Super Teams Are Not New

Darius Soriano —  September 21, 2010

showtime lakers

This Summer, the big news was the free agent acquisitions that the Miami Heat made.  By adding Lebron and Bosh while retaining Dwyane Wade, the Heat have formed what is being called a “super team” as they have brought together 3 of the top 15 players in the league and then surrounded them by good role players in the hope of winning a championship.  Meanwhile, as the summer has progressed, there has been much talk of the futures of Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony and their potential quest to team up with Amar’e Stoudemire on the Knicks or go separately to some other team to be part of another roster with high level talent that can not only battle the Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy but also claim a championship (or more) of their own.  And then there’s the Lakers – the team that (presumably) all of these players have in mind when wanting to join forces in the first place.   With Kobe, Gasol, Artest, Odom, and the (still) up and coming Bynum, the Lakers have built a team on a foundation of talent that is pretty much unmatched by any other team in the league (and that includes the Heat, Celtics, Magic, etc).

But, none of this is really new as the concept of the super team has been around for generations.  Look back to any era and you’ll find a franchise that thought gathering as much talent as possible on one roster is the way to go about their business.  Which, when thinking about it, is actually an obvious tactic.  I mean, talent wins in this league and has for decades.  There’s no reason to think that this trend is somehow going to stop or that owners/GM’s aren’t plotting ways to make their respective teams as competitive as possible by acquiring as much talent as their roster can hold.

Below are some of the teams that I can think of off the top of my head that staked their claim as a super team with some results as to how successful they were in winning that elusive championship.  For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll only look at teams that have had at least three Hall of Fame caliber players on their roster at the same time.  And, we’ll only go back to 1980 (though the Lakers of West, Baylor, Wilt and Goodrich deserve recognition as do the Russell/Cousy Celtics and the Russell/Havlicek Celtics).  We’ll start from most recent and work our way backwards.

2008-2010 Lakers:  This is the current group of Lakers that is the reiging back to back NBA champions.  Their top 5 players (Kobe, Gasol, Artest, Odom, Bynum) are all capable of being elite level contributors.  The leader, Kobe Bryant, is a 5 time champion, a repeat first team all NBA performer and Defensive team performer, and is a former MVP of the entire league.  Pau Gasol is one of the most versatile big men in the game and shows a combination of polish and skill on both sides of the ball that made him an all star before he came to Los Angeles.  And while it may be a stretch to find another sure fire Hall of Famer amongst Odom/Bynum/Artest, it’s not a stretch to imagine Bynum being a dominant, All-Star caliber player on a different team that, over time could grow into an All-NBA selection.  And while this might be breaking my own rule, when combined the trio of Odom/Bynum/Artest really do add up to another HOF caliber player as their unique variety of skill and versatility on both sides of the ball round out a roster that is the most top heavy in talent across the entire league.

2008-2010 Celtics: This team is a one time champion with two trips to the Finals.  They possess the fantastic trio of Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce – all three of which are multiple time all stars and all league candidates.  KG is easily the most accomplished of the three winning a regular season MVP award and considered by many (including myself) to be one of the two or three best defensive players of his generation.  Pierce and Allen are also quite accomplished in their own right as Pierce has a Finals MVP to his resume and Allen is considered one of the best shooters of all time, much less of his generation.  When you add in the up and coming Rajon Rondo to run the point for this group, you have a fantastic base of talent that can make teams wilt with their defensive pressure and score enough points to make every game a challenge to beat them.

1997-1999 Rockets: The lone non title holder of the teams I’ll mention.  After tasting the ultimate glory with an Hakeem + role players model in 1994 and 1995 (though in ’95, Drexler was still a very good player), the Rockets went for it all again using the super team model in the late 90′s.  Needless to say it was not successful.  After brining in an aged Charles Barkley, this team never really found the needed chemistry and cohesion to win the championship.  Drexler was replaced with Scottie Pippen in ’99, but even that didn’t work and led to a messy, clash of Chuck and Scottie that led to Pippen leaving to Portlant in 2000 (where he saw this first hand). 

