Does Chris Paul (or Anyone) Really 'Deserve' a Ring?

Sean HighkinFeatured Columnist IIIMay 16, 2022

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 15: Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns looks on prior to the game against the Dallas Mavericks during Game 7 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals on May 15, 2022 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Four teams are left in the 2022 NBA Playoffs, and Chris Paul's team is not one of them. He will go into his 18th season with his place more than cemented on the very short list of greatest point guards of all time but still without a ring.

We'll have all summer (and beyond) to debate the second-round collapse of the Phoenix Suns against the Dallas Mavericks, ending in a blowout Game 7 loss on their home floor on Sunday, and Paul's role in that collapse, which came after a 64-win regular season following last summer's trip to the Finals. Per Marc J. Spears of andscape, Paul suffered a quad injury, which may explain his subpar play in the final five games of the series following a spectacular performance in the first two.

Nonetheless, because of NBA fandom's all-too-prevalent "rings culture," Paul's failures to win a championship will become a referendum on his legacy or some other buzzword that dominates the talk shows and Twitter discourse. But an equally prevalent thought is a shared sense of hope that Paul can get a ring before he retires because he really, really deserves it.

Some version of this sentiment has been around since at least the Clippers days, but as reality set in on Sunday that the top-seeded Suns weren't making a return trip to the Finals, it kicked back into high gear. Jeremy Lin and Dez Bryant jumped on the train; Patrick Beverley, whose post-elimination playoff tweets have mostly been tiresome, got this one right.

Patrick Beverley @patbev21

What u mean deserve why does he deserves it more?? <a href="https://t.co/Y0t0Sxbabu">https://t.co/Y0t0Sxbabu</a>

Usually, the teams and players that deserve a ring are the ones that win the championship. You don't earn a title just by being great for a long time (which Paul has) or by coming close a bunch of times (which Paul has). You earn a championship by winning a championship. Only one team wins it every year, and many things have to break right.

The following is a list of currently active players besides Paul likely to be Hall of Famers (with at least a 70 percent probability score in Basketball Reference's tracker) who have not been on championship teams: James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Throw in two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and two-time reigning runner-up MVP finisher Joel Embiid for good measure.

That's a lot of great players without a ring. Which of them deserves one the most? Is there a calculation for how many years someone has to play at a certain level to deserve a championship? How much deserving of a championship in fans' eyes adds up to an actual championship? It's an absurd conversation. And if we collectively weren't so obsessed with rings as the only marker of greatness, it's a conversation that wouldn't exist.

Paul has at least a few more years of high-level basketball left in him, but this Suns team was probably his last best chance at getting there. Everything broke right: They finished with the league's best record, guaranteeing home-court advantage through the Finals had they made it that far. They ran teams off the floor all season with the league's third-best offense and a top-11 defense. Monty Williams rightfully won Coach of the Year as Phoenix kept winning through stretches without Paul, Devin Booker or Jae Crowder.

It will be hard for them to be this good again next season. Paul will be another year older, and things don't seem great at the moment with starting center Deandre Ayton, who will be a restricted free agent after the organization didn't offer him a max extension last fall that he's clearly played his way into now. They also have to decide on an extension for Sixth Man of the Year finalist Cameron Johnson, all while the league investigates allegations of racism and sexism against governor Robert Sarver stemming from an ESPN report in November.

That's a lot of instability and uncertainty to overcome to replicate what they did in making the Finals last year and winning as many games as they did this year, especially when you add healthy Clippers and Nuggets teams into a stacked Western conference that they'll have to go through. Stranger things have happened, but at this point, if you had to bet on Paul getting a ring or not before his career finishes up, the smart money would be on "no."

It happens. He wouldn't be the first player of his level of greatness not to have one.

If Twitter existed in the '90s, would people have said things like, "I just hope Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing can get a ring before they retire because they deserve it"?

Paul's worst-case scenario is joining the likes of Barkley, Ewing, Reggie Miller, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Allen Iverson on the list of all-time greats to retire ringless. He's still going into the Hall of Fame the first year he's eligible. He will have defined the point-guard position for nearly two decades, made a mark on the business of the league as president of the players' union and earned almost half a billion dollars in salary.

How much all of that adds up to "deserving" a ring is another discussion.

If Paul deserved a ring, he'd have won one.