The history of the “super team” in the NBA goes back further than you’d think. The Boston Celtics were arguably the originators of the ‘big three’ dating as far back as the 1950s, though the way in which those rosters now come together has changed in the modern era. Some 60 years later when LeBron James decided he was taking his talents down to South Beach, it felt like a seismic shift in the way players could decide their futures and chase a championship ring.
Since, we’ve seen Kevin Durant do the same and be labelled by a large swathe of NBA fans as a ‘snake’ for the way in which he went about getting his move and subsequent success. Ironically, KD was also a part of the most recent super team movement, when the Brooklyn Nets acquired Kyrie Irving and James Harden to play alongside him. With that core dismantled, and the Lakers ‘experiment’ of adding Russell Westbrook to a roster already containing LeBron and Anthony Davis failing, the idea of the super team seems to have all but dissipated for now.
With global Covid concerns showing no real signs of abating, these kinds of rosters have been made to look temperamental as franchises are forced to sacrifice depth to pay the biggest wages and have suffered when guys go down with illness or injury. It’s arguably led to an increased desire to promote younger cores with more depth and just a sprinkle of star quality. There are a number of teams who can lay claim to having this kind of makeup, with the Memphis Grizzlies the name on the lips of many NBA fans this season, and the Los Angeles Clippers — when at full health, at least — could claim to also be one of the league’s frontrunning squads from top to bottom.
On Monday evening, despite losing in overtime to a burgeoning and youthful Cleveland Cavaliers squad, the younger guys pushed their promising opponents all the way. While those players and their coach Ty Lue would’ve been disappointed to not be able to take it that extra step and secure another big win for their season, they should be able to see it as evidence that what is being built here is something special. With Nicolas Batum the only veteran to play big minutes and all of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson sitting on the sidelines, the fact that the Clippers still managed to make a real game of it is testament to the depth and mentality that they possess.
With second-round draft picks like Terance Mann and Brandon Boston Jr., and the undrafted Amir Coffey coming up big for their team, it was clear that they’ve got guys who can be relied upon to step up when the chips are down — and, boy, have those chips been down astronomically these past two years. Even the players they’ve picked up along the way have been able to make contributions and build on that depth, with Isaiah Hartenstein continuing to prove that the franchise was absolutely right to put their faith in him as their backup center.
That’s without even mentioning what is waiting in the wings. Norman Powell left the comment “scary hours” on an Instagram post referencing the talent that is still sitting on the sidelines for the Clippers, as they’ve continued to pick up big wins and establish themselves as shoo-ins for a place in the play-in tournament. In Leonard and George, the franchise can still hang their hopes of a championship on two of the league’s best two-way players. Powell showed himself to be a walking bucket in his first few games with this squad, while Jackson and Morris have long been reliable scorers and capable of making their contributions count in clutch moments. Coach Lue commented on how the addition of Covington was like having two Batums, which is about as big a compliment you could pay a guy looking to settle into this team, given how crucial the Frenchman has proven to be on both ends of the floor.
OK, so the super team may not be dead just yet, and perhaps in a post-pandemic world (if such a thing exists…) we may see rosters stacked with top-end talent leaving the rest of the league in their dust once again. For now though, we’re seeing a different kind of team rising to the fore, and a golden generation of young talent coming through means teams can keep an eye on the future while still equipping themselves to compete in the present day. The Clippers will feel like all possibilities are still open to them, and with a healthy roster it really could be ‘scary hours’ for the rest of the league for years to come.