Giant Killers: Is the Superteam Era Finally Over in the NBA?

Giant Killers: Is the Superteam Era Finally Over in the NBA image

📖 Published on: May 10th, 2024

✍️ Updated: May 14th, 2024

⏳ 13 mins read


Basketball has always been about team success rather than individual feats of a single player. Over the years, we have seen teams assembling a roster with top stars at the helm – usually a trio of elite NBA players leading the way for the rest of the team, more known as superteams. But that is no longer the case as the playoffs today as we have seen the downfall of these kinds of teams.


What is a Superteam?


Back in the day, we have seen a lot of teams build around a collection of stars in their roster. There are a lot of cases where these are drafted players and have been developed over time. But the fastest way to create a superteam is to trade for stars or even sign them when they enter the free agency market. We have seen the Lakers in the ‘70s emerge with a superteam composed of Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Gail Goodrich. The Lakers would continue that trend with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Spencer Haywood, Jamaal Wilkes, and Bob McAdoo in the ‘80s. Throughout history, building superteams seems to have guaranteed championships, and the blueprint is definitely there for everyone to see.


Lakers formed the first superteam in the NBA image


Various superteams have been formed through the history of the NBA. the 1980’s dominance by the Celtics was formed with the big five of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Nate Archibald, and Dennis Johnson. From 1982–1986, the Sixers followed the same blueprint Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney, and Charles Barkley. Perhaps the most iconic and popular big three of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman – arguably one of the best superteams to be assembled, was assembled by the Bulls from 1995 to 1998 before it was broken up.


Jordan's Bulls was one of the most successful superteams image


Miami Heat won back to back titles in 2012 and 2013 image

There weren’t much superteams later on in the NBA, until the Boston Celtics went on to assemble the likes of Paul Pierce, who was drafted by the team, and then adding Ray Allen from the Seattle Supersonics and Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007. This went on to become a big 4 with the rise of Rajon Rondo, emerging as a promising team in the game. It was later shadowed by the Miami Heat’s big three, more known as the Heatles. This squad led by Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh went on to dominate in the 2010s, winning back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.


The Cleveland Cavaliers also had their own big three with Kyrie Irving as the main guard. James returned to fulfil his promise of a championship while the team also traded for Kevin Love. This squad went on to secure four straight trips to the NBA Finals and even ended Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought across all sports. This superteam rivaled the Dubs era of the Golden State Warriors, which was composed of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green – later adding Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, which was also established around the same timeframe.


The Dubs dynasty was a memorable superteam image


Is the Superteam Era Finally Over?


Of course, not all superteams have become successful over the years. Franchises take a gamble by trading away many assets in hopes of bring a star that is in their prime. But not all of that works out well as planned. There are many failed super teams over the course of history, such as the 1996 Rockets, which had Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, and Scottie Pippen. There’s also the Los Angeles Lakers in 2003, which had Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton.


The 2012-2013 Lakers were a disappointing team image


The recent years have seen this trend as well. The 2021-2023 Brooklyn Nets were all promises with Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving leading the way, all for no trips to the NBA Finals. The Los Angeles Lakers have done the same thing after winning their 2020 title, bringing in Russell Westbrook to join LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and later replacing Westbrook with D’Angelo Russell, only to come up short in the next years.


Even now, the NBA has seen multiple superteams crash and burn, and this just further speculates and proves that the superteam era is about to be replaced by a new brand of basketball.


Big 4 Crashed Down in Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers have been trying to win a championship for as long as one can remember, but to no avail. It does seem that the team remains unlucky with the way they have progressed in the past few years. This year has been the peak of the Clippers super team of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook. However, it cannot be denied that their early failure has proved to be colossal and could even put the whole superteam at breaking point. Health was a primary concern for Leonard over the years of his career with the Clippers. George, Westbrook, and Harden, on the other hand, have been unable to step up in big games over the years, which has definitely cost them a chance at a title again – losing to the Dallas Mavericks in six games in the First Round of the 2024 NBA Playoffs.


