The death of an NBA superteam (for now)

Warriors, built over time.
picture: Getty Images

The Boston Celtics-Golden State Warriors Finals is one of the most engaging title races in recent memory. The Celtics are in the midst of a Cinderella tear on their way to face the restructured Kevin Durant Warriors. Both teams have organically built the backbone of their roster through skilled draft picks and shrewd small trades.

For the first time since 2007, we’ve had two teams in the NBA Finals that weren’t built through superstar trades. As it stands, it takes 14 seasons to kill a superteam. The modern superteam as we know it was formed by the Boston Celtics in 2007 when they acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to pair with Paul Pierce. The following year, the Los Angeles Lakers upped the ante by trading for Pau Gasol, pairing him with Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum. The two teams made up five of the six contestants and made three consecutive Finals appearances.

The rest of the league took notice, and in the summer of 2010, many teams geared up for the best free agency class in NBA history. The Miami Heat combined the superstar powers of LeBron James and Chris Bosh with Dwyane Wade in Miami. This is a team that has never been seen before. Garnett and Allen joined Pierce at a career low, and Gasol joined Bryant and Lamar Odom as three players, mostly first-round exits, as first-choice picks, and the three Heat were in their prime. The core of the period joins forces.

A few years ago, the Lakers used their Hollywood star power, legendary coaches and three-time championship duo Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant to lure Payton, 35, and Karl Malone, 40, to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, that team collapsed in the Finals. Since that awkward attempt to bring together four current and former All-Stars, no team has thought about teaming up the superstars who led their respective teams to success at the peak of their careers. In the process, Miami broke the mold and nearly broke the NBA.

It wasn’t long before everyone tried to get involved. In 2013, the Brooklyn Nets attempted to pair Garnett and Pierce with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez to form their next superteam, with embarrassing results. The Cleveland Cavaliers then persuaded James to return to Cleveland to join fledgling Kyrie Irving before trading for All-Star Kevin Love. Then the Golden State Warriors upped everyone’s ante, adding Kevin Durant, the best player in the NBA, to the best team in the NBA. It wasn’t long before James formed another superteam in the Lake District.One. with Anthony Davis. From the establishment of the Heat in 2010 to the Lakers led by James to win the championship in 2020, a super team has appeared in every finals. Three of those teams were built around James as the best player.

It made this year’s Finals even sweeter, watching two homemade lineups fight for all the marbles a year after seeing the Milwaukee Bucks win the title. We’ve just had the densest decade of superstar teams that get their fun out of predicting or caring about who’s going to make it to the Finals.

Going forward, a large number of draft teams are ready for deep play. These teams were built without a home run and emerged from the lottery quagmire to build a contender through the draft. In the West, we have the Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets and Warriors, who were reorganized through the draft after Durant, except for the Andrew Wiggins trade. The East has the Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks and Celtics riding on the backs of two in-house stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

A handful of teams swinging in trade and free agency faltered in daunting fashion. After James Harden, Irving and Durant were on the same roster, the Nets seemed to crumble before our eyes. The Lakers look broken and old, three years away from a championship after adding the all-time top 75 players, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony. The 76ers were further away from a championship after adding Harden last season. All that’s left is the Clippers, who knocked out their roster, pairing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but failed to make the Finals with the pair.

The future appears to be conquered by small-market teams that use the draft to their advantage, combining certain bets, unknowns and anomalies. Based on the fun of last season’s Finals, we can expect the draft to replace free agency as the biggest day of the year. At least for now.


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