Is Cleveland Cavaliers’ Big 3 Best of the Superteam Era?

LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are obviously going to make the Cleveland Cavaliers into one of the NBA‘s best teams. Whether they’re capable of moving past the Chicago Bulls and the rest of the Eastern Conference is up for debate, but they’ll at least be a part of the competition for a No. 1 seed throughout the 2014-15 campaign. 

But how do they stack up historically? Northeast Ohio now boasts an unprecedented amount of upside and potential, but does this Cavaliers squad have the best Big Three of the superteam era? 

If we define the “superteam era” as the last seven seasons, dating back to when Danny Ainge assembled the Big Three that quickly turned around the Boston Celtics, then the field is a lot narrower. The C’s of the early 1980s—Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish—don’t count. Nor does the Los Angeles Lakers‘ trio of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, dominant as it may have been. 

And that’s how it should be. 

Back then, those teams were the exceptions. They weren’t the rule. Additionally, they were largely compiled in organic fashion, though some trades were obviously still involved. Such was the case for the Chicago Bulls’ devastating triumvirate of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman during their second three-peat in the ’90s. 

But the Celtics changed things when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joined an incumbent Paul Pierce, engineering one of the biggest single-season turnarounds in NBA history. All of a sudden, that became the route du jour for championship-caliber team construction. It didn’t even take a full season for the Lakers to react and trade for Pau Gasol, pairing him up with Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum. 

Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs steadily plugged along, content with their own Big Three of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, one that already had championships to its credit and would soon earn more. That trio was assembled as organically as possible, but it’s impressive in and of itself that Gregg Popovich, R.C. Buford and the rest of the San Antonio front office have been able to fight off every suitor that emerged for one of those three stars. 

The Oklahoma City Thunder stumbled upon a troika of their own—Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. The Miami Heat built one seemingly from scratch, luring the talents of LeBron James and Chris Bosh to South Beach in the summer of 2010. 

And that’s saying nothing of the failed trios. 

The Lakers tried to form another triumvirate with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, but the eventual ill feelings and quick departure made them the closest comparison we have to Caesar, Pompey and Crassus. The Brooklyn Nets thought they might have something special with Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. The New York Knicks teamed up Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler with Amar’e Stoudemire. 

Whether the constructions have been successful or not, the concept of a Big Three has become ubiquitous in today’s NBA.

Some fans like the idea, as it tends to promote high-quality basketball and make it easier to catch multiple stars in action at the same time. Then again, a large crowd feels nothing but vitriol over the idea of manufacturing excellent teams, as there’s this notion that stars of the past wouldn’t have taken the “easy route” by teaming up with other great players. 

Is it right? Is it wrong? That’s irrelevant here. It’s a discussion for another time and place. 

No matter your leanings, it’s happening, and it’s been happening for years now. The new-look Cavaliers are only the latest iteration in this “superteam era,” but they’re far from being the best right now. 

 

The Present

Individually, Cleveland has a handful of absolutely fantastic pieces.

James is the best player in the NBA, even if Durant is coming off a season in which he finally got over the hump, stopped finishing second and got his hands on the coveted Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Love is without question one of the league’s elite power forwards, capable of making incredible offensive and rebounding contributions, even if his defense is questionable at best. Irving is an up-and-coming point guard with a knack for scoring and handles nearly unsurpassed throughout the vast reaches of the Association. 

There’s just one problem. 

Irving and Love have never played meaningful NBA basketball. Their regular-season games have mattered, sure, but neither player has been involved in a crucial stretch run that propelled his team into the playoffs. Nor have they played a single postseason game. 

In many ways, that’s understandable, seeing as neither player has been in a situation in which his front office has surrounded him with high-quality talent. Irving is still just 22 years old, while Love is four years his senior. Both players have plenty of time left to continue growing and learning the ropes when it comes to postseason basketball. 

Comparing them to the Spurs right now is foolish, especially considering all that the trio has accomplished under Popovich’s supervision. Except for Bird, McHale and Parish, no group of three players has ever won more games than this San Antonio pairing, who moved past Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson and Michael Cooper during the 2013-14 campaign. 

And as Parker told NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury right before surpassing that Lakers trio, this sustained success means a lot to them: 

A great run and it feels very special. I feel very blessed to play with Timmy and Manu and I feel very lucky and privileged to be named next to Magic Johnson and Kareem and Michael Cooper.

I grew up watching them and never thought in my wildest dreams that my name would be next to them. It’s crazy just to think about it. Once I retire, I can look at it and enjoy it. Now I try to stay focused on the season, but it’s unbelievable.

Since then, the Spurs have won another title. It’s their fourth since Ginobili joined the squad as a second-round draft pick. They may have been assembled before my arbitrary cutoff date in the summer of 2007, but they haven’t been disassembled since. 

