Forming an elite core of players is nothing new to basketball.
Most recently, the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers have built a “Big Three” by convincing superstars to play for them to form powerful trios that in Miami’s case, goes on to win titles. Neither of these teams have done it the way the Warriors are doing it now, however.
Miami’s recruitment, signing and premature celebration of their core has been examined and criticized for years. After luring LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the Heat went on to play in four consecutive NBA Finals and winning two of them. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh were friends, and joined forces in what would become a suffocating force of basketball nirvana for the time they were together.
This past offseason, LeBron James was once again the topic of discussion, keeping the NBA and its followers anxiously awaiting what his next decision would be: to return to the franchise that earned him his only championships, or head back home to Cleveland to try and win additional ones for his city. What became was the latter, and former Minnesota power forward Kevin Love would follow suit soon after.
Miami’s run was a successful one, and many had James returning to South Beach rather than join what was considered at the time to be a reclamation project in Cleveland. But, as James and owner Dan Gilbert eased the tension brought about from their previous break up, James returned, bringing Kevin Love, heralded European coach David Blatt (who also interviewed for an assistant job with the Warriors before joining) and a slew of veterans wanting to win championships before they call it a career.
Miami’s reign as a supreme power is over, as was clear in the Warriors’ 104-89 victory on Wednesday night. Cleveland was once projected to win the Eastern Conference, but has since turned into the biggest disappointment in the league. David Blatt has yet to earn the respect of his players, most importantly LeBron James, and it’s having a structural impact both on and off the court. The Irving-James-Love trio isn’t meshing on either end, resulting in the 17th (99.8) ranked offense in the league and allowing teams to shoot 47% (second worst only to the Minnesota Timberwolves).
While Miami continues to find their way (17-22) after James’ departure and Cleveland still getting adjusted to James’ return (19-20), the best team in the league calls Oakland home, and their Big Three doesn’t need free agent signings or glitzy celebrations to warrant such high praise. The Warriors have made major acquisitions in the form of signings and trades with Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala, but neither should be considered part of their foundation for the future.
Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green weren’t recruited or lured by ownership. They didn’t need presentations, apologies or private jets. The concept of a superteam isn’t some new revelation, as teams want as many good players on their team as possible at any given time. But it speaks to team’s hierarchy and scouting department when these players are drafted instead of simply signed. This type of superteam is unique, especially in today’s NBA and teams’ willingness to acquire talent no matter what the cost (Brooklyn Nets).
In the case of the Brooklyn Nets, new owner Mikhail Prokhorov wanted a competitive team immediately. He had the new arena, celebrity following and logo redesign, but he didn’t have a team to excite the borough. As a result – with the help of Billy King – the Nets acquired Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry in separate deals. What resulted was one playoff series win, a historically bad financial situation and zero first round picks until 2019.
Prokhorov is now trying to sell his stake in the team.
It’s not uncommon for new owners to want to make an instant impression. Joe Lacob immediately approved the David Lee deal at the beginning of his ownership tenure. At that time, Lee joined a core of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry along with the #6 overall pick Ekpe Udoh. That core would dissolve just two seasons later when Andrew Bogut was acquired, however.
The Warriors chose Curry over Ellis and drafted Klay Thompson in 2011 as his running mate. The very next season, Lacob and his cooks drafted Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli in what’s become one of the most successful drafts in franchise history. While Barnes was the highest pick, started in his first season and has regained his starting spot this season, it’s Green who’s continuously proven himself as an invaluable piece to the Warriors impressive puzzle.
Green carries a net rating of 18.0, third only behind Curry and Bogut. He’s the heartbeat, voice and linchpin of a 31-5 team. His defensive intensity is only matched by few, and his rise this season – especially in Bogut’s absence – has been nothing short of a revelation. Curry and Thompson combine to make the engine, but Green is the fuel that makes it all go.
Unlike other organizations that act rapidly in hopes of quickly building a contender, the Warriors have been equally patient as they’ve been lucky. Curry preferred New York, but Larry Riley selected him anyways. Thompson fell to them at #11 and Green slipped all the way to the second round. Both Thompson and Green would be Top-5 picks in their respective drafts if held again.
“Too many cooks in the kitchen” isn’t a bad thing, especially when the cooks consist of sharp basketball minds and a Hall of Fame player. Despite their incredible success, they’ll have more decisions to make, with Green due for a contract extension and the contracts of Lee and Iguodala still at hand. But, if past history is any indication, they couldn’t care less about any minds but their own.
It’s these very minds that earned them their current success and subsequently, a core worth building around for years to come. Curry and Thompson are already secured long-term, and Green will soon be following suit. Like the San Antonio Spurs, this “Big Three” didn’t need gimmicks in its inception. Now, all the Warriors need is the hardware.
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