The NBA has plenty of stars, superstars, basketball celebrities and whatever else you would like to label them as. There are certain players that are synonymous with success, but more than a few have yet to achieve the highest level offered by the league.
LeBron James is the most notable, since his worst postseason moments have come in the NBA Finals, but he is not the only one who has not been granted hardware.
Kevin Durant, a rising superstar who has yet to reach his prime.
Derrick Rose, an MVP who was locked down on his way past Miami.
Chris Paul, the newest addition to a blossoming regime in LA—with the Clippers, of course.
Dwight Howard, three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Carmelo Anthony, the first man of NY.
Their talent is undeniable, but different things stand in each man’s way on his journey to the Finals and being crowned Finals MVP.
Which man will reach the promised land first?
Arguably the most dependable all-around player compared to the other five superstars, Dwight Howard sits at No. 6 because he is still with the Orlando Magic right now. It is absolutely common to the general NBA fan community that the Magic squad suffers from a severe case of mediocrity.
The huge trade that was supposed to change the outcome of an already blah-type of season turned out to produce the exact same results.
A lot of noise, but still Howard got nowhere.
He scored 40-plus points single-handedly and his team still lost the game and then went on to lose the series against the Atlanta Hawks. But, then again, it should not be surprising. Orlando landed right in the middle of the conference standings and went out in unmemorable fashion.
Howard is a leader, but unfortunately his teammates have yet to embrace his aggressive style of play, his dominance during the game or even his drive towards the NBA Finals. None of those men have the type of fight in them that he does.
Tired of it or not, Howard may have to wait a while before a change is made.
The Orlando Magic temporarily snatched Howard off of the market, probably to lure him into a longer and stronger future with the franchise. The standing problem is that GM Otis Smith keeps making the worst possible decisions to make the star happy and ends up with the same result.
That result is Dwight Howard standing at the end of a series with his head draped over the microphone explaining why, once again, they just could not pull it off.
If Orlando holds onto him for the duration of the season, Howard will be left with the exact same scenario and the exact same result: no ring.
The youngest of the bunch seems like one of the most likely candidates for a revival in the 2012 NBA Playoffs. After being shunned, with the exception of Game 1, by the Miami Heat, Rose was faced with something that he had yet to deal with throughout the regular season.
He was not good enough.
Being defended by LeBron James proved to be too much and Rose could not get the job done. Not to mention his supposed go-to under the rim guy, Carlos Boozer, provided little to no adequate help when the time called for it. He had improved in every avenue, but at that moment Rose’s best simply was not enough.
Now, this is a new year. This will be a season that favors the younger and more athletic players as shortened training camps provide a disadvantage to older teams like the Boston Celtics.
The thought is that if Chicago can come out of the Eastern Conference, they have a great chance to take on any opponent from the West.
This includes a Los Angeles Lakers team that let go of their star sixth man, has angered their franchise player and chosen thus far in the trade season to keep Andrew Bynum, who may never reach his potential, and a softer, less productive Pau Gasol.
Rose has all of the tools to create a successful postseason, but he needs more than his own contributions to push past the strangling power teams in the East like the Miami Heat and an on-the-rise NY Knicks.
They battled past the Indiana Pacers—who are a bit older, wiser and more seasoned this year—but they need a better series than that to force their way into the EC Finals and eventually the NBA Finals to win it all.
The Bulls have recruited a spot-shooter in Rip Hamilton, most likely to take some of the scoring responsibilities off of Rose and to allow him to function more as a facilitator than an every-and-any-role type of player.
Still, the Bulls have a growing internal problem with Boozer that has yet to be addressed. He is a prime player in their equation. Against LeBron, Carmelo and any other worthy scorer, the Bulls will have problems coming out of the East.
Chris Paul is the prototype of what a point guard is if there was ever a Webster’s definition and picture beside it. Now that he has seemingly gotten his plane ticket out of New Orleans into a possibly restored LA Clippers roster, things have changed drastically for his chances in the 2012 NBA playoffs.
Some may say that the Clippers gave up too much for Paul, but there needs to be a genuine understanding of what CP3 brings to the table.
Blake Griffin is a great athlete and a budding basketball player in the NBA, but with a veteran to conduct his movements, he will be virtually unstoppable. Paul has had to focus on multiple tasks in New Orleans, including scoring.
The load was not solely upon him like it is bearing down on Rose, but to say Paul was carrying the load in N’Orleans would be an understatement.
