Even before LeBron James joined the Miami Heat in 2010, superteams had been going on for years. The only difference is that some superteams were homegrown. LeBron has been the catalyst for being the player that started players joining superteams. With that said, you can look back at the history of the NBA and find teams that had a plethora of talent but failed to win it all.
Two teams meet that criteria for this season. The Nets have a superteam of Kyrie Irving (if he plays), Kevin Durant, and James Harden, while the Lakers have LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis. Despite the slow start, members around the league still believe the Lakers can win the championship once the team starts gelling together.
We have seen some really good teams on paper. The problem is that it is on paper and paper doesn’t win games. Executives have made moves thinking that it will propel their team to the top, but when in reality, a first-round playoff loss is in their future. These 10 superteams failed to live up to expectations and win that elusive championship.
Indiana Pacers 2003-2004
Stars: Reggie Miller, Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest, Al Harrington
Regular Season Record: 61-21
Playoff Record: Lost Conference Finals vs. Detroit Pistons 2-4
The Pacers were superior to the rest of the teams in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers won seven more games than the next team-up. The Pacers also won more than any team in the league. Reggie Miller was on the last leg of his illustrious career, but he had some real support in Jermaine O’Neal, defensive specialist Ron Artest, and underrated big man Al Harrington.
O’Neal led the Pacers to a Game 1 victory with 21 points and 14 rebounds, but the Pistons limited Indiana to just 67 points in a Game 2 loss. After losing Game 3, both O’Neal and Artest had double-doubles to win Game 4. The Pistons used tough defense to limit Indiana to 65 points in Game 5 and Game 6 to close out the series.
These Pacers were a tough unit, but they faced an even tougher unit in the Detroit Pistons, who had a core of Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, and Ben Wallace. Miller had spent most of his younger days losing to Michael Jordan and the Bulls; however, he was unable to win against Detroit too. That meant that Miller failed to win a title in his 18 years playing in the league.
Phoenix Suns 2007-2008
Stars: Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shaquille O’Neal
Regular Season Record: 57-27
Playoff Record: Lost First Round vs. San Antonio Spurs 1-4
The Suns owned the best overall offense in the league. Nash was the 2005 and 2006 MVP, who was still playing like the league’s best point guard. Grant Hill was having an underappreciated season, shooting 13.1 points and 50.3% from the field. When Shaq was traded from the Heat to Phoenix, he might have been older, but he was no scrub. In 28 games, Shaq averaged 12.9 points and 10.6 rebounds.
The Suns were disappointed in Game 1 when Tim Duncan scored 40 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to win a tight 117-115 game. Then, in Game 2, despite 33 points from Stoudemire, the Spurs won 102-96. The Spurs took Game 3 after 41 points from Tony Parker. The Spurs couldn’t pull off the sweep after getting blown out, but in Game 5, Parker led all scorers with 31 points to lead a 92-87 victory.
The Spurs and Suns had very back-and-forth battles during Nash’s playing days. The Suns eventually made the Conference Finals in 2010 before falling to the Lakers. When looking back, these were some pretty great Suns teams, but that just shows how great the Lakers and Spurs were during this time.
Cleveland Cavaliers 2009-2010
Stars: LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams
Regular Season Record: 61-21
Playoff Record: Lost Conference Semifinals vs. Boston Celtics 2-4
The Cavaliers cruised their way to the best record in the league. In what would be LeBron’s final season in Cleveland before leaving for Miami, he won the MVP with a stat line of 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 8.6 assists. Shaq was in the second to last year of his career and contributed 12.0 points and 6.7 rebounds. Mo Williams was coming off his first All-Star appearance, while Antawn Jamison was a proven NBA veteran.
While some may not consider this a superteam, the pieces on this roster are fairly big names. The Cavaliers had no business losing to the Celtics in the second round. Then again, the Celtics did make the NBA Finals. Had Cleveland won this series, LeBron might have never left the city.
