Sport Stories: 10 NBA Super-Teams That Failed
The first few days of NBA free agency 2019 were crazy! Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving decided to both join the Brooklyn Nets, along with DeAndre Jordan and then, Kawhi Leonard shocked the world, rejecting the offers from LA Lakers and Toronto Raptors and joining the Clippers. After he had already recruited Paul George to play beside him! Meanwhile, Kemba Walker moved to Boston, D'Angelo Russell became a Warrior and DeMarcus Cousins once again joined forces with Antony Davis (and LeBron James of course) this time in Los Angeles, playing for the Lakers. It's pretty clear we are living in the "super-teams" era. It's pretty common nowadays superstars, especially if they hang out outside the court, to try to join forces, sometimes refusing more money and better deals, aiming for the ultimate goal: to be crowned NBA champions!
The man. The athlete. The legend
Roland Lazenby is a great writer and a dedicated researcher. Michael Jordan is of course, a legend, the GOAT. But he is also a man. And Lazenby totally understands there is that thin line between the legend and the man with his moments of triumph and his struggles and his shadows. I loved Jordan before reading this book. I love him even more now.
Not all NBA super-teams in the past, though, managed to live up to the hype. In many occasions superstars teaming up was a disaster! Let's have a look at a few of those cases in which some really talented and ambitious super-teams failed. With one exception, I've decided to focus mostly on "ones-and-dones", super-teams that were created via trades and signings during the off-season in order to instantly dominate and failed heavily. As always, Feel free to comment and please be polite and respectful. And without further ado...
10. Washington Wizards 2002-03
OK, that team wasn't probably supposed to dominate. Still, it featured the recently acquired Jerry Stackhouse (an All-Star the year before) and promising star, back then, Larry Hughes, along with Christian Laettner, who was an All-Star a few years ago and the first pick of 2001 NBA draft, Kwame Brown. More importantly, Michael Jordan, the GOAT, after becoming the president of basketball operations for the Wizards, had decided to come back from retirement for a second time to help the team the year before. At the beginning of 2002-03 season, Jordan even accepted a sixth-man role and limited minutes, in order to help his body survive the 82-game NBA marathon of a regular season. However, due to various injuries and disappointing results, "His Airness" reclaimed his starting position and took over with unsuccessful results. MJ became an All-Star for the 14th and last time, but the Wizards finished the seasons with a mediocre 37-45, failing to make the playoffs. At the end of the season, Jordan retired once again, this time for good and he was also fired from his position as the president of basketball operations. The Wizards didn't make the playoffs the following season either.
9. Indiana Pacers 2004-05
This version of the Indiana Pacers is mostly known for its brawling skills and not the basketball they played! It's a shame, because it was a really talented team that should have been a real contender! Let's have a look at the roster of the Pacers that year. Led by the future Hall of Famer, Reggier Miller, along with players such as Jermaine O'Neal, Ron Artest (he was still Ron Artest back then!), Stephen Jackson and Dale Davis. Such a deep and talented roster, with a mixture of veteran and rising stars. The season started in a good fashion for the Pacers, but then "The Malice at the Palace of Auburn Hills" happened. One of the most violent and the most shameful moments in the history of the league. After the brawl and with a decision coming directly from NBA Commissioner, David Stern, Jackson and O'Neal were suspended for multiple games, while Ron Artest, who ironically later became... Metta World Peace (such a peaceful guy!) sat out for the rest of the season! Their title hopes were lost. The Pacers managed to make the playoffs and they even beat the Boston Celtics in the first round, despite Boston having the home-court advantage, before being eliminated by none else than the Pistons, in a basketball rematch of their brawling months ago! At the end of the season the iconic Reggie Miller retired. The Pacers haven't even made the Finals since then.
