Week of November 12, 2022

Say it’s so.

How ‘Bout Them Superteams

Great story here from Justin Verrier on how the NBA superteams put together in 2019 are struggling mightily. LeBron James’ Lakers (2-9) is one of those teams and I couldn’t help but think about how his Decision still looms large in the NBA, but in a way you might not expect.

The league changed when LeBron James decided to form a super team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, and the impact is rippling out, even today. Although it seemed so at the time for many, it’s not outlandish for an all-time great player to want to play with great players to increase his likelihood of winning titles. And that’s what LeBron did. He was a free agent, and went to the best basketball situation. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh won two titles in four years in Miami, and went to The Finals each year. 

When it was clear Wade was past his prime, LeBron went back to Cleveland. Cool that it was home, but as Bill Simmons has pointed many times, Cleveland was the best situation for him to win right away. They got (or would get) Kevin Love, then had a young Kyrie, and the Eastern Conference was there for the taking. He went to four more Finals. James making the NBA FInals 8 consecutive years is pretty impressive. During that second stint with the Cavs, James signed one-year contracts as a way to assert more pressure on the team to win now. Leverage the future for the present. And if the front office didn’t do that, well then maybe LeBron wouldn’t stick around. After the talent dried up in Cleveland, he went to the Lakers, eventually joining forces with Anthony Davis. 

It wasn’t long before other stars wanted the same, and teams had to leverage the future to attract the big stars. KD and Kyrie in Brooklyn. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the Clippers. 

Per Verrier: 

For more than a decade, the NBA operated under the assumption that aggregating superstars was the key to success, to the point that even a 73-win team (the Warriors) had to enlist a former MVP for reinforcement. But it’s jarring watching the league these days and seeing a team led by James and Davis—still ranked among the league’s 20 best players despite recent setbacks—look downright feckless against a no-star, all-vibes outfit like the Jazz. It’s early, shooting luck will even out, etc., etc., yet it’s hard not to wonder whether the three teams expected to dominate the league just three calendar years ago are already drawing dead—and if the blueprint that built those and other recent superteams has suddenly become outdated. 

That’s not to say that the lure of star power has somehow diminished. The Cavs, lest we forget, just forked over a half decade of future draft picks to add Mitchell, whose blistering start has been the engine of Cleveland’s early success. But there’s a big difference between adding a star to an existing core, as the Hawks and Timberwolves also did this past offseason, and starting from scratch with a newly acquired superstar (or two or three) as the center of your franchise’s universe. One augments a team and its culture; the other replaces them. And by the summer of 2019, the latter was the cost of doing business with the very best players in the league.

Also, the superstars who can command this type of treatment and win-now approach from a franchise aren’t the healthiest bunch…that, or they are just getting old in basketball terms.  

Since 2019: 

Durant has missed 57% of the Nets games. Kyrie: 53%. Kawhi and Paul George: 53% and 40%. LeBron and Anthony Davis: 25% and 37%

A ton of draft picks and prospects were traded to put those superteams together, and none of them won a single playoff game last year. As a result of the trades made in order to get the superstar players, they have diminished assets to make any more moves.

The rest of the league took notice, too. 

But the Davis and George trades, while boons for the L.A. teams, were also clear warnings to any team (and perhaps more importantly, owner) in a less glamorous market: If you want to keep the stars you have, you need to pay the exorbitant price to win now. In other words, LeBron’s and Kawhi’s power plays galvanized their competition into making similar moves, creating superish teams with younger stars and deeper rosters on the same timeline as the Lakers, Clippers, and Nets.

Verrier’s story is about positing the idea that death of the last wave of superteams assembled through free agency and trading away the future. I also see it as this odd homage to The Decision. It worked out pretty spectacularly for LeBron: 4 rings, 10 trips to the Finals (one before his move to Miami), a just about every playoff record out there. It also helped normalize the most understandable idea out there in the professional world (I would like to decide where I want to work in order to be most successful). LeBron changed the game to such a degree that he’s made winning more difficult for himself.  – PAL 

Source: “Is the NBA’s Superteam Era Already Over?” Justin Verrier, The Ringer (11/10/22)


RIP, Jane Gross

Obituaries fascinate me. I never heard of Jane Gross until reading this Richard Sandomir obituary, but I feel privileged to have read the summary of her life today. She’s no superstar. Far from a household name, but today I learned about a lady who led a meaningful, impactful life. 

Gross was a sports reporter. In 1975, she became the first female sports reporter known to enter a professional basketball locker room while covering the Knicks for the Long Island paper, Newsday. A few years later, it became NBA policy to allow women writers in the locker room, which was essential to covering a team in the same fashion as a male counterpart. 

She was scared, but Gross later said, “But I began to realize what a fellow sportswriter at Newsday had told me,” she was quoted as saying in a 1976 profile by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, “that you really can’t get the flavor of the players without seeing them in the locker room and the camaraderie they share.”

Richard Sandomir

She added: “It’s a beautiful thing, the closeness and lack of inhibition after great physical exertion. Most women rarely experience it.”

In addition to sports, she wrote about abortion, the AIDS crisis, Alzheimers and the San Francisco earthquake in 1989. Later, when her mother’s health declined, she started writing about caring for aging parents. That became her beat.

“People tended to underestimate her, and she welcomed it,” Jonathan Landman, a former Times editor who worked with Ms. Gross on the National desk, said in a phone interview. “She played the role of someone emotional, and not too tough, but she was as rigorous and tough-minded a reporter as anyone.”

Sandomir

Gross’s dad was a sports columnist, and she loved it. She followed in his footsteps, then trailblazed her own path. RIP, Jane Gross. – PAL 

 Source: Jane Gross, Sportswriter Who Opened Locker Room Doors, Dies at 75,” Richard Sandomir, The New York Times (11/10/22) 


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