The NBA Superteam Model Is Not Working

    • This was the first season in NBA history that the top two preseason Finals favorites did not at least reach the second round.
    • Injuries are the common denominator, but the lack of depth and flexibility meant none of the three could compete for long without their stars. 

On Monday, the Nets became the latest superteam to start their summer vacation early.

Brooklyn’s plan to trade draft picks for three stars — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Ben Simmons (after James Harden’s expensive flop) — and pay them a combined 63% of the payroll resulted in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Celtics.

It looks to be an NBA-wide trend

In the West, the Lakers’ Big Three (LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook) accounted for 73.4% of the team’s salary, while the Clippers’ duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George ate up 48%. Both teams missed the postseason entirely.

  • Nets ($174.8M, 2nd in payroll): just seven playoff wins since Durant and Irving joined in 2019.
  • Clippers ($167.8M, 3rd): Leonard’s injured knee forced two consecutive early postseason exits before this season’s play-in elimination.
  • Lakers ($164.4M, 4th): missed the play-in and fired head coach Frank Vogel.

While injuries are the common denominator, the severe lack of depth and flexibility meant none of the three could compete for long without their stars. 

Meanwhile, teams with lower budgets — the Celtics ($138M), Heat ($140.8M), Suns ($136.5M), and Grizzlies ($117.3M) — have impressed by balancing star power and continuity.

The upshot: This was the first season in NBA history that the top two preseason Finals favorites (Nets +230; Lakers +425) did not at least reach the second round.