While Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors run circles around the Cleveland Cavaliers, a creeping tension is taking hold league-wide. Following a historical 3-1 comeback in 2016, the Cavs, also known as the NBA’s last stand, are looking less and less like they have the capabilities to stop the Warriors from making a run at not one, not two, not three, (you get it) titles. Rumors of Kevin Durant’s willingness to take less money to keep the core together, coupled with the relative youth of the Warriors (Curry is the oldest at 29), the chances for another team to overthrow the Warriors are growing slim.
In discussing the Warriors however, the concept of a super team is near ubiquitous. The collaboration of All-NBA/All Stars/MVPs to secure a 60 plus win season is seemingly the overarching model for success in the last 20 years or so of the NBA, and top players are increasingly agreeable to make such collaborations happen. That said, the 2017 Warriors true rarity doesn’t simply originate from their primarily homegrown approach to team building. Rather, the success of the probable dynasty lay in the avoidance of the mistakes of “super teams” past.
Since the three-peat of the 2000 Lakers the NBA had not since seen a super team in its purest form à la the Warriors. Starting with the 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers, the annals of NBA history collectively refer to teams more accurately known as “win-now” ventures as “super teams,” a misnomer that is key to recognizing the Warriors greatness.
Following a second round defeat to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs in 2003, the Los Angeles Lakers organization aspired to secure a fourth championship in five years under the Shaq and Kobe core. A chain of non-basketball events however usurped the likelihood of that fourth ring despite off season additions of Gary Payton and Karl Malone. During the 03-04 offseason Kobe Bryant was dealing with sexual assault accusations, stemming from an alleged encounter at an Edwards, Colorado lodge and spa. An investigation of the claims against Kobe occurred on July 2, an arrest warrant issued on July 4, and charges filed on July 18. Ultimately, the charges would not be dropped until September 1, though Kobe would juggle his basketball and court schedule until the start of the season, missing some training camp time in between.
Adding to the stress of Kobe’s legal escapades was the mounting feud between the Laker Guard and Center Shaquille O’Neal. Though the feud arguably peaked during the 2000-01 season when Shaq arrived to training camp out of shape, tensions continued to build in 2003-04, when Shaq, attending a training camp session sans-Kobe, was approached by media members inquiring about the disjointed team. According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, when asked about the Lakers missing members Shaq responded, “I can’t answer that, the full team is here.” Further back-and-forth comments between the future Hall-of-Famers regarding effort levels and physical conditioning signaled the demise of a championship caliber team, devolving from a group of 4 All-Nba, Hall-of-Fame talents into a Championship squad that would never be. Between the feud, Karl Malone’s retirement at the season’s end and Gary Payton’s move to the Celtics before the 2004-05 season, the 2004, 56-26 “super team” Lakers fell to history as a win-now attempt that ultimately signaled the start of the team’s rebuilding and the rebirth of Kobe as The Black Mamba.
The Laker’s attempt at a win-now team appears to be the likely result for teams attempting to amass superstar talent in a short timeframe. The New York Knicks have a similar pedigree tuned to assembling the greatest teams that never were. Notably the 2012-13 season saw the return of 38 year old Marcus Camby, 38 year old Rasheed Wallace, 39 year old Jason Kidd, 40 year old Kurt Thomas, as well as the addition of a 35 year old rookie (albeit fan favorite) Pablo Prigioni to a core of Carmelo Anthony, JR Smith and post-fire extinguisher punching Amare Stoudemire. The squad was able to amass a solid 54-28 record under Mike Woodson, and topple a fading Boston Celtics team in the first round before falling short of their goal to dethrone the Miami Heat’s recently assembled super team during their journey to four consecutive Finals. By 2014, Prigioni would be the only elder-statesmen to return, and the Knicks fell to 37-45, missing the playoffs and failing to lay the groundwork to return.
Where the term super team is most accurately placed however, his in either the 2008 Boston Celtics or the 2010-14 Miami Heat, though these teams required a greater deal of finagling than the 2017 Warriors. When Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo on the Celtics the forecast for complete domination was mired by talks of team cohesion and sacrifice. How could 3 future hall-of famers link up and accomplish in one year what the 2004 Lakers could not? As reported in a Bleacher Report retrospective by Christopher Gasparini on the Celtics, the biggest question facing the Celts was not how the acquisition of talent would perform on the court but whether “this new all-star cast gel enough to make a title run and leave their egos at the Garden door?” The question of egos was somewhat quelled in 2008 by the presence of veteran role players PJ Brown, Sam Cassell and James Posey, though the run was short lived, as the core group managed only one other Finals appearance (2010) in which they lost to the Lakers (ironically) in seven games.
Ultimately the creation of another “super team” would be the Celtics’ undoing, as the LeBron James led Miami Heat reached four straight Finals in what appeared to signal another multiyear dynasty. Again, the partnership of Hall-of-Fame worthy talent in Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James needed a year to fully realize itself after a loss to the Dirk led Dallas Mavericks, though similar to the 2008 Celtics and the 2015-17 Warriors, the role players were key in repeated success. Ray Allen’s unforgettable backpedaling three to secure a game 6 win against the San Antonio Spurs in 2013 or two big threes to cut into a 33-19 Thunder lead by Norris Cole in Game 4 of the 2012 Finals were key in lifting the Heat to 2 championships in 4 years. Even the morale-boosting persona of Chris “Birdman” Anderson was instrumental in garnering fan engagement and support and was further augmented by the era defining “Seven Nation Army” battle cry and “White Hot” slogan.
All things considered, the 2015-17 Golden State Warriors are something of an anomaly, having utilized the best aspects of the Spurs and Miami Heat franchises without any of the missteps. Akin to the Spurs decades of dominance, the Warriors have an incredible scouting team led by Craig Johnson, Bruce Karsh and Larry Riley, allowing the front office to fill the bench with unsuspecting talent like a revived Javale McGee, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and Ian Clark who maintain the offense on breaks from the Big 4. Similarly, the franchise leaders Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are willing to sacrifice to preserve the team’s core for future Finals runs. Taken with being on the Father Time’s good side, as well as lacking a true rivalry like the 2010s Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers, the Warriors have laid the groundwork for crafting and maintaining an unrivaled NBA Dynasty for years to come, scrapping the recent notion of a “win-now” group in favor of a true Super Team.
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