Are Super Teams Set to Dominate the NBA?

By Elias Wagner
Published on March 14, 2019
NBA and Super Teams

Like many other popular sports leagues, the NBA has moved towards the spectacular in the last decade or so.

Contracts are bigger, sponsorship deals are constantly rising, and the superstar players have acquired a God-like status.

Not that I’m complaining or anything.

This new era has brought forth an astronomical amount of talent. Players like LeBron James, Steph Curry, and James Harden are enough of a reason to head to the arena without thinking about how much tickets cost now.

Additionally, in the age of social media, we know everything about our favorite players, from what they had for lunch today to their collection of customized sneakers. It was inevitable that all this attention would affect the attitude of the superstars in the league.

Player power has grown tremendously in recent years, and it doesn’t take too much for someone to ditch a franchise in search of something bigger.

To be fair, the hunt for championship rings is understandable to a degree. No one wants to go through his career playing good basketball but ending up with nothing to show for it.

All this has resulted in players looking to surround themselves with others of the same caliber. After all, you have a much bigger chance of claiming a ring if you’re playing with top talent around you.

Emboldened by the new age of player power and the desire to win, it’s no surprise that the so-called super teams started forming in the NBA.

But what exactly is a super team? Well, there isn’t a straightforward answer to this one. I myself have pondered this many a time, but in the end, it is all about perspective. One thing that’s certain is that you need at least three All-Star level players to be considered a super team.

For me, intention is an important aspect as well. In order to fit the label, there has to be evidence that the franchise is uniting those players with the sole purpose of creating a successful team. I guess there are a bunch of other prerequisites that can be added, but those two are the main ones.

The modern history of the NBA has seen several teams that fit these criteria, and before I share my thoughts on where this approach is going, I will take a moment to highlight them.

NBA Super Teams of the Recent Past

Right off the bat, I’ll say that in my view, super teams are not a new phenomenon. After all, the desire to win trophies has been a thing since trophies were there to be won. I wouldn’t put my finger on who exactly started the trend, but there have been big moves long before Kevin Garnett and LeBron James.

Wilt Chamberlain joined the Lakers after becoming disillusioned at Philadelphia. Charles Barkley opted to join the Rockets in 1996 in an attempt to win a title. It’s true that the scale of it is much different in modern times, but the point is that players have been doing it in some form for a long, long time.

For me, 2008 saw the first instance of a modern super team, so that’s where I’m going to start.

Boston Celtics

What’s curious about the Celtics’ case is that bringing in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen was not their initial plan. It sounds odd that uniting these two superstars with Paul Pierce was not their main intention, but it’s true.

That year, Boston was waiting on the lottery since they had a pretty good chance at landing the top pick. Needless to say, they had their eyes on Kevin Durant.

When they learned that their lottery odds weren’t what they expected, they traded their pick for Ray Allen. Shortly after, Kevin Garnett’s trade from Minnesota went through.

It’s probably hard to see it now, but at the time, it was a huge gamble. All three of the stars were above 30 and had struggled with injuries in recent seasons. Much to the delight of Boston fans, that wasn’t an issue during the 2007-2008 season.

These three players formed a cohesive unit straight away. Garnett and Pierce were immense, and Ray Allen was sharper than ever.

The Celtics were the best team in the league in 2007/8, winning 66 games and finally bringing the championship back to Boston.

Boston was on course to repeat their success next year, but unfortunately, one of their biggest fears came true. Garnett injured his knee in February and never made it back in time for the playoffs. The team ultimately lost the Eastern Conference semis against Orlando.

In 2010, the big trio was mostly healthy, and although the C’s finished fourth in the East, they still managed to get to the Finals after taking their revenge on Dwight Howard’s Magic. The Lakers were standing in the way, and this time, they prevailed after seven games.

The team was kept together until 2013, but they were never really able to recreate the spark from their championship-winning season. It might have been different if Garnett didn’t injure himself in ’09, but it wasn’t to be.

Nonetheless, Boston’s super team has its place in history and might as well be credited for rekindling the trend.

Miami’s Big Three

Arguably the most talked about super team in history was formed in 2010 when the Heat persuaded LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade. For me, the Celtics’ own super trio at the time played a big part in this.

Especially when it came to LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland. The Cavs were a good team, but James was never going to win a championship there. Not when Boston had that amount of talent. So, why not start a super team of his own?

Despite everyone immediately proclaiming the team as contenders, the Heat actually didn’t get off to a flying start. However, nobody panicked since it was inevitable that these three superstars would find their rhythm.

And so they did. Miami romped to the NBA Finals, and the Dallas Mavericks were the last hurdle.

Unfortunately for them, the Mavs had other plans. After going down 2-1, they won all the remaining games and smashed LeBron and Bosh’s dream of winning their first title. Not that Wade was thrilled, but he at least had already won one at this point.

