Along with the Grizzlies and Spurs, they just might be hastening the end to the brief, nauseating era of the Super Team.
What started, at least for this generation, with Boston’s combination of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen with Paul Pierce suddenly doesn’t seem like such an ideal template anymore.
After being knocked out in the first round by the Knicks, the Celtics’ time has passed. The Lakers barely made the playoffs and were promptly whacked in the first round. The Nets and Clippers, who both desperately tried to follow the Super Team template by throwing big money at big-name free agents, likewise were knocked out early.
And then, of course, there are the Knicks, the best team money could buy (if you couldn’t get LeBron James), who stand on the brink of elimination at the hands of the humble, yet lovable, Pacers. Indiana takes a 3-1 series lead into Madison Square Garden for Game 5 Thursday night.
Of course, the superest team of all, the Miami LeBrons, still loom as monolithic as ever, but — like the Pacers — we’ll get to them in a moment.
While the assembly of superstars is alluring for networks, marketing departments and shoe companies, it is not without drawbacks. When a team depends almost entirely on one or two individuals, no matter how great, it is one injury – or as the Knicks have learned, one shooting slump – away from oblivion.
Boston just got old. The Lakers lost Kobe Bryant. The Nets and Clippers failed to create winning chemistry, and the Knicks are dying by the jump shot.
Teams like the Pacers, Grizzlies and Spurs, on the other hand, are built on a more stable foundation – defense, rebounding and balanced offense. They are system teams with versatile players.
That’s why Indiana can survive and advance despite the season-long absence of its five-time leading scorer, Danny Granger. That’s why Memphis can trade away Rudy Gay at midseason and continue rolling right along. That’s why San Antonio can survive the absence of its top four scorers for a combined total of 75 games and extend its dominance.
That’s why, of the top 10 NBA teams in terms of payroll, just one – Miami – is in position to reach the conference finals.
And even the mighty Heat are one bad knee away from vulnerability. They didn’t need a healthy Dwyane Wade to beat the Bulls.
They most assuredly will need him in the next round.
As long as there are marquee free agents and teams more interested in a quick fix than the long haul, there will be owners and general managers who prefer the Super Team approach.
It’s much easier, compared to building by the system template, which requires teams to draft wisely, spend judiciously, assemble players that not only mesh physically but personally and hire a coach that not only supports but consistently reinforces the team-first message.
It takes a little more time and demands a little more patience from the fan base but, as we are seeing in this postseason, it can be every bit as rewarding – not to mention more sustainable.