The “super teams” in the NBA are now one of the most talked about topics in all of sports today. Either we revel in their success or failures; they will always be here to stay.
Pertaining to a ball club with loaded rosters, we have seen super teams throughout the long history of the NBA. From the old school Lakers (Wilt, Elgin, West) and Celtics (Bird, McHale, Parish) to today’s big three-led Cleveland Cavaliers (LBJ, Kyrie, Love) and the Golden State Warriors (Zaza, Javale, McCaw), these super teams always have that special edge: superstars who can basically overwhelm an opponent.
During the offseason of the 07-08, the Boston Celtics decided to create the modern blueprint for championships – Big Three. With young players in the roster and high draft picks, they cashed out on their future to win their 17th banner by trading for Ray Allen (Jeff Green went to the Sonics) and Kevin Garnett (a 5 for 1 trade that brought Al Jefferson to Minnesota). That ended a 22-year title drought for Boston, who went on to beat their old rivals – LA Lakers. This is the first classification of forming a Big Three – veterans’ last hurrah route.
Who would forget about “The Decision”? In his first entry in the free agency market, LeBron James announced in (what still is unnecessary) a televised interview that he was going “to take his talents to South Beach.” Another Big Three was formed, albeit a much scarier one. With Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on board, the Heat franchise was set to dominate the league for the foreseeable future (though they only end up winning 2 rings out of 4 Finals appearance). Which bring us to the second classification of Big Three – free agency route.
Oklahoma City went with the natural route, the third classification of building a Big Three: through the NBA draft. After picking Kevin Durant in 07, they drafted Russell Westbrook in 08, and James Harden 09. They went on to face the Miami Heat in 2012 and upsetting the hometown team by winning Game 1 (they would go on to lose the next 4). But they were also built to dominate the league for the foreseeable future as well.
But despite the immense pressure (whether they like it or not), there are some cases wherein the hype fizzles out, proving to be nothing more than just a mirage. And this was perfectly displayed by the Los Angeles Lakers in two instances:
A couple of seasons after completing a three-peat, the Lakers were eliminated by the Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs during the 2003 Playoffs (Spurs went on to win their 2nd championship). Losing has never been synonymous with the Lakers, which led the storied franchise to sign two Hall-of-Famers, Gary Payton and Karl Malone, in the 2004 offseason. At that time, it was all but certain that Los Angeles would win the NBA Finals until they faced and lost against the Detroit Pistons (one of the biggest upsets in NBA history).
In 2012, the Lakers were coming off a back-to-back Playoff drubbing by Dallas and Oklahoma City. To combat the Heat and the rising Thunder, the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard and signed Steve Nash in the 2012 offseason. It was supposed to bring back glory, but the experiment failed so poorly due to team chemistry (lack thereof), team fit (lack thereof), and championship experience (lack thereof).
There are instances wherein the super teams formed are a combination of the 3 (the natural way, free agency way, and veteran’s last hurrah). These are displayed by the fine work of David Griffin and Bob Myers, GMs of current super teams we have in the league right now: Golden State and Cleveland.
Cleveland Cavaliers were the first of the two to do this trend. After losing in his last Finals appearance in Miami, LeBron James made another decision – “The Homecoming” – when the King returned to Cleveland in search for The Land’s first major championship in 52 years (free agency route). At that time they already had superstar Kyrie Irving when they picked him 1st in the 2011 NBA Draft (natural route). A couple of seasons later, they had Andrew Wiggins from 2014 Draft. With LeBron’s decision of coming home, Griffin changed the direction of the franchise from rebuilding to contending, by trading for Kevin Love (7th year in the league at the time of the trade/veteran route) in exchange for Anthony Bennett (remember him?) and Wiggins.
The Golden State Warriors, on the other hand, already had Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green via the NBA draft (natural route). When KD signed to join the city by the bay (free agency route), they needed to free up some cap space by trading Andrew Bogut and starting small forward Harrison Barnes, and were against resigning key players Marreesse Speights, Leandro Barbosa, and Festus Ezeli.
We are now halfway in the season and so far these super teams got it all going standing in the top of the league with the best record. Despite some bumps here and there, they have silenced their critics and prove their dominance in the hardcourt. But then again, the question still stands: will they chase history or become a blimp in the timeline?
Only the basketball gods can tell.
– Ced Mendoza (contributor)