New Orleans was also in a similar position that Orlando has placed upon Dwight Howard. They were definitely riddled with a shaky start to Paul’s career as the devastation in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina seemed as it may turn out to be everlasting. He has done incredible things off and on the court for the city, but it was long time for him to move on.
All stars have something in common: They want to be surrounded by like-minded, if not equally as talented teammates that will propel them to an NBA Championship. It is a goal shared by all, but can only be achieved by few, which makes the timetable that much shorter.
Chris Paul, one of the most competitive men in the NBA, understood that after six seasons, the Hornets franchise cannot do that for him. He saw a trend gaining steam in the league, so it was time for him to join an organization that has the promising talent and future it takes to make it happen.
Can you blame him? Of course you can, but you shouldn’t.
Now, that he stands beside Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, with a viable backup guard in Chauncey Billups, Paul and the Clippers are true contenders in the NBA playoffs. They outlasted a few high-ranked teams last season without the assistance of a true point guard and CP3 adds at least fifteen wins to their schedule.
The Western Conference is in a bit of an era of reconstruction as well.
The Lakers...well...you know the deal with them. The only star they have is Kobe Bryant.
The Dallas Mavericks are without Tyson Chandler and Caron Butler (who is in fact an LA Clipper, himself). They have also been relieved of JJ Barea, a spunky little man who fueled a lot of Dallas’ offense in both the Lakers and Heat series.
The OKC Thunder squad is attempting to figure out whether or not they can triumph with the athletic, but sketchy decision-making of Russell Westbrook. They are contending, but they are most definitely tripped up occasionally by their youth and inexperience.
New Orleans is out of the question. Portland is rebuilding and recovering from an injury-plagued season. The Denver Nuggets are, for now, without JR Smith and Wilson Chandler, as they are stuck overseas.
The path has been slightly cleared for him to make a solid run with the Clippers. Then again, by giving up Eric Gordon, the Clippers have automatically lost a lot of their scoring potential. Paul is good, but there are still some steps the little brother LA team needs to take to make it all the way.
Carmelo Anthony has been renewed in the league alongside Amare Stoudemire and, once upon a time, Chauncey Billups. With the inception of a transaction that led Billups out the door and Tyson Chandler into the city, NY has stepped it up more than a few notches.
The Knicks lack of defense is something that would have landed Coach Mike D’Antoni on the outside looking in. Pursuing both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, attempting to revamp the South Beach’s trio formed just a season before, was simply not working out for New York and instead they decided to recruit a more feasible role player in Chandler.
It would have been ideal for them to bring in either Howard or Paul, but it was unbelievable after sightseeing courtside and watching no other players than Stoudemire and Anthony as attractive trade options—at least none that were of the magnitude to lure either Orlando or New Orleans into a two-, three- or four-team trade.
New York is cured, right? Not so fast.
The Knicks still have a crucial problem that at least Chauncey Billups temporarily covered until his injury tossed him out of the postseason. What point guard does NY have that can compete against any of the rising, elite players at the position around the league?
Anthony is one of the purest scorers in the league right now, but without someone to facilitate his offense, his scoring is practically useless as he has the task of being the primary scorer and offensive creator.
Where one problem has been alleviated, another has reared its ugly head in the Big Apple. Still, he sits at No. 3 on the list because of the fact that, even in series sweep against the Boston Celtics, he was unaffected by the lack of time spent to coagulate with his roster-mates.
He came in and had an immediate impact on the team’s offense, which needed no assistance and showed spurts of a defensive mind while guarding LeBron James in a meeting against the Miami Heat.
Anthony has an unscripted way of getting the ball in the hoop and can score from anywhere on the court reliably. With Chandler around the rim drawing the attention that he once forced on the perimeter, he can concentrate on his own game rather than taking on defensive assignments under the basket to assist Stoudemire, who is not exactly a defense stud himself.
Coach D’Antoni’s game plan must change for Anthony to reach his potential in NY. Offense may work in the regular season, but in the postseason there needs to be a defensive clinic put on in order to allow players like Anthony to outscore his opponents.
The Eastern Conference is growing deeper and deeper. Shooting is just not enough.
Kevin Durant is the most respected youngster in the league. His old soul and take on the game in general is what polarizes his widening fanbase. Durant has a stroke that is out of this world and he is the undisputed leader of the OKC franchise.
The only critique that could be placed upon him is that it is abnormal to see the Durant that bangs his fist to his chest after a power drive or a magnificent block. Whenever that moment comes up in a game, fans know that the burning fire has been lit and from there on out they will be subjected to a more aggressive, defensively inept, sharp-shooting Durant.
