Building an NBA Champion Part 1: The Big Three

     The 2014-15 NBA season is around the corner, and with the growing interest in the upcoming season, I’ve decided to take some time to address one of the biggest questions surrounding the NBA.  That question is this: what is the best way to build an NBA championship contending team?
     Now for the most part there are only two main sides to this story.  The first belief is that the road to a championship team is by way of forming a so-called “Big 3”, a highly controversial idea that essentially means three of the best players in the league are put on the same team with the hopes that the star power of three guys can take any team into an immediate contender.  Alternatively, there is the traditional belief that winning basketball begins with team chemistry and roster stability.  Proponents of this system believe that a good coach, solid players, and a combination of hard work, chemistry, and heart can pull a team to the ultimate goal of winning an NBA title.
     What I’m doing is very simple.  I’m going to split this debate into two parts.  The first part, which is what you’re reading right now, is going to deal with the Big 3.  The second part, which should come out in a few days, will concentrate on winning the old fashioned way with teams that work hard and have good chemistry.  Each separate post will deal with the pros and cons of each method, how they have worked historically, and the risks and rewards associated with attempting each method.  Now that all of the introductions are out of the way, let’s talk about Big 3s.
     As I’ve already stated, the idea of a Big 3 is a very controversial thing, and many people are angered by the very mention of one.  However, much of this is purely due to the antics of LeBron James over the 2010 offseason.  Many people, including myself, grew to strongly oppose the concept of putting together three top players just because of the “Decision” TV special and all the hype surrounding the new super team bound to sweep the NBA.  While most agree that this situation was handled poorly, many don’t realize that this is just one example of a Big 3.
     What I mean by this is that while the common idea of a Big 3 is the intentional joining together of three top players with the intention of creating a super team, this might not always be the case.  It is entirely possible that through drafting the right players and properly developing talent acquired through trades and free agency, a Big 3 could be constructed naturally without all the antics that go into building a Big 3 from scratch.  I wanted to mention this as a possibly because I believe that it is entirely possible for this to occur.  However, since this isn’t how people typically view the concept of a Big 3, for the remainder of this post assume that the concept of a Big 3 does describe the more mainstream idea typically associated with Big 3s.
     This concept has become very popular recently due to the growing opinion that a team with a single star can’t be an NBA title team.  Perhaps the most powerful example of this is when Carmelo Anthony was on the Denver Nuggets.  Anthony, one of the best players in the game, had seven straight playoff appearances from 2004-10, but only made it out of the first round one time.  Melo never reached the NBA Finals during his time in Denver, despite all his personal successes.  This led to the idea of gathering three players of similar “star” caliber.  After all, with so many great players, a team couldn’t lose.  Right?
     Surprisingly, this is a very new idea.  Up until very recently, players did not constantly switch teams during free agency, and especially didn’t discuss joining up with other players.  This is for a few reasons.  First off, rivalries were much stronger back then, and players on teams that didn’t like each other simply hated each other too much to even consider playing with each other.  Secondly, individual players back then were considered to be pieces of a puzzle, while now they are highly marketable personalities that go wherever they can be paid the most millions.
     In fact, I’d say that there have been only three real Big 3s the way we like to define them.  And even defining them is difficult because there isn’t a real definitive way of defining a “superstar” player.  Regardless of this, they are the Big 3 of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett (Celtics) that formed in 2007, The LeBron, Wade, and Bosh Big 3 formed in 2010 in Miami, and the new LeBron, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love Big 3 just formed this offseason in Cleveland.  Even the forming of the Celtics threesome doesn’t fit the definition perfectly, but it’s close enough.  So far, both the 2007 and 2010 Big 3s have been successful.  The Celtics reached the finals twice in their first three years, winning the NBA Championship in 2008, while the Heat reached four consecutive NBA Finals, winning two rings.
     Obviously in terms of pros of Big 3s, the main point is that with a Big 3 you’re getting a lot of talent.  Naturally, when you have a trio of superstars, there won’t be many teams, if any teams, with more overall talent than you.  Especially considering another strong argument for the creation of a Big 3 is that it draws in talented veteran players whose NBA days are numbered that want to be a part of a winning team.  For example, the Heat were able to bring in players such as Ray Allen, Zydrunas Illgauskas, Shane Battier, and Chris Andersen over the years to help contribute and play important roles in the successes of these teams.
     Additionally, Big 3s draw crowds like no other.  Home fans will pack stadiums, millions of bandwagoners will also support the team, and the media and paparazzi will become infatuated with the team.  Let’s be honest: if you’re constructing a Big 3, you do it to make some noise around the league, and noise you will make.
     Finally, like I’ve already mentioned, both Big 3s so far have been very successful, and have ended with NBA titles.  In the end, nothing beats success, and odds of winning with a Big 3 are significantly greater than odds of an average team making a miracle run to the NBA Finals.  Even if it might not work 100% of the time, it seems like the times good comes out of a Big 3 will strongly outweigh the times where no great success is achieved.
     Now for the negatives of this controversial method of constructing a team.  First off, a big con that I believe not many people realize is that a Big 3 can’t just sprout up anywhere.  To be able to bring over big name players, prospective Big 3 teams need to either be in a large market, a historically successful market, or already have a superstar.  The majority of teams don’t fit any of these criterion, and therefore it would be near impossible for a Big 3 to be formed in, say, Milwaukee next season.  If Jabari Parker becomes one of the premier players in the league, the situation might change, but as of now, it just couldn’t happen.
     Additionally, along with all the new fans you’ll gain, just as many and probably more people will suddenly hate your team, and root specifically against the Big 3’s success.  It’s just like I said during last season: I’m rooting for 29 teams in the league to win the title, and the Heat aren’t one of them.
     Also, it may be very difficult to find players to fill the remaining roster spots, since any team with a Big 3 will be spending the majority salary cap money on max contracts for the three stars.  Luckily the Heat were able to find a few solid contributors, but they had below average depth as a whole.  It’s not easy to lure in strong players if you can’t promise them money they could get with any number of different teams.
     Lastly, there are extremely high standards to fulfill and at times an unbearable amount of pressure that comes naturally with everyone knowing you have the best team in the league, and the team every wants to beat.  Anything less than a championship at the end of the season is considered a failure, and the fans won’t won’t be pleased if this goal isn’t achieved.  This can lead to rushing the development of the team, and when you take a whole bunch of stars and force them to work together, team chemistry can be harmed because everyone wants to do everything and be the center of attention.  It was originally very hard for Chris Bosh to transition from the man in Toronto to the less talked about number three man in Miami, and the team may have struggled a bit originally from that.
     So what’s the verdict overall?  Well it’s ultimately up to the teams themselves to decide what they want to do, but it’s very risky business.  Getting everyone on the same page to create a Big 3 in the first place isn’t easy business as the Rockets have just found out in their failed attempt to create the next powerhouse team.  However, if it can be accomplished, you can definitely expect to see the benefits in the form of wins, and as controversial as it may be, winning is practically everything in professional sports these days.  In the end, it is what it is – a group of extremely talented players that have the capability of winning an NBA championship, and much better odds to do so than the average team.  And if that’s what we’re after, than despite how difficult it may be, ultimately a Big 3 is a very strong way of a building a title team.
     However, it isn’t the only way of doing it.  But we’ll save that for next time.
     Thanks for reading,
     Connor
 

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