NBA Rankings: The 10 Most Disappointing NBA Super Teams of All Time

J.B. BirdContributor IIIMarch 13, 2011

NBA Rankings: The 10 Most Disappointing NBA Super Teams of All Time

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    DALLAS - NOVEMBER 27: Chris Bosh #1, 2 #6 and Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat look on during their game against the Dallas Mavericks  on November 27, 2010 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agr
    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    With the Miami Heat's recent dip in form (dropping five of their last six games), NBA fans have once again begun to doubt the capacity of this Super Team to ever win a title.

    When LeBron James made his now infamous decision to join his Team USA buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach, an NBA title seemed all but assured. Of course, as we have seen, we were a little premature in anointing the Heat the NBA's newest dynasty.

    This wasn't the first time a newly formed Super Team has been expected to bring home a title and has failed to meet those expectations. Since the early years of the NBA, the addition of new players or the maturation of existing players has raised the hopes of fans—hopes that this year will be the one and this team will be unstoppable, only to see the team crumble and its fans' hopes dashed.

    The Heat are surely the most recent Super Team to disappoint, but are they the most disappointing Super Team of all time?

    Note: I have not counted teams which went on to win NBA titles in subsequent seasons with a roster composed largely of the same players.

10. 1995-96 Seattle Supersonics

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    9 Feb 1997:  Seattle Supersonics forward Shawn Kemp (right) and guard Gary Payton confer during the NBA All-Star game in Cleveland, Ohio.  Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr/Allsport
    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    The mid-'90s Seattle Supersonics were a dazzling spectacle to behold.

    The dynamic duo of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp kept fans on the edge of their seats, with their almost telepathic chemistry making the threat of alley-oops ever present. The 1996 Supersonics were a true run-and-gun team, dashing up and down the court like gazelles.

    George Karl was the brains on the bench, giving structure and form to the young team of hungry, athletic phenoms. Hopes were high for the enthusiastic Seattle supporters.

    However, 1996 was the peak of their ascendancy, when they won 64 games and defeated the Utah Jazz in seven games to reach the NBA Finals. Sadly for the 1996 Supersonics, their rise coincided with that of the Chicago Bulls. 1996 was the season of the NBA record 72-win Chicago team that many endorse as the greatest team of all time.

    The Sonics were a Super Team, but ultimately they were powerless against one of the super-est Super Teams of all time.

9. 1994-95 Orlando Magic

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    13 Feb 1996: Guard Anfernee 'Penny' Hardaway of the Orlando Magic watches teammate center Shaquille O'Neal shoot for the basket against Denver Nuggets forward Antonio McDyess and Dikembe Mutombo during a game played at the Orlando Arena in Orlando, Florid
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    When the Orlando Magic secured the No. 1 pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, some surmised it would mark the beginning of a new Super Team with Chris Webber and Shaquille O'Neal.

    The team went on to trade down in the draft, ultimately selecting Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway and creating a whole new Super Team.

    It took a couple of years for the team to jell and for Shaq and Penny to mature as players, but by 1995 the Magic were the dominant Eastern Conference force.

    Shaq  was an absolute beast that season on the offensive and defensive ends (29.4 ppg, 13.2 rpg, 2.4 bpg). Penny, meanwhile, was putting together his best Magic Johnson impersonation (21 ppg, 7.1 apg). The added addition of championship veteran Horace Grant from the Bulls provided another injection of talent.

    However, despite being able to knock off the recently unretired Michael Jordan's Bulls, the team failed to sparkle in the NBA Finals. Swept by Hakeem Olajuwon's Houston Rockets in the finals, the team disappointed its fans. This disappointment was then compounded by the departure of Shaq to the Los Angeles Lakers that summer.

8. 1990-91 Boston Celtics

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    Guard Reggie Lewis of the Boston Celtics dribbles the ball down the court during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Although the Boston Celtics have been able to put together many Super Teams throughout their decades of championship success, by the 1990s that success was dwindling. The Celtics ?Big Three" of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were getting older and slower.

    However, with the development of Reggie Lewis as a bona fide star, it looked like the Celtics were a renewed force within the NBA. After failing to advance out of the first round of the playoffs in past seasons, their 1990-91 season started with an unexpected 31-4 start.

    Once again, Celtics fans began to believe that they had found themselves a new Super Team—one to match against the great teams of earlier decades. However, as Bird's body started to break down over the course of the season, fans' hopes dimmed.

    Although the team was able to rally to second in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, they were not able to overcome the young, scrappy Detroit Pistons.

    It would be the a long time until another Celtics team raised fans' hopes like this. A few years later both Reggie Lewis and Larry Bird would be out of the league and the Celtics would begin the rebuilding process.

7. 2001-02 Sacramento Kings

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    SACRAMENTO, CA - MAY 20:  Vlade Divac #21 and Chris Webber #4 of the Sacramento Kings during Game two of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2002 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California on May 20, 2002.  Th
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    The Sacramento Kings (soon to be Anaheim Kings?) appear in many people's lists of favourite post-millenium NBA teams.

    The team was well balanced, with seven Kings players averaging double-figures in points, and played an uptempo offence. Led by Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic's scoring, the team finished atop the Western Conference at season's end.

    Fans' hopes were raised by the ease with which the team progressed through the playoffs. Both the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks could take only one game away from the Kings in their respective first and second-round matchups.

    By the time of the Western Conference finals rolled around, everyone was expecting the Kings to destroy the Lakers. And this expectation rang true for the first five games—as the Kings led 3-2. However, the Lakers fought back to win the next two games, breaking the hearts of the Sacramento faithful.