8. Portland Trailblazers 2000-1
Roster-wise, the 2000-01 Blazers team was probably the best one in the history of the franchise! They had six All-Stars, Shawn Kemp (whom they had just acquired), Scottie Pippen, Dale Davis, Detlef Schrempf, Steve Smith and Rasheed Wallace (the only Blazers' player that became an All-Star that season), along with players such as Arvydas Sabonis (the greatest Lithuanian player of all time never actually became an NBA All-Star, seriously?), Damon Stoudamire and Rod Strickland. To be perfectly honest, most of those players were way past their prime, but that was still one of the best gatherings of basketball players ever! And the Blazers were swept in just the first round by the Los Angeles Lakers, the team that they had faced and almost eliminated in the Conference Finals the year before. We should, of course, emphasize the fact that the West was ridiculously strong back then, probably even stronger that it is nowadays. And Shaq and Koby went on to win another NBA championship that year. Moreover, we should also note that they were struck by various injuries. The fact remains the same. The chemistry was a lost cause and that super-team definitely failed to meet the expectations.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers 2009-10
I'm not so sure we should call the 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers a "super-team", but they were definitely the best bunch of players LeBron James had played with up to that point. James was already an MVP and the Cavs had the best record in the regular season the year before, even though they failed to reach the Finals. During the 2009 off-season they traded for Shaquille O'Neal and they also signed Anthony Parker and the All-Star forward Antawn Jamison in the midseason. The expectations were pretty high, James was still pursuing his first NBA championship and the team once again finished the regular season at the top of the Eastern Conference. But then they were the victims of a huge upset, as an already aging Boston Celtics team beat them in the Conference Semifinals. Enough was enough for LeBron who left to create a more prominent super-team in Miami, along with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh and win his first championship ring. The future for Cleveland wasn't bad either. They picked Kyrie Irving in 2011 NBA Draft and then, led again by LeBron, formed a real super-team with LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love that finally won the championship in 2016.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder 2017-18
That Oklahoma City Thunder team failed miserably. Russell Westbrook was the reigning MVP, having just achieved the impossible, finishing a modern NBA season averaging a triple double and he was also already a 6-times All-Star. Paul George was the leader of a solid Indiana Pacers team, he had already been an All-Star four times and he was getting better and better with each passing season. Carmelo Anthony. a 10-times All-Star had already started declining, but he was still a superstar and a ferocious scorer. Those three teamed up and they were supposed to terrorize their opponents. They didn't. Sure, the supporting cast wasn't that great, but the truth is that the Thunder were more like a playground team than an actual NBA contender! No roles, no plan, no chemistry. They finished the season with the #4 seed in the West and they managed to be eliminated by a really young Utah Jazz team, led by the rookie Donovan Mitchell, in the first round. Carmelo Anthony was traded away in the following off-season and Paul George, as you already know, left after one more year to play for yet another super-team.
5. Los Angeles Clippers 2011-17
This is the only exception to my aforementioned rule of "ones and dones". By 2011, the Clippers were the least successful NBA franchise of all time. They were the poor cousin of the Los Angels Lakers. They had been around since 1970 (as Buffalo Braves) and they had never even reached Conference Finals. They had just won two playoff series in more than 40 years! They were a bad joke! And then, in 2011, David Stern actually cancelled Chris Paul's move to the Lakers and the player was traded to the Los Angels Clippers instead! LobCity was born! During those years, it was pretty fun to watch Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan play together. The latter even became an All-Star, an achievement just a few thought he would accomplish when he was drafted back in 2008. Those years were definitely the most successful in the history of the franchise. But here's the catch. Despite them playing beautiful and fun-to-watch basketball, despite them entering the playoffs each season, they never managed to reach at least the Western Conference Finals anyway! As of 2019, just three teams have never reached the Conference Finals. The Clippers, the Hornets and the Pelicans and LAC is in the league for way longer than the other two. Undoubtedly, that Clippers team never reached its true potential. And those seasons were both a success and a sweet disappointment.
