Who Has the Most at Stake in the NBA Playoffs?

By Akiva Wienerkur   May 4, 2023 

Who Has the Most at Stake in the NBA Playoffs?

Winning an NBA championship is one of the most significant achievements in a player’s career and can cement their legacy in NBA history. It demonstrates their ability to perform at the highest level of competition and to lead their team to the ultimate prize. Championships are a measure of a player’s success and can elevate their status among the all-time greats of the game while also changing the perception of fans around the NBA world.

On the other hand, failing to win a championship can also impact a player’s legacy, potentially raising questions about their ability to perform in the clutch or lead a team to success.

For instance, players like James Harden and Chris Paul have been criticized for years for their inability to win or even appear in the finals, and one championship would significantly enhance their NBA legacies and public perception. Winning championships contributes to a player’s legacy in a way that individual statistics cannot, and the impact can vary greatly.

We have ranked players from 1 to 10 based on what winning a championship would do to their legacy, whether it’s cementing their position as the best of all time or getting over the hump with that first ring. 

1. Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors

What’s at stake: After winning his fourth championship ring and first Finals MVP award, there was a growing belief among NBA fans that Steph Curry had solidified his place among the top 10 players of all time. If he were to win a fifth ring and potentially earn a second Finals MVP, he could move into the fringe top 5 players of all time, sparking a legitimate debate with Magic Johnson for the title of the greatest point guard ever.


2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

What’s at stake: LeBron has been widely considered as one of the top two greatest players in NBA history for a long time. With every championship he wins, more and more people are shifting their allegiance from Jordan to LeBron. However, the question that still remains is, how many rings does LeBron need to win in order to surpass MJ and become the undisputed Greatest Of All Time? Given his status as the all-time leading scorer with only one less championship ring than Jordan, if LeBron were to win the title this year, it could finally be time to crown him as the GOAT.

3. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

What’s at stake: If Jimmy Butler retired tomorrow would he be a Hall of Famer? That would be heavily debated which is why a ring this year would affect his legacy so much, it would make him a certified first ballot Hall of Fame lock. If he were to carry the eighth seeded Heat to the finals, making them the first eight seed to ever win, Butler’s legacy would forever be cemented.


4. James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers

What’s at stake: “The Beard” has undeniably been one of the best players in the NBA over the past decade, winning a few scoring titles and securing an MVP. However, the absence of a championship in his portfolio is striking. Harden has played alongside stars such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, and Joel Embiid, and hasn’t been able to win it all. Many fans conclude that Harden may be the problem when it comes to his team’s consistent failure in the playoffs. If he were to win a championship, it would put an end to the rumors and establish him as one of the greatest players in recent history.

5. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns

What’s at stake: Paul falls under the same category as Harden, a star who just can’t seem to get over the hump. He has played on numerous championship-caliber teams, but always falls just short. Although his days of being the number one option on his team are over, nobody should discredit his accomplishments if the Suns were to win it all this season. Paul has been the butt of jokes for years for being ringless, but a championship ring would put an end to that and the NBA world would recognize him as the all-time great he truly is. 

Honorable Mention: Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat

A ring for Spolestra without a team that features LeBron or Dwyane Wade would cement him as one of the best coaches of all time. It would be his fourth ring and maybe the most impactful, being the coach of the first ever eight seed to win the finals. Spoelstra is already thought of as one of the best coaches in the league, but a finals win, with this team, would put him in a new class. 

6. Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns

What’s at stake: A significant number of fans believe that both of KD’s championship rings are somewhat tainted because he joined a superteam that had set the record for the most regular-season wins in NBA history just one year earlier. Unfortunately for Durant, if he were to win another championship with the Suns, it would be seen as more of the same. Although the Suns have a different team composition than the Warriors, they are still considered to have one of the most stacked rosters in the league. Winning three championships is certainly an impressive feat, but it may not significantly boost Durant’s legacy over other players who rank higher on the all-time greats list.

7. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

What’s at stake: Jokic has already established himself as one of the best centers in the league with two MVP awards, but he will need to win a championship to solidify his place among the greatest centers of all time. History has shown that many exceptional players with impressive careers are often criticized for not having a championship ring, and Jokic would want to avoid being part of that group. If legends like Karl Malone or Charles Barkley had won a championship, they would have likely ranked much higher on the all-time greats list. Therefore, for Jokic to continue building his Hall of Fame resume, winning a championship is a crucial goal.

8. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

What’s at stake: Embiid just locked up an MVP award to add on to his list of career achievements. The next on his list: a championship. The Sixers and Embiid are laughed at year after year for continuously collapsing come playoff time. A ring would do wonders for Embiid’s legacy as well as the Sixers franchise. Many fans would say Embiid is the best center in the league if he is able to secure a ring before Jokic, and might join the conversion for one of the best centers of all time. If he happens to win Finals MVP, he would become just the 11th player ever to win MVP and Finals MVP in the same season. 


9. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

What’s at stake: Jayson Tatum has the potential to become one of the best players in Celtics history. Despite being relatively young, he has already established himself as one of the best players in the league. Tatum has earned two All-NBA team selections and is expected to receive a third this year, which is an impressive feat. However, to join the ranks of all-time great Celtics and be on the same level as guys like Paul Pierce, he will need to win a championship ring and potentially earn a Finals MVP award. If Tatum manages to accomplish this and continues to win more championships and individual accolades like MVP awards, he could potentially be considered one of the greatest Celtics in franchise history. 

10. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

What’s at stake: Booker is undeniably one of the most talented players in the league, but he still has some work to do in terms of building his legacy. While he consistently puts up impressive statistics, he has not yet established a Hall of Fame resume. Booker has earned three All-Star selections and only one All-NBA selection, making a championship ring this year a crucial addition to his accolades. Along with winning a championship, if he were to win Finals MVP over his teammate Kevin Durant, it would be a significant accomplishment that would further enhance his legacy.


Honorable Mention: Tom Thibodeau

The one thing Thibodeau is missing on his distinguished resume is a championship ring as a head coach. His teams are mostly always in contention but he has never been able to reach that final step. Giving New York their first championship in over a half century will forever cement him in basketball history and put him in people’s minds as one of the all time great coaches. 

Additional writing and research from Jake Gewirtz.

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