The 2010s were the decade of the superteam in the NBA.
On This Day in 2007: Kevin Garnett is traded by Minnesota to the Celtics for Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff, and two first-round draft picks.
The trade would unite Garnett with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, forming a Boston "Big Three." pic.twitter.com/T4TWwWSXTB
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 31, 2022
Once KD signed with the Brooklyn Nets, it seemed like superteams may have been done with.
The start of the 2020s seemed to begin the trend of pairing dynamic duos together.
But the Nets tried to make one more superteam push.
Their “Big 3” of Durant, Irving, and Harden formed arguably the greatest collection of offensive talent in league history.
However, the results did not meet the hype.
Injuries and other reasons derailed what should have been a fruitful partnership.
The “Big 3” played a grand total of 16 games together and only had one playoff appearance.
Has Brooklyn proved that superteams are truly a thing of the past?
Or were they a unique situation?
Nets Sacrificed Culture And Depth
One downside to having three superstars on the team is the inability to flush out the rest of the roster.
Stars win in the NBA, but depth does play a role come playoff time.
With stars typically taking up roughly 30% of the salary cap each, teams who employ a “Big 3” will only have about 10-15% of the salary cap to fill 12 other roster spots.
Teams do not have their pick of the litter amongst the quality role players.
And that is what happened to the Nets.
Between the sign-and-trade for Durant and the trade for Harden, Brooklyn shipped out D’Angelo Russell, Shabazz Napier, Treveon Graham, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, Caris LeVert, Rodions Kurucs, and numerous picks.
While Napier, Graham, and Kurucs were not major rotation players, Russell, Allen, Prince, and LeVert were all guys that played close to or more than 30 minutes per game.
With those pieces gone, Brooklyn had to focus on bringing in guys on the veteran minimum.
With little cap space and draft capital, the front office was limited in who it could sign.
The other downside is teams lose control once multiple stars are brought in.
With player empowerment at an all-time high, teams must do whatever stars request to keep them happy.
While Brooklyn seemingly gave in once they signed DeAndre Jordan, a friend of Irving and Durant’s, they reversed course this offseason.
Putting their foot down regarding an Irving extension is the right move, but it alienated Durant.
And now the all-time great is requesting a trade.
Forming superteams in the era of player empowerment is a dangerous game.
Small Superteam’s Sample Size Was Successful
While Brooklyn’s experiment with a superteam didn’t work out, it may have more to do with their unique situation.
As was mentioned earlier, KD, Irving, and Harden only played in 16 games together.
Even when they were missing Irving due to injury and Harden playing well below 100% due to injury in the 2020-21 postseason, they pushed the Milwaukee Bucks to seven games.
Across 10 regular season contests with the “Big 3” healthy, Brooklyn held an offensive rating of 119 – an NBA record.
Across 6 postseason contests, their offensive rating together ballooned to 137.
As Chris Herring of SI.com noted, the team had a true shooting percentage of 70.7% in 130 postseason minutes all three players shared the court.
The trio of Durant, Irving, Harden have only played 186 minutes together. In that span:
— Christopher Lavinio (@ChrisLavinio) May 12, 2021
While the defense was not nearly as historically great, it did not have to be.
Brooklyn was almost inevitable on the offensive end.
Maybe in Brooklyn, it was just a matter of unfortunate circumstances.
Had those three been willing to stick it out, they may have been the 2021-22 NBA champions.
Sacrificing team culture and losing roster depth are definite problems with superteams.
And while it didn’t work in Brooklyn, they may once again have their time in the spotlight in the future.