High stakes: NBA teams battle over superstars like never before


The NBA needs more superstars.

They are in high demand like never before for almost every franchise not named Warriors or Cavaliers, and there just aren’t enough to go around. Not when teams need two to three in hand just to get through the Conference Finals, and all fingers should point to Kevin Durant for those looking for a someone to blame.

But what about LeBron James, right?

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green says the infamous Miami Heat decision was the first domino in creating today’s superteam atmosphere. Or maybe it was Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joining forces with Paul Pierce in Boston, who knows?

What we do know is that Durant’s decision to pack his bags and head to California is in a category of it’s own, and it has drastically impacted this year’s free agency. Before diving into the free agency madness, let’s compare the James and Celtics decisions with that of Durant’s.

Garnett, Allen and Pierce were all in their early 30s, and the Celtics had just missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season. The furthest any of them had gotten by themselves was to the conference finals, and neither of their teams were even close to making a deep playoff run in the coming years. Garnett and Allen joined Boston to help make a less-than-average team better and contend for a title before the window closed on their careers.

I wasn’t a fan of the Miami decision either, but after getting swept by the Spurs in the 2007 Finals with one of the worst supporting casts of any Finals team in the history of the league, it was only a matter of time before James left Cleveland. The newly-improved Celtics bounced LeBron and the Cavaliers in the second round in two of the following three seasons while also eliminating Dwyane Wade’s Heat in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs. Chris Bosh and the Raptors hadn’t seen any playoff action in four years during that span. So Bosh and LeBron joined Wade in Miami to help make an average team better just like the Celtics a few years prior.

The Heat eliminated Oklahoma City’s Russel Westbrook-James Harden-Durant trio in five games in the 2012 Finals. Harden left the following year, which set Oklahoma City back a little, but the Durant-Westbrook duo still found themselves up 3-1 against a record setting Warriors offense in last year’s Western Conference Finals. Durant was one win away from his second trip to the Finals when he shot himself right out of the playoffs in Game 6. He and Westbrook combined for 64 percent of the team’s shot attempts and 73 percent of the team’s missed shots.

The Warriors went on the win Game 7, and Durant was on the outside looking in once again. Oklahoma City should have been headed to the Finals. The Thunder were already built to win a companionship and probably would have made it to the Finals the following year if Durant would have stayed, but he didn’t. He didn’t go make an average team great by joining forces with other superstars like the Heat-Celtics decisions. Instead, he joined a record setting 73-win team with three superstars already on the roster.

Now, teams are forced to get their hands on three and four superstars just to keep up, which has made this offseason an exciting one. A defensive struggling Houston Rockets gave away their best defensive player in Patrick Beverly along with a handful of players and a draft pick for an aged Chris Paul.

The race to load up on superstars has begun, which is why former Jazz player Gordon Hayward was such a hot commodity who the Boston Celtics landed. The Thunder even felt the need to gamble on superstar Paul George with one year left on his contract just to stay competitive. George has already expressed his interest in going to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Teams have realized they need multiple superstars to beat Durant and the Warriors. The problem is, there aren’t enough for many teams to hoard two and three of them. So as long as the Warriors core stays together, there will only be one or two teams who can compete. The franchise with the most superstar will end up on top.

Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The (Columbus) Republic, a sister publication to the Daily Reporter. Send comments to rtorres@greenfield reporter.com.

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