The 2024 Clippers superteam were ousted in the first round image


The biggest takeaway is that the Clippers have no assets to start over. They have clearly gambled a lot to sign Paul George, giving away then-star and MVP Shai Gilgeous-Alexander along with a huge chunk of draft capital all the way to 2027, which just proves how risky of a gamble it was to assemble this big 4 of the Clippers, only to actually have it close to ending before it actually started.


Phoenix Big 4 is Killing their Future

The Phoenix Suns are also one of the biggest failures in recent years. Initially, the team had Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, and Devin Booker – only to add Kevin Durant two years later – and still failing to win a championship. Phoenix would then revamp its team – building around Booker and trading away Paul for Bradley Beal, and Ayton for Jusuf Nurkic. This proved to be pivotal in the shift of power in the Western Conference, only to see them struggle with team chemistry, and later got swept by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the First Round of the 2024 NBA Playoffs.


The 2024 Suns were hyped to be champions but got swept image


So how is this big 4 killing their future? Well, bringing in stars in the NBA is always costly, and if you don’t have enough assets to trade for, you can expect teams to trade away intangible assets – draft picks. The Suns have no playoff wins to show for it, and they do not have any first-round picks in the coming NBA Drafts from 2025 to 2030, and no second-round picks from this year’s draft all the way to 2030 as well. This just means that the only tradeable assets they will ever have is their current players – which will prove to be costly in the years to come.


Milwaukee’s Super Team’s Failure

The Milwaukee Bucks have seen a taste of an NBA title when they scored a win in the 2021 Finals. So far, things haven’t been in their favor after that, coupled with a semis exit in 2022, and back-to-back first-round exits at the hands of the Miami Heat (2023) and the Indiana Pacers in this year’s playoffs. The core of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez remain as their focus, all while adding Damian Lillard to the mix. However, the team’s poor depth compared to other playoff teams has hurt their chances, combined with the untimely injuries to both Lillard and Antetokounmpo led them to fall in the first round against their rival – the Pacers.


The Bucks have two clutch stars and still got wiped in the first round image


While there are a lot of ways for this team to improve, the Bucks collectively need to stick to a coach – as firing Adrian Griffin in the middle of the season and replacing him with Doc Rivers didn’t actually do them anything good. The team just needs a few reliable pieces, which should be able to circumvent the failure that they have seen in the past few years.


Built-Teams and Their Success in the Current NBA Season


It is no secret that many superteams have been defeated by a better team – composed of players revolving around a system and less focus on isolation plays. On top of that – less reliance on star players to do everything for them. Basketball has evolved well over the years to the point that we are now seeing non-stars, just role players do their jobs well and improve the squad’s chances of winning while star players take their time in resting, especially in big games.


So what has defined the modern era of NBA basketball and how it has rendered the superteams today as an obsolete strategy in building teams?


Position-less Basketball


While many claim that it isn’t as effective as most people think, positionless basketball. The Golden State Warriors provided the blueprint for this kind of ball game. This breaks the norms of basketball in terms of having players not locked to their designated positions, and this means that point guards can shuffle positions all the way to the center spot, which should give the squad more flexibility and options in the game. This can also mean that centers and certain big men can even pop out and shoot the three. This is why one can consider this new setup as a promising change in basketball – with the Oklahoma City Thunder being a main proponent for this setup.

The Nets initially played positionless basketball image


Modern Bully Basketball

Well, physicality is limited in the game still, but the NBA still has a few ways of allowing players to defend and play bully ball without being too physical. While we can say that the league has indeed gone soft over the years with the thin whistle and absurd basketball calls, the reliability of big men is still a promising force that can help teams win games. The Minnesota Timberwolves, for instance, offer this kind of blueprint by having a balance between superb shooting, strong paint presence, and immense defensive brilliance. The same can be said for the Boston Celtics, who are following a strong system with role players even being reliable in big games.


The Future of the League is in Safer Hands


While the superteams are about to go extinct, it cannot be denied that the league remains in safer hands, with these rising teams bringing the next brand of basketball that is going to be played in the NBA for years to come. Who knows, maybe we will see superteams get back on the rise in the coming years.


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