From the Basement | Death of NBA superteam

Jeremy Rosen, Staff Reporter

NBA superteam
Matthew Tate

Back in August, it seemed almost inevitable that the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets were going to match up in the NBA Finals. The top-end talent on both teams looked absolutely insane on paper. They both had two former MVPs and another all-NBA level player, with years of championship experience between them. 

What is a superteam? They are usually considered teams that have three or more Hall of Fame-caliber players all playing at a high level, usually assembled through free agency. With all of the sure-fire Hall of Famers on both the Lakers and Nets, both teams fit that definition.

The season turned out very differently than expected for these two superteams. The Nets were never able to consistently stay on the floor together and only got the seventh seed in the East, trading away James Harden midway through the season. The Lakers played like a complete mess for the entire season, failing to even make the playoffs at all.

Superteams are nothing new in the NBA. Ever since the 2008 Celtics won the championship with their shiny Big Three — Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce — teams have been clamoring to form their own assortment of star players. The 2010s were dominated by superteams, like the Lebron James-led Miami Heat and the Golden State Warriors. Who can forget when the Cavaliers and Warriors met in the finals for four straight seasons? Teams needed a Big Three just to stand a chance of competing.

The collapse of the Lakers and Nets appear to be a sign of changing strategies for the 2020s. Other teams with considerably less-talented rosters have been far better this season, focusing more on having a strong supporting cast for one or two stars. For instance, the Phoenix Suns have been dominating this season, winning a league-best 64 games. The Suns have surrounded their two stars, Chris Paul and Devin Booker, with some of the best role players and bench pieces in the league.

Building teams with deep rosters to support a couple star players allows the team to play optimally. If everyone on the court excels in their role, the team runs like a well-oiled machine on both sides of the court. 

Despite all of the talent the Lakers had this season, the conflicting playing styles of the team’s stars made it clunky from the start. James and Russell Westbrook have almost the exact same playing styles, focusing on driving to the basket and passing out to an open shooter on the perimeter. While James took over games as the primary ball handler, Westbrook was unable to play off of his co-star and struggled the entire season. Westbrook played far better without James, and that should never be the case when a team is trying to compete for a title.

Some people are going to try to use injuries to defend the failed superteams, but these are not valid excuses. Injuries are an unfortunate — but inevitable — part of sports, and teams have to be prepared for them. Since superteams rely on just a few players to essentially do everything on offense, the team will suffer greatly if there are not quality players to fill in when needed.

Injuries to star players do not have to completely derail a team’s season. The Memphis Grizzlies had a 20-5 record without their star point guard Ja Morant. With strong coaching, defense and a great supporting cast to fill in the gaps, the team was able to stay strong and get the second seed in the West.

While superteams will always attract a lot of attention and should certainly never be counted out of games, this season has proven the advantages of building a team with depth instead of trying to chase after superstar players.