Again, there’s no point in bothering with a comparison between the Spurs and these new Cavaliers, but how does Cleveland stack up against other candidates—and this is key—at the time of assembly? 

When Garnett came to Boston, he had only just turned 31, still squarely in the midst of his prime. While with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he’d carried his team to the playoffs multiple times, won an MVP and established himself as one of the very best two-way players in the league.

Allen, meanwhile, was just a year older. Though his athleticism was no longer as stellar as it was early in his career, he remained a superstar, coming off a season with the Seattle SuperSonics in which he averaged 26.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. A battle-tested seven-time All-Star, he already had 37 playoff games to his credit, including a run to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Milwaukee Bucks

Plus, Pierce was nearing the 30-year milestone and had been a part of multiple playoff runs with the Celtics during the opening salvo of his NBA tenure. And he was arguably the least successful of the three prior to their union in Beantown

And how about the Big Three James is leaving? When the Heat assembled in 2010, Wade (who had a Finals MVP to his credit) was being joined by a multi-MVP player and Bosh, who had proved himself as a No. 1 option with the Toronto Raptors. It was the big man who had the weakest resume, but he’d led Toronto to the postseason twice while serving as the top player. 

These Cavaliers simply don’t have the necessary experience to stack up against the other dominant Big Threes of this “superteam era,” at least at the time of inception.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll be kept from the top of the heap for too long. 

 

The Future

Even though the NBA world will inevitably be swept away with immediate expectations of titles, this Cleveland Big Three was assembled with the future in mind. 

While the youth of Irving and Love keeps the trio from coming anywhere close to earning status as the top Big Three of the “superteam era,” it also works in its favor going forward. Garnett, Pierce and Allen had to peak right away, as each was heading out of his prime. The same was true with James, Bosh and Wade, as well as Gasol and Bryant, though to a lesser extent. 

Limited windows abounded. But that’s not the case for these Cavs.

James isn’t going anywhere for at least a little while longer. He’s a skilled enough player that he’ll be able to stave off the ill effects of Father Time with his ridiculously cerebral play, his efficiency, his burgeoning post-up skills and his all-around game. Even if he’s not numero uno in the basketball world, he won’t be moving past cinco for a long time. 

And how about Irving? 

That’s not an exaggeration. 

Irving has a long way to go if he hopes to move past Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, John Wall and the other point guards currently in front of him. He’ll have to play much more focused defense, improve his shooting efficiency and start leading a team rather than posting big, gaudy stats on a lackluster squad. 

But he can do it. 

Accompanied by fellow stars and playing on a real title contender, Irving has the chance to develop in ways he couldn’t before,” Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale explained while breaking down what it would take for Irving to ascend to that pole position. “He has safety nets most cannot even fathom.”

And one of those safety nets will be an ever-improving Love, who finally gets to play on a team with a shot at doing something special. He’s been an incredible source of numbers, historical performances and awe-inspiring box scores during the initial years of his NBA career, but his resume remains devoid of even a cup of coffee in the postseason. 

Even though he won’t turn 27 until the 2015 offseason is drawing near to its conclusion, he may already have the best resume in NBA history for a player without a single playoff game under his belt. He’s been that good while laboring away on nondescript Minnesota teams.

How will he play when defense finally matters? How will he fare when he has incredible offensive talents drawing defensive attention away from him? We have no idea, but the questions themselves are certainly intriguing for a player who somehow seems to be getting better each year he’s healthy. 

Don’t be surprised when the Cavaliers follow that same pattern. 

Is this the best Big Three assembled in recent memory? Absolutely not. 

But it can be. 

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Are We Expecting Too Much Too Soon from LeBron James’ New Superteam?

Following a summer of blockbuster signings and game-changing trades, the Cleveland Cavaliers—three superstars in tow and a basketball wizard at the wheel—look better on paper than a briefcase full of Woodrow Wilsons.

Heading into the 2014-15 season, Cleveland’s status as a championship contender is, barring the unforeseen, set in stone.

But given the guff that met the Miami Heat upon James’ arrival four short years ago, it’s worth wondering: Are we expecting too much from the NBA’s newest superteam?

We’re still weeks away from the flood of predictions and power rankings written to ring in the new season. Rest assured, though, that when they hit the Internet newsstands, the Cavs will be covered in conference chalk.

Top to bottom, Cleveland boasts arguably the East’s deepest, most experienced depth chart. The team’s most recent coup: signing Swiss Army knife Shawn Marion to a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal, per USA Today’s Sam Amick.

Scarier still, the Cavs might still have an ace or two up their sleeves:

Fancy a fast glance down Cleveland’s roster, it’s hard not to want to invest heavy in the hype. Until, that is, you recall the growing pains faced by the 2010-11 Miami Heat, those hardwood heavyweights some doubtless believed should’ve been awarded the Larry O’Brien trophy schedule unseen.

