10 NBA Superteams That Failed
The first few days of NBA free agency in 2019 were crazy! Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving both decided to join the Brooklyn Nets along with DeAndre Jordan. Then Kawhi Leonard shocked the world by rejecting offers from the LA Lakers and Toronto Raptors and joined the Clippers. After he had already recruited Paul George to play with 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 with the Los Angeles Lakers. It's pretty clear we are living in the superteams era. It's pretty common nowadays for superstars, especially if they hang out off the court, to try to join forces, sometimes refusing more money and better deals. This is done to achieve the ultimate goal of being crowned as NBA champions.
However, not all NBA superteams have managed to live up to the hype. On many occasions, superstars that teamed up have actually been disasterous! Let's have a look at a few of those cases in which some really talented and ambitious superteams failed. With one exception, I've decided to focus mostly on teams that were "one-and-done". This refers to superteams that were created via trades and signings during the off-season with the intention of quickly dominating the league. Most of these teams ended up not delivering on the court. As always, feel free to comment and please be polite and respectful. And without further ado...
10. Washington Wizards 2002-03
OK, this team wasn't probably supposed to dominate. Still, it featured the recently acquired Jerry Stackhouse (an All-Star the year before) and a promising star in Larry Hughes. The team also had Christian Laettner, who was a previous All-Star, and the first pick of 2001 NBA draft, Kwame Brown. More importantly, Michael Jordan, the GOAT, who was 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 the 2002-03 season, Jordan even accepted a sixth-man role and limited minutes in order to help his body survive the 82-game marathon that is the regular NBA 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 season with a mediocre record of 37-45, failing to make the playoffs. At the end of the season, Jordan retired once again, this time for good. He was also fired from his position as the president of basketball operations. The Wizards also failed to make the playoffs in the following season.
9. Indiana Pacers 2004-05
This era of the Indiana Pacers was more known for their brawling skills then their basketball skills! It's a shame since they were a really talented team that should have been a real contender. The team was led by the future Hall of Famer Reggier Miller. The lineup included players like Jermaine O'Neal, Ron Artest (when he still had that name), Stephen Jackson and Dale Davis. The Pacers had a deep and talented roster with a mixture of veterans and rising stars. The season started in good fashion for the Pacers, but then "The Malice at the Palace of Auburn Hills" happened. It was one of the most violent and most shameful moments in the history of the league. After the brawl with the Detroit Pistons, NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended Jackson and O'Neal for multiple games. Artest, who would ironically later change his name to Metta World Peace, sat out for the rest of the season! Despite this setback, the Pacers managed to make the playoffs. They even beat the Boston Celtics in the first round despite Boston having the home court advantage. However, Indiana was eventually eliminated by the Pistons in an amusing rematch. At the end of the season, the iconic Reggie Miller retired. The Pacers haven't made the Finals since then.
8. Portland Trailblazers 2000-1
In terms of the roster, the 2000-01 Blazers team was probably the best one in the history of the franchise! They had six All-Stars in Shawn Kemp (whom they had just acquired), Scottie Pippen, Dale Davis, Detlef Schrempf, Steve Smith and Rasheed Wallace (the only member of the team to be an All-Star that season), along with players such as Arvydas Sabonis, Damon Stoudamire and Rod Strickland. To be perfectly honest, most of these players were way past their prime, but this 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 Western Conference was ridiculously strong back then, probably even stronger than it is nowadays. Shaq and Kobe went on to win another NBA championship that year. Moreover, we should also note that they were struck by various injuries. The team lost their chemistry and they ended up failing to meet their expectations.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers 2009-10
I'm not so sure if we should call the 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers a superteam, 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. 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. The aging Boston Celtics beat them in the Conference Semifinals. LeBron had enough with losing in Cleveland; he left to create a more prominent superteam in Miami with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. This allowed him to eventually win his first championship ring. The future for Cleveland wasn't bad either. They picked Kyrie Irving in 2011 NBA Draft and eventually formed their own superteam with LeBron and Kevin Love. This team finally won the championship in 2016.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder 2017-18
This Oklahoma City Thunder team failed miserably. Russell Westbrook was the reigning MVP. He had just achieved the impossible feat of finishing a modern NBA season averaging a triple double and he was already a six-time 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 was a 10-time All-Star who had started declining, but he was still a superstar and a ferocious scorer. These three teamed up and were expected to terrorize their opponents. They didn't. Sure, their supporting cast wasn't that great, but the truth is that the Thunder were more like a playground team than an actual NBA contender! They had no roles, no plans and no chemistry. They finished the season as the fourth 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 left after one more year to play for another superteam, the LA Clippers.
