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NBA Super Teams: Ranking the best modern squads ever

Lebron James kevin durant, cavs warriors

How do the Cavaliers and Warriors stack up versus the All-Time NBA Super Powers?

This NBA offseason has been all about the super teams. The Timberwolves acquired Jimmy Butler with the hopes that they have the next super team marinating in Minnesota. Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics via free agency because his All-Star scoring puts Boston in the Super League. James Harden recruited Chris Paul to Houston for their potential super team. Oklahoma City added Paul George to super MVP Russell Westbrook for a pairing of powers.

Now, Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony are the next powers rumored on the trade block. All sorts of rumors have these heroes moving to various potential super teams in the NBA. This is all an effort to compete with the Warriors and Cavaliers who have dominated the last three NBA Finals. However, super teams are far from a new phenomenon in the NBA.

Historically, what are some of the best teams to stack two, three, four or five super stars? First, you must define the NBA super team label.

What is an NBA Super Team?

NBA Super Team as defined by NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner:

  • Two or three stars who could be franchise players on their own team.
  • These stars were acquired in their primes or after recognized success via free agency or trade.
  • The team is a reasonable contender and not a bunch of past prime veterans.
  • Bonus points are earned if media outlets have stories about alleged super team sharing the ball or managing egos.

Additionally, this list will be limited to teams build after 1988. That is the year that unrestricted free agency was formed, which provided precedent for players choosing their playing destinations.

However, neither the current Warriors or Cavaliers are super teams if you ask LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Both players denied that their teams were constructed as super teams in separate interviews before the NBA Finals. Durant said the Warriors just played really well together. James said he has never played for a super team in his career.

Still, everyone knows better. Both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 Warriors and Cavaliers meet Aschburner’s standards. How do Lebron’s and K.D.’s super teams stack up against other historically super squads?

No. 5: 2003-04 Pistons

The 2003-04 Pistons team is not what you usually think of when you say super team. Detriot was an elite defensive team that complimented each other well. However, their trade for Rasheed Wallace at the 2004 deadline makes them a super squad.

Detroit reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2003 with Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace leading the way. Then, the move for Sheed came less than a year later. Let’s also not forget that this Pistons team also defied the odds by defeating the 2004 Lakers team which was a pure a super team.

No. 4: 2007-08 Celtics

This Boston Celtics team won an NBA title and 66 games in its first season after trading for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Allen and Garnett joined forces with Paul Pierce for five years. Rajon Rondo also developed with this group and a bunch of veterans like James Posey earned their keep versus the Lakers in the NBA Finals. You could argue that Lakers team was a super power too as they traded for Pau Gasol and paired him with Kobe.

Ultimately, these Boston teams sparked the LeBron James led super teams that would be their undoing. Not only did the Heat beat the Celtics in 2011 and 2012, but Miami broke up this squad by signing Ray Allen in 2012 too.

No. 3: 2015-16 Cavaliers

James made good on his promise by giving Cleveland their first ever title in any sports. This Cavaliers team beat a 73-win Golden State team that accumulated a 3-1 NBA Finals lead over them. The same core of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and James got close the year before and the year after.

Either way, Cleveland might be higher if it were not for their Western Conference rivals and James’ other super team. Still, the Cavs checked all the boxes by acquiring Love via trade and James in free agency. Add egos and ball-sharing issues and this Cavs team fit the template for a super team.  Unfortunately, Irving seems headed out of town so it is unlikely that this group propels themselves any higher in history.

No. 2: 2011-12 Heat

James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in the summer of 2010. These three players orchestrated the formation of this super team as they were all free agents. The Heat instantly became the most hated team in the NBA and a historic dynasty, simultaneously. They would go on to an NBA Finals each year that they played together.

From Day One, it was certainly a 24/7 soap opera as they had a parade welcoming Bosh and James. The group was infamously quoted as saying they would win not one, two or three but seven rings. They wound up with two rings but who knows what could have been if James did not leave the Heat to go home.

Miami ended up winning two of their four NBA Finals appearances. This 2012 ring means the most though as this was LeBron’s first championship which solidified the decision to take his talents to South Beach. The 2012 ring came a season after Dallas ended what seemed to be a guaranteed Championship in 2011. Not to mention, a lockout that offseason jeopardized any future Super Teams.

No. 1: 2016-17 Warriors

The Warriors’ dominance over the Western Conference in the playoffs was enough to give them consideration for the top super team award. They also beat another super power, this year’s Cleveland team, in the NBA Finals.

Plus, they were already off a 73-win season and already featured 2016’s unanimous MVP Steph Cury. Then you add All-Stars Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala who won a title for Golden State in 2015 over Cleveland too. Those 2015-16 Warriors teams were already super before they added former league MVP Kevin Durant in free agency of 2016.

Really, this Golden State team really wasn’t fair. But who said life was fair? Obviously, these other All-Time super teams didn’t make their moves because they were trying to be fair.

Clearly, the Warriors got the entire NBA shook as other franchises try to add more stars. Still, it is probably not enough to compete with the Warriors as Golden State is the most historically powerful super team ever.

Honorable mentions

The 1996-97 Rockets compiled Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen. For three seasons, this quad of super powers stayed together. However, they never got closer than the 1997 Western Conference finals. Besides the lack of a title, this group combined the All-Stars when Olajuwon, Drexler and Barkley were all past age 33.
Speaking of stars past their prime, the 2003-04 Lakers picked up Gary Payton and Karl Malone for one last title run. This group never won a title as Malone got hurt in the playoffs for their lone season. It also led to the breakup of Kobe Bryant and Shaq O’Neal which is way too tragic.
The 2012-13 Lakers were also supposed to go on a title run but only lasted only a super season. L.A. tried to get enough help to push Kobe over the top for his sixth ring. Dwight Howard was the first super addition in and the first one gone too. They traded for Howard before the season and he bounced via free agency the next offseason. Steve Nash
was acquired the same year as Howard and he stuck around for a few more injury-filled seasons. This group failed to get past the first round of the playoffs.
Nonetheless, these honorable mentions prove that a super team does not guarantee you an NBA Championship. However, it is clear that a super roster does get you closer to NBA history than not. Therefore, it makes sense why NBA teams are trying to compile super stars this offseason.
Who will compose the next historical NBA super team? Guess, we will find out if a super power can acquire Anthony or Irving this season. Otherwise, look for the Celtics or Timberwolves to propel themselves into that elite category with the Cavaliers and Warriors.