Just months after staging what amounted to a preseason championship parade, the Heat staggered to a 9-8 start out of the gate. On the one hand, panicking over an above-.500 start not even a quarter into the season would seem a hyperbolic response.

On the other hand, these were the mighty Miami Heat. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh weren’t supposed to struggle; they were supposed to strangle.

Just how bad did it get? According to a November 2010 report by ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard, all out mutiny was becoming a real possibility in Miami.

“Right now, in my opinion, no one is doing a good job,” Wade told Broussard. “We’re 9-and-8. We’re all in this together. The players are not doing a good job. The coach is not doing a good job.”

Seldom does such under-the-bus bluntness escape the locker room walls, particularly in an organization so lauded for its all-in-the-family philosophy.

Like Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, Cleveland head coach David Blatt—hired weeks before James’ league-altering decision—faces the unenviable task of being target No. 1 for whatever flak should come the Cavs’ way in the season’s opening days. On a team where the vets have paid their dues in pain and pride, Blatt’s the new guy and will be punished as such should the train fly too far off the rails.

To his credit, Blatt has remained cool as a locker room icepack during his many summer interviews.

“I do feel a great sense of responsibility about that because although I’m not fully one of them, they are all a part of me. I feel responsibility. Pressure? No. I don’t feel pressure,” Blatt told USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt back in July. “But a lot of responsibility yes and honestly a lot of pride that I was the one who was chosen. I feel like I’ve got to do a good job.”

It’s certainly worth wondering whether the asymmetric weight felt by Spoelstra during Miami’s early struggles—a prelude to four straight trips to the NBA Finals—might serve as a sobering reminder of the perils of rushing to judgment.

If anyone can deflect whatever doubt that’s bound to come Cleveland’s way, it’s James, whose prodigal return is sure to buy him and his comrades some much needed leeway.

Sooner or later, though, all the praise and expectations won’t be worth the pulp it’s printed on if it isn’t accompanied by the beautiful basketball we all know lies in wait—an ether-bound spell waiting for the right mix of thought and action to conjure it in full.

Writing at BusinessInsider.com, Tony Manfred underscores the almost frightening fury Cleveland’s offense holds:

It’s one thing to have a pair of exceptional offensive players on your team. It’s another to have what the Cavs have now — two exceptional offensive players with complementary playing styles.

Love is a nominal power forward who can shoot threes and make enough mid-range shots to keep defenses honest. The LeBron-Love pick-and-roll will be a nightmare, with defenses stuck between keeping LeBron away from the rim and guarding the Love jumper.

Love is basically Chris Bosh if Chris Bosh had a better post game and was a great offensive rebounder. This is a very scary proposition for the rest of the NBA, and that’s even before you get to Kyrie Irving.

The question now becomes whether Cleveland’s cartoonish potential will be grounds for even more caustic pressure or it’s safeguard against a prolonged slump.

Considered as a whole, Cleveland’s lineup boasts more worst-to-first firepower than any of the Heat’s four rosters. The challenge for Blatt is in figuring out which pieces fit where and when, and how to look beyond resumes and bona fides to find the best basketball balance possible.

Then there’s the more pessimistic view, offered by Hardwood Paroxysm’s Steve McPherson, who sees in how the Cavaliers have gone about weaponizing LeBron both the best and the worst aspects of Miami’s approach to team-building:

It’s possible that the Heat’s experience shows that the Cavaliers are making a mistake here, and not just with regard to positions as they neglect the backup point guard and center positions in favor of wings. But it’s also possible that in many ways the path of this next season is already written: a wealth of jaw-dropping moments and victories in the regular season and then a swoon in the playoffs that ends with the Cavs falling short of a title. Whether you deem that a failure or success deferred will depend on how long a view you can take to team building.

That the Cavs might well mimic Miami’s year-one trajectory is certainly plausible. Still, Cleveland’s unique combination of youth, depth and star power makes its mold altogether different. Not better, per se, but different.

Short of missing the playoffs completely, there aren’t many outcomes to Cleveland’s season that would be considered shocking to the basketball-viewing public. Injuries, chemistry, game-to-game plans—all these factors and more contribute to a formula whose ultimate answer has, if you look back far enough, been written before.

Viewed from the dining room floor through the kitchen door, the Cavaliers have all the makings, both homegrown and imported, of a Michelin bistro. Just don’t expect the first few plates to come out flawless.

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Can Derrick Rose Be the Kryptonite to Miami Heat Superteam?

Can Derrick Rose be the kryptonite to the Miami Heat superteam?

Certainly, there is an array of reasons to doubt so, not the least of which is the last time Rose finished a playoff series, it was with superfriend LeBron James blocking his shot and sending the Bulls packing.

Yet, the NBA is not a static world where everything stays the same from one year to the next. Players age (for better or worse). Supporting casts change. Offseason work improves areas of weakness. Injuries happen. All of that is true with Rose.