LeBron scored 35 points in Game 1 and 38 points in Game 3 to lead the Cavaliers to a 2-1 advantage. Game 4 featured Rajon Rondo’s greatest playoff performance ever when he scored 29 points and added 18 rebounds. In Game 5, the Celtics blew past Cleveland 120-88 and then closed it out in Game 6 despite a 27-point, 19-rebound game from LeBron.
10. Los Angeles Clippers 2011-2017
Stars: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Regular Season Record: 313-163 (6 Seasons)
The Best Playoffs: Lost Conference Semifinals vs. Houston Rockets 3-4 (2015)
When the Clippers traded for Chris Paul, the Clippers were a relevant franchise for six years. The creation of “Lob City” was one of the most entertaining brands in the game. Paul was masterful in his playmaking. He was so good that he ended as the team’s all-time leader in assists by the time he left the Clippers.
The core never made a Conference Finals, making the second-round three times. The best year came in 2015 when the Clippers pressed the Rockets to seven games. The Clippers held a 3-1 lead before James Harden went on a tear to lead Houston past Los Angeles. Had the Clippers won, they would have made their first-ever Conference Finals and had a date with eventual NBA champion Golden State.
The Clippers looked like they were in control too. The Clippers won Game 3 by a score of 124-99 and Game 4 by a score of 128-95. Then, Harden scored 26 points to lead a blowout in Game 5. After failing to close out in Game 6, Harden scored 31 points to lead Houston to the Conference Finals.
9. Sacramento Kings 2001-2004
Stars: Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac, Doug Christie
Regular Season Record: 225-103 (4 Seasons)
The Best Playoffs: Lost Conference Finals vs. Los Angeles Lakers 3-4 (2002)
The core of Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac, and Doug Christie made the Kings playoff contenders. Bibby didn’t play with the Kings until 2001, while Webber and Stojakovic began their tenure together in 1999. Bibby is a part of the last Kings team to make the playoffs in 2006.
Webber was on a tear in 2001-2002, averaging 24.5 and 10.5 rebounds. The Kings had a chance to play in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1951. The greatest moment of the series came in Game 4 when Robert Horry stepped into a buzzer-beating three-point shot to give the Lakers a one-point victory over the Kings. It has remained one of the most iconic scenes from the team’s legendary history.
After the loss, the Kings bounced back to take Game 5 with a 92-91 victory thanks to 29 points from Webber. The Kings held a 3-2 advantage, but could never close. Nearly 20 years later, Game 6 of this series is still regarded as the most controversial playoff game in league history. Disgraced referee Tim Donaghy accused the Game 6 officiating crew of fixing the game. This “superteam” was homegrown to the essence and won 61 games that season, but failed to win a championship. Kobe Bryant and Shaq teamed up for 65 points to close out the series in Game 7 with a 112-106 win.
The core of Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, and Mike Bibby made the Kings playoff contenders. Bibby didn’t play with the Kings until 2001, while Webber and Stojakovic began their tenure together in 1999. Bibby is a part of the last Kings team to make the playoffs in 2006. Vlade Divac was a huge part of the team in the interior, averaging 11.1 points and 8.4 rebounds. Doug Christie was also a major piece, averaging 12.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in 34.5 minutes per game.
8. Orlando Magic 1993-1995
Stars: Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, Dennis Scott, Nick Anderson
Regular Season Record: 167-79 (3 Seasons)
The Best Playoffs: Lost NBA Finals vs. Houston Rockets 0-4 (1995)
When you think of the 1995 Orlando Magic, you think of how similar this team was to the 2015 Warriors. For starters, Nick Anderson, Penny Hardaway, Dennis Scott, and Shaquille O’Neal were all homegrown draft picks by the front office. The best of the picks might have been the former No. 1 overall pick, who averaged 29.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks in 1994-1995.
The Magic were so good that the team bested Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. This team was the real deal but was ousted by one team in the league. In the NBA Finals, Hakeem Olajuwon completely took over to lead the team to a championship. The Rockets swept Orlando in the Finals. Then, one year later, Shaq left the small market Magic to live in Hollywood with the Lakers.
