Steve Nash is running out of chances to capture a title.
Every single player in the NBA wants a title. That goes without saying. But there are always a few players in the league that need a title.
Whether it's to solidify their place as an all-time great or to try to repair their image to the public, some guys simply need to have a ring. They may not always get it, but their motivation is certainly stronger thanks to a little extra incentive.
It's almost too bad that there's only one title to go around, but these six stars will all be vying for it this year.
All stats accurate as of Jan. 4, 2013.
If Kevin Durant's going to be the rival of LeBron James, he's going to need a title.
It seems crazy to say that someone as young as Kevin Durant needs a title. And in some sense it is.
Durant's just 24 years old and has tons of time to win a ring. But if he wants to be considered LeBron James' rival, he does need one. Soon.
LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant has a chance to be this generation's Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson. These are the two best players in the league—at or nearing their primes—and they play the same position.
Not only that, but they dominate opponents in slightly different ways. LeBron is the best all-around player in the league, while Durant, also a great all-around player, is a peerless scorer.
LeBron recently told Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins:
I know there is someone, somewhere, trying to take my spot. And I know where he is too. He's in Oklahoma. He's my inspiration because I see the direction he's headed, and it's the same direction I'm headed. I know his mind-set, and he knows mine. It's a collision course. We're driving one another.
The league has never had a rivalry with this kind of potential.
James landed the first punch when he beat Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in last year's NBA Finals. Now it's Durant's turn. If he wins a title this year, or even next year, a real rivalry will begin. One that could be the greatest ever.
Chris Paul will go down as one of the greatest point guards to play the game.
Chris Paul will go down as one of the best point guards of all time. A title, or more precisely, how many titles he wins, will determine just where he's placed among history's other greats.
Paul's credentials match up with the other great point guards both statistically and in terms of the eye test. Paul's career averages are near 19 points, 10 assists and five rebounds per game, and in 2008-09, he became just the third player ever to average a 20-10-5 for an entire season (per Basketball Reference).
He's also a great defender and one of the league's smartest players. Outside of Steve Nash, nobody in the NBA understands how to run a team better.
In the end, it all comes down to the rings. Any player without one (sorry, John Stockton) is going to be on the outside looking in.
If he wins just one title, Paul is suddenly right up there with Oscar Robertson. If he wins two, you could make a serious case for putting him above Isiah Thomas as the second-best point guard ever.
Magic Johnson's probably out of reach at this point, but second best is nothing to scoff at. Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league. A title makes him one of the best point guards ever. Pretty high stakes.
It's starting to look like Dwight Howard will need a ring to restore his reputation.
When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers, he became public enemy No. 1. It took a title for the world to forgive him.
Following his ugly departure from the Orlando Magic, it looks like it will take Dwight Howard the exact same thing.
Howard is a once-in-a-generation big man, a rarity in today's game. When healthy, he's a complete game-changer on the defensive end and one of the few players in the league that demands a double-team in the post.
Yet despite all that, Howard has taken a lot of criticism recently, much of it stemming from his Orlando exit. In September, former Los Angeles Lakers great James Worthy told Melissa Rohlin of the Los Angeles Times that he “wasn't a fan of Dwight Howard,” and that Howard talked too much.
Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register has also been critical of Howard, recently writing:
As more substandard games go by without noticeable rust dropping off, the image repair that was supposed to happen this season is twisting into reputation tarnishing. If Howard is banking on disproving all that was said about him during his Orlando exit debacle by showing he is a winner as a Laker, he'd better be saving something super special for late in the season.
Unless Howard starts dashing off some 30-point, 20-rebound games (unlikely considering the way he looks right now), he's going to need to win a title to answer his biggest critics. LeBron was eventually able to repair his image with a ring. Now it's Howard's turn.
Steve Nash is capable of running an NBA team better than just about anyone else.
For the past 10 years, Steve Nash has been the shining example of how to run an NBA team from the point guard position. He has always had an implicit understanding of how to get a team running smoothly.
Nash knows when and how to get guys going and when he needs to take over games with his scoring. He's directed one of the best fast-break attacks ever (during the seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns era) and is one of the greatest shooters and pick-and-roll players in NBA history.
There's a lot going for Nash. But at 38 years old, he only has a year or two left to capture a title. And unless he does, he'll always be a member of the dreaded "greatest to never win a ring club."
You probably know a lot of the members. There's Karl Malone, Elgin Baylor, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller and many more. It's completely unfair, but the absence of a ring tends to emphasize a basketball player's deficiencies.
For example, Karl Malone trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in career scoring, but he will always be remembered for choking in the clutch (highlighted by the turnover in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals that led to Michael Jordan's famous last shot).
Kevin Garnett had a similar reputation for almost his entire career. But as soon as he won a title with the Boston Celtics, it didn't matter. The ring made people forget his biggest flaw.
As good as Steve Nash has been offensively, he's always been a defensive liability. A title will more or less mask that fact. But if he doesn't get it, he'll be forced to fall in line with Malone and Miller.
The way Nash's career is remembered will be decided soon. People will either be saying, “Steve Nash was great,” or “Steve Nash was great, but...”
What is Russell Westbrook thinking taking an open layup instead of just giving it to Kevin Durant?
Russell Westbrook needs a title just as much as his good buddy Kevin Durant does.
No matter what Westbrook does, he just can't please people. He can drop an efficient 40 points, and people just complain that he took shots away from Durant.
Unless he hands the ball to Durant on every single possession, it's hard to imagine that he'll ever make everybody happy.
And fair or not, until the Oklahoma City Thunder win a title, Westbrook will always be blamed as the player that's holding them back.
The Thunder reached the NBA Finals last year, yet people continue to say that Westbrook isn't a championship-caliber point guard. This comes despite his magnificent Game 4 performance in last year's Finals and despite the fact that Durant has never had anything but praise for him.
In fact, less than a month ago, Durant told USA Today's Sam Amick that he was fed up with the criticism, saying:
I've learned to just say, “Man, some people just don't know what they're talking about.” Some people are going to love you, some people are going to hate you. So what? We need Russell to do what he does. We made it to the Finals that way, were three games away from winning a championship.
Is Westbrook a perfect player? Absolutely not. But he's young, phenomenally talented and has improved every single year that he's been the league. If he wins a title, people finally might start to acknowledge that.
Much like his idol, Carmelo Anthony has always been able to score.
Carmelo Anthony needs to win a title badly, but not for the reasons that most may think: He needs to win a title to ensure that he's remembered.
Sound strange? Maybe. But it's the truth. Anthony is on the tier just below the top players in the league. He's not quite on the LeBron James-Kevin Durant-Chris Paul superstar level.
The most similar player to Anthony—both in terms of game and status in the league—is his idol, Bernard King. Like Anthony, King was a New York Knicks forward who made scoring look effortless. He was the Knicks in the early '80s. He racked up points like it was nothing.
But in 1985, King got injured and was never the same again.
Now, casual fans don't think of Bernard King when they think of great players from the 1980s. They think of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But only the diehards remember King. He's become one of the greatest players that no one thinks about.
It's strange to consider now, but without a ring, Anthony could be due for the same treatment. The league is full of superstars. People are sure to remember LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. But Anthony is in that second tier. He could very well slip through the cracks.
Years from now, fans might be swapping Carmelo Anthony stories. Or they might not. Only time, or a ring, will tell.