Let’s say you’re the owner or general manager of a professional sports team. Obviously, you want the players on your team that give you the best chance to win a championship. There are two basic approaches you can adopt to achieve this goal: bring in players who have a proven track record of helping their team win a title, or seek out players whom you believe have the skills to help your team reach the championship.
More often than not, organizations focus on the latter category simply because of the economic reality of supply and demand. In other words, there are fewer players on the market at any one time who have championship rings, and there tends to be more teams vying for the talents of these individuals. Therefore, teams try to find players whom they believe are championship-caliber, but don’t yet have a title on their resume.
This process is especially tricky in the NBA, largely because there are fewer players on any given team (including those who have won titles), and due to the fact that there are fewer teams in any given season who have a legitimate chance at getting to the NBA Finals. And because there are very few LeBrons on Kobes in the league, who have a lengthy history of Finals appearances, most NBA teams tend to go after other skilled players who have not yet led a team to the Finals.
Not only is it extremely difficult to predict which NBA players will evolve into premier names, but it also requires clubs to throw a great deal of money at whichever target they set their sights on. This means assembling multi-year contracts worth tens of millions of dollars each season in order to secure these players’ services for the foreseeable future.
The result of this process is a significant number of NBA players who are very well compensated even though they have yet to win a Conference Championship. Here is a list of the most highly-paid players who have never appeared in an NBA Finals.
10. Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls: $15.3 million
For teams looking for a bruising presence in the paint, Boozer is an attractive piece of the puzzle. But his value in the near future is in question; he has been battling a strained calf muscle recently for the Bulls, and he is down to just 2.8 minutes per fourth quarter, which is his career low. It’s hard to argue with his past performance in the post season (averaging 17.6 point per game in 78 games, which is higher than his regular season average), but you seriously have to wonder whether Boozer’s best years are behind him.
9. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: $16,441,500
Many NBA fans feel that Blake Griffin, the first-pick of the 2009 draft, may be the league’s top rising star. The Former Oklahoma Sooner probably earned some more supporters with his 38-point outburst in this year’s All-Star Game (and may have been the MVP if the West would have won). He’s averaging 21.2 points per game in his career and 24.4 this season. The big unknown, of course, is how he will evolve as a postseason presence. With only two playoff runs to look at, it’s difficult to predict whether we’ll see him in the Finals anytime soon.
8. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls: $17,632,688
As talented as he is, some hoops fans are already writing off Rose as the next Greg Oden of the NBA (Oden, oddly enough, is healthy now and playing for Miami). After suffering a torn ACL in the 2012-2013 season and missing the Bulls’ playoff run, he tore the meniscus in his knee in late November and will probably not suit up again this season. It’s hard to ignore Rose’s talent when healthy: a 20.8 points-per-game average and a field goal percentage of 46%. However, unless Rose can prove that his injury woes are behind him, he may not get any closer to the Finals than he did in 2011 when the Bulls fell to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
7. Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings: $17,888,932
Maybe Rudy Gay was born under a bad sign. After a mid-season trade to Toronto last season, the Raptors shipped the former first-round draft pick to Sacramento in December. Since then, the Raptors have been fighting to be the third-best team in the East, while the Kings are in the West’s cellar. Gay has only been to the postseason once, when his Memphis Grizzlies lost to the Clippers in the first round in 2012. The more relevant question might be whether Gay, a 10,000-point career player, will ever reach the Conference Semifinals.
6. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies: $18,238,333
Zach Randolph came pretty close to an NBA Finals appearance when the Grizz made the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs, but failed to win a game in that series. This season, Memphis is battling just to get into the playoffs, and Randolph’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors. He’s averaging a double-double this season (17.4 points per game, 10.3 rebounds per game). More than likely, Randolph will stay with Memphis and become a free agent after this year, meaning that he could earn a salary increase and possibly rise closer to the top of this list.
5. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets: $18,466,130
Williams got a sniff of the NBA Finals when his Utah Jazz clashed with San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals in 2007. However, his scoring, rebounding, and assist averages are all at their lowest point since Williams’ first season in the league. He’s only 29 years old and does boast a 17.5 points per game career average, but he’s been battling ankle injuries lately, leading Charles Barkley to opine that the 2005 3rd overall pick’s “best days are behind him.” It remains to be seen whether the former Fighting Illini can make another run at the Finals with Brooklyn this year.
4. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers: $18,668,431
The top point guard on this list, Chris Paul‘s current fortunes appear to be joined at the hip with that of the aforementioned Griffin. The former fourth-overall pick in 2005 has the dubious honor of being ousted in the Conference Semifinals twice by the San Antonio Spurs – while playing for two different teams (the Clips in 2012 and the New Orleans Hornets in ’08). The 28-year old Paul is back after separating an AC joint in January, so maybe he can take some of the scoring load off of Griffin’s shoulders and help push the Clippers into the playoffs with some momentum.
3. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks: $21,388,953
Did you know that ‘Melo will make over $2.2 million more than LeBron James this season? He’s earning his money lately, dropping 42 points on New Orleans right after the All-Star break. But even though the Knicks made the playoffs the last three years, they’ve struggled this season and may not make the postseason at all. So when Anthony becomes a free agent this summer, he may have a decision to make. Will he let money be the deciding factor on whether he stays with the Knicks, a club that doesn’t appear to be ready to challenge Eastern Conference heavyweights Miami and Indiana? Or will he sign for less money somewhere else if he thinks he has a better chance of getting off this nasty list?
2. Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets: $21,466,718
Drafted 10th overall by Boston in 2001, the now 32-year old Johnson has averaged a respectable 17.5 points per game over his career with four teams. He almost punched his ticket to the NBA Finals when he played for a Phoenix squad in 2005 that lost to the Spurs. Johnson is a seven-time All-Star including this year, a pick which left many NBA observers scratching their heads, and the constant Big Apple media pressure is spotlighting Brooklyn’s difficult season despite the most expensive roster in league history. If the Nets do make the playoffs, Johnson will compete in his 70th postseason game without a Conference Finals appearance.
1. Amar’e Stoudemire, New York Knicks: $21,679,893
Along with Joe Johnson and Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire was on that 2005 Suns squad that lost to San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals. The 9th overall pick in 2002 by Phoenix, despite not playing in college, Stoudemire has averaged over 20 points a game throughout his long NBA career. He missed 30 games with a knee injury to start the 2012-2013 campaign and this season, he has been battling an ankle sprain and a sore knee that has kept him off of the floor, and his Knicks are in danger of getting the summer off. Stoudemire clearly has some gas left in his tank, but will the stars align for him to play for an NBA championship ring before Father Time catches up with him?