6. 1992-93 Phoenix Suns

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    8 May 1994:  Charles Barkley of the Phoenix Suns during the Suns versus Denver Nuggets game at the McNicoles Arena in Denver, Colorado.  Mandatory Credit: Tim Defrisco/Allsport
    Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images

    At the time, Charles Barkley's trade to the Phoenix Suns seemed as dramatic as LeBron James' recent move to the Heat.

    The Suns already had a strong team of former and future All-Stars—Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle and Tom Chambers. To allow them to add perennial MVP candidate Barkley seemed almost illegal.

    Long let down by a weak supporting cast in Philadelphia, Barkley let loose in the 1993 season. He would go on to finish first in MVP voting and the Suns would snatch the league's best record (62-20). Success in the postseason seemed guaranteed.

    However, not even an MVP season from Barkley could take the Suns over Jordan and his Bulls. Barkley's best friend showed no mercy in taking the Suns apart.

    The Suns were defeated in six games—never again to return to the NBA Finals.

5. 1985-86 Houston Rockets

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    Getty Images/Getty Images

    The 1985-86 Houston Rockets were a new brand of Super Team.

    For perhaps the first time in NBA history, a team had not one but two imposing seven-footers. The Rockets' "Twin Towers"—Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson—created almost impossible matchups for opposing teams.

    Olajuwon, one of the most athletic defensive big men of all time, was averaging 3.4 blocks that season.

    Sampson, arguably one of the greatest pure talents in a seven-foot body ever (see article here), was redefining people's expectations of how a big man could play the game.

    With a veteran backcourt of John Lucas and Lewis Lloyd, the team looked like it had the perfect recipe for success. However, bad timing was their ultimate undoing.

    Their Finals opposition was a Celtics team many submit as the best of all time. There was no shame in their 4-1 Finals loss, but for fans it was certainly the biggest disappointment in the team's history.

4. 2009-2010 Cleveland Cavaliers

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    BOSTON - MAY 07:  LeBron James #23 and Shaquille O'Neal #33 of the Cleveland Cavaliers confer during action against  the Boston Celtics in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at TD Banknorth Garden on May 7, 2010 in Bo
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    With the acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal over the summer, stating his intention to "win one for the King," many thought the time had come for LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers.

    After seasons of under-performing teams, Cavaliers management had surrounded James with his most talented team to date. Just to be sure, the team traded for recent All-Star Antawn Jamison in February. The most talented player in the game finally had the team he needed to make a run at his first title.

    And then what happened? The team disintegrated.

    Despite having the Eastern Conference's best record, the Cavaliers were devoured by a wily Celtics team in the Eastern Conference semifinals. In the aftermath of the defeat, the team fired Coach Mike Brown and then LeBron fired himself, departing for the Heat.

    Surely one of the biggest disappointments of any NBA team in recent years.

3. 1996-97 Houston Rockets

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    7 May 1997:  Center Hakeem Olajuwon, forward Clyde Drexler (left) and forward Charles Barkley of the Houston Rockets stands on the court during a playoff game against the Seattle Supersonics at the Summit in Houston, Texas.  The Supersonics won the game 1
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Having failed to secure an NBA Championship with his previous Super Team, the Suns, Charles Barkley packed his bags in the summer of 1996 and moved to Texas to join the Rockets.

    The team was only one year removed from the back-to-back championships. Surely all they needed was an undersized, aging power forward to get them in the title hunt?

    Sadly, no.

    Although impressive on paper, the Rockets' roster of future Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler, Olajuwon and Barkley weren't able to put it together on the court.

    Too old and too slow, they were defeated by the Jazz in the Western Conference Finals. Given the Jazz themselves were defeated by a Bulls team at the top of its games, it is unlikely the 1997 Rockets would ever have been able to live up to their hype.

2. 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers

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    LOS ANGELES - JUNE 6:  Gary Payton #20, Kareem Rush #21, Karl Malone #11 and Shaquille O'Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers walk off the court in Game 1 of the 2004 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons on June 6, 2004 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, C
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    In many ways the direct forerunner to the current Heat Super Team, the 2003-04 Lakers were a team of superstars built with only one goal—to win the NBA Championship.

    As with Miami this season, two of the NBA's biggest names (Gary Payton and Karl Malone) attempted to put their egos to one side and join forces with their one-time enemies in the name of championship glory.

    The Lakers had recently three-peated, with Shaq and Kobe Bryant at their most dominating. For anyone to predict them not winning the title would have been unthinkable.

    And at first the predictions seemed correct. The team started an impressive 18-3, but injuries and a general lack of chemistry between the players soon hobbled the Super Team.

    The Lakers finished the season by losing to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. Subsequently, Malone retired from the game altogether and Shaq took his talents to South Beach. It would be years before the Lakers recovered.

1. 2010-11 Miami Heat

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    CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 02:  LeBron James #6, Chris Bosh #1 and Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat walk onto the loor after a timeout while playing the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on December 2, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User ex
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    "Wait a minute!" you say.

    "The season isn't over yet! The Heat could still live up to all our expectations and win the title!"

    Yes, yes they could. I don't think they will. And their recent five-game slump suggests you shouldn't either. But this is still professional sports, and anything is possible.

    However, I will argue that the Heat have already been the biggest disappointment for NBA fans. We were expecting this team to dominate teams. Every team. Every night.

    This hasn't happened.

    They have been good. Some nights, even great. But a Super Team is supposed to be more than that. They are supposed to be, well, super.

    Until then, they will continue to disappoint.