The Golden State Warriors were the basis for how a superteam should be built. Now, they represent the complete opposite. With seven Celtics-drafted players in Boston and eight Warriors-drafted players in Golden State, this NBA Finals is all about that homegrown talent. In the past, however, it took a lot of superstar signings and dynamic duos to make these teams competitive.
For reference, the Celtics’ last championship in 2008 centered around Ray Allen (not drafted), Paul Pierce (drafted), and Kevin Garnett (not drafted). They kept this core together until they changed it up in the 2013 offseason when they traded Pierce and Garnett in one of the most lopsided trades of the 2010’s (this netted the Celtics a boatload of draft picks). In the 2016 season, the Celtics were back to contending for championships. They were led by Isaiah Thomas (not drafted), Avery Bradley (drafted), and Jae Crowder (not drafted). They lost in the first round. 2017 was a big year for Celtics fans. The team made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals with this same core and the inclusion of Al Horford from Atlanta. In 2018, the team made a big swing by trading Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder for Kyrie Irving, hoping this would create a Celtics superteam. It didn’t work. Irving didn’t fit with young wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, while regularly taking away their shots to make room for his own. They ran it back in 2019 to no avail. They changed it up again in the offseason, losing Irving and gaining Kemba Walker from the Charlotte Hornets. This was another bad decision, as Walker played like a shell of his former self. They ran it back with other veteran additions, hoping that would solve the issues. That only resulted in a first-round exit. This year is different. The starting lineup consists of Jayson Tatum (drafted), Jaylen Brown (drafted), Marcus Smart (drafted), Robert Williams (drafted), and Al Horford (not drafted). That’s almost completely homegrown talent and that seems to work a lot better.
For the Warriors, the beginning is 2010, Steph Curry’s rookie year. Monta Ellis was the best player on the team but other than him, there wasn’t a lot of talent. The losing persisted until about 2013, when Curry really became the star. There was also someone named Klay Thompson on that team, in his second year in the league. They lost in the second round. 2014 was much of the same. 2015 was the year that everything changed. The draft selections that the Warriors had made over the years had started to pay off. The top four players on the team (Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, and Harrison Barnes) were all picked by the team. They won 67 games and won the championship. We all know what happened in 2016. They ran it back with the same team and blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals after winning a record 73 games. Then, the offseason came. They acquired Kevin Durant. They formed a superteam that would make three straight championships and win two of them. They became the basis of the superteam. They became the villain of the NBA for their success. Durant then left, the team crumbled, and surged again this year. They have a starting lineup of Steph Curry (drafted), Klay Thompson (drafted), Draymond Green (drafted), Kevon Looney (drafted), and Andrew Wiggins (not drafted). That’s also almost completely homegrown talent and that seems to work just the same.
The “superteams” of the current NBA have not experienced the same success as these two franchises have. The Los Angeles Lakers, for example, paired LeBron James and Anthony Davis with Russell Westbrook. This trio led their team to a 33-49 record. The Brooklyn Nets had Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden (for a while). They went 44-38 and got swept by the Celtics in the first round. The Philadelphia 76ers escaped the Ben Simmons saga by adding James Harden to a team that already had Joel Embiid. 51-31, loss in the second round. The Phoenix Suns had Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton. They won a whopping 64 games in the regular season. Yet, they crashed in the second round. The Los Angeles Clippers have yet to make it to the Finals with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. One could go on and on. The precedent for success seems to have changed. Teams can’t add a Ray Allen and a Kevin Garnett and then immediately win a championship anymore. There is no Kevin Durant solution. The answer, it seems, is in the draft. The answer involves a lot of growth and continuity. The answer is not the superteam.