Superteams of the Modern Era: Fool's Gold? History Says So

Before I delve into explaining why the latest ‘Superteam’ assembled has failed to instill any fear whatsoever in this Dirk-sized MFFL heart of mine, let us set some ground rules and establish the players of the game first and foremost.

For the purposes of this exercise, we will consider all teams from the ’98-’99 season to present day as teams of the Modern Era. The scrolls of ye ol’ Wikipedia clearly paint this time frame as such.

Secondly, we will make clear which teams are considered to be contrived ‘Superteams,’ a rather recent phenomena, and which teams are considered otherwise. There will be no ambiguity here; teams are either ‘Superteams’ or they are ‘teams that are super.’ Simple enough, right?

Well, it gets simpler for you. I will not dive into mounds of Sean Bradley-sized stat minutia to explain why I feel the way I feel regarding this matter. While I enjoy exploring fancy pants Doogie Howser-like numbers as much as the next guy, the only stat that seems to carry any relevance to 99% of NBAers is an easy one to pinpoint: Number of Championships.

Personally, I enjoyed the Mavs’ run of 50-win seasons; championship or not, I loved my team. Unlike most, I did not discount what they had achieved up until that magical 2011 season. My team was always in the mix, and they were fun to watch. They competed, and that’s all I really cared about at the end of the day. But like I say, 99% of the population believe that championships are all that matter.

You know the line guys and gals, come on, remember all those battles of yesteryear with us desperately fighting in the ‘comments’ trenches. Remember our enemies’ secret weapon? I do, it went something like this, "Dirk is soft because he doesn’t have a ring," or "Talk to me when your team gets a ring."

LeBronze, the jerk that he is, demonstrates this unfortunate truism better than most. LeBron could have put up astronomical stats across all formats for 15 years plus, and at the end of it he would have been called LeCrap had he never won a ring (I still call him LeCrap BTW, mostly because it is really fun to mess with his name). It’s just the way it is unfortunately, agree with it or not, one stat trumps all in the NBA.

Coinciding with this, I will give credence to another stat for the purposes of this paradigm: Finals appearances. It goes without saying you cannot win championships without winning your conference first, a major feat, especially if you are a team playing in the Western Conference throughout the Modern Era. 10 of the 14 teams to win championships in the Modern Era hail from the Western Conference. The Spurs and Lakers having won 9 of those 14, with the Mavs winning #10. The Heat (twice), the Pistons, and the Celtics make up the 4 ‘ship teams from the East.

Either way, making it to the Finals means your team has, in the most literal sense of the word, contended for a championship. You don’t need to be a math whiz to realize that making the Finals greatly increases your chance of winning championships. Too often we call teams contenders before the season even starts. To me, contenders are not revealed until the NBA Finals, teams must earn that label.

‘Superteams’ and ‘Teams that are Super’ will be given 2 points for championships, and 1 point for Finals’ appearances.

Soooooooooooo, let’s get into this properly now shall we?

By my count, three ‘Superteams’ can be found during this era that made the Finals but ultimately lost.

The ’04 Lakers, which can be seen as the first attempt at forming a ‘Superteam.’ This was the year the Lakers signed Karl Malone and Gary Payton to join Kobe and Shaq. The media pundits were creaming their shorts over this team, but alas, one of the ‘teams that are super’, The Detroit Pistons, beat them in what was one of my favorite Finals of all-time.

The ’10 Celtics. The second of ‘Superteams’ formed in the modern era. They came into being in ’08 and won a ‘ship right off the bat. In 2010 however, they lost to a Lakers team that cannot be defined as a ‘Superteam.’

The ’11 Heat. We all know what happened in this series. Analogous to the ’04 series, the favored ‘Superteam’ the media talked about incessantly ultimately lost to my personal favorite of the ‘teams that are super,’ the Dallas ‘party-crashing’ Mavericks. And the world rejoiced in this victory almost more so than the Pistons’ in 2004. There is just something special about watching a ‘Superteam’ getting beat down like that, isn’t there?

So there you have it, 3 points for the ‘Superteams’ based on Finals’ appearances.

Along these same lines, 11 ‘teams that are super’ made the Finals during this time frame. They are listed below with very brief explanations as to why they cannot be considered ‘Superteams.’