Olajuwon was no joke in these Finals, leading all scorers in all four games. Olajuwon scored point totals of 31, 34, 31, and 35. In the last two games, he led all rebounders with 14 and 15. The Magic gave the Rockets a push, losing just 120-118 in Game 1 and 106-103 in Game 3. In the end, Olajuwon won his second straight title.
7. Brooklyn Nets 2013-2014
Stars: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez
Regular Season Record: 44-38
Playoff Record: Lost Second Round vs. Miami Heat 1-4
The trade for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry was so decimating for Brooklyn that the team had to go on about a seven-year rebuild. The current makeshift of the Nets was nothing like it was back in the day. The trade, on paper, looked like it made a real superteam in Brooklyn, but it ultimately lasted just one year and it cost the Nets years of the future.
Garnett had one of the worst seasons in his career, averaging 6.5 points and 6.6 rebounds. Pierce averaged 13.5 points and 4.6 rebounds. The Nets thought they were going to get the prime-time version of these Hall of Famers. Instead, they got the older, watered-down version and the team lost to the Heat in five games.
After some hard-fought battles between the Heat and Celtics, LeBron James made his rivals look silly in this series. LeBron scored 22, 22, 28, and 49 points to lead all scorers in the first four games. Joe Johnson nearly led the Nets to a Game 5 victory with 34 points, but the Heat clinched the series with a 96-94 win.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder 2017-2018
Stars: Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony
Regular Season Record: 48-34
Playoff Record: Lost First Round vs. Utah Jazz 2-4
Paul George wanted no part of the Indiana Pacers during the offseason before this year. He requested a trade and forced his way out. Carmelo Anthony was in the midst of a strange divorce from the New York Knicks. You could look back on both situations and admit some serious mistakes went down.
Leading up to the season, there was a ton of hype. Russell Westbrook was coming off an MVP season where he became the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson in 1961. Anthony was still good enough that you believed he could score anywhere. As for George, he was in his mid-20s and a top two-way player. Somehow, this setup never worked and the Thunder lost in the first round, while Kevin Durant won his second consecutive Finals MVP.
In the first game, George scored 36 points to lead OKC to a win, but the Jazz won three straight games. A young rookie named Donovan Mitchell led all scorers in Game 2 and Game 4 with 28 and 33 points respectively. Westbrook scored 47 points in Game 5 to keep the Thunder alive. In Game 6, Westbrook scored 46 points, but the Jazz used 38 points from Mitchell to win 96-91.
5. Los Angeles Lakers 2012-2013
Stars: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest
Regular Season Record: 45-37
Playoff Record: Lost First Round vs. San Antonio Spurs 0-4
If you were a fan of the Orlando Magic, this had to feel like deja vu. In the 90s, Shaquille O’Neal wanted out of Orlando because the market was not as big. He went to the Lakers and ended up winning three championships with Kobe Bryant. Dwight Howard led the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009 before falling to the Lakers. After three seasons of failing to get back, he wanted out of the small market for greater pastures.
Howard’s one season in Los Angeles featured so much discombobulation that even a social media post of Howard and Bryant didn’t fool the public. Bryant and Howard’s dynamic just didn’t work. Steve Nash was old and nowhere near his prime self. This partnership barely made the playoffs and was even more exploited when the Spurs swept them in the playoffs.
Between Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, the Spurs were just a better overall team. The Spurs overcame 20 points from Howard and 16 rebounds by Pau Gasol in Game 1 to win by double digits. Then, Parker led all scorers with 28 points in Game 2. After 26 points from Duncan in Game 3 and 23 points by Parker in Game 4, the Spurs came away victorious. Out of all four games, the Spurs won by double digits.
4. Houston Rockets 1998-1999
Stars: Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen
Regular Season Record: 31-19
Playoff Record: Lost First Round vs. Los Angeles Lakers 1-3
After the Chicago Bulls dynasty collapsed, Scottie Pippen found a new team for the first time in his career. Pippen joined the Rockets, who featured one of the best players in the league in Hakeem Olajuwon. Charles Barkley was in the latter stages of his career but was good enough to average 16.1 points and 12.3 rebounds.
