Will the final stages of the championship spell the end of the all-star “super teams”?

If success was reproducible at will, in the NBA, the formula would probably be called “super team.” Take a team, ideally based in an attractive city, that already has a star; add two, even if you have to give up some players first to get them, and complete with role players, these players of duty or former glories seduced by the chance of a coronation. For nearly twenty years, the formula has been a recipe for the four corners of the North American Basketball League.

One player embodies this trend: LeBron James. With his “Heatles” (Miami Heat and Beatles contraction) Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in the early 2010s, arguably the best player of the last two decades won two titles, before replicating this winning model in 2016 with the Cleveland Cavaliers, along with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, then with the Los Angeles Lakers.

After a title in 2020 during a season under the Covid-19 bubble, followed by any season, the Californian team recruited, in the offseason, a third star, point guard Russell Westbrook, to aim for a new crown. However, as the playoffs — the final stages — begin on Saturday, April 16, the Lakers’ trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook won’t be in the game. Sixteen teams will compete for the title, but the storied Hollywood franchise is already on vacation, weighed down by a disastrous regular season.

Across the country, on the East Coast, the league’s other “power trio,” consisting of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden on the Brooklyn Nets, exploded during the season. Bearded fullback James Harden left the New York metropolis for Philadelphia, and the Nets, long deprived of their point guard Irving at all home games – because of his refusal to get vaccinated against Covid-19, and the rules established in New York- the playoffs were hung. only narrowly.

Will the collapse of the Lakers, associated, to a lesser extent, to that of the Nets, who remained ric-rac above the waterline, mark the end of the “super teams”?

The symbol of star power.

After decades where players looked like pieces on a chessboard, traded or sacrificed for their leaders, the superteam phenomenon corresponds to the inclinations assumed by some of the greatest players to regain control of their destiny. Thus, in 2019, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving assured that they had agreed to play together, before choosing Brooklyn as a base.

“Business prevails in the league and no one is immune”Frenchman Rudy Gobert observed this winter, questioned by the world :

“Even the biggest star can be transferred overnight, you have to be aware of that. »

Triple best defender of the year, the center of the Blues returns to play the playoffs this season with the Utah Jazz, and does not plan to leave Salt Lake City -where he signed a huge contract in December 2020- to join a more competitive team. But the Tokyo Olympic silver medalist with the Blues throws no stones at the stars who have chosen to combine his talents.

Even if it means offending former NBA glories. “The boys of today have become lazy”, Shaquille O’Neal, former dominant center of the League, turned consultant, assured in early January:

“If only I had known, in my time, that it was acceptable to associate myself with a team that had just kicked my ass […] I would have teamed up with Michael Jordan and we would have won. But no, after every loss, I was licking my wounds wanting to beat all these guys. And we did. »

The former Los Angeles Lakers center does not say that he left his first team (Orlando Magic) to join Los Angeles and join a rising star, Kobe Bryant. But many observers share his analysis.

Last year, fresh off winning the NBA title with the Milwaukee Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo scolded the tendency of some of his cronies to team up rather than advance their team. “It’s easy to join a team and win the title with someone else; I could join a great team, just do my part and win a trophy.”, exposed the Greek. There were no shortage of temptations for the double MVP (for The player most value“best player of the season”), courted by all sides at the start of last season.

“Great teams, built the right way”

But Antetokounmpo chose to stay true to the Wisconsin franchise, which signed him at age 18, when he was an obscure second-division Greek player, slipping under the radar of NBA scouts.

Winning a title without having racked up the big names: The Bucks don’t have a chance, being a “small market” in the NBA, unattractive, but having agglomerated a “real” team is a source of pride. “What we did, we did by taking the hard road, but we did it”greeted the “Greek Freak” (the “Greek monster”, his nickname).

NBA boss Adam Silver recognized in the summer of 2021 “do not be crazy” of these superstar alliances. For the rest of the League, the commissioner has every interest in the teams being as competitive as possible. The 2022 regular season, in which several patiently armed teams emerged, such as the Phoenix Suns (finalists last year and this season’s best team), or the Memphis Grizzlies, must have pleased him.

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“The expression ‘Super Team’ can have a positive or negative connotation, Adam Silver said in February. The negative is when you have players who come together for the sole purpose of winning a championship, especially late in their career. On the other hand, you have great teams, built in the right way, where it is recognized as a team sport. »

The final phases will validate or not your analysis. This year again, the Brooklyn Nets, who had not been far from a final in 2021, are approaching the playoffs with the tag of favorites, even if they qualified in extremis (for crossing the dams). But it’s a safe bet that their opponents, starting with the Boston Celtics in the first round, will try to come up with a positive answer to this year’s referendum: Is the era of superteams over?

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