Evolution of the NBA Super Team
As discussed in a previous blog entry with Elevation 5280 Sports, much has been made about competitive balance in the NBA. I think it’s safe to say that notion has been debunked, which definitely is tooting my own horn a little. There is still the underlying assumption, however, of who actually ruined the NBA with the creation of super teams. The general consensus of the public falls on everyone’s favorite scapegoat: LeBron James. I also think that NBA fans are looking into LeBron James for the cause of the Lost Colony of Roanoke as well but I digress. Let us dive into the evolution of the super team, see what started this all, and see what it has become.
There is not general consensus as to when the idea of the super team began. We can, however, see where the seeds of the idea where planted. Although constructed much differently than the NBA of today in terms of a super team, I believe that there is a strong correlation between the Bad Boys of Detroit Basketball and the seeds of super teams.
Beginning in 1986, the Detroit Pistons began to accumulate a lot of talent to overcome the Lakers and the Celtics, which were the juggernauts of the 80’s. Between 1986 and 1989, the Pistons acquired John Salley (draft), Dennis Rodman (draft), Adrian Dantley (trade), James Edwards (acquired), and Mark Aquirre (trade for Dantley). Absolutely, a lot of moves were made via the draft but these teams were built for the purpose of stopping the Celtics and Lakers. While not a super team by the standards that we know it to be now, but you can see the beginning of the super team mentality. That is to say that team was built to get over the hump and bring that championship home.
Fast forward to 1995 Houston Rockets. After winning two championships in the absence of His Airness, the Rockets found themselves no longer able to compete. Michael Jordan had returned. To make matters worse, the Mail Man and Stockton in Utah were going to be tough to overcome. To attempt to remedy this issue, the Rockets acquired Charles Barkley from the Suns. The Rockets now had The Dream, Drexler (who the Rockets traded for in 1994), and Barkley.
This still was not enough as the Rockets lost to the Utah Jazz in the WCF 4-2. Following a disappointing season and the retirement of Drexler, the Rockets traded for Scottie Pippen one year and traded up in the draft the following year to obtain Steve Francis. In the season in which the Rockets traded for Francis, Pippen was traded to the Blazers and Barkley suffered a career ending injury. So, all of their work was for nothing. We again, however, see shades of the modern super team. A team constructed to displace powerful foes.
A few years later, in 2004, the LA Lakers we see more of the seeds of the super team. The biggest difference between the Lakers and the Rockets and Pistons is the introduction of player recruitment. In 2004, the Lakers would sign free agents Karl Malone and Gary Payton. The Glove and the Mail Man were personally recruited by Shaq.
This super team had a big problem though. Malone and Payton were past their primes. That’s not even getting into the internal conflict of Shaq and Kobe. They were able to reached the NBA Finals but were bested by a better Detroit Pistons team.
The 2007-2008 Boston Celtics were the straw that broke the camel’s back. In 2007, the Celtics (long removed from prominence) traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to play alongside Paul Pierce. In that season, the Celtics went 66-16, overcoming King James in the playoffs (who went to the NBA Finals the year before), and went onto defeat the LA Lakers for their first NBA title in 12 years. After a Garnett injury the following year, the Celtics would lose in the playoffs. The next year, the Celtics would add Marquis Daniels and Rasheed Wallace and make it back to the NBA Finals, defeating LeBron James again in the process. Before moving on, there are two important things to note here. First, super teams up to this point were created mostly through front office moves (with the exception of the recruitment of Malone and Payton by Shaq). Second, super teams mostly consisted of players past their primes. Enter LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh.
2010 is the year that changed it all. It is when the term super team became a recognized term in the NBA and when the term Big Three was paraded (quite literally) in front of us all. Not content with the inability of the Cleveland Cavaliers to put a good team around him, LeBron James decided it was time to take matters into his own hands. Bucking the trend of depending on the front office, LeBron joined forces with Wade and Bosh in Miami to form the modern super team. James, Wade, and Bosh were picks 1, 5, and 4 in the 2003 NBA draft respectively.
While player recruitment was not unheard of at this point, it went from 0 to 100 with the forming of this team. This iteration of the Miami Heat would go to four straight NBA Finals, winning two of them.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, learning from their mistakes, opened up to the idea of the super team (and the money involved) in 2014 when they welcomed back LeBron James into the fold with play alongside Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. There is much speculation that James only came home because he orchestrated the Cavs acquiring Love. It’s hard to argue that fact. We do see, however, that this team was formed with heavy player involvement and control. Losing to the Warriors in the Finals, the Cavs would go onto acquire more talent (much speculated to be controlled by James) and defeat the 73 win Warriors in the Finals. The Cavs overcame a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Warriors, which many felt caused the Warriors to go into action.
We now arrive at the 2016-2017 Golden State Warriors. Even after winning 73 games, the Warriors could not overcome the King James led Cavs super team. The Warriors would then flip the script and remodernize the NBA super team. The Warriors successfully recruited arguably the second-best player in the NBA: Kevin Durant. The Warriors added a couple new wrinkles to the NBA super team. First, Durant and Curry were the two most recent MVPs. Second, the Warriors had defeated Durant’s Thunder; ironically, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to do so. Essentially, Kevin Durant joined the Warriors with a, “If you can’t beat em, join em” attitude.
As much as people would like to compare the Warriors super team to that of the Heat, you can’t. LeBron didn’t join the Celtics or the Spurs or the Magic. He joined the 47 win Miami Heat. People would also like to blame James for what happened in Golden state, but we’ve just proven you can’t. LeBron took a model that already existed and evolved it. Just as the Warriors improved LeBron’s model. Unless the NBA does something about, super teams are here to stay and LeBron James cannot be blamed for that…entirely.