NBA stars can establish greatness in the game by putting up remarkable individual performances and shattering various league records. However, a talented player doesn’t always guarantee a championship, as winning one also requires the right teammates, coaching staff, and etc. As a result, superstars joining championship caliber teams are getting more and more common these days, as it increases the chances of a player in terms of winning at least one NBA championship in their NBA career.
Throughout NBA history, we’ve seen Shaquille O’Neal leave Orlando to join the Los Angeles Lakers during his prime and played alongside Kobe Bryant which resulted in the last NBA three-peat in recent memory. Aside from Shaq, we’ve also seen LeBron James do it thrice where he won four championships with the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Los Angeles Lakers while playing alongside at least a superstar or two. And just recently, we saw James Harden leaving the Houston Rockets for the Brooklyn Nets to team up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Whether this super team results in a championship or not, it remains to be seen in the near future.
Nevertheless, we’ve seen in history that a lot of superstars have hoisted the trophy when they take their talents to a championship caliber team during their peak years. However, it is worth noting that there are some superstars who were late in making the jump. Although some seasoned veterans are still able to win a championship late in their careers, there are quite a handful of former superstars who just weren’t lucky enough. For this piece, let’s take a look at five superstars who were too late in joining a championship-caliber team.
As everyone knows, Steve Nash is one of the best point guards to ever play the game. While suiting up for the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns, Nash was an elite playmaker that had quickness and deadly shooting. But more importantly, his ability to facilitate as an on-court general allowed him to win two MVPs and eight All-Star selections.
But as great as Nash was individually for Phoenix and Dallas, he never had an NBA ring in his collection. In fact, the two time MVP never even played in the NBA Finals. As we all know, Nash eventually made a jump to Los Angeles to make his final push for a championship. In joining the Lakers, the Canadian guard had the best teammates in his career to give him that shot with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace on board.
Unfortunately, Nash wouldn’t get his happy ending. Despite the great star power and unlimited potential to win a championship, things just didn’t fall into place for Nash and the Lakers. The eight time all-star just couldn’t keep himself healthy, as he suffered a knee injury early into the season. It also didn’t help that he was already aged 38 at that time. Furthermore, there were a lot of issues going on within the team that included Howard’s questionable behavior, Gasol’s mediocre performance, and then Kobe’s dreadful ruptured Achilles. As a result, the Lakers finished with one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.
Like Nash, Charles Barkley was a star in his prime with the Phoenix Suns. Despite being an undersized big man at 6’6, his rebounding prowess was simply unmatched. He became one of the league’s best rebounders and even led the league during the 1986-1987 season.
However, as elite as Barkley was for Philadelphia and Phoenix, a championship remained elusive for the former MVP. He did, however, come close in 1993 where he took the Suns to the NBA Finals. But unfortunately, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were simply too much to overcome as Barkley and the Suns conceded in six games.
After unsuccessful championship campaigns, Barkley demanded to be traded to a legitimate title contender. Regarded as one of the worst trades in NBA history, Barkley found himself in a uniform of Suns rival, the Houston Rockets where he became teammates with two time NBA champs Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and eventually Scottie Pippen.
Unfortunately by the time Barkley played for Houston, he was never really the same player that dominated in a Suns uniform. Although Barkley still averaged double-digits in rebounds, the 11 time All-Star was noticeably slower due to age. With Drexler retiring and Olajuwon on a decline, Barkley and the Rockets simply no longer had enough left in the tank to win a championship.
Karl Malone was a star for the Utah Jazz, as he led the team to two straight Finals appearances. Furthermore, he was undoubtedly the best power forward in the league during his prime. Unfortunately, Michael Jordan and the Bulls were a dreadful tormentor that consistently deprived them from winning a championship.
In an attempt to make a final push for a championship, Malone eventually joined forces with Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Gary Payton to play for the Los Angeles Lakers during the final year of his NBA career. With the Lakers winning a three peat from 2000 to 2002 and adding seasoned veterans like Malone and Payton, it looked like the Lakers were penciled to win another championship.
The Lakers finished with a dominant season, despite the ongoing feud between Kobe and Shaq, Kobe’s sexual assault charge, and Malone’s battle against father time. But even if the Lakers looked strong all season by posting a 56-26 record, the team faced a hungry defensive Detroit Pistons unit that pulled off a shocking upset against the heavily favored Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals.
The 6’9 big man eventually decided to hang up his sneakers shortly after. If Malone had joined this team during his prime, who knows how much more championships the Lakers could’ve won.
Chris Webber is arguably the best player not in the Basketball Hall of Fame today. Webber was indeed one of the stars for the Sacramento Kings. His productive stint in Sacramento saw him garner five All-Star selections, five All-NBA Team honors, and even led the league in rebounding. However, the closest he got to winning a championship was in the 2002 Playoffs. Unfortunately, the Kings were outclassed by eventual champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, who won their third straight NBA championship.
After a few seasons, Webber eventually signed with his hometown team, the Detroit Pistons. The 6’9 big man found himself alongside a championship team that had 2004 Finals MVP Chauncey Billups and one time champions in Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace. Although the Pistons signed Webber due to his decorated career as a replacement for the departure of Ben Wallace, the five time All-Star was no longer the same guy who produced 20-10 games every night. In fact, his lone season in Detroit saw him put up just 11.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per outing.
It is worth noting, however, that Webber was able to reach the Conference Finals once again like he did in 2002, this time with Detroit. But unfortunately, a Finals appearance and a championship remained elusive to the former Kings star as the Pistons were ambushed by the Cleveland Cavaliers with a young LeBron James leading the way.
Had Webber been younger, maybe the Pistons would’ve had another trip to the Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. Unfortunately, Webber was on the declining stage of his career at 33 years of age. His postseason averages only mustered 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game which was only a shell of his old self.
Tracy McGrady will always be remembered as one of the most talented players that took the NBA world by scoring. His athleticism and scoring prowess allowed him to win the Most Improved Player Award, two scoring championships, seven All-Star selections, and seven All-NBA team honors. Unfortunately, T-Mac was also slowed down by multiple serious injuries throughout his career. Thus, making people question what more would T-Mac have achieved had he stayed healthy.
The high flying swingman was a force to be reckoned with during his prime years with the Orlando Magic and the Houston Rockets. Individually, he was next to impossible to stop one-on-one. But a big knock in his storied prime years, however, is his inability to take his teams past the first round despite his out-of-this-world postseason performances.
In a final attempt to win a championship, T-Mac was picked up by the San Antonio Spurs late into the 2012-2013 season after playing in China. The Spurs team had no other than Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. Furthermore, it was a hungry Spurs team, coached by Gregg Popovich. It was here T-Mac finally saw playing time outside of the first round in the postseason, as he also finally appeared in the NBA Finals.
Although T-Mac was finally in a championship contending team, he never showed a glimpse of his old self in his stint with the Spurs, given that he was only utilized during garbage minutes. In fact, he was a complete non-factor for the team as he never even scored a single point throughout the 2013 postseason.
However, what made it worse for T-Mac was that he was awfully close to winning a championship. With the Spurs up 3-2 in the Finals while holding a three point lead in the dying seconds of Game Six, it looked like the Spurs had sealed the title. But unfortunately for T-Mac and the Spurs, an offensive rebound by Chris Bosh and a crucial corner three by Ray Allen would bring the game to overtime which led to a Game Seven victory by the Miami Heat.
Had T-Mac been in his prime, while playing for the Spurs, the ending in the 2013 NBA Finals might have been different. Although the Spurs eventually won the title the following year, sadly, the seven time All-Star already announced his retirement from the NBA in August 2013.