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With the Olympics looming, baseball in full swing, and football on the horizon, the one sign that NBA basketball is relevant again for the first time since Jordan? Sports fans are still talking about it…
I’m sure that once the dust settles on the free agency, we’ll all be focused on the torch finally making it to Olympic Stadium on July 27, day 70. It seems like it takes longer and longer for the runners to make their way to their final destination every four years…
It was a shortened NBA season, but the Heat got their championship and now we can finally move on without talking about how badly LeBron chokes in the playoffs. As annoying as that was, the talk has now shifted to Dwight Howard and how he refuses to play for the Magic anymore, despite the fact they got rid of Stan Van Gundy and would have done anything to keep him around.
When the Heat welcomed Bosh and James to make “The Big Three” joining the trend the Celtics had established with Garnett, Allen, and Pierce and even the Lakers with Kobe, Pau, and Bynum, a lot of other superstars felt they had to join in to compete.
The Clippers made the jump from “the other LA team” to contender by landing Chris Paul and Caron Butler with Blake Griffin and newly acquired vet Grant Hill. The Lakers fell off in the second round of last year’s playoffs and are finally realizing their age is catching up to them at their core…so they added Steve Nash and are rumored to land Dwight Howard, while adding Antawn Jamison. The shake-ups continued when Jeremy Lin joined the Houston Rockets leaving the Knicks with an aging Jason Kidd fresh off a DWI.
Whatever happened to winning with a superstar and a team of role players? For the sake of argument, Scottie Pippen is a superstar as well so the dynamic duo theme is acceptable here. Jordan, Pippen and crew had the right formula in both tri-title runs. Scoring and defensive prowess from your superstars, perimeter shooting (John Paxton, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, Craig Hodges), rebounding and post play (Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman, Luc Longley), and a hall of fame coach named Phil Jackson.
That formula has been good for other teams as well: Houston Rockets (94-95 repeat) with Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, LA Lakers three-peat (2000-02) with Kobe and Shaq, Seattle Supersonics lost to the Bulls in 96’ with Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, and the San Antonio Spurs (’99 & 2003) with David Robinson and Tim Duncan.
The last and probably greatest show of personal heroism in the Finals came from Dirk Nowitski a year ago when he hoisted the Mavericks literally on his shoulders and defeated the Big 3 from Miami in comeback fashion after being down 2-1 in the series.
But never again...at least not for awhile.
What the investment of team's with "Big 3's" have yet to accomplish is a steady dynasty. Sure, the Celtics, Lakers, and Heat were contenders for several years in a row, but now include the Clippers, Derrick Rose's Bulls, re-vamped Nets in Brooklyn, and even Dallas and what we have left is a group of super teams and a whole lot of bad teams.
I suppose that the best step that small market teams (like the Pacers) can take is to draft well and push for an all-out team effort to win. While everyone was talking about the Heat, Lakers, etc. the Pacers quietly netted the third seed in the East, one year after clinging for dear life to the number eight slot as the only team to make the playoff with a losing record. They dispatched the Magic, then took a 2-1 lead on the Heat before losing the series eventually.
Then there's the 76ers. They were the seven seed last year, fell apart late in the season this year after leading the Atlantic division for most of the year and ended up the eight seed that no one was talking about. Well the scrappy team with no superstar hung tough and knocked off the number one-seeded Bulls (without Rose due to injury, but still a tall task for a downward-spiralling team). Then they did the unlikely and pushed the Celtics to a game seven in Boston where they nearly squeaked out a victory and the series. Not too shabby for a team whose leading scorer came off the bench (Lou Williams, 16ppg).
What an ironic story that would have been had the Pacers and Sixers been vying for the East crown after so much hype over the superteams!
As it happens, though, both teams are back to the drawing board. The Denver Nuggets have the same problem in the West. These small teams' identities are that they don't have any identity. At least, not like they have been historically defined. Without a superstar, what are they hanging on the banners in these cities?
Sure LeBron and Kobe will get a title or two selling out and joining forces with other stars for less money, but will they ever be the talk of legends that Jordan, Bird, Wilt, and Magic are?
I say unlikely.