When LeBron James announced that he would be taking his talents to South Beach back in 2010, he inadvertently ushered in a new era of NBA basketball. Most fans refer to this as the superteam era, and most NBA viewers will agree that it hasn’t exactly been very fun or entertaining to watch. For the last decade or so, the playoffs have become fairly predictable, and it is because the NBA has been a largely top-heavy league where only three or four teams reign supreme due to their abundance of talent.
The early 2010s were dominated by the Miami Heat who featured players like LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Later in the decade, we got the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers who had players such as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Of course, the most egregious superteam was the Golden State Warriors who at one time had Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Andre Iguodala. Even without KD, that Warriors team is simply unbeatable, as we saw this last year when the Warriors steamrolled the competition en route to their fourth NBA title in just eight years.
When KD left the Warriors in 2019, he understood that a superteam would be necessary in order to win in today’s NBA. That’s why he decided to link up with Kyrie Irving at a time when LeBron James was going to be paired up with Anthony Davis on the Lakers. As we all know, the Lakers won the arms race as AD and James won a title in their first season together. Meanwhile, KD continued to rehab his ruptured Achilles, all while Kyrie attempted to build chemistry with the rest of the Nets roster.
Once the 2020-2021 season came around, the Nets were hit with massive expectations that can only be placed upon a superteam. Simply put, it was championship or bust. For the most part, it seemed like the Nets were going to make good on their promise of bringing a title to Brooklyn. They were able to acquire James Harden early in the season and when all three of their superstars were on the court, they were unstoppable. Unfortunately, keeping all three of these players healthy turned out to be a disaster. Harden was in and out of the lineup with quad issues all while Kyrie and KD took turns with issues of their own. By the playoffs that year, all three seemed to be in a good position to take this team on a deep run, but in the second round against the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks, Kyrie suffered an ankle injury that sunk the Nets’ season.
This wasn’t enough for fans to be concerned. After all, the Nets were the best team in the league when healthy, and they had every reason to believe a championship run was coming. Of course, any hope of this happening was ultimately derailed by New York’s vaccine mandate, which was infamously protested by Kyrie Irving.
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The Nets superstar Point Guard became adamant about not getting the jab and it forced him to sit out half of the season. Originally, the Nets said that Kyrie would not play a single game as they did not want him being a part-time player who only shows up on the road. Eventually, the team caved once they realized that everyone on their roster was getting COVID-19. The entire debacle was a shining example of what not to do when you have superstars on your roster. Because KD and Kyrie are so good, the immediate reaction is to give those players control of your franchise so that they don’t feel alienated. The Nets are a franchise desperately looking to maintain relevance, and angering Kyrie would mean a potential trade request, and who wants that? With the Nets going back on their previous word, they showed a ton of weakness, and it allowed Kyrie to think he had a lot more power within the organization than general manager Sean Marks probably would have liked.
Going back to KD and Kyrie’s first year together, the two had demanded that the team sign Deandre Jordan. This was at a time when Cleveland Cavaliers star Jarrett Allen was still on the roster. Then head coach Kenny Atkinson preferred Allen over Jordan, which led to quite a bit of strife within the Nets locker room. Eventually, Atkinson got fired, effectively because he wasn’t given preferential treatment to KD and Kyrie’s guy. Over the last two years, Jordan has become a shell of himself while Allen has proven to be a star in this league. Needless to say, giving power to their superstars has backfired at every turn for the Nets.
Not to mention, the team’s handling of Kyrie’s vaccination status ultimately alienated James Harden, who demanded a trade. He got sent to Philadelphia, who gave back Ben Simmons, a guy who had very little interest in coming back to the court last season. It has turned out to be a bad trade for the Nets, who might be forced to move Simmons this offseason.
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Eventually, all of these bad moves culminated in a disastrous playoff campaign where the Celtics swept the Nets in just four games. Kyrie was a no-show in the majority of these games while KD played some of the worst postseason basketball of his career. It was a demonstration of just how little chemistry this team had, and it was all because of Kyrie’s absence and the team’s poor personnel decisions that were ultimately a result of KD and Kyrie’s recommendations. Let’s not forget, Steve Nash is only head coach because the Nets’ superstars wanted someone who would defer to them.
Fast-forward to today, and Kevin Durant is demanding to be traded, all while Kyrie is likely to be traded as well. The Kyrie and KD era was supposed to bring about multiple championships but all it really did was cause a ton of headaches for those in the Nets’ front office. It is a cautionary tale that not all that glitters is gold. Yes, having superstar players is great, but sometimes, it’s better to keep them out of personnel decisions. Just look at the Lakers right now. LeBron told the Lakers to get Russell Westbrook, and they were a disaster last year.
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The end of this three-year Nets era should come with some very valuable lessons for the rest of the league. The first lesson is always to know who you’re getting when you sign a player. Kyrie had given the league plenty of red flags dating back to his time in Cleveland and the Nets could have saved themselves a lot of problems by avoiding him entirely. Lesson two: never give your players full control of head coaching hires and free agency signings. This is a sure-fire way of making sure you never win anything. As for the final lesson, perhaps it is time to realize that the superteam era is now over. With teams like the Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, and Miami Heat ascending throughout the league, it is clear that you can build a team with just one superstar and still have a chance to win a title.
Superteams tend to fizzle out these days, and the Nets are the most glaring example of this. Perhaps now, teams will change the way they construct their rosters, especially when you consider how most superteams only last three years, four years tops.