Has the NBA become numb to super teams?
It seems like just yesterday that NBA fans were raising their concerns about each of the league’s latest super teams.
When Kevin Love was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers to join LeBron James and a young Kyrie Irving, fans in the Eastern Conference shared their respective issues with the fact that the East would likely run through Cleveland until James decided to leave.
That proved to be true, as the Cavaliers made the NBA Finals for four straight seasons until James decided to take his talents to Los Angeles in 2018.
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When Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder after a blown 3-1 series lead in the playoffs, and decided to head to the very team that came back from that 3-1 series deficit, fans again expressed doubts about the Western Conference’s parity.
That uneasiness also proved to be valid, as Durant and the Golden State Warriors advanced to the next three NBA Finals, winning two of them and losing just one after injuries to Durant and Klay Thompson.
But, just a few years later, the term “super team” rarely even gets used, and when it does, fans don’t even seem to bat an eye.
An article posted on NBA.com in August of 2017, a few months after Durant’s first championship win with the Golden State Warriors, took a look at the league’s history of super teams, and listed the following nine teams from the prior five decades as examples:
- 1968-1969 Los Angeles Lakers
- 1970-1971 Milwaukee Bucks
- 1971-1972 New York Knicks
- 1976-1977 Philadelphia 76ers
- 1982-1983 Philadelphia 76ers
- 1996-1997 Houston Rockets
- 2007-2008 Boston Celtics
- 2010-2011 Miami Heat
- 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers
If that article was updated to include additions from 2013 and on, there would be a legitimate case to consider each of the following six squads:
- 2014-2015 Cleveland Cavaliers
- 2016-2017 Golden State Warriors
- 2019-2020 Los Angeles Lakers
- 2019-2020 Los Angeles Clippers
- 2019-2020 Houston Rockets
- 2020-2021 Brooklyn Nets
In some fans’ eyes, the league had a whopping nine super teams in the span of 44 years. In just six years from 2014 through 2020, that number could have realistically increased by six.
Granted, each of those six super teams in the updated list have had varying degrees of success as of this writing in 2021, with 50 percent of them winning a title in that timespan.
But, the amount of displeasure surrounding each of those new additions from 2019 on has seemingly decreased at an alarming rate, evident by the 2020-2021 Nets.
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After the 2014-2015 Cavaliers and 2016-2017 Warriors each came together, the league went through a brief lull before the latest influx of Justice League-level super pairings.
In those few years of dominance from 2014-2019, many fans cared more about fresh faces coming out on top, rather than the usual LeBron James-Kevin Durant, Cavaliers-Warriors matchup in the NBA Finals.
What was the best way to combat that? Resorting to a necessary evil that has become commonplace in the NBA: a super team.
So, when James cleared out of Cleveland and joined the Lakers in 2018, and Durant departed from the Golden State to head out East, players from around the league decided to come together to strike while the iron was hot.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George seemingly forced their respective ways to the Los Angeles Clippers, while James Harden and Russell Westbrook reunited with the Houston Rockets.
At the same time, James and Durant went back to what they know best, as the former recruited Anthony Davis to join him on the Lakers, and the latter joined forces with Kyrie Irving on the Nets.
As the years progressed, each of James’ and Durant’s respective rosters continued to grow from a talent perspective, as big names like Marc Gasol and Dwight Howard went to the Lakers, while superstars like James Harden and Blake Griffin navigated to New York to join the Nets.
Despite all of the superstar additions, that same hatred for the idea of super teams dissipated, and many almost seemed indifferent at the idea of James or Durant coming out on top when the dust cleared on an NBA season.
James’ Lakers went on to win the 2020 NBA Finals after a season impacted by COVID-19, and Los Angeles looked like the favorites to make it to the 2021 NBA Finals when the 2020-2021 season got started a few months later.
Durant returned to the floor with Irving, both were joined by Harden later on, and the Nets rose to the top of the list of candidates that could represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
Through it all, the anger that accompanied the idea in 2014, and again in 2016, actually seemed to turn into excitement, with fans left chomping at the bit to see what the newly-crafted star-studded lineups (and drama-filled locker rooms) could do in a season impacted by COVID-19.
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The negativity around building a super team was replaced by the idea that it’s an accepted and necessary part of becoming a successful NBA franchise, though it may still be a taboo concept for players who have been around through it all.
“Right now in the league, you see a lot of guys going to teams where they are playing with one or two other All-Star level players, because that’s what they feel is best for them,” Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard said. “And I’m not mad at it at all … to me, that ain’t my style.”
At the same time, many superstars may have realized that building a super team doesn’t always lead to immediate success on the court, as Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal was quick to point out in an interview with The Athletic.
“We always say, it’s always easy to jump on the other side with two, three other guys who are really good, but at the same time, that grass isn’t always greener,” Beal told The Athletic. “We’ve seen that. History has shown that.”
Long gone are the days of hating on players because of the talent they have around them, or trashing on superstars that can turn a disastrous franchise into a gold mine at the drop of a hat, a la the Nets.
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Some fans even question players that remain loyal to their teams and try their best to win with what’s around them, like Lillard with the Trail Blazers or Beal with the Wizards.
The term “super team” simply doesn’t have the same weight as it did in the middle part of the 2010s, and it seems that players, teams, and fans alike have all become numb to a process that used to anger a wide majority.
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