The new Nets: Dream teams and nightmares, a history of the NBA's superteams
The Brooklyn Nets made headlines before the end of NBA trade deadline. So who were the biggest successes and failures in the history of NBA super teams?
With the arrival of LaMarcus Aldridge, the Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash has the option to put out a starting 5 full of players who at one point in their careers were NBA All Stars: Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge. Collectively those five players combine for a total of 40 All Star games. Maybe there are one or two of them that aren’t in the prime of their career, but it's still a starting 5 that that is bound to send chills down the spine of any opponent who walks into the Barclays Center.
This Nets squad is just the latest in a long list of super teams constructed by NBA franchises throughout the years. Their objective, conquering the NBA title via the express way. But does building a super team guarantee a championship? No. If the secret to success was that simple, NBA teams would simply sign the best players then just sit back and wait to be crowned champs. In reality, it doesn’t quite work like that. Although there have been a few success stories around the league of clubs manufacturing a title team, many others have ended in failure. Because however powerful the project may seem, the loftier the expectations the bigger the fall. Here is a list of some of the biggest winners and losers from these big money super team gambles.
Dream Teams: Winners
Philadelphia 76ers (1982-1986)
Although the phenomenon that is the NBA super team may seem like a modern idea, teams have been gathering some of the biggest and brightest talent to assemble these dream teams from way back when. One of the first teams to introduce this idea were the Sixers of the 80’s. The Philly franchise had just lost in the 1982 NBA Finals when Moses Malone, a 3-time league MVP and future Hall of Famer joined a stacked squad that already included three future Hall of Famers Julius Erving, Bobby Jones and Maurice Cheeks. Malone was quoted saying the Sixers would “fo, fo, fo” in the playoffs, meaning they would sweep every series 4-0. He was wrong… but not by much. They would go on to win the 1983 NBA title while going 12-1 in the playoffs, and the center winning Finals MVP honors.
Los Angeles Lakers (1982-1989)
The Lakers had already won the Championship in the 1980 and 1982 seasons thanks to the legendary duo of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabar, but it was after that ’82 title that the Lakers built up what would be considered in todays terms a super team thanks to the arrival of James Worthy. The Lakers drafted him with the number 1 pick in the draft, a pick they acquired thanks to a trade with the Cavaliers two years before. Magic, Kareem, and Worthy formed one of the greatest Big Threes in history. Two of the three are widely considered among the 10 best players in the history of the game, while Worthy was only a seven-time All Star and MVP of the finals in 1988. The ’88 title would be the last of 3 titles won after the construction of the Lakers super team that dominated the NBA in the 80’s.
Boston Celtics (1983-1990)
The 80’s were one of the most important decades in the history of the NBA because of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry. Both franchises had super teams which they maintained for many years. In Boston they already had their Big Three (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish) but with the addition of 1979 Finals MVP Dennis Johnson, the Celtics would go to four straight NBA finals (84-87) winning two: 1984 and 1986. The quartet remained together for seven years, until 1990.
Chicago Bulls (1995-1998)
The Bulls had already won their first threepeat before Michael Jordan retired for the first time. When MJ returned so too did the dynasty. But the team that had already won back-to-back-to-back championships added something that they didn’t have up until that moment. Dennis Rodman, a two time all star, and twice voted the best defender in the league. He arrived from San Antonio to add another dimension on the defensive side of the ball. Although a lot of questions were raised about his attitude on and off the floor, in Chicago for the most part he behaved himself and proved to be the perfect complement Jordan and Pippen.
Boston Celtics (2007-2012)
The Celtics were the first franchise in the modern era to form a super team. Or at least the first ones to find success with this formula. They went from having the worst record in the NBA in 2007 to the best record the next year (66-16), and finished it off with beating the Lakers in the finals. A more fitting definition for a super team would be hard to find. Paul Pierce was already a long time Celtic, but two summer acquisitions left the rest of the league with their jaws on the floor. Ray Allen joined from the Sonics and Kevin Garnett from the T-Wolves. This Big Three would reach another final (2010) and would be a constant force to be reckoned with in the playoffs until Ray Allen’s departure to the Heat in 2012.
Miami Heat (2010-2014)
Surely the most controversial of any super team in history. The way that LeBron James announced he was leaving the Cavs (The Decision broadcasted live on ESPN), left Cleveland fans burning his jerseys, and a large majority of fans celebrating the Heat’s loss to the Mavericks in the ensuing 2011 Finals. But the Miami super team would not be held down for long. They won the next two titles in the next two years and LeBron picked up two Finals MVP awards. The three were together for four years, and in every year reached the NBA Finals.