So, it didn’t work out for the Big Three in their first try, but people still felt that their success was inevitable. They continued to be the best team in the Eastern Conference the following two seasons and were determined to make it count this time.

The result was back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013 where they beat the Thunder and Spurs. The doubters were silenced, and LeBron and Bosh were vindicated. But only briefly.

The push for a third straight championship was going well right until the Finals where the Spurs took their revenge. Masterful performances from Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan were enough to cool the Heat in just five games.

After the defeat, LeBron James decided to go back to Cleveland, and the Big Three era was officially done and dusted. It will be remembered mostly for the two titles, but it did also play a larger role. If Boston reignited it all, the Heat showed it can be both acceptable and successful to follow the super team model.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The King often speaks about how he never played for a super team. Well, I’m making the case that he actually played for two of them.

In my view, the trio of him, Kyrie, and Kevin Love covers all the needed prerequisites. They are all top-five picks and regular All-Stars. Not to mention that Tristan Thompson was a high pick in the draft as well.

The intention to build a dynasty was also there and played a big part in LeBron’s decision to come back. So, even if James doesn’t like to admit it, he did have a super team in Cleveland. The problem was the other one that was already brewing over in the Western Conference.

After leaving the Heat to team up with Kyrie, LeBron played in four consecutive NBA finals with the Cavaliers. All four of them were against the Golden State Warriors. The big break for them came in 2016 and is possibly James’ greatest achievement in basketball.

After trailing 3-1 to the Warriors, the Cavs rallied and won three consecutive games to clinch the series. LeBron was once again vindicated by delivering the promised championship to his home state. Although it was a massive success story, the other three finals did not pan out the same way. The reason was that the Warriors gradually created what LeBron attempted twice.

Golden State Warriors

I wouldn’t say that the Warriors took the conventional route to building a super team, but they had an abundance of talent already in 2015. That’s when they won their first championship since 1975 and took the first steps toward establishing an NBA dynasty.

On paper, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were far from superstardom when they were drafted. Steph was the 7th pick in 2009, Klay was acquired with the 11th, and Draymond was drafted 35th. Somehow you can’t compare these acquisitions with any of the ones I already mentioned.

However, the chemistry between the three grew during the years, and when coach Steve Kerr arrived in 2014, the players were ready to make their mark. To be fair, Curry was already showing he would be a big NBA player, but the development of Klay and Draymond is what really made the team.

And just like that, the Warriors had built a team that deservedly won the finals against LeBron and still had the cap space to add another top player. Sure, losing the title in 2016 was a big hit for the team, especially after leading 3-1 in the series. But they were determined to put it behind them and establish themselves as the unanimous number-one team in the league.

The way the Warriors achieved their success was highly controversial, to say the least.

After losing the Western Conference semis against Curry and company, Oklahoma City’s star Kevin Durant decided to join the Warriors in free agency. It was a move that shocked the NBA to the core.

Golden State was already quite the force, and then they added arguably the best player in the league behind LeBron James. The timing itself brought about much criticism. Durant was one of the main reasons why OKC fell to the Warriors, so leaving to unite with the enemy was a dagger in the heart of Oklahoma fans.

They will never forgive KD for it, but for him, it was a case of “if you can’t beat them — join them!” The rest, as they say, is history as the Warriors romped to two consecutive titles and are the biggest favorite to win it again this year.

I don’t want to take anything away from Steve Kerr or the franchise. They might have four All-Stars (five, if you count DeMarcus Cousins, who made the move in 2018), but they didn’t just fall from the sky. A lot of effort was put in nurturing the talents of Curry and Klay Thompson. And it was their success that led Durant to join them.

So, as I said, the workings of this team were very different from the others. And if you can make the case that they didn’t tick all the boxes to be a super team at the start, adding Kevin Durant made them one for sure.

Where Is the Next NBA Super Team Coming From?

There’s no doubt that the triumphs of the Golden State Warriors reinforced the idea of building super teams even further. After all, who wouldn’t want that kind of success? Although it doesn’t seem like there is an obvious successor to their dynasty right now, things can change quickly.

Some teams have already made strides to unite top players on their rosters, and others boast the cap space to do it in the near future. Let’s look at some of them and try to figure out whether they have a legitimate chance of achieving something big in the coming years.

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers have been trying to build a successful team for years now. They relied heavily on the high picks they selected in recent drafts. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz were all top-three picks, and although Fultz didn’t live up to the expectations, the other two are definitely the spine of the team now.

Coupled with the trades they finalized this season, they definitely have something going. Jimmy Butler joined them from the T-Wolves, and in February, Philly also traded for Tobias Harris of the Clippers. That makes a total of three regular All-Star players, and Harris, despite not featuring at All-Star level, has been quite a force.