The Rockets were surprised to lose Game 1, 101-100, when Glen Rice scored 27 points. The Rockets lost the second game but were saved by Pippen’s 37 points in Game 3 to stay alive. However, the interior of Olajuwon and Barkley were bested by Shaq, who scored 37 points himself in the decisive Game 4.
These three Hall of Famers might have looked good on paper, but they weren’t good enough when it counted. In the shortened year, the team had a great regular season, but the team was knocked down a peg by Shaq and Kobe Bryant.
3. Los Angeles Lakers 2003-2004
Stars: Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, Gary Payton
Regular Season Record: 56-26
Playoff Record: Lost NBA Finals vs. Detroit Pistons 1-4
On paper, this team is legendary. For starters, Gary Payton was one of the greatest defensive players of the 1990s. Karl Malone owns the second-most points in all of the NBA. Kobe Bryant and Shaq teamed up to lead a three-peat from 2000 to 2002. What else could you ask for from a team? This team was stacked with four Hall of Famers and won 56 games in the regular season.
Malone joined the Lakers late in his career because he wanted to win a ring. He was denied twice by Michael Jordan, while Payton was denied one. However, the team failed to deliver as they were defeated by the underdog Detroit Pistons. Ben Wallace anchored a defense that limited the Lakers to 80 or fewer points in three of the five games. That included Game 3, where the Lakers scored just 68 points.
The Pistons have just one Hall of Famer from that team right now, while the Lakers had four. When it is all said and done, the Lakers should have probably won, but they were tested in five games, providing that you can never count out the underdog.
2. Miami Heat 2010-2011
Stars: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh
Regular Season Record: 58-24
Playoff Record: Lost NBA Finals vs. Dallas Mavericks 2-4
Remember when LeBron promised seven championships? LeBron didn’t even last seven years in Miami. In his first year with the Heat, he was a glorified villain across the NBA landscape. Leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to join a superteam did not bode well across the community. Needless to say, when the Heat came up empty, there was a form of satisfying validation that trickled down across the entire world.
The Heat didn’t even win the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference but ended up taking down the Chicago Bulls anyways. The combination of these three Hall of Famers was too much to handle despite the Bulls having a young sensation in MVP Derrick Rose.
In the NBA Finals, the Dallas Mavericks relied on a slew of veterans to upset their way to the end. In the Finals, they proved to have the greatest upset by defeating the Heat. Dirk Nowitzki won Finals MVP, while long-time veterans Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Tyson Chandler won their first ring. LeBron came to town to win a title, and he eventually won two rings, but in his first year, this was a major letdown when you look at his legacy.
1. Golden State Warriors 2015-2016
Stars: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green
Regular Season Record: 73-9
Playoff Record: Lost NBA Finals vs. Cleveland Cavaliers 3-4
The greatest letdown was watching the greatest regular-season team failing to close out the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors were led by the first unanimous MVP in NBA history, Steph Curry. The Chef, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were already champions. They wanted more and ended up breaking the Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 wins in a season. However, fans across the NBA universe are quick to point out that these Warriors will never go down as the greatest team in NBA history because they didn’t closeout.
The 2016 NBA Finals are potentially the greatest Finals of all time. The Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit to win their first-ever championship. You had late-game heroics by Kyrie Irving. You had the block by LeBron James over Andre Iguodala. You had the story of LeBron returning home to help his native area win their first-ever championship. In the end, the Warriors failed to deliver.
The deadly Warriors trio remains a dynasty today, but back then, this superteam had an opportunity to become the greatest team in NBA history. Instead, they failed and there will always be an unofficial asterisk next to their 73 wins. Given that the 1996 Bulls won the championship, the debate between which team is the greatest of all time will be a continued debate until a team wins 74 games and a title in the same year.