He just turned 25, and as such, he’s on the right side of the peak age of 27.

However, the last time we saw him consistently play was in January 2012, almost two years ago. Because of a litany of minor injuries that ultimately led to his torn ACL (which is now, finally, history), he was in and out of the lineup for most of the second half of the 2012 season and absent entirely from it last year.

During that span, he’s supposedly been putting lots of work into his game, his jump shot and his basketball IQ.

Since then, the big question has been whether Rose would be able to get back to his MVP form, and after a 20-minute display in the Bulls’ preseason opener against the Indiana Pacers, the answer to that question is a resounding yes.  

Certainly, he’s not there yet. But there were clear signs he will be. The essence of Rose—his speed and explosiveness—was there.

He exploded to the rim to rebound his own missed shot, stealing it from Roy Hibbert, then putting it back to make his first field goal. He crossed over Paul George, one of the best defenders in the league, at another point.

Most tellingly, there was a series of plays that demonstrated he is going to be the same. On successive possessions, he raced the ball downcourt on fast breaks to get the easy layup, putting his speed on full display.

The Pacers, getting the wake-up call, were quick to try to stop him the next time, triple-teaming him as he motored down the court.

Luol Deng, trailing on the play, pulled up to Rose’s right, just outside the elbow of the three-point line. Rose hit him for the no-look pass, and Deng drained the three.

That’s the essence of what makes Rose special, both his ability to take the ball inside for the score and the vision and awareness to hit his teammates with the outlet pass when defenses collapse on him. That’s the makings of a championship point guard.

There is talk about “pure” point guards and “scoring” point guards, with the former being advertised as superior to the latter. That’s a bit contrary to history, though.

I like to say there are some point guards who are race car drivers and some who are just race cars. Some point guards (i.e. Rajon Rondo) have the ability to “drive” an offense. Some, such as Rose, have the ability to be the offense.

Then, there are a select few from history who have the ability to do both. Players like Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson could do either. Counting the regular season and the postseason, Johnson topped 30 points 105 times. Thomas hit it 118 times. It’s not like they weren’t scorers.

The championship point guards “drove” the cars for the bulk of the game but then became the car when they needed to. It’s the mix of passing and scoring that is what made them able to lead their teams to championships.

I compared Rose to Thomas and Johnson in terms of performance for a player who has both skill sets, looking at their winning percentages when they hit the benchmarks of 20 points on .450 shooting and passed for seven assists, per the Game Finder on Basketball-Reference.

Here are the winning percentages of all three players when they hit those three numbers, as well as Rose’s specific percentage just in the Tom Thibodeau era (2011 to present). The games include both regular and postseason for all three players.

As you can see, when he hits those numbers, the Bulls have similar success to those championship teams. Now, look how regularly each player hits those numbers.

Rose hits those marks just as frequently as Thomas or Johnson, and his teams win at the same rate, particularly in the last three years. In fact, in the 2011 and 2012 seasons when he reaches them, counting the regular and postseason, the Bulls are 29-2.

But here’s the rub. He has never hit those numbers against the Heat’s Big Three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Here’s his game log versus the Heat since they came together.

And here are his averages.

He has an anemic field-goal percentage in both wins and losses, but there is one game that throws off the numbers a bit. On April 12, 2012, Rose, coming back early from injury, was rusty and made only one of his 13 attempts. The Bulls won anyway.

During the other four games, Rose played close to the winning formula mentioned above, averaging a .448 field-goal percentage with the 6.3 assists and 28.8 points.

When the Bulls have struggled with Miami in the past, the issue has been pretty simple. It’s not that they can’t stop James. Sure, he scores fine, but the rest of the Heat don’t. They’ve averaged just 92.4 points against the Bulls, which is 3.2 points fewer than they’ve scored against anyone else and 8.7 fewer than they’ve scored overall.

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Kobe Bryant Should Reconsider Pay Cut, Pursue Lakers Superteam in 2014

Kobe Bryant‘s individual basketball resume already has him positioned among the NBA‘s all-time greats, but in terms of team success he’s still got some work ahead of him.

His fifth championship ring pushed him ahead of former nemesis Shaquille O’Neal, but he still needs another piece in his jewelry collection to catch Michael Jordan. Even in the midst of the Dwight Howard debacle and Bryant’s grueling rehab from a torn Achilles, the Mamba has championship thoughts racing through his mind.

Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times came up with a wild, but not impossible, scenario for Bryant to coast to a few more titles before he decides to walk away from the game for good.

It starts with Bryant making the ultimate financial sacrifice for the Los Angeles Lakers. After collecting the $30.4 million owed to him for next season, Pincus theorizes, Bryant could return to L.A. for a veteran’s minimum deal for the 2014-15 season.