1996-1998 Bulls: Three time repeat champion that towered over the league for the second half of the 90′s.  Many think of this team as the Jordan/Pippen show, but when you throw in Dennis Rodman you have a triumvirate that is very difficult to beat.  And since everyone is familiar with Jordan and Pippen, allow me a moment to gush over “the Worm”.  There will never be another Dennis Rodman.  And no, I’m not talking about the hair dye, wedding dresses, or the all-night partying.  I’m talking about the combination of elite level defense and rebounding from a six foot, seven inch forward that created a presence on the defensive side of the ball that was truly difficult to comprehend unless you watched the games.  Rodman successfully bottled up players of all sizes and went to the backboards with a reckless abandon not seen since.  Many can marvel at the rebounding numbers of Dwight Howard or even young KG but in the 7 consecutive years that Rodman lead the league in rebounding average, he never fell below 14.9 and had a high of 18.7.  In comparison, neither KG nor Howard have had an average above 14.2 (Howard) in their high season.  When you throw in Rodman’s underrated feel for offensive basketball (he was an excellent passer, had a high BBIQ, and of course his offensive rebounding was off the charts) and you’ve got a great offensive player that just didn’t put up traditional box score stats on that side of the ball to earn him recognition.  In a sense, he was the ultimate teammate on offense and defense because he knew his role and performed it at a level that defies what even seems possible.  It’s a shame to me that Rodman is not in the Hall of Fame.  So now that I’m off my soap box, when you combine Rodman with Jordan and Pippen and the result is the dominance that we saw, they’re a super team.

1987-1990 Pistons: Back to back champions in 1989 and 1990.  This Detroit team’s back bone were Hall of Famers Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars and also had Adrian Dantley for part of this run (HOF class of 1998).  When you add in a young Rodman and excellent, high level role players like Vinnie Johnson, Mark Aguirre, John Salley, Laimbeer, Mahorn, and James Edwards you have a team that often gets overlooked but was stocked full of talent.  Many don’t really consider this group a super team because their star players don’t have the cachet of the superstars of that same era, but I watched those games and those guys (especially Zeke and Dumars) were top shelf players that raised their games in the big moments.

1980-1991 Lakers: Ahh, Showtime.  We’ve discussed this group a lot at this site, so I’ll save all the recounting of fond memories.  But, let me just say that over that decade plus of basketball this team went to 9 NBA Finals, won 5 championships, and fielded a combination of players that include Hall of Famers Magic, Kareem, Worthy, and McAdoo while filling out their roster with near HOF players like Wilkes, high draft picks like Nixon, Mychal Thompson, and Scott, and great role players like Rambis and Green. (EDIT: And Michael Cooper! How could I have forgotten Coop? He’s a Laker I Miss.)

1980-1991 Celtics: Three time champion that went the the Eastern Conference Finals or NBA Finals 8 times in 9 seasons (’80-’88).  Parrish, McHale, Bird, and Dennis Johnson are all in the Hall of Fame. Danny Ainge was one of the best role players of his era (went to Finals with Boston, Portland, and Phoenix as a major contributor).  While this team was a hated rival of the Celtics and one that I personally loved to see lose, I must show proper respect by including them here.  The 1986 Celtic team is considered by many to one of the two or three best teams of all time and with reason.

There are some teams that didn’t quite make the cut.  The first ones that come to mind are the late 90′s Jazz, the early 2000′s Spurs, and the early 80′s 76ers.  All of those teams had two HOF players, but didn’t have either a third player that fit the bill or a group of top end players that were right below that threshold (though the 76ers did come close with Bobby Jones, Mo Cheeks, and Doug Collins).

