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Is the Downfall of the Brooklyn Nets the End of the Superteam Era?

Last updated on September 2, 2022

Well, it’s official. Kevin Durant, one of the greatest players of our generation and NBA History has just asked for a trade out of the Brooklyn Nets. After just 3 seasons with them (and only 2 seasons of playing) KD is done. And if they don’t have KD, the Nets don’t have much of a strong roster besides flat-earther, anti-vaxxer Kyrie Irving, and wishy-washy Ben Simmons. At the start of the season, the Nets had the prospect of winning not just one championship, but at least a few down the road. A roster of KD, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving is undoubtedly one of the greatest trios in NBA history. In fact, this trend of super-trios is a phenomenon we can trace back over a decade to the 2008 Boston Celtics. They were the first of the modern-day superteams, and soon after their victory in the 2008 NBA Finals, many more followed. But with the crumbling of the Brooklyn Nets, arguably the biggest “What if?” in NBA history, is the era of the superteam over? It could go either way, but first let’s look at why the Nets are falling apart, and specifically what’s going on with Kevin Durant.

Durant Leaves the Nest for the Nets

First, let’s go back to just after the 2019 NBA Finals. The Toronto Raptors led by Kawhi Leonard arrived at a borderline miraculous victory against the 2-time defending champion Gold State Warriors. While Kawhi’s dominance was heavily responsible for the Warrior’s defeat, it would be remiss to not mention that during the series both Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant received injuries that would last well into the next season. And while the Warriors may not have gotten their 3-peat, they were definitely set up for at least a few more championship runs with a lineup including 2-time MVP and the greatest 3-point shooter of all time, Steph Curry, fellow expert 3-pointer splash-bro Klay Thompson, defensive force Draymond Green, and last but certainly not least, 1-time MVP, 2-time Finals MVP, 3 time Olympian, and 4-time NBA Scoring Title Champion Kevin Durant. With a roster like that, what could possibly go wrong, even with an injury or 2?

As it turns out, A LOT.  Kevin Durant came to the Warriors with hopes of getting the rings and respect that eluded him elsewhere. He got the rings. Apparently, he didn’t get the respect. Even with rings, KD wasn’t getting the respect he felt he deserved because some were saying “He just joined an already championship-level team” or “He just hopped on the bandwagon” which while somewhat fair considering Golden State won a title 2 seasons before they acquired Durant, is also not entirely valid because they had lost in the 2015-16 Finals without him and then proceeded to win in both 2016-17 and the 2017-18 Finals with him. Was KD on a championship-grade team? Yes. But did he play a big role in bringing them to those next 2 championships? Also yes. Regardless, Durant’s perceived lack of respect combined with not feeling like he fit in with the other members of the ‘Death Lineup’ (most of whom were drafted into Golden State at the start of their careers), plus an on-court argument with Draymond Green in caused KD’s anger to boil over. He was out. On June 30th, 2019, Durant announced that he intended to sign with the Nets and play with friend Kyrie Irving. On December 22, 2020, Durant made his debut with the Nets (after almost a year and a half of not playing due to injuries), delivering 22 points on 7-for-16 shooting in 25 minutes in a 126-99 win against the Warriors. It raised the question of who the Warriors were without KD instead of who KD was without the Warriors for once. Almost 2 years later we have our answer. The Warriors are still a championship dynasty and Durant, while still a great player, isn’t having much regular season or postseason success.

The Sinking of the Nets

At the start of the 2021-2022 season, if you told me the Brooklyn Nets were going to win the championship, I wouldn’t have argued with you. If you told me they were going to shatter the record for most wins in a regular season, I would’ve believed you. If you told me that they were going to go down as one of the best teams in league history, I would’ve agreed with you. Even Sports Illustrated agreed. But if you told me that the Nets were only going to go 44-38, place 7th in their conference, and then get swept in the first round of the playoffs, I would’ve called you stupid. The most stacked team in the league ended up being the only one not to win a single playoff game. They were almost unarguably the most disappointing team of the season. So what happened? 

From season start to finish, the Nets were plagued by injury trouble. Joe Harris went down and needed left ankle ligament surgery, Seth Curry needed arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle, Harden missed games due to hamstring problems, and KD was sidelined for 6 weeks because of an MCL injury. And that’s not even talking about Kyrie Irving’s antics. As mentioned earlier, Kyrie has some ‘eccentric’ ideas to say the least, such as being unable to acknowledge that the Earth is round and refusing to get vaccinated. That second part was especially concerning for the Nets. See, for the 2021-2022 season, the NBA did not mandate every player to vaccinate themselves, but instead said it was up to the local regulations of their home team. Because of Brooklyn’s regulations, Irving was ineligible to play in each and every single one of the 43 home games during the regular season. Irving missed the first 35 games of the season and in the end, only appeared in 29 of 82 games. That’s 35%. This forced most of the burden onto Durant and also alienated Harden, who eventually asked for a trade request. On February 10, 2022, Harden left the Nets for the 76ers in a robust trade deal that included Ben Simmons, Andre Drummond, Seth Curry, and 2 first-round draft picks. Harden left just 13 months after being acquired by the Nets in free agency. Between injuries and Irving’s vaccination status, Brooklyn’s “Big 3” only suited up together 16 times out of 82 games. That’s only 19.5%. The biggest superstars of the Brooklyn Nets played together less than 20% of the time. That’s absurd for any team. In the postseason, the part where you think they might step it up, they fell flat again. All the earlier underlying factors mentioned came into play. On top of that, Head Coach Steve Nash wasn’t able to adapt to or counter Boston’s playstyle. Add that up and you have a first-round playoff exit. And all of this as a whole is why the Brooklyn Nets performed abysmally and why Durant, following in the footsteps of “The Beard” has requested a trade. However, there’s still definitely a chance KD decides to stay, but either way the Brooklyn Nets, the team with the highest potential in the NBA, are falling apart. 