With nothing more than Steve Nash’s contract and Bryant’s relatively meager wages on the books, the Lakers could have more than $46 million to attack the loaded 2014 free-agent crop. L.A.’s two biggest targets for its newfound financial wiggle room, Pincus offers, would be reigning MVP LeBron James and reigning scoring champion Carmelo Anthony.

All would not be lost for Bryant in this fantasy scenario.

Since the Lakers would still hold his Bird rights, L.A. could pony up a $19.5 million max salary for the Mamba for the 2015-16 season. Pincus adds that the Lakers could even wait to re-up with Bryant until after securing another major haul from the 2015 free-agent group that could include players like Marc Gasol, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge.

That’s a potential haul greater than any fantasy owner could ever imagine pulling in a league and even challenges the limits of possibilities in the gaming world. I could man the fifth starting spot in that lineup, and the Lakers could still hold a realistic goal of an unblemished 82-0 record.

Sounds a bit crazy, right? Unfortunately for Lakers fans, Bryant agrees.

According to Serena Winters of Lakers Nation, the five-time champion says that not only is he disinterested in a pay cut, but he plans to hit the negotiating table seeking “as much as I possibly can.”

From a business standpoint, there’s no logical way to question Bryant’s reasoning. His next-level basketball skills are a marketable commodity, and he’d be out of his mind to consider taking anything below market value.

Don’t forget he’ll be 35 before the 2013-14 season gets underway, so his earnings window is quickly closing.

On the basketball side, though, this is something that Bryant has to consider.

This is his chance to prove that winning really is the only thing that matters to him. A Bryant insider told ESPN Los Angeles‘ Ramona Shelburne that the Mamba wants “two more cracks at it to win seven NBA titles at least.”

If Anthony and James were L.A.-bound next summer, the only question for Bryant to consider would be why he’d stop at only seven rings. Leave Mike D’Antoni on the sidelines or give the next broadcasting hopeful a crack at handling the coaching duties—there’s no way that this team would fall short in its championship quest.

The problem is that it’s never all about winning. There’s a business side to professional sports, and a pay cut of this magnitude is something completely different from stars willingly sparing a few million dollars for the betterment of their franchise.

Bryant could change all that and drastically improve his lasting legacy in one fell swoop.

He might not want to attempt to traverse these uncharted waters, but that winning-at-all-costs mentality certainly loses a bit of its luster if he doesn’t at least consider Pincus’ not-so-crazy idea.

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New York Basketball: A Knicks-Nets Superteam

The relocation of the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn meant New York, often considered the basketball capital of the world, now had two NBA teams.  The title of “New York’s basketball team” was put up for grabs between the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets, an award that has not yet been bestowed upon either team.  Both squads are near the top of the standings in the Eastern Conference and having solid seasons; but imagine if the best players from each team could be combined to make a New York Superteam.  The players and talent would be enough to make even LeBron James and the Miami Heat tremble.

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Los Angeles Lakers: Where Is the Problem with the “Superteam?”

The Los Angeles Lakers are not at the top of the Pacific Division. Yes, you heard that right.

Acquired a point guard that we have desperately needed for the past few seasons. Check. That point guard just happens to be Steve Nash, who has led division competitor the Phoenix Suns for years. He is simply one of the best in the league.

Andrew Bynum was a bit of a problem. Consistency is key. We shipped him off. Now, to replace him, we get the best center in the NBA. Double check. A rebounding king. An enforcer in the blocking game. An incredible defender.

We still miss the sixth man of Lamar Odom. Can we get a sixth man? Oh wait, we can add a veteran in Antawn Jamison, who had been leading the fleeting Cleveland Cavaliers still fuming at the loss of LeBron James. Check.

Re-sign a stud in Jonah Hill. Check. Bring in a three-point machine in Jodie Meeks. Check. Rookie Darius Morris can step up. Check.

So that should be a championship contending team right? Where have the Lakers gone wrong? They’ve assembled the ultimate arsenal of weapons, but do not seem to be able to win any major battles with them, despite the fact that they’re fighting weaker enemies. They lost to the Sacramento Kings, who bring not knives, but sticks to this gun fight!

The Lakers thought Mike Brown was the problem and he may well have been, but this is something else.

The classic argument from a fan’s perspective is the struggles of the Miami Heat at the beginning of their first year as a stacked competitor.

But there is something about this that seems off. The Lakers were always good out of the gate with Kobe Bryant leading the way. They got better. And now seem to only be able to barely squeak by their opponents day in and day out.

As a Lakers fan, I am used to wins. I am used to thrilling games. I expected this season to be so exciting, but it has not panned out.

Ultimately, I know things are going to change. The Lakers have to figure it out. But they need to do it fast!

We’re ready for the NBA Championship to return to Los Angeles. Let’s make that happen and put this losing behind us.

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How Long Will It Take for Lakers to Figure out How to Be a Superteam?

