There is some good news as we reach the second leg of the NBA season. Super Teams are suddenly imploding.
Since Adam Silver decided to adopt the Bud Selig approach to a huge problem and do nothing about Super Teams and player collusion, perhaps nature is doing what he would not. Super Teams are being undone organically, at least for now. Nobody likes to cheer on the downfall of teams, but … no, actually some of us do. Let’s be honest, if you’re an NBA fan or just anyone who believes in parity and fair play, you have to be loving this.
Let’s start with the Lakers. They’re in ninth place in the Western Conference, four games below .500. LeBron James’ latest creation as the backroom de facto general manager is coming apart at the seams. The Lake Show is 27-31. This is not what you would expect for a team that includes Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, all potential Hall of Famers (although only one of them deserves it, but that’s a debate for another day).
Then there are the Brooklyn Nets, who, thanks to some backroom maneuvering by the players, resulted in a gathering of superstars Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. On paper, this team looked unbeatable. How could it lose? How could the Nets not win a championship? And yet here they are, 31-28 and sitting in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Nets have thrown in the towel.
Harden pouted his way to a trade — this is how players get out of legitimate, extremely lucrative contracts these days — and the Nets traded him to the 76ers for another player who has been trying to pout his way off a team for months — the vastly overrated Ben Simmons.
So Harden has already moved on. He joined the Nets last season after pouting his way out of Houston in what was considered to be a monumental trade (he does a lot of pouting). He played all of 80 games for the Nets. So much for that grandiose plan. It’s his third team in two seasons.
The 76ers couldn’t be called a Super Team, but at one time they looked like a rising power with the pairing of Joel Embiid and Simmons, but Simmons turned out to be a huge liability on offense and a pain in the rear as a teammate. He also pouted his way off a team, like Harden and Davis.
Pouting is a problem in the NBA — the public grousing, the disinterest in playing and winning. It’s a tool players use to get out of a contract so they can play for another team. It’s the way players form Super Teams with their buddies.
Silver finally woke up to the problem recently and spoke out about it after the Simmons-Harden poutfest resulted in the trade.
“Players forcing their way out of situations is not new in this league,” he said. “I accept that there will always be conversations behind closed doors, when teams are unhappy or players are unhappy, (but) the last thing you want to see is for these issues to play out publicly. But this is not the way I would have liked to see it happen.”
Wait a minute — does he have a problem with players forcing their way off of teams, or just with players doing so publicly?
So Harden and Simmons have switched places; Westbrook, who has played for four teams in four years, will eventually find his way off his current team, as well. He and the Lakers have played poorly together and he has been benched a couple of times when the game was on the line. Westbrook blasted his coach afterward in a press conference.
Westbrook has received a lot of attention throughout his long career for his triple-doubles, but he scores a lot of points only because he takes a lot of shots. He’s a bad shooter — his shooting percentage last year: 43.9% from the field, 30.5% from 3-point range, which ranked 106th and 149th, respectively. His shooting percentages are the same this season. He also commits a lot of turnovers — more than four per game during his career, and 4.5-5.0 the last five seasons. And he’s a poor defender. Other than that, you can see why he’s a Hall of Famer in the making.
Westbrook is a bad fit for the Lakers and everyone knew it when the trade was made, but James reportedly leaned on the front office to do it.
The Lakers reportedly considered trading Westbrook before the trade deadline, but, according to ESPN reporter Ramona Shelburne, “the Lakers decided not to give up any remaining assets at the trade deadline because the front office is putting blame on their star players for how this roster was constructed. My interpretation was … the Lakers organization from ownership on down decided ‘you got yourself into this, this is the bed you have made. LeBron, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard — all the future Hall of Famers — this is your choice of roster and team, go make it work, and we are not going to mortgage our future in terms of draft picks and … taking on luxury tax now because this team isn’t working now. Go make it work.”
Bravo and touche.
Both the Lakers and the Cavaliers rid themselves of promising young players — teams that had grown organically — to accommodate the arrival of James. The Cavaliers paid a steep price after James dumped them, twice.
While the Super Teams struggle — try to contain your glee — the teams that were built the right way — Suns, Heat, Celtics, Jazz — have flourished.