AP Photo / Ashley Landis
The struggles of the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets have some NBA executives wondering if the era of the superteam is over.
“Assembling a superteam is something very, very few organizations can do,” a league executive told Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN. “And we’re seeing that even fewer can actually pull it off because superstars aren’t enough – it has to be the right superstars in the right culture. What this current era of NBA basketball is showing us is that going all-in – whether it’s with cap space or all of your loot – to go acquire two or three of the top talented players in the league and having either underperforming infrastructure or a complete lack of roster depth, you’re doing nothing favorable for your organization. “
The Lakers will be watching the playoffs from home after going 33-49 this season despite acquiring Russell Westbrook last summer to pair with Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
The Nets finished the regular season as the No. 7 seed in the East and will need to win a play-in game to make the playoffs after opening the year as title favorites. Brooklyn’s Big Three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden blew up midseason when Harden forced a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers.
While the very public combustion of those two teams may have led to some schadenfreude among those who dislike the concept of superteams, their failures are pretty basic on a fundamental level.
The Lakers traded for a completely depreciated asset in Westbrook, who would have been a poor basketball fit even during his prime. Westbrook isn’t a difference-making star anymore. Couple that with injuries to Anthony Davis and LeBron James, along with some disastrous decisions filling out the rest of the roster, and you have a recipe for underperformance.
The Nets likely would have won a championship last season if Harden and Irving weren’t injured during the playoffs; they were a literal foot away from eliminating the eventual champions even in a depleted state. This year’s team fell apart in large part due to Irving’s refusal to undergo COVID-19 vaccination. He was limited to just 29 games due to a combination of New York City mandates and an internal decision to keep him away from the team for nearly three months. It’s unlikely Harden grows frustrated enough to force his way out of Brooklyn if Irving was on the floor next to him when Durant was out with a knee injury.
The simplistic reality of the situation: building a team with the best basketball players gives you the best chance to win basketball games. There’s a reason several championships over the last decade have been won by teams largely constructed via trades and free agency; the strategy works.
It’s not going to work every time, and it’s fair to argue that winning a title built largely with internally developed talent is more special. That said, general managers and players are playing the numbers game. They know compiling the best talent is going to lead to the best results more often than not; there’s a reason the Nets, despite being a No. 7 seed, are still among the title favorites at most sportsbooks.
So, no, the superteam era isn’t over. We just might be in a little blip period before the next one is assembled.