Ask LeBron James. Ask Dwyane Wade. Hell, ask Kevin Durant. They’ll all tell the Los Angeles Lakers the same thing—it takes time.

What takes time, exactly?

Developing team chemistry, more specifically, star-studded team chemistry.

It takes time to go from a mere force on paper to a dominant entity on the court. It takes time for a 10-plus year veterans to step outside their comfort zones and thrive. 

It takes times for these assemblies to work.

But how much time? How long must Los Angeles attempt to bask in the glory on paper because the on-court attack is chaotic and underwhelming at best? How long until this “works?”

Well, if you ask the New York Knicks, they’ll tell you nearly two years and counting.

Don’t fret, though, because the Lakers didn’t mortgage their financial future on a set of degenerative knees or their tangible future on a superstar who has become nothing less than a captive of his own potential.

Simply put, the Lakers—even with Dwight Howard‘s back and Kobe Bryant‘s foot injuries—are not the Knicks. They’re something more, something better.

Something that resembles the Miami Heat.

One could argue that Los Angeles is, in fact, attempting to integrate a heavier dose of star-caliber egos into one system, and one would be correct.

But that’s not what’s important here.

What’s important is the Lakers convocation of superstars is of the same magnitude and potential of the Heat’s. And congregations of such extensive talent take time to mesh, they take time to iron out the kinks and become a semblance of a coherent and synchronized unit.

Like Los Angeles, Miami lost its first game of stars gone wild era. And like the Lakers, the Heat struggled to put points on the board, to execute efficiently, scoring just 80 points on 36.5 percent shooting—in that first game.

And you know what, the struggles continued, well into the season, in fact.

The Heat—Big Three and all—began their inaugural campaign by losing eight of their first 17 games. That’s correct, the star-studded trio that convened in Miami to render all other opponents inferior struggled to keep its head above .500 through the first 17 games.

By that point, South Beach’s prolific formation was a failure. They staged the biggest free-agency coup in league history for nothing.

But then, the tides began to shift. Things started to change.

After opening up the season 9-8, the Heat went on to win 21 of their next 22, including a 12-game winning streak.

What changed? What allowed Miami to go from a star-laden team in turmoil that routinely gave up 100 points a game to one that allowed such a feat just three times in 22 games?

To put it simply, the Heat changed.

Sure, they had time to become accustomed to one another’s talent–which helped a great deal—but their attitude changed as well. They ditched the sense of entitlement that prompted LeBron to make his infamous “not one, not two, not three…” proclamation and replaced it with a monstrous chip on their shoulder like they had something to prove.

Because they did have something to prove.

And so do the Lakers. In fact, judging by Kobe Bryant’s pre-opening-night-game sentiments (via Greg Beacham of NBA.com), the Lakers have more to prove than any of us ever imagined:

“As you know, we have a lot of expectations this season,” Bryant said. “We’re trying to live up to the expectations. We’re trying to bring another championship back to where it belongs, back to Los Angeles.”

That’s the Lakers problem right there.

More so than Howard’s sorry free-throw shooting and more so than their attempt to eradicate Steve Nash’s creativity within the confines of a structured offense, their greatest potential downfall is assuming the expectations of a championship favorite.

Can title attainment be the team’s ultimate goal?

Of course, but to assume before opening tip, before this group proved much of anything that they were indisputable title contenders was premature.

And as we saw with the Heat, and have already seen with the Lakers this year, such a mindset was also detrimental.

What failed the Heat two years ago, more than their lack of chemistry, was their attitude, their refusal to acknowledge they had a target on their back before anything else.

With the Lakers, it’s the same story different binding.

Until they realize that they proved nothing, they’ll achieve nothing.

I’d like to tell you it will take Los Angeles just 17 games to start winning. I’d like to tell you it may even take less time.

But I’d be lying.

Because the Lakers aren’t going to be a superteam until they stop playing like one, until they assume that “us against the world” attitude that won the Heat 58 games in their first season together, that won them an NBA championship only last year.

That same attitude Los Angeles currently lacks.

That same one standing between them and building the reputation they already expect to uphold.

And, yeah, that same attitude the Lakers must embrace and subsequently personify if they wish to become a superteam.

 

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Why LeBron James Should Start Thinking About His Next “Superteam”

The age of the “superteam” in the NBA turned the corner in 2007 when the Boston Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to pair with Paul Pierce. That team won a title in 2008, and it set the benchmark for teams to actively try to pair superstars in large-market cities.

Kobe Bryant got Pau Gasol with Andrew Bynum en route to two titles. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh took the plunge in 2010 to the Miami Heat, followed by Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire to the New York Knicks and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in “Lob City.”

The model is certainly working to an extent, as all the teams mentioned found themselves in the playoffs in 2012. Miami finds themselves 48 minutes away from their second NBA title, and first in the superteam mold.

