Part of the reason everyone flipped out when LeBron James joined the Heat in 2010 is because he violated the ethics of team-building.Fans think great players are supposed to compete, not join forces. Teams are supposed to grow incrementally, failing multiple times before they succeed.
What the LeBron did was just unfair. He cheated, in some way.
People hated this way of building a team, but it spread around the league like wildfire. And now teams are trying to win the Heat way — combining two or three established superstars, regardless of if these players fit together or if there is any money left over for role players.
But nearly two years later, a surprisingly truth has emerged — building teams this way probably doesn’t work.
In these playoffs in particular, the old way of building a team — establishing a core group of complementary players and slowly surrounding them with quality pieces over a period of years — has won out.
Here are the teams that have done it the Heat way:
- Heat: signed LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade in the summer of 2010.
- Knicks: signed Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010, traded for Carmelo Anthony in 2011, signed Tyson Chandler in 2012.
- Clippers: traded Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu and No. 1 pick for Chris Paul.
- Celtics: traded their entire team except Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, and Paul Pierce for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in the summer of 2007. You could say this was the original “superteam.”
And the teams that have done it the traditional way:
- Spurs: drafted Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli.
- Thunder: drafted Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden.
- Pacers: drafted Danny Granger, Paul George, and Tyler Hansbrough, slowly acquired Roy Hibbert, Darren Collison, David West, and George Hill.
- Sixers: drafted Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holliday, Evan Turner, and Thaddeus Young.
The other playoff teams land somewhere in between these two extremes.
With the notable exception of the Celtics (who’ve won a title and are without a doubt the most successful superteam ever in terms of chemistry), the best teams in these playoffs have been the ones built through the traditional model.
There’s a reason teams are built this way. Basketball is all about chemistry, and chemistry comes from trial-and-error and a lot of tweaking with personnel. When you simply put a bunch of stars together, you give yourself very little room to improve chemistry for a few reasons:
- You can’t add quality role players because of the salary cap.
- You can’t experiment with lineups because your big-money players need to be on the court as much as possible.
The Spurs and Thunder are so good because they had the cap room and patience to surround their core groups with complementary parts.
The same could be said for last year’s Mavericks — who beat the Heat in the Finals.
In short, the new way to win in the NBA is the old way to win the NBA.
If the Heat don’t win it all this year (which they might not, with Bosh out), and the second-tier “superteams” don’t take a giant leap forward in the next few years, we’re all going to write off “the Heat way” as a passing fad.
The Heat ganged up in 2010, and a bunch of teams followed in their footsteps without ever seeing if that model could be successful.
Now, thanks to the Spurs, Thunder, and maybe Pacers (we’ll see), the old way of team building might make a dramatic comeback.
The Big 3 Era is this close to being over.
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