NBA Stars Under the Most Pressure to Win a Ring Now That LeBron James Has His
And once he was dubbed the best player in the NBA by fans and media alike, James was under pressure to win an NBA title.
While basketball is a team game, James seemed to take most of the blame, including from me in various articles. It didn't matter if he averaged a triple-double, it was never going to be enough until James and the Miami Heat won a title.
But James shut up a bunch of his critics, myself included, and it's time for him to enjoy it. So, now that the pressure is off, there are other NBA stars who will be under the microscope when it comes to whether or not they can win a title.
Will these guys go the way of Karl Malone and Dominique Wilkins—Hall of Famers with no rings—or will they find a way to win at least one title before all's said and done?
Here's a look at eight guys who are now under the most pressure to win the NBA championship.
8. Deron Williams
If he goes to Dallas, there will be the same calls that went LeBron's way. Some critics will say he couldn't win a title on his own and had to resort to teaming up with another All-Star (Dirk Nowitzki) in an effort to win a title.
However, if he stays in Brooklyn, he'll be the face of the franchise and someone the team can really build around. Plus, I believe that if he stays in Brooklyn, the pressure won't be as heavy as it would be if he joins Nowitzki in Dallas.
Apparently, when stars team up, it's supposed to be easy for them to win an NBA title. LeBron found out differently last year.
7. Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin is what Lob City is all about. His dunks are highlights every night.
Clippers fans were able to get a taste of what the future could be like, and once they get a taste, high expectations are sure to follow.
Although nobody expects the Clippers to win a title next year, by the time it gets to the 2013-14 season, people will start calling for Lob City to be making those plays in the NBA Finals.
6. Russell Westbrook
I'll admit that Russell Westbrook doesn't have as much pressure to win a title as his Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, Kevin Durant, does.
But he's still one of the top-15 players in the league, and when you're ranked that high and teamed with one of the top players in the league, the expectations will be there.
Prior to the start of the NBA Finals, many fans (including myself) thought the Thunder would have no problem beating the Heat in a seven-game series. But we found that the Thunder have some weaknesses, and the Heat took advantage.
Although he won't take the brunt of the criticism, Westbrook will still get called out for the simple fact that he's playing with Durant, and that alone should have them competing for the title in years to come.
5. Chris Paul
The lobber in Lob City, Chris Paul faces pressure along with Blake Griffin. He's the best point guard in the NBA and has a great cast of characters around him.
One thing he needs to do to get the Clippers closer to a title is continue to shoot the ball. Eventually, more and more shots will go down, and his points average will go above 20.
Now, Paul is going to try to avoid the same street that John Stockton went down—Hall-of-Fame point guard who failed to win a title.
You think there's pressure there?
4. Dwight Howard
So, whether it's via trade or free agency after next season, Howard is going to have to go somewhere else to win a title. While I don't like seeing multiple superstars team up to win a title, I think I can make an exception for Howard.
He needs to go somewhere where there's another superstar, someone who he'll share the spotlight with and maybe nix the drama.
If Howard goes anywhere where he's the main star, the same problems in Orlando will follow him. He'll make demands, get coaches hired and fired, and try to make personnel decisions on the roster.
Honestly, I'll be okay with Howard going ringless during his career.
Maybe once he grows up, my opinion will change.
3. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder were so close this year...well, sort of. While I thought the Thunder would have no problem disposing of the Heat in the finals, the Heat proved otherwise.
So, now KD and his teammates go back to the drawing board in an effort to get back to the finals next year.
With progression each year, there's no doubt that the pressure will be on Durant to lead his team to an NBA title at some point in the next few years. If he doesn't, he could very well start carrying the same label that James did for so long.
The talent is there in Oklahoma City; they just have to continue to play OKC basketball, like they did in the earlier rounds this year, and they'll find themselves raising the trophy next year.
If they don't, questions will start coming Durant's way.
2. Carmelo Anthony
I'll go ahead and be honest with you...I don't think Carmelo Anthony will win a title during his NBA career.
I just don't see it happening. He's another guy who forced management's hand, and it seems to not have worked out his way.
I don't think it's a coincidence that the New York Knicks were playing better when Melo was out of the lineup and it was Jeremy Lin's team. Sure, Lin turned the ball over more than you want from your point guard, but he was helping the Knicks win. That's all that matters.
While we have seen him pass the ball on multiple occasions, the running joke is that Anthony is a black hole when he gets the ball.
Regardless, Melo is still a great NBA player. He's just not championship material. Maybe by the end of his career, he'll take less money to play somewhere where he can try and win a championship.
1. Derrick Rose
The guy under the most pressure to win an NBA title is Derrick Rose.
For the last two years, the Chicago Bulls have been the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. In 2010-11, they lost to the Heat in the conference finals. This year, Rose was injured and they lost in the first round.
Now, with Rose expected to be fully healthy some time again next year, the pressure will be on him and the Bulls to not only win the No. 1 seed in the conference, but to also make it to the NBA Finals. The time is now for the former MVP.
Bulls fans aren't going to accept excuses anymore. Michael Jordan didn't make excuses. Heck, he even played a playoff game with the flu.
Now, nobody expected Rose to play after his knee injury in the playoffs, but at some point, fans are going to start getting restless if he doesn't deliver and/or gets injured again.
Rose has to show Chicago and the NBA that he is one of the best young players in the game and that he is capable of leading his team to an NBA title.