I wonder if Danny Ainge, the Celtics General Manager, woke up the morning of June 28, 2007 and knew that he was going to change the course of history for the NBA. That day, Ainge began the construction of the “Big 3” in Boston. Ray Allen was traded to the Boston Celtics from the Seattle Supersonics. This was followed by the acquisition of Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves a month later. These historical off-season moves brought Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to the Paul Pierce led Celtics and would birth the concept of the “Super Team”, and would change the future of the NBA landscape.
What exactly is a “Super Team”? Is it just the amount of talent and super stardom on a team? Is it a philosophy? Is it a school of thought? Or is it a level of expectations? Most people might say it’s the amount of talent and number of superstars on any one team.
I would say it’s all the above.
Simply having more than one superstar and multiple All-stars on one team is not unprecedented and doesn’t completely define a team as a Super Team. We’ve seen stacked teams in the past throughout NBA history. This is not uncommon, from the Celtics and Lakers of decades past to the 90’s Chicago Bulls. So what makes some of the current teams like the Miami Heat, New York Knicks, and the Lakers Super Teams, and separates them from the previous heavily talented teams?
Philosophy. Entitlement. Level of expectations. That’s where the differences lie.
Before I continue I am going to let the Boston Celtics off the hook. The reason being is because they formed their “Super Team” before anyone knew what a Super Team was. People, including Danny Ainge and the Celtics didn’t know if it was going to work. It was an experiment, an experiment that paid off. The Celtics went 66-16 and won the NBA title in the 2007-2008 season. However, the Celtics’ big three (Garnett, Pierce, and Allen) came together when they were past their prime. Don’t get me wrong, they were still some of the best in their respective positions and All-stars, but on the back end of their NBA careers. When they were assembled they weren’t expected to “not win 1 not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, but 7” championships. The Celtics’ Big 3 was like getting the “band back together” for one last hurrah (in this case one last chance for these three NBA veterans to get a ring before they retire). But it was this Celtics team’s rapid success and instant gratification/results that changed the philosophy and way of thinking for General Managers across the league and for players that believed they were Super Stars.
What is a Super Team?
My definition is a team that is assembled by acquiring 1 or more super stars all in the same season to pair them up with other super stars. It’s a team that has a general managing philosophy that it is going to put all their bets on these stars to win it all and put less importance on role players, depth, and cap space. A new school of thought is now born. These teams decided they will win mostly on overwhelming talent rather than team depth and full team chemistry. Super Teams are teams that, unfairly sometimes, have unrealistic expectations. Super teams are expected to win 70 games (maybe even break the ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls 72-10 record season) and win a title that very same year. Anything less will be a failure and people in the team’s organization may very well be fired if that does not happen. In contrast, to use the 90’s Bulls as an example once again, as talented as that team was they weren’t put under a sports media microscope in the same manner and expected to win every game and the title. And if that team hadn’t won a title they wouldn’t have been ridiculed to the certain extent that these Super Teams are today. Expectations are so high, every loss, heck every broken play down the court is over-examined and parsed to no end.
What I love about Super Teams:
In a competitive arena, fans love to hate. Sports are said to be (generally speaking of course) the “Man’s soap opera”. We love the drama that Super Teams bring to the sport. Unless you are a fan of the actual Super Team, you love to root against them. You find yourself watching games that you would have never watched, not to root for a team but to root against one. When that Super Team loses an important game you love watching all the over-indulgence on ESPN. Villains are essential, whether it’s in your favorite movie, politics, or sports. The concept of right and wrong and good versus evil is as old as humanity.
I love it because you really do witness some spectacular basketball. The NBA has experienced some of their highest ratings since the 90’s in the last couple years. And when there’s that much talent on one team, every play has the potential to make Sports Center’s top 10. But you want to see it live, jump out of your seat and run to your laptop to tweet “Did you just see the no look, behind the head ally-oop from Dwade to LBJ” (yea, go ahead and youtube that one).
What I hate about Super Teams:
Some of the best players in the league have now decided they to want play alongside the best rather than beat the best, taking the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” saying literally. Superstars want to play with their other superstar friends. This new philosophy and way of thinking is in contrast to the old school of thought. The old school of thought for general managers is “there’s only one basketball”. This means one star, an All-star side kick, and role players that play their role. The old school of thought for players was “no one is my friend unless you’re on my team”. This is war and you are my enemy and my only friends are the ones in the trenches with me. Superstars wanted to beat the other superstars so they can say they are the undisputed best player/champion. There was a competitive hatred in the past; the game was meaner and more physical. Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley were golfing and gambling “buddies” only off the court, on the court they despised (but respected) each other.
This younger generation of players wants, expects, and has always received instant gratification, in regards to basketball. From high school to the NBA, these stars have been catered too, their butts kissed, and always gotten what they wanted. And after a handful of ring-less years in the NBA they pout and complain and want to be traded or bolt and leave in free agency. I blame this entitlement of instant gratification on modern society, from Tivo, to smartphones, to drive-thru pharmacies (I mean you really can’t go inside the store to get your life sustaining medicine?).
Super star players consolidating into only a handful of teams creates a landscape in the league where every year there are only a few legit title contenders, leaving the other 25-27 teams as pretenders. This lack of parity has turned off many NBA fans. What’s the point of watching until the Conference Finals in May? What about all the small market teams? Should only the largest and/or popular cities win the Title every year? No wonder Las Vegas hasn’t been allowed (not yet at least) to have an NBA team, that team would look like an Olympic Dream Team and win ten titles in row. Not to mention the legal troubles young 21-29 year old, millionaire athletes would get into in that town, but that’s a whole other article all together.
It’s not the actual structure of Super Teams that I hate, it’s the entitlement that some of these Super Star players have. Not because they want a championship (because I’m sure they truly do) but it’s the mindset of “Hey I’m *insert name* and I deserve the glory of a championship”. No player “deserves” a ring, there’s several (and I mean several) NBA hall of famers that don’t have one. You have to earn it. To become the best you have to go through and beat the best.
Super Teams here to stay?
We will see if this trend will continue. Right now since 2008 (if you don’t count the 2007-2008 Celtics) the Super Teams haven’t had a great record. The New York Knicks, up to this point, has never quite got their act together (though this year is looking a little different thus far), Miami didn’t win the 2010-2011 title as that went to the “classically” assembled Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers, with recently acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard have had a woeful start, leading to the firing of Coach Mike Brown. However, the Miami Heat did win the title last year, so let’s see…..Super Teams are 1 for 4? If that trend continues and classically assembled teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Chicago Bulls (with a healthy Derrick Rose) can step up and win titles over the next 3-5 years, then you may see the hype of the Super Teams die down. General Managers may start to look at the risk/reward ratio when making business decisions and start to notice the odds of receiving those rewards are not as high as they would like it to be. But if the opposite happens, and Super Teams start to dominate in acquiring the Larry O’Brien trophy every June, then the NBA landscape will have been truly forever changed.