Photo by Bruno Aguirre on

So now that we’ve established how and why the Brooklyn Nets’ aspirations came crashing down, what does it mean? The Nets were clearly a superteam and with their fall, are superteams finished? Well, let’s first define what a superteam is and talk about some of the most notable examples

According to Wikipedia: A superteam in the NBA is a franchise that has three or more Hall of Fame-caliber players who decided to join together in pursuit of a league championship.

The Brooklyn Nets obviously fall into this category. Irving, Harden, and Durant are the “Big 3”. According to Wikipedia, the first superteam formed when Wilt Chamberlain joined the Lakers led by Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in the 1968 offseason. However, the first truly modern superteam came (as mentioned earlier) in 2008 with the Boston Celtics team led by Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. The season before, the Celtics had gone 24-58. The Celtics already had Pierce, and after some crazy trading in the summer of 2007, received both Allen and Garnett, albeit at great costs. Allen and Garnett were both huge stars at the time. Usually, superteams consist of a franchise going all out to acquire big-name players to win a ring. Sometimes they even go so far as to ruin their franchise’s future (by giving away all their draft picks) for a ring. That year the Celtics went 66-16, creating the most drastic record change in NBA history. The “Big 3” of Pierce, Allen, and Garnett (and Rajon Rondo who’s sometimes included based on who you ask) set the standard for what superteams could achieve. And since then, the amount of superteams has increased vastly. 

Notable Superteam Examples Since Then:

  1. 2010-2014 Miami Heat, “The Heatles”, (LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade)
  2. 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers, (Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash)
  3. 2015-2017 Cleveland Cavaliers, (LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love)
  4. 2016-2019 Gold State Warriors, (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green)
  5. 2021-Present Los Angeles Lakers, (LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook)

Now arguably, there were some modern superteams before the 2008 Celtics. The 2004 Lakers with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Horace Grant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton come to mind, or the 1999 Houston Rockets with Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, and Hakeem Olajuwon. However, these weren’t superteams in the same sense. Modern superteams generally focus around players in their prime or just past it (A notable exception being LeBron who’s just a superhuman freak of nature who loves his superteams), but both the ‘04 Lakers and ‘99 Rockets were filled with stars who were much close to the end of their careers. All 3 of the stars of the ‘99 Rockets retired within 5 years, with Barkley retiring the year after. Grant and Malone retired after the 2004 season and Payton retired 3 years later. Most modern superteams feature players who usually play for at least 5 years after their superteam if it crumbles. 

Why the Superteam Era Might be Over

So, superteams have come and gone, and you might be asking the question “Just because the Nets fell apart, what does that have to do with superteams being built in the future?” Well, there are a few other factors in play. For one, the 2021-22 Lakers also fell flat, missing the playoffs (but at least they didn’t break apart), so that’s another disappointing superteam that was hyped up as one that could one of the best ever. Also, the Golden State Warriors have become an absolute DYNASTY (there’s literally a section in their Wikipedia page titled as such) in the past decade, and with the exemption of those years they played with Durant, they weren’t really a proper superteam. Most of their talent was homegrown. The backbone of the Warriors’ dynasty, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were all drafted by the Warriors, and then grew and evolved into the dominant force we all know from there. They were just drafted as regular players. Not already legendary All-Stars who were convinced to come at a massive cost to the franchise. This homegrown team has gone to 6 finals in 8 years and won 4 of them, (including the 2022 Finals), a feat unrivaled since the Jordan days. Franchises may be starting to see that homegrown teams can be just as good if not better than superteams without all the crazy trading and draft capital required to set one up. Not to mention the severe consequences faced if things go awry. At the moment, the future of the Nets is questionable, to say the least, and doomed to say the worst. But even if KD wants out, he still technically hasn’t been traded, so maybe there’s some hope for them.

Will this be a turning point for all NBA franchises going forward? Nobody can say, but probably not. But at this point, it’s actually possible that it could be. Will we most likely see fewer superteams of this caliber going forward? I find that to be probable based on the debacle the Nets have become. At the very least, it seems probable that the number of superteams won’t increase in years to come. For now, I’m content to watch the superteams of our era compete for dominance. Who knows, maybe the next one will be the most dominant one of all time. Or maybe they’ll end up worse off than the Nets. Either way, it’ll be entertaining to watch.

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