Why the struggles of the Nets and Lakers make me feel good

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LeBron Struggles

The Lakers are currently sitting on the 10th spot in the west and are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs altogether. This is the Lakers with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Russel Westbrook currently on the roster – all superstars in their own right. At the same time the Brooklyn Nets are in 8th spot in the east – slightly better but still in a play-in situation and far from the expected No 1 or 2 seed. The Nets under coach Steve Nash, features another set of superstars – Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons, recently swapped in for James Harden. This impressive list of players, although some of them arguably past their prime, should really do better, yet they don’t. And that is a good thing!

I don’t hold a grudge towards any of these teams. But I don’t sympathize with this aspect of Basketball where whoever has the most money, or the most attractive place to be, wins. This is sports, I like the idea of breaking sweat for your team, building chemistry and loyalty and gradually reach success. I have the deepest respect for organizations like the San Antonio Spurs, Milwaukee Bucks or the 2004 Detroit Pistons to name a few.

There is such a stark contrast between what Greg Popovich has done with the Spurs and the Lebron led squads of late. Some might argue that Duncan, Parker and Ginóbili are superstars, and they are super good. But I have never seen them in any Goat discussions alongside Jordan, Bryant and LeBron. But they slowly built a team and a culture that went to the playoffs for 22(!) consecutive years, finish in the top spot 7 of these, went to the finals 6 times and won 5 titles. They had a “big three” but it was developed, not assembled.

Spurs Big 3
Boston Big 3

The Boston Celtics 2007-12 also had a big three with Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, slowly assembled and molded together. Similarly all of these are great player (you could add Rajon Rondo to the list) but not in any Goat discussions outside of Boston. Yet they went to the playoffs all these years and the Finals twice with one championship. They built a team around team ball and formed a bond that carried them to success. Which was also why the betrayal by Allen was perceived so great when he opted to join Miami and LeBron to chase a ring. It took Garnett almost 10 years to forgive…

The 2003/04 Detroit Pistons is the only team who won a championship with zero players on the recently published NBA 75th Anniversary team.
This team was all about chemistry, loyalty and playing together.
Team ball at its best.

The 2003/04 Detroit Pistons is an even clearer example of a super team without superstars – it was all chemistry and playing together. Team ball at its best. In fact it is the only team who won a championship with zero players on the recently published NBA 75th Anniversary team. They went to the Conference finals 8(!) years in a row, the finals twice and won once – over a Lakers team featuring Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone to name a few. This is sooo far away from buying in the three best players you can find for whatever money and hope they gel.

Pistons 2004

The current version of the Milwaukee Bucks is another nice example of team building effort. Arguable they have one superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he was drafted (not purchased) by the Bucks and the supporting cast around him are all ample players, but far from super stardom – Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, Bobby Portis.

Now take a minute to compare that to LeBron James, born and raised in Akron, Ohio, drafted by the home team Cleveland Cavaliers, where he played his first years with some, albeit limited, success. And then left during an ill-advised TV-show in front of the kids of Ohio and took his talents to Miami. To play with his friends in a team assembled with the single reason to win and they put together a super trio with him, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. And they did win. LeBron has every right to go play where he wants – that is not my point. But just flying in the best players there is and put them on the same team does not impress me and I think it to some extent destroys the game as this is only possible for a select few teams and cities.

I admire him for going back to Cleveland and winning them a title. I do not support him going to L.A. after putting together a list of players that could be on a dream team of their own. Which is also why I enjoy that fact that it doesn’t work!

The Nets are similar in roster. Having three of the greatest scorers ever on the same team in James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving gives you the ability to score 200+ points a game … but they don’t. They struggle badly, especially on the defensive end, which must have hurt head coach Nash, being one of the betted defender of his era. Didn’t they try the Durant/Harden combo in OKC already? How did that go? And I am not sure bringing Ben Simmons into the mix will help, hardly known for his sturdy defense.

I hope none of these two teams reach far in the playoffs (although I think they might on sheer will and experience). I would much rather see teams playing well together in the game I love. If I am looking for fancy basketball, many points and non-existing defense, I will watch the All Star game. Which is very close to a Finals between this year’s Lakers vs Nets.

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