have had another shot at the Conference Finals.

    Still young and surrounded by great pieces, Rose is a champion in the making and in a franchise that produced the best NBA player of all time, he's certainly in the right place to make that happen. With a repaired knee and a full season to perform, championship glory for Rose could come as soon as next year.

No. 2 Kevin Durant (OKC Thunder)

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    This year's NBA Finals pitted the league MVP against the league's scoring champion, and this time, the MVP came out on top.

    Kevin Durant has been an absolute stud for the Oklahoma City Thunder ever since he was first drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics back in 2007.

    Taken second overall, Durant  was heralded as one of the best college players by ESPN's Dick Vitale. He became the first freshman ever to win the Adolph Rupp, Oscar Robertson and NCAA Division I Player of the Year Award.

    In his rookie season, he averaged 20.3 points per game and won the Rookie of the Year Award. The year after that, the franchise and Durant relocated to Oklahoma City where he has since become the face of the organization and one of the best players in the NBA.

    Since 2010, Durant has been second only to one player in terms of offensive proficiency. He has been to the All-Star Game each of the past three years and won the game's MVP Award in 2012. He is also the current three-time NBA scoring champion as he has averaged 30.1, 27.7 and 28 points a game in the last three seasons.

    As the years go by, Durant has matured immensely, and his game has only improved. Now on an OKC team that has put the pieces in place for Durant, he's so close to tasting championship glory.

    At only 23, Durant heads up one of the youngest and most talented teams in the NBA. He will win a ring with the Thunder, and it could come as soon as next year. In fact, he may even get a chance at redemption in a rematch with James and the Miami Heat.

No. 1 Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns)

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    Topping off the list is someone who has been the best in years past but has the career numbers to make him the best active player without a ring.

    Steve Nash has been in the NBA for 16 seasons and has been a part of some of the greatest scoring team's in NBA history. He's a two-time MVP and eight-time All-Star who has played for just two teams—the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns—throughout his entire career.

    Never one to be a ball hog, Nash has led the NBA in total assists and assists per game in five seasons. He has averaged double digits in assists in seven of the last eight seasons and has averaged 12-plus points a game in each of his last 12 seasons in the league. In the playoffs, he has been even bigger, averaging 17.3 a game in 11 trips to the postseason.

    Nash helped the Suns make back-to-back conference finals, but both times came up short of reaching the NBA Finals.

    Despite Nash's shortcomings in terms of getting a ring, he has been one of the best in the NBA. He's one of only two players to be a part of the 50-40-90 club more than once as he has achieved the feat of 50 percent in field goal shooting, 40 percent from the three-point line and 90 percent from the free-throw line.

    Nash has done this five times, besting Larry Bird who has done it three times. He's 90.4 percent from the free-throw line for his career, which is second-best all time.

    Known notably for his strength in the pick-and-roll, his basketball IQ and his ability to be a playmaker, Nash has been rated as one of the top 10 point guards of all time. The problem for him, however, is that he's running out of time to get the one accolade that has so far alluded him.