When assembling a championship contender, one rule is paramount: get the best talent you can. You’ll face off against the best possible rosters your opponents can put together, so it only makes sense that you fill your own star squad. Sometimes the stars align and you can even stack your roster with multiple Hall of Famers, guaranteeing you a title.
Well, not quite. That’s what the Brooklyn Nets probably had in mind when they acquired Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in 2019, then added James Harden in the latter part of the 2021 season. Those are three superstars, all of whom are likely to travel to Springfield, Massachusetts when they retire, and who can all take control of the games. Who could stop them? Turns out a lot – between injuries and off-court factors, the trio only played 16 games together (13-3, to be fair) before Harden was sent to the Philadelphia 76ers in a exchange. The Nets were swept in the playoffs, and now Durant has requested a trade, while Irving’s future with the team is in flux.
If that makes Nets fans feel any better, it’s not even the first time a superteam has failed to win a title. Here are some examples from the turn of the century.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal alone were a combination to be feared, but the Lakers decided to add Karl Malone and Gary Payton to further overwhelm the other teams. It wasn’t a bad idea – the team finished first in the Pacific Division and third overall in the Western Conference and made it through the playoffs, going 12-5 in the first three rounds . Unfortunately, the Lakers encountered a defensive juggernaut in the Detroit Pistons and lost 4-1 in the NBA Finals. Payton would be traded to the Boston Celtics and Malone would retire, making this superteam one and one.
Take Tom Brady, in all likelihood the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Pair him with Randy Moss, one of the top five wide receivers of all time. Then have a team full of names like Wes Welker, Rodney Harrison, Richard Seymour, Junior Seau, Vince Wilfork and Asante Samuel. The result? A 16-0 regular season, only the second time it’s happened in NFL history. Unfortunately for this team, its last record counts one in the loss column, as Eli Manning and the New York Giants beat the Patriots in one of the most thrilling Super Bowls of all time.
The modern Nets, of course, aren’t the first instance of Durant and Harden being part of a team that didn’t quite make it. That dubious honor belongs to the Thunder, who shortly after moving to Oklahoma City drafted Harden to play alongside Durant and Russell Westbrook. The trio immediately began to dominate and the Thunder improved every year until they reached the NBA Finals in 2011-12. This streak started well, with the Thunder beating the Heat at home in Game 1, but they lost four in a row after that. Harden was traded in the offseason after the team was unable to sign him for an extension.
One pitching ace is pretty good, but what happens when you have four? The Phillies were rocking a rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, not to mention Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins in the lineup. That’s good for 102 wins and 529 points allowed, the lowest in the league. They faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the Division Series, and as they took a 2-1 lead in the first three games, St. Louis rallied to force a Game 5. Skip Schumacher hit in a run in the first inning against Halladay, and Chris Carpenter threw a three-base shutout. The Cardinals would eventually win the World Series.
Los Angeles Clippers 2011-17
One of the most exciting teams in NBA history, the Lob City Clippers looked to use their high-flying style of basketball to bring a non-Lakers title to Los Angeles. Acquiring Chris Paul meant Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan would have plenty of alley-oop opportunities – just ask poor Brandon Knight after Jordan threw an all-time poster dunk at him. The Clippers were a great team during Paul’s tenure, but slumped in the playoffs — Lob City never made it past the semis.