The NBA's Current Versions of Classic Teams
The NBA is a league rich in history, made all the more rich by unique teams scattered throughout its existence.
Some have won titles, others provided tremendous entertainment, all left NBA fans with unforgettable highlights. In certain cases, there are contemporary teams that harken back to the teams of yesteryear.
Bear in mind, there is no perfect comparison, nor are these intended to be such. These are teams that are reminiscent, not duplications. They have aspects to them that call to mind the teams from the past.
Also, these are based on my observations, which only go back to the late '70s, when I was 10 and fell in love with the game. They are entirely subjective. There may be other, and better, comparisons out there, but I can’t remember what I didn’t see.
The rankings are based on the affinity the present teams share with their historic counterparts.
The Houston Rockets' "Twin Towers" and the Los Angeles Lakers
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The Houston Rockets drafted Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984, combining him with Ralph Sampson to form the "Twin Towers" in Houston. With their pair of talented and athletic big men, the Rockets were promising great things.
In their first year together, they were ousted in the first round by the Utah Jazz. In their second year, they made it to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Boston Celtics.
Then, in the 1987-88 season due to an assortment of issues, the core of the team was busted up. Sampson was traded off to the Warriors, and the pairing was regarded by history as a disappointment.
Similarly, the current Los Angeles Lakers paired Dwight Howard with Pau Gasol, and Lakers Nation was as optimistic as they could be for the upcoming season. They had even more tools than the Rockets’ "Twin Towers" did in the sense that they had two future Hall of Famers in the backcourt as well.
But similar to the Rockets with their great big-man pairing, the Lakers have been a huge disappointment. The Lakers got off to a deplorable start, are on their third head coach of the year and are finally at .500 on the season.
Rather than talk about titles, the talk has become about whether they can make the postseason. That’s not what the Lakers were hoping for when they landed their second of two towers.
The Golden State Warriors' "Run TMC" and the Houston Rockets
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The present Houston Rockets bring to mind the Golden State Warriors and their "Run TMC" trio, who were together for the 1989-90 and 1990-91 seasons.
The Warriors were led by Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin, the first letter of the first name of each of the stars providing the "TMC." The nickname played off Run DMC, a rap group of the time.
The Warriors' fast-paced offense led the league in scoring during the 1989-90 season. The following season, the Warriors were the second-highest scoring team in the league.
Similarly, the Houston Rockets of today are led by a trio of perimeter players: James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons. They are the fastest-paced team in the league, at 96.3 possessions per game.
While the Rockets' trio is not quite as prolific as the Warriors' threesome, they still combine for 54.1 points per game. This is mitigated partly by the league playing at a much slower pace now.
The Rockets' trio are still young, with all three in only their first or second year as full-time starters. They have the potential to increase that number.
The Detroit Pistons' "Bad Boys" and Derrick Rose's Chicago Bulls
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The Detroit Pistons' "Bad Boys" and the Chicago Bulls battled in some epic series during the late '80s and early '90s. Twice the Bulls were sent home packing by the defensive-minded Pistons before the Michael Jordan-led Bulls finally got past Detroit.
Interestingly, now the team most reminiscent of the Pistons are the Chicago Bulls.
They are both defense-first teams. The Pistons, from when they won their first championship in 1988-89 until they fell to the Bulls in 1990-91, had the third-best defensive rating in the NBA.
The present Bulls have had the best.
With both teams, the only true offensive superstar is their point guard. With the Pistons, it was Isiah Thomas; with the Bulls, it’s Derrick Rose.
Both teams had a tremendous high-energy, defensively sensational, monster-rebounding big man. The Pistons had Dennis Rodman; the Bulls have Joakim Noah.
Finally, after their point guards, both teams had a number of scorers who could emerge from night to night.
The Pistons had Bill Laimbeer, Mark Aguirre, Joe Dumars, James Edwards and Vinnie Johnson. The Bulls have Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Noah and Nate Robinson.
The Boston Celtics' "Big Three" and the Indiana Pacers
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The Boston Celtics of the 1980s featured some of the greatest teams in the history of the NBA.
The core of their success was built around their Hall of Fame frontcourt of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. This was the first trio to be referred to as a "Big Three," which made more sense since they were actually big men.
The Indiana Pacers have been a poor-man’s version of that trio this year. With Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert, the Pacers have won with their dominant frontcourt.
Though Hibbert has struggled to find his game offensively this season, he has still been a force defensively, much like Parish was for the Celtics.
Dennis Johnson joined Danny Ainge in the Celtics backcourt in the 1983-84 season. Both were serviceable players, but games were won with the frontcourt.
That formula is the same for George Hill and Lance Stephenson of the Pacers.
The Los Angeles "Showtime" Lakers and the Los Angeles "Lob City" Clippers
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The Los Angeles Lakers of the mid-'80s were a "Magical" group.
You don’t have to leave L.A. to see the current version of "Showtime," although they play for a different franchise and have a different nickname. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are high-flying big men, and point guard Chris Paul is the maestro of "Lob City."
The teams have two things in common: They are incredibly entertaining, and the linchpin of their excitement is their point guard.
Magic Johnson was massive for a point guard (6'8''), while Paul is only 6'0''. But both had remarkable vision, a propensity for the perfect pass and a near-reflexive decision-making ability.
Both players could have been better scorers, but they gave up their own opportunities to favor their teammates.
The Lakers of the '80s clearly had the greater team, winning championships in 1979-80, 1981-82, 1984-85 and 1986-87 and 1987-88.
If this Clippers core stays together, at least one title could very well be in their future.
Michael Jordan's Early '90s Bulls and LeBron James' Miami Heat
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With the Chicago Bulls of the early '90s and the Miami Heat, the real core was at the 2 through 4.
In both cases, the trio depended more on the wings than the power forward, the small forward frequently ran the point-forward position, and the wings were able to dominate on both ends of the court and defend multiple positions.
In both cases, one of the wings was the most dominant player in the league of his era. In Miami’s case, it’s James; for the Bulls, it was Jordan.
James and Jordan are the only two players in the history of the league to average at least 27 points, six rebounds and five assists a game for their careers.
With all the recent comparisons between Jordan and James lately, it’s reasonable to compare James’ Heat to Jordan’s Bulls as well. Of course, the Heat have five more rings to go. That’s a long way off.