5. Los Angeles Clippers 2011-17
This is the only exception to my aforementioned "one-and-done" rule. By 2011, the Clippers were the least successful NBA franchise of all time. They were the poor cousin of the Los Angeles Lakers. They had been around since 1970 (as the Buffalo Braves) and they had never even reached a Conference Finals. They had only 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. He was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers instead! This was the birth of LobCity. During these years, it was pretty fun to watch Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan play together. Jordan even became an All-Star, an achievement that 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 playing some beautiful and fun-to-watch basketball and entering the playoffs each season, they never managed to reach the Western Conference Finals! As of 2019, there are three teams that have never reached the Conference Finals. The Clippers, the Hornets and the Pelicans. It should be noted that the Clippers have been in the league for way longer than the other two franchises. The Clippers are a team that have sadly never reached their true potential. These 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 Lakers fans would agree. Their starting lineup was arguably unprecedented. They had two-time MVP Steve Nash. They had Dwight Howard, the last dominant, old school center in the league. They had Kobe Bryant, one of the best players of all time. The Lakers also had Pau Gasol, the best Spanish basketball player of all time, and Metta World Peace, one of the best defensive players in the league at the time. All the pieces of the puzzle were there. Right? Wrong! Even during the pre-season, something was terribly wrong. 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 to the role. 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 soundly defeated. Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace left the team in the following summer. As of 2019, the Lakers haven't made the playoffs since.
3. Brooklyn Nets 2013-14
This 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 Garnett and 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 ended up being quite a disappointment for the Nets. They managed to make the playoffs as they secured the sixth seed in the East. The only player that probably played close to his true potential was Brook Lopez. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending injury in mid-December. Even though the Nets eliminated the Toronto Raptors, who had the home court advantage in the first round, their season was ended at the hands of LeBron James and his peers as the Miami Heat easily beat them in the Conference Semifinals. The expensive but declining Brooklyn roster was disbanded ingloriously.
2. Houston Rockets 1996-98
Let's go way back and remember some of the greatest players of all time. There was Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, a center so modern, so skillful and so smart that he changed the way the center position was played. There was Clyde Drexler, 10-time All-Star who was one of the greatest shooting guards of all time. There was Charles Barkley, the MVP of 1993. He was a heavy, undersized power forward that was so talented and skilled that he is still considered to be one of the greatest scorers and rebounders of all time. His Phoenix Suns were the only team that could have beaten Michael Jordan's Bulls in their prime. The Houston Rockets had already won two championships during the absence of MJ, and they were determined to make a final stand. Olajuwon, Drexler, and Barkley teamed up in Houston in 1996. Despite the fact that this was an aging superteam, the Rockets didn't actually fail miserably 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. 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 superstars had played together just a few years ago in their prime, they could have created a dynasty. Or not, given the fact that Michael Jordan was around during those years.
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 successful team. They won three consecutive championships in the previous seasons 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 prime. What went wrong? Lack of chemistry was an obvious factor. 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 in just five games! This was a huge upset due to the fact that the Lakers were a superteam filled with talent and great players. The Pistons actually had no stars at all, just a focused, tough and well-prepared team that humiliated the glamorous and slightly 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