The NBA is one of the few sports organizations that can give birth to several super teams. In no other sports organization, other than perhaps Major League Soccer, can an individual player have enough impact on the league and significantly alter a team’s winning chances.
Sure, highly-talented teams exist, but even the most exceptional athlete cannot save an otherwise hopeless NFL team. Take LeBron James as an example of how a single player can completely change the game. Half of the last decade has been dictated by LeBron winning the Eastern Conference Finals with either the Cavaliers or the Heat. With only five players on the court at a time, a starter has the potential to control the game.
Most teams have more than one star, but are doomed to mediocrity in the face of ‘superteams’. Just because a player is considered an All-Star doesn’t mean that their franchise is the best it could be.
Think DeMar DeRozan or Rajon Rondo, and then think of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. Usually a collection of All-Stars provides a formidable challenge to even a superstar-caliber team, but it is less likely to win consistently.
The emergence of the Golden State Warriors as a bona fide superteam, and the recent impressive collection of talent on the New York Knicks’ roster is a testament to the arms race that the NBA is turning into.
This isn’t the NCAA; there are no Cinderella stories when it comes to Championship time. The NBA universe is starting to revolve around the densely talented super-teams, leaving the rest of the teams as placeholders during the playoffs.
The 2016-17 season is going to be similar to Captain America: Civil War, in which the Marvel Universe split into two sides and started throwing each other through planes.
The Warriors, already one of the best teams in history in terms of game-winning percentage, now have Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant on the same team. The New York Knicks have Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah. The Cleveland Cavaliers, reigning champs, have Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and LeBron James. These three teams are enough to fill an entire roster for the USA Olympics team.
Pat Riley has an interesting idea about how to fix the NBA’s ‘superteam’ problem https://t.co/hA6KhG6MjO
— Ron Stew (@ronstew) July 25, 2016
But let’s not forget that a superteam is not without its flaws. The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers had Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash – one of the greatest collections of talent the NBA has seen – but imploded in anticlimactic fashion. After the talent was dispersed and retired, the Lakers fell into a dismal rebuilding period.
Attempting to create a superteam is a risky procedure. Dispersing a team’s cap space to secure max contracts for a clutch of superstars is the NBA equivalent of putting your eggs in one basket. Look at the Miami Heat. LeBron James left to go back to Cleveland and win a championship there. Dwyane Wade, the presumed Heat lifer, was lowballed an offer and will be wearing a Bulls jersey for the 2016-17 season. Chris Bosh is not only sitting on a five-year, $118 contract, he’s also sitting on the bench unable to play for an indefinite period of time due to injury.
A similar fate can be forecast for the Warriors and the Knicks. All it takes is one bad season for an All-Star player to become incentivized to shop around his max-contract potential elsewhere (to be fair, many of these guys only have five years left in their prime, why should they take a subprime contract to not win a championship).
Derrick Rose said that the Knicks are the only other superteam in the NBA other than the Warriors…. pic.twitter.com/dFCgOmeuSp
— Sportando (@Sportando) July 22, 2016
An injury can also create a perfect storm for an underdog team to swoop for a playoff victory, like when Oklahoma City almost beat Golden State in the Western Conference Finals as Steph Curry sat on the sidelines.
One key piece in the puzzle can crumble a team and turn an amazing superteam turn into a Frankenstein mix of All-Stars and bench players.
High risk, high reward…and a high price to pay if it doesn’t come off.