For all of their hype and hope, the Nets find themselves in the NBA play-in tournament. And if they manage to make it into the actual playoffs, they’ll be clear underdogs against the Celtics in the first round — even with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving now together on a full-time basis.
That reality — and the disaster that was the Big Three pairing with Durant, Irving and James Harden before the latter’s trade to the 76ers — may have a lasting impact on the NBA, according to a thought-provoking ESPN longread.
The thesis from Kevin Arnovitz: The Nets (and Lakers, although they won the bubble title) may have killed the superteam era, as their failings have convinced front offices it’s not worth sacrificing culture and natural growth to get two or three stars and slap them together with a bunch of JAGs.
Remember: The gritty, gutty, young Nets were doing pretty well for themselves under Kenny Atkinson before they shifted gears.
One unintended consequence of bringing in players like Durant and Irving is that an upstart core often hears a pointed message that management doesn’t entirely believe in what is being built, despite years of gospelizing the value of culture. As much as an organization might believe that arriving superstars will adapt to the team culture that preceded them, superstars often don’t adapt to cultures; they replace them.
“Assembling a superteam is something very, very few organizations can do,” one senior league executive says. “And we’re seeing that even fewer can actually pull it off because superstars aren’t enough — it has to be the right superstars in the right culture. What this current era of NBA basketball is showing us is that going all-in — whether it’s with cap space or all of your loot — to go acquire two or three of the top talented players in the league and having either underperforming infrastructure or a complete lack of roster depth, you’re doing nothing favorable for your organization.”
There is a lot of interesting stuff in the piece, including a take on how successful superteams in the past actually had a pre-existing organizational anchor (think Dwyane Wade with the Heat) rather than importing in all the pieces. And it outlines just how tough it’s going to be for the Nets to actually get something out of this grand experiment before it blows up for good.