7 NBA Superteams That Spectacularly Failed Since 2000

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2021

7 NBA Superteams That Spectacularly Failed Since 2000

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Professional sports are all about championships. In the NBA, there is no better strategy to chase a league title than assembling a superteam.

    Unfortunately for many franchises, the excitement of building a star-studded roster regularly does not result in that coveted celebration. The league is far more enjoyable when several teams are going all-in on championships, but winning is tough.

    Really, really tough.

    And once in a while, a superteam fails spectacularly. That phrase, in all fairness, is highly subjective. Your definition may be different, so the criteria here of current and one-time stars is vital.

    As frustrated as the 2010-11 Miami Heat and 2016-17 Golden State Warriors were after not earning a title, the core of the team remained intact for the following season and led the franchise to a championship. The superteams highlighted never won a title.

Los Angeles Lakers (2003-04)

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    To begin the millennium, the Los Angeles Lakers ripped off three straight NBA titles. Sure, the San Antonio Spurs halted the streak in 2003, but Los Angeles was ready to return to the sport's pinnacle in 2004.

    During the offseason, the Lakers added two future Hall of Famers to a roster with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Karl Malone and Gary Payton both went ring-chasinga very understandable choiceand signed with the Lakers in free agency.

    But it was a tumultuous year for Los Angeles.

    Kobe missed time after being accused of sexual assault (the case was later dropped in Sept. 2004).

    His feud with O'Neal heightened. Malone only played about half of the regular season. Los Angeles, the clear preseason favorite, reached the NBA Finals but fell to the Detroit Pistons in five games.

    After the season, the Lakers parted ways with head coach Phil Jackson, traded O'Neal to the Miami Heat and sent Payton to the Boston Celtics. Malone didn't return and ultimately retired.

Phoenix Suns (2007-08)

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    When you think of the Phoenix Suns in the mid-to-late 2000s, the nickname "Seven Seconds or Less" is most prominent. But the roster itself fits the superteam model.

    During the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons, Steve Nash landed NBA MVPs. In 2007-08, he orchestrated an uptempo offense that featured All-Stars Amar'e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Grant Hill, along with first-team All-Defensive recipient Raja Bell.

    The Suns then traded Marion for Shaq around the trade deadline. They packed this roster with big-name talents, racking up 110.1 points per game throughout a 55-win regular season.

    Phoenix just could not crack the San Antonio Spurs, though.

    San Antonio dispatched the Suns in a five-game series, eliminating Phoenix from the playoffs for the fourth time in six years.

Cleveland Cavaliers (2009-10)

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Several years, LeBron James had tried dragging the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA title. They reached the Finals in 2007, but San Antonio unsurprisingly swept the them. It appeared that 2009-10 might actually be Cleveland's best shot to win.

    During the offseason, the Cavs traded for Shaq. Though undeniably past his prime, he'd averaged 17.8 points on 60.9 percent shooting with the Phoenix Suns during the previous year.

    Cleveland also acquired Antawn Jamison—an All-Star just two years earlierfrom the Washington Wizards near February's trade deadline. His arrival solidified the Eastern Conference's top team; the Cavaliers finished the regular season at 61-21.

    But the playoffs didn't go as hoped. In the second round, the Boston Celtics' own superteam of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo bounced the Cavs in six games.

    Even worse for Cleveland, LeBron bolted for Miami in the offseason.

Los Angeles Lakers (2012-13)

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    Nathan Denette/Associated Press

    On paper, this roster was incredible. It's no coincidence the Lakers held the strongest championship odds in the Western Conference.

    Kobe remained the star, guiding L.A. alongside Pau Gasol. They'd propelled the Lakers to three straight Finals appearances from 2008 to 2010 with championships in 2009 and 2010. And in the summer of 2012, the franchise traded for both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.

    The roster simply didn't work.

    Gasol and Nash missed 30-plus games apiece, and the Lakers struggled on defense all season. They finished the season 45-37, needing a tiebreaker to even snag the No. 7 seed in the West.

    One week before the playoffs began, Kobe tore his left Achilles. The injury cemented a frustrating year for Los Angeles, which San Antonio swept in the first round.

Brooklyn Nets (2013-14)

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    It seems the Brooklyn Nets learned nothing from the Lakers.

    Immediately after that unsatisfying year in Los Angeles, the Nets stacked the roster with name power. They executed the infamous trade with Boston, acquiring Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry to play alongside Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams.

    While mustering a 44-38 record in a mediocre Eastern Conference, the Nets had the NBA's 15th-ranked offense and 19th-ranked defense, per NBA.com. Injuries to Garnett and Lopez certainly didn't help, but Brooklyn never looked like a real championship threat.

    Although the Nets survived a seven-game series with the Toronto Raptors, Miami then eliminated Brooklyn in five games.

    The team fractured in the offseason; Brooklyn traded coach Jason Kidd to the Milwaukee Bucks, and Pierce left in free agency.

Los Angeles Clippers (2015-16)

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Perhaps the Los Angeles Clippers will finally earn an elusive championship with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. But if the superstar duo falls short, the current superteam will join the iteration that featured Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

    Easily one of the strongest teams in the mid-2010s, the Clips registered five straight 50-win seasons from 2012-13 to 2016-17. Surviving a stacked Western Conference would never be easy, but Los Angeles had the talent to navigate the postseason.

    Well, we thought so, at least.

    L.A. never reached the conference finals, and 2015-16 marked the worst combination of preseason hope and playoff frustration. That year, the Clippers held the fifth-best championship odds, put together a respectable 53-29 record and still lost to the 44-win Portland Trail Blazers in the opening round.

    Would the Clips have upended the 73-win Golden State? Probably not. But they even fell short of the chance to try.

Oklahoma City Thunder (2017-18)

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Russell Westbrook kept the Oklahoma City Thunder afloat following Kevin Durant's departure in the 2016 offseason. Still, it was clear the Westbrook-led roster could not reasonably compete in the Western Conference without reinforcements.

    So, the Thunder hunted for stars. They landed Paul George from Indiana and Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks.

    The result was a free-spirited offense that launched a bunch of three-pointers and didn't hit many of them. Oklahoma City's effective field-goal percentage ranked 17th in the league, per NBA.com, and only six teams had a lower three-point clip than OKC's 35.4.

    After the Thunder wiggled into a top-four seed with 46 wins, the Utah Jazz promptly sent them packing. OKC then dealt Carmelo in the summer, and George only stuck around for one more season.


    Odds via Basketball Reference