’99 Knicks featured an end-of-his-career Patrick Ewing and, yes, Latrell "I got my family to feed" Spreewell. Not a Superteam.

’00 Pacers, yeah right, only if you consider Jalen Rose being added to Pacer-drafted Reggie Miller and Rik Smits a Superteam.

’01 Sixers was the year of Allen Iverson.

02-’03 Nets made consecutive Finals on the back of Jason Kidd, his PICs (Partners in Crime) were both drafted by the Nets, Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin. (*Note that RJ was originally drafted by the Rockets and traded to the Nets on draft day)

'05 Pistons lost to the Spurs. The ‘00s Piston teams are the antithesis of the ‘Superteam’ we know and loathe today.

’06 Mavs lost to the Heat in "free throw gate." We all know Mavs are not a ‘Superteam.’

’07 Cavs were LeJerk and not a ton else. That’s why LeDumb left; he wasn’t playing with his Superfriends. Cry me a river LeBald.

’08 Lakers were the Bryant/Gasol Laker team that does not qualify as a ‘Superteam’ (explained further on down).

’09 Magic (See ’07 Cavs above).

’12 Thunder are cored by three Thunder-drafted players in Harden, Ibaka, and Durant. (*Supersonic drafted Durant and Ibaka for all you trolling editors out there).

Okay, moving right along, that gives the ‘teams that are super’ 11 points for Finals’ appearances. That makes it 11-3 in favor of ‘teams that are super’ after round one.

Now let’s discuss teams that have won championships in the modern era.

Starting with the Spurs in ’98-99. And you know what, let’s just throw in their other 3 ‘ships within this paragraph because I am not spending too much time on this storied Mavs’ rival. Simply stated, the Spurs are the best of the ‘teams that are super.’ 4 Championships powered primarily by players they drafted. David Robinson and Tim Duncan highlighted the 1st championship team in ‘99; both were drafted by the Spurs. Spurs then draft the likes of Ginobli and Parker, added solid role players like Big Shot Bob, threw in one of the best coaches of all-time in Pop, and voilà; the best of the ‘teams that are super.’ 8 points for ‘teams that are super.’

The Lakers, as they’ve always been, are a much more complicated matter than that of the Spurs. We’ll start with the threepeat, which is rather easy to decipher. The threepeat boils down to one catalyst, one larger than life catalyst. Shaquille O’Neal was the most dominate big man I have ever seen play. All three of these championships resulted in a Finals MVP for Shaq. Now the Lakers traded for Shaq, but he was not going to L.A. to form a ‘Superteam,’ there were no existing superstar players on the Lakers roster and they did not bring in any other extraordinary talents that same season. Shaq, and Kobe to a lesser extent, along with more solid role players and one of the best coaches of all time in Phil Jackson, made those early ‘00s Lakers one of the ‘teams that are super.’ 6 more points.

The Pau Gasol/Kobe Bryant Lakers were not a ‘Superteam.’ An older Kobe Bryant got a much lesser version of Shaq in Gasol and yet was able to win 2 rings and play in another Finals, all in consecutive years. This team was a testament to Kobe’s greatness more than anything, and honestly, as much as I have despised Kobe over the years, I must respect him for the killer that he is. I have even grown to like him … sorta. 4 points for ‘teams that are super.’

The ’06 Heat was not a ‘Superteam.’ They added Betty White-old Shaq and Gary Payton to a Heat-drafted Wade, and an undrafted Haslem, the latter being a rather unspectacular player. Also, as we all know too well on this here blogosphere, the Fascist NBA and its henchmen a.k.a. the referees were more responsible for winning this championship than the Miami Heat. In this instance, I begrudgingly give 2 points for the ‘teams that are super.’

The ’04 Detroit Piston team that beat the dreaded juggernaut of GP/Shaq/Kobe/Mailman 4 games to 1 was nothing short of amazing. That Laker squad was the first ‘Superteam.’ GP and Karl Malone signed for less money to form this original friend squad and it fizzled, it fizzled hard. So hard in fact, that it wasn’t until the ’08 season that another ‘Superteam’ emerged from the darkness. The Pistons meanwhile were a team led by undrafted Ben Wallace, Billups, who had played for 5 teams already at that point in his career, 2nd year Pistons-drafted player Tayshaun Prince, and Rip Hamilton, a relative unknown commodity whose claim to fame at that point in his career was being drafted 7th overall by the Wizards. 2 points for this Piston team even though they deserve so much more than that.

