What Each NBA Star Really Wants
It goes without saying that every NBA player wants to win a championship. Trying to figure out what they want beyond that, though, can get pretty tricky.
Whether it's to recover from an injury, prove something specific about their game or win a title for a certain reason, a lot of NBA stars want very different things.
Here's a quick rundown of what some of them are really after (at least in my not-so-expert opinion).
LeBron James wants to be an all-time great.
Before this season, you could have made a case for his wish to be a global icon or the sport's first billionaire, but now that he's got his first ring, it's all about making history.
It's not just that LeBron wants to be remembered as one of the greatest players ever—he knows that he's already knocking on the door. He's already a top-15 player of all time. There's no objective case saying otherwise now that he's got a title.
Let's say that LeBron ends up with three championships and five MVPs—a pretty reasonable estimate at this point. That easily makes him one of the five greatest players of all time.
You think he doesn't know that? He does.
Kevin Durant just wants to be the best player in the league.
Durant's undoubtedly the second-best player in the NBA, and he's made huge strides in his game over the past two years. He's on pace to post one of the greatest offensive seasons ever this year. But he's still chasing after LeBron James.
When LeBron was in the middle of a stretch of “30-plus points on 60 percent shooting or better” games, Durant said (per the Associated Press):
Of course, LeBron James is a really good friend of mine, a big inspiration, a guy I looked up to in high school, middle school, just hearing about him when he was in high school and being the No.1 pick out of high school was a pretty big accomplishment and now the stuff he's doing now, of course he's a big inspiration. I want to get there as well, so I just got to keep working.
And LeBron acknowledges their rivalry too. He 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.
For now, Durant will just have to play second fiddle.
For Kobe Bryant, it has always been, and always will be, about chasing Michael Jordan.
Right now, if you bring up the best shooting guards in history, you would have to mention Jordan first, and then Bryant. And Kobe can't stand that. He wants it to be Jordan and Bryant.
He can't surpass Jordan, but he still has a shot to join him. That's why he's been chasing so manically after a sixth ring.
Here's the thing—Kobe will never be the player that Jordan was. He's been great, but not MJ. There's nothing wrong with that.
But 50 years from now, people could look at their number of championships (if Bryant gets another) and their similar career totals and conclude that Kobe was just as good as MJ was. And Kobe knows it.
Only three point guards in the past 60 years have been the best player on a championship team—Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Walt Frazier. That's the list, and Chris Paul wants to join it.
A lot of people say that the NBA is a point guard-driven league now, but the rings don't back that up. Point guards are almost never the best player on championship teams. Major contributors, sure, but not the best player.
Paul's fighting an uphill battle, particularly considering the way that LeBron James and Kevin Durant are tearing up the league. Can he manage to break the curse?
This may sound strange, but Russell Westbrook just wants to be treated fairly.
It's no secret that Westbrook is one of the league's most controversial players, in large part because he's been blessed with such natural talent. We want him to make the most of his gifts and feel disappointed, almost cheated, when he doesn't
But in recent years, the scales have tipped too far in that direction. We spend so much time nitpicking Westbrook's flaws—his hot-headedness and his sometimes iffy shot selection—that we essentially gloss over everything that he brings to the table.
Westbrook's on the verge of joining Michael Jordan and Chris Paul as the only players ever to average at least a 22-8-5 with two steals per game (he currently averages 1.9 steals per game via Basketball-Reference).
We've let the “Westbrook is selfish” and “Westbrook isn't a real point guard” narratives detract from the incredible player that he is. And that's not fair.
James Harden's on a mission to prove that he's a bona fide No. 1 option.
Hardcore basketball fans know that he's already one of the 10 best players on the planet. I mean, just look at the season he's having (per Basketball-Reference). It's unreal.
But casual fans see the Houston Rockets' record and Harden's admittedly questionable (at best) defense and assume that Harden isn't the franchise player that he's cracked up to be. The Rockets don't have a chance at a championship for a few years, but Harden can certainly change the way he's perceived by fans. That's for sure.
Carmelo Anthony wants to be "the man" in New York. That's been his goal ever since he became a member of the New York Knicks. But in a lot of ways, that hasn't happened yet.
Obviously, Anthony is the best player on the Knicks, but he hasn't been accepted by New York fans the way guys like Patrick Ewing, Bernard King, Willis Reed and Walt Frazier were.
There's always been a bit of hesitance and drama surrounding Anthony's Knicks. You could see it after “Linsanity” ended and after Mike D'Antoni departed. And really, you can tell during any game that Anthony really struggles yet keeps on putting up (and missing) tough shots.
It's like all of Madison Square Garden collectively ask themselves, “Can we really go anywhere with this guy?”
