The 2012-13 NBA regular season has come to a close and the playoffs are officially upon us. As every team prepares for their run at a title, specific individuals have the opportunity to prove their worth during the postseason.
The question is, which players have the most to prove?
There is no question that team success is more important than an individual padding his résumé or stat sheet. After all, legacies are made by championship rings more so than an individual's ability to score the rock.
With that being said, few have as much to gain as the players listed below.
Certain players are in the process of building their legacies, thus needing to earn a championship ring in 2012-13 to improve their Hall of Fame status. Other players are on the rise, but will not receive the respect they deserve until winning big.
So who has the most on the line? Let's find out.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony is at the stage of his career in which he's no longer playing for All-Star game selections or star recognition. The only thing that matters for Anthony is his ability to make noise in the playoffs—something he's been unable to do.
Thus far, Anthony has made it out of the first round just once in his nine postseason appearances. That was the year in which Anthony and the Denver Nuggets reached the Western Conference Finals, but failed to close out strong.
It's time for 'Melo to put up or fall back into the second tier of superstars.
If 'Melo is unable to lead the New York Knicks past the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs, the scoring title he took home this past regular season will depreciate in value. Leading the league in scoring helps Anthony's legacy, but not as much as the lack of postseason success hurts it.
Not only is Anthony without a ring, but he's failed to make it out of the first round in every season but 2009. Shooting 41.9 percent during postseason games certainly doesn't help his cause.
Anthony can salvage his legacy by winning the Knicks' first-round series. He can enter the realm of his fellow draft mates by winning a title.
If Anthony goes out in the first round, however, this magical season will be rendered meaningless.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors have reached the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and just the second time since 1994. At the heart of their success is the play of point guard Stephen Curry, who set the NBA record for three-point field goals made in one season.
Even still, the general population frowns upon the notion that Curry is a superstar.
Since 2013 NBA All-Star break, Curry is averaging 26.0 points, 7.4 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals on a slash line of .476/.461/.894. During his past 26 games, Curry has topped 30 points in nine separate outings.
That includes a 54-point performance at Madison Square Garden, a 47-point showing at the Staples Center and six games with at least 35 points.
By the numbers, Curry is a genuine superstar who has proven to be the best three-point shooter in the NBA. According to public perception, however, Curry is nothing close to the players we refer to as the elite of the elite.
Stepping up in the postseason could put an end to that theory.
Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers
With Kobe Bryant sidelined by a torn Achilles tendon, Dwight Howard has the opportunity to prove that he can be a franchise player for one of the most decorated organizations in NBA history. Forget about Shaquille O'Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain.
It's time for Howard to carve out his own legacy as a Lakers big man.
If D-12 is unable to make this series competitive, there's no question that he will hear about it from the Los Angeles faithful. If he and the Lakers are able to compete, however, the NBA world will alleviate the burden of a lost season from Howard's shoulders.
Whether fair or foul, that's the risk at hand for D-12.
Howard has experienced postseason success before, as he led the Orlando Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals. Although Orlando ultimately lost 4-1 to the Lakers, there is no question that Howard is talented enough to lead L.A. to the Finals in 2013.
It's time for the best center in the NBA to prove how dominant he can be.
LeBron James, Miami Heat
LeBron James could make a dozen highlight reels, lead the NBA in postseason scoring and guide the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals. He could drain buzzer-beaters, post triple-doubles and make key defensive plays.
If he fails to win the NBA championship, however, this is nothing short of a failed season.
This is nothing against LeBron, but instead an acknowledgement of how much he has going for him. Keep in mind, James is no longer a player who is compared to the stars of today.
The only player LeBron has to compete with from here on out is Michael Jordan.
Failing to win the title in 2013 would set The King back in that regard. Although James improved his legacy by winning his fourth NBA MVP award, regular-season accolades only go so far.
James owns a championship ring, but he's also lost two of his three appearances in the NBA Finals—that pales in comparison to MJ's six rings in six appearances.
Winning back-to-back titles would go a long way toward offering a form of validity to the long lasting debate between LeBron and Jordan. Failing to win a ring, however, would set James back in a significant manner.
For the record, Jordan owns two three-peats and six total NBA championships, while Kobe Bryant owns a three-peat and a back-to-back reign to reach five total titles won. LeBron can reach the plateau of their respective legacies, but he'll need to win a ring to do so.
It's as simple as winning and improving his legacy or failing.