The ’11 Mavs epitomized team and put on a clinic in this regard against the Megatron Superteam 5000 that was supposed to be the Miami Heat. I cannot recall another series in any other sport where teamwork trumped star power in such an overwhelming display. The whole world watched and rooted for these underdog Mavs who could not have been more different than the ‘Superteam’ they dismantled in the Finals. 2 more big points for the ‘teams that are super.’

Which leads us to all of the 2 championships won by a ‘Superteam’ in the modern era of NBA basketball: The 2012 Miami Heat, and the 2008 Boston Celtics

I think it is indisputable that both of these teams are considered ‘Superteams.’ These rosters were constructed under the MO of paying three players tons of cash, and filling in the rest of the blanks as they went along. Both teams were assembled lightning fast in one off-season. KG and Allen added to the Celts in the same off-season, Bosh and LeBum added to the Heat. Both teams received the ESPN treatment of insano 24/7 hype. However, both teams beat legitimate opponents in the form of the Thunder and Lakers, so I will give them their proper due, and a whopping 4 points to the ‘Superteams.’

In this round, ‘teams that are super’ accrued 24 points, while the ‘Superteams’ could only muster 4 more points.

Now we have arrived at a final score of 35-7 in favor of the ‘teams that are super.’ Again, whether you are a Stephen Hawking type or not, 35 divided by 7 is 5, meaning, recent NBA history has proven that ‘Superteams’ are 5 times less likely to succeed in terms of winning championships and Finals appearances.

The way I see it, the NBA currently has 4 ‘Superteams’ whose success has still yet to be determined: The Miami Heat, The New York Knicks, The Brooklyn Nets, and The L.A. Lakers.

The Knicks didn’t sniff the jock of being a contender in their first full year as a ‘Superteam’ with the overpaid core of Chandler, ‘Melo, and Amare. They lost 4-1 to the same Heat team the Mavs handily beat 4-2 in the Finals the year prior. Chandler, the most recent overpaid addition that officially formalized the Knicks’ place on ‘Superteam’ Mt. Rushmore, averaged a whopping 6 points and 9 rebounds against the likes of Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman, Juwan Howard, Udonis Haslem in their lone playoff series.

Deron Williams failed to lead the Nets to the playoffs last year but he’s looking to get there this year with his freshly minted ‘Superteam.’ Guess you can say this particular case study is inconclusive. However, if we were to base their future on recent NBA history, you know, what we just got done hashing over, the odds are not in their favor.

The new Laker ‘Superteam,’ their first since their 2004 incarnation, much like the Brooklyn team, has yet to set foot on the court. I like the look of this team much better on paper than that of the Nets, but again, how good are their chances and for how long? Their window is shorter than Tom Cruise.

The Heat have won a single championship as a ‘Superteam,’ meanwhile, the Mavs and the Pistons won a ‘ship apiece with only one bona fide superstar between them in Dirk. Then there are teams like the Spurs who won 4, or the Shaq-led Lakers that had a threepeat, or the Gasol/Bryant led Lakers who earned back-to-back rings. So while I’ll give the Heat credit for beating a really good Thunder squad, I’m not giving them anywhere near the credence or props the media have given them upon winning their first, especially if you take into consideration LeMymomsleptwithmyteammate and his "not one, not two, not three" proclamation. Was he talking about championships or how many times our boy Delonte drilled his mom? The world will never know.

Moving forward, as a Mavericks fan, I am certainly not scared of any of these 4 teams, not even close to being scared. Why should I be? The odds are in my favor; there is a 5-1 chance a team like mine brings it home at the end of the season.

We can learn a lot from history, especially recent history, as we have examined in this exercise. But to those who continue to overlook it, overlook the simplest of numbers, they just may find that their pre-season predictions and hype are nothing but unsubstantiated talky talk. They think they’re like Nostradamus or something; I think they are more like Nostradumbass. What say you?

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