Back to the Heat…will they follow the trend that these teams displayed and win at least one title?  The odds point in their favor.  They’ve amassed high quality talent in their top three players that will make them contenders for years to come.  However, questions remain.  Will they fill out their roster with the type of hard nosed role players that help win championships?  Will their games blend in the manner that past trios have?  Will they have the coaching that pushes them over the top?  Will one of the other “super” teams that currently exist (Lakers, Celtics) be too big a road block for them to break through?  Only time will tell with these questions.  But the Heat are hoping that their formation of a “super team” will lead them to the promised land that many of the other ones mentioned visited.  Because remember, this concept is not new and the Heat are banking on the past being their guide in their pursuit.

Darius Soriano

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35 responses to Super Teams Are Not New

  1. Sorry to start the comments off-topic, but it’s almost midnight here in Germany and I have to link to this Artest article to get a good night’s sleep. Yes, he is still awesome:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=ap-lakers-artest

    Best part:

    As for the Lakers, Artest feels they’ll be better this coming season. Training camp starts Saturday.

    “I still feel like I’ve got a lot to prove,” he said. “We really need to come out with a mindset. I’ve got a lot to play for again this year. I’m going after my first ring.

    “We’re hungry. I know I am, as much as anybody else is. And you know Kobe is. Kobe’s after something, I don’t even know what it is. I think he’s after stardom on Pluto or something,” Artest said, taking off on one of his humorous tangents. “Pluto’s not even a planet no more, which I’m very disturbed about. I grew up when Pluto was a planet. Now, I’m 25, I turn around and Pluto’s no longer a planet. I’m going to elbow that guy in the nose. I love Pluto. Everybody loves Pluto. There’s a dog named Pluto in the cartoons. I don’t know how we got on that subject. We’ve got to see if we can get Pluto back.”

  2. No mention of the 2003-2004 Lakers? Kobe, Shaq, Malone, and Payton definitely qualify as a super team (even though Malone and Payton were near the end of their careers in the league and this team only lasted one season.) If it wasn’t for injuries, they could have put up an even better record and won a championship that year. They got off to a hot start that year, but got hit hard by the injury bug – none worse than Karl Malone. I’d take a healthy Mailman over Slava Medvedenko to battle Rasheed Wallace in the Finals any day. I still don’t know if winning the title that year would have mended the Shaq/Kobe situation though…

  3. I don’t know. For me, the super team *has* to have three HOF level players, which leaves off the current Lakers and the Pistons. Also, if the Hakeem-Pippen-Barkley team is on the list, then the Shaq-Kobe-Malone-Payton Lakers would have to be on the list as well, although this seems like it might be a separate chasing-the-ring category.

    This is a fairly fascinating list: http://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/hof_prob_career.html

    It implies that the three Celtics are locks, and Pau is on the cusp. It also has Tony Parker as fairly likely, but Nash as very unlikely, both of which would be surprising at this point.

    The other thing that occurs to me is that for some reason I feel that there is a distinction between the teams that were built, like the ’80s Lakers and Celtics, and those that were put together, like the current Celtics and Heat.

  4. All due respect to the BIg 3 of Boston but the big 3 (talent wise) of Miami blows that Boston team out of the water. I’ll take a healthy 08 KG over Chris Bosh but there is no comparison between Allen and Pierce and Lebron and D-Wade, none.

    I still think a healthy Laker squad matches up well with Miami, but if they come in with anywhere the same fire and intensity of that 08 Boston team, then I think it’s their title to lose.

  5. I don’t think it’s fair to compare the current version of a ‘super team’ with teams like the ’81 Lakers solely based on talent. There’s also the aspect of getting 3 max-contract-level players in the prime of their careers on the same roster, which is highly unusual in the era of the salary cap and the draft lottery. Yes the Showtime Lakers were loaded, but that was mainly because they ended up with the #1 overall pick in the draft twice after adding Kareem. Given the current parameters, what the Heat have done is indeed unprecedented, with the 2007/08 Celtics being the closest comparison.