The Thunder needs that more than casually.
Durant is an excellent basketball player, but that Kobe-type leadership is necessary for the team of young players lined up behind him to truly experience a greater level of excellence than simply a Western Conference Finals berth.
A little strength and size added to his slender frame would also help a bit with low-post defending—something that OKC coach Scott Brooks has made a point to share that he has seen from Durant in his return.
As reported by MySantonio.com:
Despite his status as the league's top scorer, Durant has repeatedly said the he wants to improve his post-up game and become more than a jump shooter.
"Definitely he came back stronger, he's added a little bit of muscle to his frame. His post-up game, we're going to continue to build on that," Brooks said. "We've made steps throughout the last three or four years with that. I think this year you'll see another step."
Durant will join LeBron James in that instance, as being a small forward in the league faced with the idea of being more aggressive around the rim.
Besides the aforementioned, the only thing holding Durant back is point guard play. This does not mean that the OKC Thunder needs to immediately dispose of Russell Westbrook as if he is not a functioning fraction of a winning formula in Oklahoma City, though. Westbrook is developing as a point guard before everyone’s eyes and is being endlessly criticized for behaving like a shoot-first guard.
No one complains when he is driving unchallenged to the rim for a mind-boggling put-up or operating with Durant in one of the most successful pick-and-rolls in the league. The trouble comes when his immaturity shows through poor shot selection and emotional spillovers on the sidelines.
However, his positives outweigh the negatives, which can be addressed and modified quicker than analysts are predicting.
With Westbrook’s return and hopeful sense of his defined role on the team, Durant will get more touches and the Thunder will automatically be in position to trump older teams in the league that have to contend with a tighter schedule.
Kevin Durant and the OKC Thunder have age and raw ability on their side, a combination that will be challenging to force past.
Besides his multiple collapses in the eye of the NBA Finals giant, James is the best player in the league. The problem standing that being the best during the regular season and the first couple of rounds of the playoffs means bull when you cannot win it all in the end.
That has been James’ downfall and the running joke of his career.
If you ask LeBron James for change for a dollar, he'll only give you three quarters in return.
Apple has just released the LeBron James iPhone. Only vibrates. No rings.
LeBron James skipped college in order to avoid the finals.
Yeah, we have heard them all and subsequently have chuckled at the ones that are not run into the concrete, but there is no denying LeBron’s ability to succeed at any level of the game he desires.
James is a hardwood king with incredible size, strength, basketball IQ and band mates to make the impossible possible again. Everyone has lost confidence in James because of his consistent combination act of good guy-bad guy, clutch-choke artist performances and this is the season where he can prove all of his “haters” wrong.
In Cleveland, his plight was understandable and misjudged. While fans are fully functional under the idea that Dwight Howard and Chris Paul have been suffering mightily at the hands of faulty general managers, James was trashed for wanting to depart. The truth is that Cleveland was heading nowhere fast.
There was LeBron James and a way-past-his-heyday Shaquille O’Neal. Who else?
Mo Williams? Delonte West? Zydrunas Ilgauskas?
Seriously? Championship contenders? Give me a break.
There is no excuse in Miami. LeBron is the scapegoat for any sort of collapse that the Heat may endure and he has to embrace the fact that he has to have a diehard, triggered-by-fourth-quarter personality for him to be readily respected again.
There is no one in the Eastern Conference, with the exception of Dwight Howard, that can consistently stop him. He is like a train barreling through defenders, drawing contact and making game-changing plays all in the same breath.
He can shut down any team’s leading man on the perimeter and pressures under the basket, disrupting the offense of any team at any given moment.
Regardless of what a lot of people may say, he is a bit clutch as well. During the Chicago and Boston series, he had that grind that everyone was saying he let dwindle throughout his years in the league. James looked as he did during his best years in Cleveland, where he was truly enjoying the game without the sweltering scope of fans’ disdain hanging over his head.
LeBron only plays to his level of potential when his emotions are at the extreme. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers, he was angry and aggressive. The Cavs suffered a blowout at his hands. He also plays at that level when he is simply enjoying himself.
No pressure. Just playing the game he loves.
The mediocrity and lack of emotion is what kills his chances and refuses Dwyane Wade his second ring and Chris Bosh his first.
This is LeBron’s season to make it all the way or fall to the bottom of the totem pole. To be great, you have to win. LeBron James has the greatest chance of doing so with Wade’s competitive edge and strong-minded leadership beside him.