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The End of an NBA Era

BasketballDanny RamirezComment
Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

To understand the dynamics of current NBA teams, we have to travel back in time.  The year 2008 was the inception of the “Super Team” era in the NBA. The Boston Celtics were the originators of this trend when they added Kevin Garnett to their already strong team, led by Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Soon after, NBA teams began constructing their own teams in order to try and compete. The next team that quickly took the reign of the "Super Team" label was the Miami Heat.

We all remember the summer of 2010, also known as “The Decision”. This was an incredibly smart media tactic which consumed national attention. This marked the first time in my lifetime, which a free agent (Lebron James) had their free agency decision televised. I cannot sit here and tell you I wasn't interested, as I was glued to my TV for Lebron’s decision. During this time, I was hoping Lebron would follow Michael Jordan’s legacy and take his talents to Chicago.

For the next 4 seasons, the Heat dominated the Eastern conference and became guaranteed NBA Finals participants. In the midst of this dominance, there was a team in the Western Conference quietly constructing their team via the draft and free agency.

The Golden State Warriors drafted “splash brothers”, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, while later adding foundation front court pieces, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. By 2015, the Warriors became the NBA’s strongest team and achieved their first NBA title since 1975. After a second consecutive NBA finals appearance, the Warriors suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Soon after, the Warriors went from an organically built team to a “Super Team” with the addition of Kevin Durant. Much like the Miami Heat in 2010-2014, the Warriors easily ran through the West to acquire their 2nd NBA title in 3 seasons.

The 2018 NBA playoffs seem a bit unusual compared to previous years. Today's super teams (Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors) have dealt with much adversity this season. On paper, the Cavs looked like they were stockpiling talent by adding former all-stars to their roster. As the season wore on, the team never looked to be on the same page and Lebron seemed to be flustered frequently. After dealing with team chemistry issues, the Cavs traded away Dwyane Wade, Isaiah Thomas, and Derrick Rose in order to regain some sort of momentum before the playoffs. After these trades, the Cavs went from "Super Team" to traditional team.

In comparison, the Warriors had a nice season finishing with a 58-24 record and a #2 seed in the Western Conference. The Warriors dealt with several injuries to key players, while also experiencing leadership voids. Several times this season, Steve Kerr named a player to coach the team during a regular season game. I am sure Kerr's decision was solely focused on encouraging and motivating his team to play better. By virtue of these key injuries, the team struggled to close out their season, which resulted in that #2 seed. It is too early to say if this could impact their chances of returning to the finals but Curry's recent injury could make this a bit more difficult.

Given what transpired this season, I came to the conclusion that the "Super Team" era is ending. For a decade, we have grown used to teams attempting to pair their franchise players with multiple superstars. Most recently, the Oklahoma Thunder acquired Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to pair with Russell Westbrook. The outcome wasn't what Oklahoma was anticipating and it usually isn't for NBA teams who follow this plan. 

It is difficult for players to mesh and create chemistry when players such as Carmelo Anthony and Paul George have led their previous teams. They come into an environment where they have to learn to play with similar ball-needy players. It didn't work in Miami and it won't work in Oklahoma. 

It seems NBA team executives are finally realizing that these "Super Team" structures are not as valuable as they were set to believe. Golden State may be an exception to my logic because their team is built differently than the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Oklahoma Thunder. The Warriors developed an insane roster by developing their draft picks and then adding free agent rotational players to help maintain their offensive production. 

The 2018 NBA playoffs have demonstrated a parity amongst most teams which has not been seen in recent time. Teams such as the Bucks and Pacers have pushed their top seeded opponents to Game 7s. As a result of these intense games, this could potentially pose issues for the Celtics and Cavs who look to make a deep playoff run. 

If you analyze the current playoff teams, it's obvious the make up of most teams consist of  young core players, supported by veteran players. This could be the trend that NBA teams start to take. It now seems teams who follow this structure gain a better chemistry on the court. My theory my be too early for NBA spectators to witness but it could become reality as soon as this season. This could be the first season since 2010, that an Eastern Conference led by Lebron James will not make the NBA Finals. 

Who knows, maybe Lebron James can have some success in the Western Conference next season...or maybe not.