  6. No. 1) You ‘gotta’ love Artest…his comment about Pluto was a fine segue from his statement regarding Kobe going after something from Pluto. LOL, this guy is worth following as a beat writer.

  7. No doubt the Heat qualify as a potential super team. Scary thing is, their big three are all young, with two of the three (LBJ, Bosh) perhaps on the cusp of their very best years; Wade being the old man of the trio at an elderly 28 (!).

    There’s grounds for reasonable optimism that our heroes will hold them off next year, but after that I think the odds tilt in the favor of the Heat winning a ring or three. However, they still need to find some sort of serviceable center.

  8. HOF probabilty:

    why is Vince Carter 89%, and Tracy McGrady 77% ?

    Gilbert Arenas 50% and Grant Hill 48%, while Pau is only 44%?

    Shawn Marion 20%?

  9. Any scoring system that penalizes a player because of their height seems bogus to me.

    Also, how is it that so many players ended up with a .9999?

  10. I would argue the Duncan-led Spurs are more of an example of a great player who did NOT need a super team, rather than a near super team. While the Admiral was a great player in his prime, by the 2000s he was a faded 13-8 guy, barely a top ten center. By that standard the Cavs last year were a near super team with LBJ and Shaq.

    It will be very interesting. Wade and LBJ are certainly two first ballot hall of famers and Bosh is at least very good, I have to agree that even if the Lakers can hold them off for a year or two it’s (unfortunately) hard to see the Heat not getting a ring or two eventually as the build the team up around the Miami Thrice.

  11. Phil speaks on it as well.
    http://sports.espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/news/story?id=5600813

    Kudos on recognizing Dennis Rodman.

  12. That Houston team was a not a super team… they were all old by then… that is like calling the 04 Lakers a super team with an over the hill Payton and Malone

  13. The first super group that I have fond memories of was Blind Faith. Clapton, Winwood, Grech, and Baker. All HOF and playing in their prime. But like the 2004 Lakers with Santa Karl, they lasted only one season.

  14. Sanch, definitely agree on ’03-’4.
    ***

    penston… that takes me back. I wore out the grooves, had to get another copy.

  15. Just read this story on Mo Williams. I really think the Cavs will make the playoffs next year with Scott as coach and that they will surprise a lot of people. Suddenly Mo has surged in my very short list of very likable NBA players. Good luck to Mo! Most Improved Player (fingers crossed)

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=mc-williamscavs092010

  16. The Lakers of ’87-’88 had FOUR #1 overall picks on their roster – Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, Worthy, and Thompson. That’s not going to happen again anywhere.

  17. im sorry, but to call the duncan led spurs a one man team is rather insane. parker and ginobli at their peaks were incredible. in fact, if memory serves, duncan didn’t even win the finals mvp for all their championships. that basically invalidates the idea fully. just think if scottie or rodman would have won a finals mvp. regarding this current heat team, you guys are all falling into the same trap. its not pure star power that wins, its not pure talent that wins. its talent which fits together. as it stands now, I highly doubt the heat ever win a ring at least until they add more pieces.

  18. Duncan was the finals MVP in 1999, 2003 and 2005. He won his first title without Parker or Ginobili, and neither was a significant factor in the second title run. In fact, Parker was terrible against the Nets and the Pistons, he really only played well in the 2007 playoffs. Ginobili has been at times a topnotch player and certainly was a huge factor in winning rings #3 and #4, and the Spurs proved that a well constructed team does not need multiple hall of famers as fans of Lebron persist on claiming. But they only have had one great player during their championship run, that’s simply a fact.

  19. Four #1 picks! Well, the league changed the rules about the #1 pick because of the Lakers – and a certain Cleveland owner.

  20. I think the most amazing thing about the Heat as a super team is that it is culled from three of the top five picks of a single draft.

    And if you were given a choice of any draft from which to choose, this would have to be your second choice, behind ’84, of course. You could make a pretty good team from ’96 as well, but the two best players went in the teens.