Teams like Dallas and Indiana are on the verge of trying to keep up with the Jones’, so to speak, aiming to make a big splash in free agency this summer.

But as great as the Heat have been in besting the rest of these super squads during their two-year run, it makes sense to start looking at LeBron’s escape from Miami, before he can win those eight titles he promised the city in his welcome party in July 2010.

Here’s a look at a few aspects of why LeBron should start plotting an escape route, and doing it sooner rather than later.

 

Dwyane Wade Injury History

Wade will be 31 next season. That certainly isn’t over the hill by NBA standards, but it isn’t going to make it any easier for him to play a full season next year when the league goes back to 82 games.

While he’s a warrior in both attacking the basket and in playing aggressive defense, Wade has always been praised for having no regard for his body when he’s on the court. That showed in Game 4 of the Finals, when he fell flat on his back going up for a shot in the paint against Serge Ibaka.

There’s no guarantee LeBron stays healthy either, of course. NBA minutes are precious, but Wade has some nagging issues that are more likely to be highlighted again than they are go away.

If the injury bug hits the No. 2 guy in Miami, then this next issue might be the more pressing one of the two.

 

Is Chris Bosh a No. 2 Option Anymore?

His numbers are down across the board, but that’s not fair considering his role in Toronto vs. in Miami. He’s the clear-cut No. 3 guy, and while that surely hurts his confidence sometimes, it’s a role that often makes him the most important player for the Heat in winning games.

Being the X-factor is fine when you’re not “the guy.” Should Wade bow out year after year, he won’t have the luxury of not seeing double teams or not having to score 20 points for the team to win.

That’s a big “what if?” question that isn’t fair to answer right now, but without the threat of Wade to go off at any time, what more are the Heat than the old James-led Cleveland Cavaliers?

In year four, when all three players have the option to opt-out of their six-year deals with the Heat, will Wade even be at an elite level anymore? Will Bosh? That brings us to the most interesting issue of the decision.

 

Cap Problems Down the Road

After “The Decision,” everyone was enamored with the idea that these men left money on the table, or took a pay cut, to play together.

That may be true over the entirety of a contract, but when each is scheduled to make $56 million of the current $58 million salary cap in 2013-2014, what will happen when the Heat have to find new players to replace their current ones?

Better yet, what happens in 2015-2016, the sixth and final year of their contract? Each is slated to earn more than $21 million, costing the Heat $12 million in luxury tax before they sign any of the other 12 players to fill out the roster.

Note: Here’s a great look at some of the provisions of the new salary cap post-lockout, which enforces some still penalties on the luxury tax front.

 

Conclusion

The current elation that will be had should Miami hold on and win the NBA Finals this season is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. No one will ever question James’ decision to leave his home state and pursue basketball excellence again.

But it would be wise for LeBron to start taking a look at his options sooner rather than later. Whether it’s breaking up the Big Three by trade, injury or contract departure, James could be playing ball in a new city sooner than you think.

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NCAA Tournament 2012: Kentucky/North Carolina Superteam Could Beat an NBA Team

The buildup to the Final Four this week has mainly been about the Bluegrass State matchup between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals. It’s the first matchup ever between these in-state rivals in the Final Four.

Little attention, if any for that matter, has been given to the other semifinal game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Kansas Jayhawks.

There seems to be more discussion and debate right now about whether or not Kentucky could beat the Charlotte Bobcats or Washington Wizards, rather than which team John Calipari’s squad is more likely to face on Monday night if they are able to get past Louisville. 

The 2012 Wildcats are undoubtedly one of the most talented teams in recent memory (at least from the perspective of an NBA scout) and are heavy favorites to cut down the nets in New Orleans.

Every member of their starting five is an underclassmen and is projected to be a first-round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Anthony Davis, the Naismith College Player of the Year, is expected to be taken first overall and his frontcourt teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could be drafted right after him.

As talented as they are, however, it’s hard to imagine Kentucky being competitive with an NBA team for an entire game. Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy made a good point that even though Kentucky has some NBA talent, even a bad NBA team has 13 NBA players on its roster.

The Wildcats have nowhere near the depth to keep up with an NBA team, even if it is the Bobcats. There were many games this year when Kentucky only played seven players, with Darius Miller and Kyle Wiltjer the sole reserves coming off the bench.

 

While their lineup consists of potential first-round picks, including arguably this year’s top two prospects, it would still be the 31st best starting five in the NBA. Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist, as great as they are, would not be enough to carry the Wildcats to victory over an NBA team.

Similar arguments were made this past college football season that the defenses of LSU and Alabama were NFL-caliber. While both had many future NFL players and first-round draft picks, those units would have been the 33rd and 34th best defenses in the league by a wide margin, even with the weak defensive play in the NFL this past season.