4. Los Angeles Lakers 2012-13
The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers were a mess! Even the most hardcore LA Lakers wouldn't probably disagree with that. Arguably, their starting lineup, in theory, was unprecedented. Former MVP (twice) Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the last dominant old-school center in the league joined a team consisting of Kobe Bryant, one of the best players of all time, Pau Gasol, the best Spanish basketball player of all time and Metta World Peace, one of the best defensive players of the league at the time. All the pieces of the puzzle were there. Right? Wrong! Even during pre-season something went terribly wrong and coach Mike Brown was fired just five games into the regular season. Mike D'Antoni was the replacement, even though the fans called for Phil Jackson's return. The players never understood D'Antoni's "run and gun" philosophy, there was, reportedly, some tension between Bryant and Howard and the team was struck by multiple injuries. On top of that, the longtime owner, Jerry Buss, died in February. The morale was abysmal and the Lakers finished the season with a disappointing record of 45-37. In the first round of the playoffs they faced a solid and much more consistent San Antonio Spurs team and they were evidently defeated. Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace left the team in the following summer and as of 2019 the Lakers haven't made the playoffs since.
3. Brooklyn Nets 2013-14
That team was created in order to have instant success. Most of its' stars were already in the twilight of their great careers. Still, a team featuring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez was rationally considered among the favourites to go all the way. The Nets acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce during the off-season, sending Gerald Wallace, Khris Humphries and multiple future first round picks to the Celtics, ensuring Boston's future and risking their own. Their payroll that year set a record high for the NBA. The regular season was quite disappointing for the Nets. They managed to make the playoffs, securing just the sixth seed in the East though. The only player that probably played close to his true potential was Brook Lopez and he suffered a season ending injury in mid-December. Even though they eliminated the Toronto Raptors, that had the home-court advantage, in the first round, their season was ended by the hands of LeBron James and his peers, as the Miami Heat easily beat them in the Conference Semifinals and that expensive, but declining roster was disbanded ingloriously.
2. Houston Rockets 1996-98
Let's go way back and remember some of the greatest players of all time. Remember Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, a center so modern, so skillful and so smart that changed the way the center position was being played. Remember Clyde Drexler, 10-times All-Star, one of the greatest shooting guards of all time. Remember Charles Barkley, the MVP of 1993, a heavy, undersized power forward that was so talented and so skilled, one of the greatest scorers and rebounders of all time. His Suns were the only team that could have beaten Michael Jordan's Bulls at their prime. The Rockets had already won two championships that decade in the absence of MJ and they were determined to make a final stand. Those three teamed up in Houston in 1996. Despite the fact that this was an aging super-team, the Rockets didn't actually fail heavily during the season. They secured the third spot in the Western Conference and they made it to the Conference Finals where they were beaten by a younger and "hungrier" Seattle Supersonics team. The trio actually came back for a less convincing '97-98 campaign, where they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Utah Jazz. If those three super-stars had played together just a few years ago, in their primes, they could have created a dynasty. Or not, given the fact that Michael Jordan was there too...
1. Los Angeles Lakers 2003-04
The 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers are the only team on this list that made the NBA Finals! But they were a huge disappointment nevertheless. My main argument here is that this team was already a heavily successful team, having won three consecutive championships in the previous four years before even acquiring future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton. Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton are probably the four greatest players that ever played together in an NBA team, even though the last two weren't in their primes. What went wrong? Chemistry was a factor, obviously. Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault in the summer prior to the season and he wasn't 100% himself that year. Shaq already didn't like him that much anyway and their relationship became really heated. O'Neal's season was pretty good but Kobe's numbers slightly decreased compared to previous seasons. Multiple, mostly minor, injuries made things even worse. Still, the Lakers secured the second spot in the West and they made it to the NBA Finals. In the Finals they were shocked by a determined Detroit Pistons team in just five games! That was a huge upset, due to the fact that the Lakers were a super-team filled with talent and great players and the Pistons actually had no stars at all, just a focused, tough, well-prepared team that humiliated the glamorous and a bit arrogant Los Angeles Lakers. It was time for Shaq and Kobe to split up. And they both went on to win NBA championships again...
© 2019 Demos Karayiannopoulos