Glaring omission on these résumés
Some of the NBA's top talents have failed to advance even once in the playoffs
New Celtics guard Stephon Marbury could get his name off this list very soon
Yao, T-Mac and Carmelo are among those who have found playoff success elusive
You could assemble a veritable dream team from the pool of talented and otherwise accomplished players who have never won an NBA championship, including Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Patrick Ewing, Steve Nash, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Elgin Baylor and Dominique Wilkins. Come to think of it, six of the 12 members of the real Dream Team, the 1992 men's U.S. Olympic squad that ranks as one of the great successes in basketball history, never managed a gold medal in their day jobs.
There is, however, at least one list more limiting and more humbling than that. Tucked within first the rolls of the ringless and then the list of NBA greats who never reached the Finals is this one: stars whose teams never won a playoff series. Navigating through 82 games, winning often enough to rank among the top 53.3 percent of teams in the league (16 out of 30 qualify each year now) and then -- pffffft! -- just stopping would seem to be the height of mediocrity, the peak of the plateaus.
What's that? Never making it to the playoffs at all? Sure, that is even more ignominious. But it hardly is a list worth making. Someone in NBA history surely could claim the status of "best player to never participate in the postseason.'' But it would be a stretch to argue that any of those candidates truly was great. Basketball doesn't have any legitimate Ernie Bankses, any multiple MVP winners or perennial All-Stars who never played past the end of the regular season.
So, we'll stick here with the one-and-done gang because, well, that's plenty bad enough. You might make All-Star teams, you might score a max-salary contract, you even might play for your country in international competition, but you aren't going to taste ultimate NBA respect, either from your peers or from the public. And with each passing season, the pressure to get off the list grows, the stigma -- even in the consummate team sport -- attaching itself ever more to the individual rather than the group.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol, for instance, got off last year from what was a particularly hellish list: He was arguably the best player to reach the playoffs and then never even win a game. The Grizzlies got swept at the end of Gasol's third, fourth and fifth seasons in Memphis, so when he got traded to L.A. and went 12-7 through four rounds last spring, he won as many games in a single postseason as he had played prior to that.
Now it looks as if Stephon Marbury is going to bolt the pancaked-in-the-playoffs list, too. Unless Marbury -- 0-4 in playoff series in his first 12 NBA seasons, 4-14 in games -- proves to be an even greater drain on the Celtics than he's been at his four previous stops.
So who's left? Some impressive but still embarrassed names:
Grant Hill: OK, we all know how broken-down Hill was for four of his 14 seasons. It's possible that, had he been available to help, the Magic might not have exited so quickly from the playoffs in 2001, '02 and '03. But even if we don't stick Hill with any blame for those, the teams for which he actually participated in the playoffs have gone 0-6 in series and 5-20 in games. That's not good for one of the league's first alleged Jordan replacements. It gets lousier when you realize that Detroit started advancing and winning big soon after Hill left and, once he signed with Phoenix, the Magic reached the second round for the first time since Shaq and Penny were wet behind the ears.
Tracy McGrady: Few in league history rival T-Mac in terms of much ado about little: 12 seasons, seven All-Star appearances, two ballyhooed relocations (Toronto to Orlando to Houston) but nary a playoff series won. McGrady is becoming as famous for his playoff failures as for his immense talent and his scoring prowess, with his postseason void focusing added attention on his spotty effort and suspect toughness.
Oh, and if the Rockets advance this year, it won't count toward McGrady's permanent record any more than the Lakers' 1972 championship counts on Elgin Baylor's résumé. Baylor, at 37, retired after just nine games, well before Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and the rest jelled into one of the NBA's most dominant champions. McGrady similarly is done for this season -- and postseason -- after having microfracture knee surgery Tuesday.
Yao Ming: Rockets fans have been waiting for Yao to help them reach the second round longer than they've been waiting for T-Mac. After all, he arrived in Houston two years sooner. That doesn't even account for the fans back in Shanghai whose clamor over the 7-foot-5 center will seem a bit hollow if he doesn't soon put his teammates on that broad back and carry them past the first round.
Carmelo Anthony: The Denver forward is to be applauded for reaching the playoffs five times in five chances since being drafted in the vaunted class of 2003. That's something even LeBron James (one Finals appearance so far) and Dwyane Wade (one NBA title already) didn't do, never mind Darko Milicic. But Anthony hasn't come close to the "in-it-to-win-it'' approach, his Nuggets exiting quickly every year. There hasn't been a dearth of talent either on the court or in coach George Karl, so people rightfully start to look at the franchise guy around whom the team has been built.
Chris Bosh: Given the speculation about his potential whereabouts starting in the summer of 2010, Bosh already can be voted the All-Star power forward most likely to follow in Kevin Garnett's footsteps and achieve real postseason success after relocating. Let's hope it doesn't come to that, but the Raptors' signs aren't encouraging.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim: At least the above players still have a chance to fix their situations. Abdur-Rahim's career, however, is sealed without a playoff-series victory. He played for four franchises, lasted 12 seasons, averaged 18.1 points and 7.5 rebounds, was drafted ahead of Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant and Nash and got to the postseason one time. That came with Sacramento in 2006, when the 6-9 forward's scoring drooped from 12.3 points in the regular season to 9.3 in a six-game elimination by San Antonio.
Connie Hawkins: It might not be fair to stick Anthony and Bosh on this list already, since they've only been around for five possible postseasons. The same case for leniency can be made for Hawkins, a Hall of Famer who managed only seven NBA seasons total after being blackballed for guilt by association with gambling figures. It is a tribute to Hawkins' mythic game that he could wind up on this list despite not entering the NBA until age 27. The Hawk averaged 25.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists in Phoenix's seven-game ouster by the Lakers in 1970, but was a role player (10.8 points, 8.0 rebounds) four years later with the Lakers when they fell in five to Milwaukee. (For the record, Hawkins advanced once in his two ABA playoff trips.)
Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has served as president or vice president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association since 2005.