With another unsuccessful bid to reach the NBA finals, Russell Westbrook joins the elite club of players that have a regular season MVP but haven’t won an NBA championship. Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Allen Iverson are already retired, while Steve Nash doesn’t look like someone who’ll win it before he leaves. Derrick Rose? He’ll be happy with getting back on the court, let alone contending for the title.
And while Westbrook is joining the group, Kevin Durant leaves it after winning his first NBA championship and the Finals MVP.
After some unhappy times in Philadelphia during his final years with the team, Charles Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 1992. Things went splendidly for both him and the team. He averaged 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists. Barkley won the MVP award, ending a streak of Michael Jordan dominance. However, in the NBA finals, after the Suns beat the Lakers, Spurs and Supersonics (7 games), the Bulls were waiting in the Final. The Suns lost in six games, and Barkley never reached the NBA finals again, despite teaming up with some future hall of famers in Houston.
The Mailman the Utah Jazz were always close, but there was always either someone in the West getting in the way or simply the Chicago Bulls. In 1997 Malone won his first MVP and the Utah Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. A year later the Jazz once again reached the NBA finals, and once again Jordan and the Bulls stood in the way. In 1999, everyone seemed confident it was the chance for the Jazz to finally win it, but the shortened season ruined those plans, and despite Malone’s MVP, they lost in the conference semifinals to the Portland Trail Blazers. Malone reached the finals again in 2004 with the Lakers but played injured through the first four games, missing the fifth with the Lakers losing to the Pistons.
With efficiency being the king right now, I’m not sure Allen Iverson would have been heralded as he was back in the late 90’s and early 00’s, doing everything possible with a mediocre Philadelphia 76ers team. Iverson won the MVP in 2001, leading the league in scoring with 31.1 points per game. He managed to take the Sixers to the conference finals including two 7-game series against the Raptors and the Bucks. In the finals he had one huge game in Los Angeles, but the Sixers lost by five games. With Philadelphia and his other teams, Iverson never got close to glory again.
Whether or not Steve Nash retires this summer remains to be seen, but it’s unlikely that as a Lakers player he’ll get anywhere near the NBA title. A two time MVP (2005, 2006), Nash has never gotten further than the Conference finals. In 2003 with the Dallas Mavericks he reached that constant roadblock, the San Antonio Spurs, losing in six games. With the Suns, where he played his best basketball from 2004 to 2012, Nash made it to the conference finals three times – once losing to the Spurs, once to the Mavericks and in 2010 to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Rookie of the year in 2009, Derrick Rose shocked everyone by leading the Chicago Bulls to the best record in the league during his third season. The hate for LeBron James was strong that year, while Rose got plenty of boost from the Bulls revival going on. He averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists that season, as the Bulls reached the conference finals for the first time since 1998, losing to the Heat in five games.
Since then, the Bulls have made the playoffs each year but have been past the first round only once. Rose? He has a total of 49 games in three seasons, playing only 10 since he was injured in the 2012 playoffs. He’ll be back for another try when next season begins, but maybe his window for greatness is already closed.
Westbrook became only the second player in NBA history to finish a season averaging a triple double (31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists per game), his first season without Kevin Durant at his side. He was good enough to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder into the playoffs, but they lost in the first round. Westbrook, in the NBA since 2008, has been to the NBA finals once (2012) and has three more trips to the conference finals. Maybe with Paul George by his side, he’ll have an easier time in both sharing the load with teammates and having a better finish to the season.