Cleveland Cavaliers (2014-2017)
Yet again LeBron was at the nucleus of a super team. This time returning home after a stint in Miami and returning as officially the best player in the game. He Cleveland he joined Kyrie Erving, Rookie of the Year in 2012 and Kevin Love who was traded of the Cavs from Minnesota. Another Big Three that lasted three years (until Kyrie left for Boston) and in all three years reached the Finals. Their greatest feat was in 2016 when they won the only title in Cavs history after a historic comeback against the Golden State Warriors.
Golden State Warriors (2016-2019)
The loss in the 2016 Finals was the detonator that led to the next and last super team which had incredible success in their pursuit of the title. It’s true that before that year Golden State already had a fantastic team which with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green won the title in 2015 and had the best record in the history of the NBA the next year (73-9). But the arrival of Kevin Durant turned that team from great to almost unbeatable. Winners of the previous three MVP awards (one for Durant and two for Curry) together with perhaps the best pure shooter in the league and a relentless defender like Green made for a ferocious foursome. Perhaps the best quartet the NBA has ever seen and with out question the best offense ever seen. They took home the title in 2017 and 2018 and in 2019 made the Finals, but perhaps because of injuries, fell to the Raptors in game six.
Dream Teams: Failures
Orlando Magic (1993-1996)
After years of the Magic-Bird rivalry and Jordan’s reign abruptly cut short, the NBA was in search of a new king. And it seemed like it was destined to come out of Florida. The graceful all the while out of this world strength and charisma of Shaquille O’Neal made him the perfect candidate to fill those shoes in the mid 90’s and the Magic took advantage by creating a super team around him. Penny Hardaway was the other fundamental piece of the puzzle. He was a compulsive scorer and creator who was a perfect compliment on the perimeter to Shaq in the paint. That team certainly looked like a championship team, but didn’t have the heart of a championship team. In 1994 they were bounced from the first round of the playoffs in 1994 and in 1995 they did reach the Finals, but were topped by the Rockets. In ’96 Jordan returned to the Bulls and the Magic had missed their chance.
Houston Rockets (1998-1999)
The Rockets were just coming off a disappointing playoff run in 1998, so after that season they made a big push to sign Scottie Pippen, who left a dismantled Bulls team coming off their second threepeat. The future Hall of Famer joined Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley to make one last push for a championship. The trio on paper looked like a dream, unfortunately the wear and tear over the course of the season took its toll on the veteran trio. It was the Lakers who ended up KOing the Rockets in the first round, and Houston would have to wait four years to get back into the playoffs.
Los Angeles Lakers (2003-2004)
Another dream line up, consisting of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant at the wheel and the offseason additions of Karl Malone and Gary Payton. But yet again the latter two had seen better days and the former two had seen their relationship deteriorate almost to the point of no return. That on top of the injuries racked up by the Big Four made for a difficult season. Although they reached the Finals, they met a hungry, stingy Detroit team that took the title and ended up breaking the dream team apart. O’Neal would ship out to Miami, Payton went to Boston and Malone retired.
Los Angeles Lakers (2012-2013)
The Lakers tried to form a team that would give Kobe Bryant his sixth ring, seeing that their legendary guard was in the twilight of his career. Veteran Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, who the franchise hoped would be the new face of the Lakers when Kobe retired, joined Bryant and Pau Gasol. But the relationship between Howard and Bryant always had its friction and when Kobe ruptured his achilles tendon would lead to the Lakers worst regular season since 2007 and they were knocked out of the first round of the playoffs by the Spurs. Howard left LA as a free agent that summer.
Brooklyn Nets (2013-2014)
The Nets already knew what it’s like to create a super team that didn’t turn out exactly how they were expecting. Although it must be said, their team at the the moment looks a bit more promising than the one assembled eight years ago. It was just second year the Nets were in Brooklyn and the franchise opted to do away with the future project of the organization hoping to land immediate success. They brought in former members of the Celtics Big Three: Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, joining Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. None of the four were in the prime of their career and the project was deemed a disaster. They made the playoffs that year, but were thumped by the Heat in the second round and because the future was sacrificed for a failed project it took the Nets years to rebuild a competitive team.
Oklahoma City Thunder (2017-2018)
After Kevin Durant left the Thunder in 2016, OKC had a decision to make. They had a good enough team to be competitive and reach the playoffs, but they didn’t have a team that would contend for a title. With the reigning MVP of the league Russel Westbrook, they decided to go all in. The Thunder traded for four time all star Paul George, and signed free agent Carmelo Anthony, who had been to 11 All Star games and considered one of the greatest scorers the league has ever seen. On paper, Oklahoma City had their Big Three. But a team with that many prime time scorers found it difficult to gel. They lost to the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. Carmelo was then traded to Atlanta, bringing an end to the experiment.