There's a rare reluctance surrounding the way New York fans have embraced Anthony, and even he can see that.
Rajon Rondo/Derrick Rose
No secrets here. Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose just want to be healthy.
Or, more specifically, Rondo and Rose want to come back at 100 percent. ACL injuries treat everybody differently. Some people lose nothing, but others lose a lot of speed and athleticism.
Rose and Rondo are two of the game's best young point guards and could probably adjust to any loss of ability. But they both have to be hoping that it won't be an issue—particularly Rose, whose game is predicated on explosiveness and violent cuts to the basket.
Nobody wants to be watching from the sidelines as their team fights through the playoffs, but at the moment, that looks like it will be the case for both of these players. Here's hoping they come back better than ever.
Tim Duncan/Tony Parker
Is it too boring to say that Tim Duncan and Tony Parker just want to win?
The San Antonio Spurs have been all business and all about winning ever since Duncan entered the league. But there may be an even greater premium placed on it now.
Both Parker and Duncan have to realize that their best chance of winning another championship is right now. Because as ageless as Duncan appears, he's 36 years old. He's not going to be playing at this level for much longer. And Parker, while great, isn't "best player on a championship team” great.
If the Duncan-era Spurs are going to win another ring, then it'll have to be soon. And they're well-aware of that.
As Winston Churchill would say, Andrew Bynum is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. No one in the league has been able to figure this guy out, and I'm not sure they ever will.
Maybe he wants to bowl more? Find a better hair stylist? Who knows?
What he doesn't seem to want to do is play for the Philadelphia 76ers. So there's that, anyway.
Dwyane Wade is looking to extend his career as long as possible.
A lot has been made about why LeBron James wanted to join his greatest rival (Wade) in 2010, but much less was said about why Wade wanted LeBron to join him. Rivalry's a two-way street, right?
Here's what I think: Wade knew that he couldn't play for much longer unless he got some help. It's easy to forget now, but from 2006-10, Wade took an absolute beating.
Wade was the Miami Heat's only weapon for four years. Everyone knows that he's never been a shooter. The Heat weren't winning unless Wade was taking it to the basket 15 or 20 times per game. Other teams were absolutely pounding him every time he drove the ball.
There's no way his body would have held up without help. The most underrated thing about the LeBron acquisition is that it probably extended Wade's career by two or three years. He was due for some big-time relief.
Blake Griffin wants to prove that he can do more than just dunk.
Much like James Harden, Blake has to prove that the stupid misconceptions about his game are just that—misconceptions.
The “he's not really good; he can only dunk” argument is stupid in the first place because a dunk is the highest percentage shot in the game. The ability to dunk, and dunk often, is a skill.
But even ignoring that, any observant basketball fan could tell you that Blake can do far more than just throw down. He's one of the only young big men in the league who's starting to require a double-team, he's a gifted passer and he's actually starting to play solid defense.
Blake still has a lot of room for improvement—he's shooting an improved, but still poor, 38.3 percent from 10-15 feet (per HoopData)—but to pretend that he can dunk and do nothing else is patently unfair. It's got to be frustrating to have to battle misconceptions like that all the time.
Kyrie Irving/Kevin Love
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love just want to make the playoffs.
Both Irving and Love are young All-Stars who want to see their team get past the rebuilding phase and start competing in the postseason. Irving's only been in the league for a year and a half, so he's been pretty patient about the Cleveland Cavaliers' rebuild job.
However, Love's been around for much longer and is getting pretty sick of sitting on the couch come May. He recently told Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
I haven't been in the playoffs yet. I'm looking at my contract in the eye of two years from now, and if I haven't been to the playoffs – or it's been one playoff berth – well, it's going to be tough to say, “Oh well, I'm going to stay here and continue to rebuild.”
It's pretty hard to tell when he says such subtle things, but it sure sounds to me like Love wants to be on a contender.
I'll trust Kobe Bryant on this one. Dwight Howard wants people to like him.
Bryant recently told ESPN's Jackie MacMullan:
Dwight worries too much about what people think. I told him, “You can't worry about that. It's holding you back.” He says, “OK, OK, OK,” but it's always hovering around him. He just wants people to like him. He doesn't want to let anyone down, and that gets him away from what he should be doing.
Honestly, though, Dwight's desire to be liked was apparent long before Kobe brought it up. There's a reason that Howard's trade saga with the Orlando Magic was so drawn out. He was desperately trying to find a way to please everyone involved, even if it obviously didn't work out like that.
One of Dwight's biggest criticisms is that he's too friendly and doesn't have the edge to dominate his opponents on a night-in, night-out basis. If Kobe sees it too, then maybe there's even more going on there than everyone originally thought.