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#pounditMonday, November 30, 2020

5 NBA players who need to win the championship the most

Giannis Antetokounmpo

It almost feels like there’s even more at stake in this year’s NBA playoffs than usual. Due to the pause in NBA action, teams that will be involved in the playoffs have had extra time to think ahead and plan and consider the repercussions of what a bad playoff run could mean. Multiple superteams will feel that they don’t have an indefinite amount of time to win a championship. Players are inching closer to free agency. Some teams, as built, may not be able to continue to exist in their current form.

Which players really need to win a title sooner rather than later? These five could face serious consequences if things don’t go their way in the postseason.

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

The Bucks have more to lose in the 2020 playoffs than Antetokounmpo himself does. However, the stakes remain high for the player. He only has this postseason and the next before he becomes a free agent. Will failing to win a title drive him to leave Milwaukee? That will have a major impact on the Bucks’ franchise, but it could also impact Antetokounmpo’s perception around the league. Plus, the longer Giannis goes without a deep playoff run or a championship, the more likely it is that a reputation grows of him being unable to win the big one — fair or not.

4. LeBron James, Lakers

James seems ageless at this point, but it’s worth remembering that he turns 36 in December. Even for someone as dedicated to fitness and the game as James is, his body can eventually fail him, and the likelihood of that happening only increases as time passes. This Lakers team is loaded, and James has Anthony Davis alongside him. That said, there’s no promise that Davis stays with the Lakers long-term either. Might this be James’ last great chance to a win a title? It might not be, as the team he’s on tends to surround him with talent.
But that only matters if he’s still playing at a high level.

3. Russell Westbrook, Rockets

Despite his many accomplishments, Westbrook still divides opinion among NBA fans. Is he a superstar you can build a franchise around, or is he a selfish stat sheet stuffer who doesn’t actually make the players around him better? Winning a title could really tilt the scales toward the former line of thinking. Westbrook turns 32 in November, and the Rockets may not last too long as they’re currently assembled. This might be Houston’s last team that really expects to contend for a title. That alone makes Westbrook’s future uncertain, and means that he has a lot of incentive to make an impact this year.

2. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, 76ers

Simmons and Embiid are viewed as a package deal for our purposes. Why? Because they’re the core of a Sixers team that has underachieved, and the repercussions could be vast if they don’t go far in 2020. Embiid is 26 and entering his prime. Simmons is younger, but there remain questions about how great he can be with such a limited jump shot. An early loss could cost coach Brett Brown his job and increase scrutiny on Simmons and Embiid, fueling more chatter about whether they can coexist. We wouldn’t go so far as to say that an underwhelming playoff loss would immediately get one of them traded, but it’s easy to see how it could begin to lay the groundwork for the end of “The Process” in Philadelphia.

James Harden

1. James Harden, Rockets

The issues that Westbrook is facing apply to Harden tenfold. He’s still the face of the Rockets and the franchise’s central figure. He’s still known as one of the game’s elite scorers. He also has a reputation for being someone who fades in the playoffs and can’t win big games. Add in the fact that he turns 31 in August, and the uncertainty about the future of the current Houston roster, and you have someone who’s facing big questions in this playoff run. Another failure to win a title could see major changes in the organization and cement Harden’s status as a good player but playoff failure whose prime run in Houston will always be missing a chapter. A championship makes that all go away. He needs to step up.

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