  21. off, topic, but …. evidently Drew’s missing the entire preseason most likely … read all about it on NBA.com

  22. Good article. But like Sanch said the 2004 Lakers were definitely a super team.

    Also the 83 Sixers. Moses, DrJ, Toney, Cheeks, Bobby Jones = superteam.

  23. What about the 81 and 86 Celtics? 81 team: Archibald, McHale, Parish, and Maxell. 86 team: McHale, DJ, Parish, Ainge, and Walton (more in spirit than in body.) Hang on I think I left someone out…some white kid…Oh that’s right Larry Bird. A top five player easily (#3 in my book behind Kareem #2 and Mike #1)

  24. The Difference are Wade, Lebron and Bosh, are the Alpha dogs on their team, they are number one, and leaders, go to guys The things they join the group on the same year, while the other super team mentioned are built, and their chemistry playing together are develop that makes them winners.

  25. #22. LRob,
    As I mentioned in the post, that 76er team was right on the cusp for me. I think Jones is one of the more underrated players of that era and Cheeks was a very good guard for a long time. Toney was also strong on both sides of the ball. In the end, I just didn’t think those guys were at the level of the current Lakers trio of Artest/Bynum/Odom, but I can easily see the other side of that argument. It really was close for me.

    #24. josh,
    I believe I mentioned the Celtics and have listed for the entire decade of the 80′s. I did not mention Tiny Archibald (and should have) – good catch there. Not the biggest fan of Maxwell, though I know he’s an endearing figure to C’s fans.

  26. the lakers 87 got mychal thompson by giving up nothing. not even kurt rambis.

  27. Hey LRob,

    Agree about 04/05 – remember the anticipation when Malone and Payton signed? Unfortunately, it wound up being such a fractured team in ways.

  28. How can you leave off the Lakers Trio of Jerry West, Elgin Baylor & Wilt Chamberlain? I would certainly take that group over Miami’s “Super Friends”. While an argument can be made that LBJ & DWade are in some way comparable or competitive with Jerry & Elgin, Chris Bosh should never even be mentioned in the same sentence with Wilt! And remember, as great as each of them were, they never won a championship together. Elgin’s retirement a few months too early is one of the sad stories in Laker history.

  29. #29. Tim,
    In the post, I mention that I’m only going back to 1980. If I were to go back further than that, the Lakers of West, Baylor, Wilt, and Goodrich would surely have been mentioned. Russell’s Celtics also would have been mentioned.

  30. I think the point that everyone here is missing is that these 3 players (Wade, Lebron and Bosh) Are all in the prime AT THE SAME TIME! There is no doubt all of the teams mentioned in the article and in the comments had multiple Hall of Fame players on their teams. But they weren’t all at their peak at the same time. Wilt was past his prime when he came to LA, Payton and Malone were way past their primes. Hate to break it but Kobe is past his prime. (Still a great player though) The closes that comes to this Heat team is The 1996-1998 Bulls with MJ, Scottie, and Rodman. It’s no surprise why they have the greatest record in NBA History…..

  31. Trevor- “everyone” didn’t miss this point (see #7 please).

  32. You don’t think Jeff Hornacek fits the bill as the 3rd part of the Jazz’s big 3? After they acquired him in 93-94 they went to the Western Conference Finals four times, and won twice (including a sweep of the Lakers in 98) to go to the finals…You can’t say that wasn’t a super team.

  33. #33. While I liked Hornacek as a player, no I don’t think he’s that caliber of player to turn the Jazz into a super team. In fact, I would say that a true third HOF caliber player would have likely propelled the Jazz to a championship in the late 90′s. They could never get over that hump and beat the Bulls and some of that had to do with the fact that despite the greatness of Stockton and Malone, they never had that other guy (preferably a wing player) that was great enough on both offense and defense to put them over the top.

  34. The 87 lakers championship team had the most #1 overall picks: Jabbar, Worthy, Magic, Mychal Thompson.