Calipari’s recruiting method has allowed him to bring in a new batch of one-and-done NBA-ready players every season. There’s no way he could have maintained that same level of talent each season without those players leaving early, but if he could that, Kentucky might have enough talent to field a competitive NBA team.

C: DeMarcus Cousins / Daniel Orton

PF: Anthony Davis / Kyle Wiltjer

SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist / Terrence Jones / Darius Miller

SG: Brandon Knight / Doron Lamb / DeAndre Liggins

PG: John Wall / Eric Bledsoe / Marquis Teague

If any college basketball team was ever going to seriously challenge a cellar-dweller from the NBA, that squad would need a pro prospect everywhere on their depth chart (like the one above). 

 

The 2012 Wildcats wouldn’t be able to take down the Bobcats or Toronto Raptors, but a combination of their best players and those from this year’s North Carolina team (if healthy) might be able to. The Tar Heels had as much depth as Syracuse going in to this season before all those injuries started occurring.

C: Tyler Zeller / John Henson

PF: Anthony Davis / James Michael McAdoo / Kyle Wiltjer

SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist / Harrison Barnes / Terrence Jones

SG: Doron Lamb / P.J. Hairston / Darius Miller

PG: Kendall Marshall / Marquis Teague

This conglomerate above has at least 10 players that could go in the first round of this year’s NBA Draft, and everyone on the roster will likely be drafted and/or make an NBA roster at some point. It would be hard to imagine this team not being able to be competitive with some NBA teams, although there would be some people that even make the argument that this team would make the NBA Playoffs.

Even adding Thomas Robinson and Bradley Beal to the mix, however, might not make that happen.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Clippers Could Have Formed Superteam If Not for Baron Trade

I could start by saying that hindsight is 20/20, but you know that already. Plus, the cliche police would probably have me arrested.

The guys in the Clippers front office have to be shaking their heads though when they look back to their 2011 trade deadline deal that sent their 2011 No. 1 pick and most importantly, Baron Davis‘ terrible contract to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon.

At the time, a lottery pick seemed like a reasonable price to pay to shed Davis’ bloated deal and save $11 million over the next two years. And they even got a competent point guard in return.

Fast forward nine months. The trade looks so much different now.

For starters, the Clippers’ first round selection turned out to be the No.1 overall pick in the draft.

Then, the new NBA collective bargaining agreement was negotiated to include an amnesty provision, allowing a team to waive one player and not have their contract count towards their salary cap or luxury tax number.

That one-two punch must have GM Neil Olshey reeling when he considers the potential roster moves he could have made had he waited just a few more months before pulling the trigger on banishing Davis.

Baron’s contract could have simply been amnestied off the books, and while they would still have to pay his remaining salary, the Clips would have cleared major cap space without the cost of giving up the top pick in the 2011 draft.

 

L.A. could have used that pick to draft and stash another prized young prospect. That means they could have grabbed either Kyrie Irving or Derrick Williams at No. 1 to use as trade bait in the future.

That would have given them the assets required to land not just one, but two superduperstars this offseason.

The Clippers would have had the possibility of pulling off trades to acquire both Dwight Howard AND Chris Paul to add to Blake Griffin and form the NBA’s next superteam. All the components required to land D12 and CP3 would have been in their possession.

Looking for quality young assets? Pick from Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan, Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe and Irving/Williams.

Need draft picks? The Clippers could not only give up their own, but also the rights to Minnesota‘s unprotected 2012 first rounder. That’s likely a top five pick in a loaded draft. Whichever team receives that pick has to feel good about their chances to attain their next franchise player with it. 

Want cap relief? The Clips have you covered there too. Not only do they have expiring contracts to deal in Chris Kaman and Randy Foye, they have enough cap room themselves to take back any bad contracts the Hornets or Magic want to unload.

For instance, the Clippers could take on Hedo Turkoglu’s contract, which would allow the Magic to use their amnesty on Gilbert Arenas and clear a boatload of cap space. The bottom line is that the Clippers could facilitate the Hornets and/or Magic in becoming major free-agent players next summer.

 

With that stockpile of assets on the table, the Clippers would have the pieces needed to revamp their forlorn franchise. I’m not saying they would have definitely pulled off the heist for both Howard and Paul, but just the possibility would give us all something exciting to speculate about.

HoopsHype would blow up with all the rumors surrounding a potential mega-deal. Bill Simmons, the self-proclaimed “Picasso of the Trade Machine,” would have posted a 10,000 word column breaking down 17 different trade scenarios. It could have involved four or five teams, snowballed into other superstars being moved and morphed into the biggest, most earth-shattering transaction in NBA history (Okay, I might be exaggerating a tiny bit, but hey, it’s my fake dream scenario. You can get your own.).

Alas, the Baron Davis trade put a premature end to the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. Davis made the Clippers rue the contact they gave him every day for the almost three years he spent with the team. Now, even though Davis is gone, he’s still coming back to haunt them.

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