As LeBron James heads towards an inevitable fourth championship he continues to shine bright in the brightest lights. James’ contribution to the NBA was mobility, empowering players to put themselves in the best position to win and maximize their earnings. The inverse of this was the creation of super teams.
While initially, and in bitterness I’d add, LeBron was credited with creating the super team movement when he took his talents to South Beach, it was actually the Boston Celtics putting together the ‘Boston Three Party’ to get past King James. While the Celtics captured a title and LeBron got his three titles in the copany of three stars, what we’re seeing is it isn’t that easy.
With the movement of stars in the modern NBA to compete we’re seeing it isn’t just getting the best players to win. It’s about leadership and culture. For all the passive aggressive antics of LeBron he gets criticized for, there’s no question he leads his team and will carry them to success. While the culture and system may revolve around him, and leave teams in a bad spot when he leaves, while he’s on your team that culture and system is winning.
The two big superstars that have formed their own super teams to top LeBron, Kawhii Leonard and Kevin Durant, captured titles as mercenaries but only because they folded in to a culture that worked. The winning culture in Toronto and Golden State were established and had leadership in place. Both Durantula and The Claw could just play and pushed their teams over the top because Steph Curry and Kyle Lowry checked their egos and made them part of the team.
However, both wanted to be the man and left for ‘greener pastures.’ We already saw one super team finish as a huge disappointment in the Los Angeles Clippers. There was a grit and grind culture for the other LA team, but Kawhi destroyed that and didn’t replace it with any leadership. Instead the team blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets and got their coach fired as they passed the buck.
Paul George said after the massive choke job ‘It wasn’t a championship or bust season for us.’ Really? The Clippers were the overwhelming favorite to win the championship and yet didn’t look engaged in the bubble. Doc Rivers took the blame despite having two top 15 players at worst and one of the deepest rosters in the league. This ‘super team’ is back to the drawing board with an extremely mortgaged future and facing a gut check I’m not sure they’ll answer.
KD formed his own super team with the epitome of culture destruction, Kyrie Irving. Irving forced his way out of Cleveland to ‘have his own team’ only to destroy Boston. After a season where the kids took LeBron to a game seven in the Eastern Conference Finals, they couldn’t repeat and Boston was more than happy to see him go.
Kyrie went to a young team with an established culture, the Brooklyn Nets, and promptly wrecked what made that team appealing. The coach was fired, the young players were alienated but they landed KD. Already one of the favorites for next year’s title, everyone is aware the two most thin-skinned NBA superstars are running that franchise right?
Kyrie and KD made sure no one forgot as they said on Durant’s first podcast episode ‘I don’t really see us having a head coach…It’s a collaborative effort.’ Steve Nash is only a few weeks in to the job and has already been belittled by his two star players. Let’s also not ignore the blatant shot Kyrie took at LeBron about finally have a clutch teammate he can trust to take the last shot.
This should be a huge red flag after just seeing the Clippers flame out. Kyrie has wrecked multiple teams on his way to Brooklyn, and now has them teetering. KD couldn’t get it done in OKC even up on the 73 win Warriors 3-1. There should be plenty of blame that goes Russell Westbrook’s way also, but even when he was winning in Golden State he wasn’t happy.
If you aren’t a leader as a super star you better fit in to the culture, but the stars run the NBA and the super teams are running their cultures in to the ground without leadership. The superstars are joining forces to dethrone LeBron James, and the talent is there, but without the leadership there’s no success. The biggest threat to James’ Lakers next year will be the Golden State Warriors, not the Clippers or Nets.