It might not strike you as the biggest super team ever assembled, and it’s not. However, the franchise’s efforts to stack their roster are definitely coming to fruition. There are undoubtedly many issues to iron out before these players start dominating the league, but the current configuration is their best chance yet.

It will be interesting to see what they will accomplish this season and whether this team will be kept together for longer. There are a few big egos now sharing the court, but this can turn into a major advantage if the coaches can get the right chemistry going.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers look to have forfeited the season after they traded away their star player to Philadelphia, but they might come back stronger sooner than expected. Although their own version of a super team with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Chris Paul did not truly take off in the past, it seems the franchise is ready to give it another try.

The Clippers are in a situation where they have the cap space for two or even three top players. It is evident that they will be working hard to make something happen in the summer. With the free agent options this year, surely one of the hot topics will be who the Clippers can get.

Kawhi Leonard is said to be happy in Toronto, but it’s no secret he wants to play in LA at some point. Jimmy Butler is also a possibility if things don’t work out in Philadelphia. Kemba Walker might also be looking for a new team if the Hornets fail to reach the playoffs.

It’s hard to say who will end up there, but one thing is certain — the LA Clippers are definitely looking to assemble a new super team. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

Despite a lot of guys wanting to play in LA, the Clippers are not exactly the ideal destination for a top player.

The franchise may have the money, but they also have a very mixed reputation in the league. They have been mediocre for many, many years, and the one time they did form a good team, they didn’t get past the conference semis.

New York Knicks

The Knicks have been bad for a long time. No trades or draft picks have been able to change that. In fact, the one time they got it right was with Porzingis. However, they opted to trade him away and are now looking to form a new roster in the summer.

And although it hasn’t worked for them in the past, it might be different this time around. The Knicks, like the Clippers, have substantial cap space to work with this year, and they have a very good chance to land a high lottery pick.

Trading Porzingis meant only one thing. The Knicks are putting all their hopes on acquiring top talent through free agency and the draft in the summer. And there is one scenario that really excites fans in New York.

The speculation doing the rounds is that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant may decide to move to New York. Now, there is a lot to be said about that. On one hand, despite the underwhelming state of the Knicks, the franchise is still located in the biggest market of the NBA.

KD moving to the East also makes sense if you think about it. I believe the legacy KD leaves behind is something that’s definitely on his mind. Imagine how the comparisons between him and LeBron will look if Durant manages to win a title for the Knicks.

I can also see Kyrie moving if he gets a superstar like Durant next to him. It’s evident that the role of the leading player is not for him. Although he is a terrific athlete, the best basketball he played was with LeBron in 2016.

On the flip side, a lot can go wrong. It’s no secret that nobody likes Knicks owner James Dolan, and he has played a big part in some of the high-profile players that have left the franchise in recent years.

As much as KD and Kyrie in New York is a mouth-watering proposition, they might not be so tempted to join forces in a franchise that has been continuously failing for decades.

When the Knicks were in such situations in the past, they always aimed high but had to settle for second-class players in the end. Will they be able to get someone from the A-list this time? We will have to wait and see, but there is definitely a sense that their failing model can dent their chances of creating a super team.

Conclusion and Final Words

It’s evident that forming super teams will be a recurring trend in the NBA for years to come. The Celtics started it, then LeBron James and the Heat made it an acceptable tactic. This all led to the forming of arguably the best super team in NBA’s history — Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors.

The last decade has seen these teams win the bulk of the championships with two notable exceptions. Although they had amazing players on their respective rosters, I wouldn’t call the 2011 Mavericks or the 2014 San Antonio Spurs super teams.

That is because they mainly relied on draft picks and player development and weren’t formed with the intention of being unstoppable market hits. Both franchises are unique in this regard, and I would love to see them continue that way.

But the truth is that most of the other teams now look for trades that will make them an instant success. And while some have had reasonable success, others have failed miserably. In my view, that’s because it’s not enough to simply take the easy way out.

If you want to emulate the Golden State Warriors and create something that will last, you have to do way more than just pile two or three All-Stars together.

So, in conclusion — yes, I strongly believe that super teams will become more and more popular as we go forward. And we will continue to see teams with a superior individual quality challenge for honors more frequently.

Some teams like the Mavs or Spurs will probably still squeeze through the cracks, but I can’t see it happening on a regular basis.

There’s nothing wrong with teams trading top stars to maximize their chances, but I do hope that the franchises will not overlook fundamentals like player development and team chemistry.

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Are Super Teams Set to Dominate the NBA?
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Are Super Teams Set to Dominate the NBA?
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Building a super team seems to be every NBA franchise’s goal nowadays. I look at why that is and whether it’s likely the approach will change in the future.
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