As NBA Superteams Fail, Homegrown Talent Is the Name of the Game Again

The Nets were swept out of the playoffs by the Celtics, ending the season for the last of the NBA's superteams

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown defend a shot from Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown defend a shot from Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets.
Maddie Meyer/Getty

Of the nine Celtics players who took the floor in Brooklyn for Boston’s series-clinching Game 4 win over the Nets, seven were drafted by or began their career with the C’s. (Undrafted center Daniel Theis signed with the team after playing in Germany for multiple years.) For the Nets, who fell 116-112 to complete Boston’s four-game sweep, only one of the nine players who took the floor, Nic Claxton, was drafted by Brooklyn.

Built via free agency and by swapping solid role players like Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert for high-end talent, Brooklyn embraced the NBA’s superteam model and five of the nine Nets who appeared in Game 4 have been an All-Star at least once. For the largely homegrown Celtics, only three players can make that claim. What’s the point? At least for this season, stability and team-building are winning out over talent and star power in the NBA.

Which isn’t to say that the Celtics, who have gone 15-11 in the postseason and won three playoff rounds since Kyrie Irving departed Boston for Brooklyn to join Kevin Durant three seasons ago, aren’t talented. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are two of the top young talents in the NBA and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart and veteran big man Al Horford are the core pieces of a strong supporting cast. But the star-studded Nets, who have gone 8-12 in the postseason and only won a single playoff round since adding Irving and Durant, were still viewed as the favorites against Boston. Instead, the Nets became the first team eliminated from the NBA’s postseason and the last of the league’s three superteams to go up in flames this season.

To credit Brooklyn, they at least made it to the playoffs, a feat the trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook couldn’t accomplish for the Lakers. Across town in Los Angeles, the Clippers lost in the NBA’s postseason play-in tournament without either of their dynamic duo of Kawhi Leonard (injury) and Paul George (tested positive for COVID-19) able to play.

With Brooklyn and both of the Los Angeles superteams now watching, the playoffs will go on and in all likelihood, a team that is led by a homegrown star, not a superstar mercenary, will win the NBA title. It might be the Celtics and Tatum, but it could also be the Suns (Devin Booker), Warriors (Steph Curry) or 76ers (Joel Embiid). It could also clearly be the Bucks, who won it all last year after diligently building their team around a talented player who blossomed into a unique superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Now there’s a fresh batch of teams and a new generation of stars who aren’t yet obsessed with combining powers and moonlighting as general managers,” according to The Washington Post. “Not surprisingly, their teams have balance, depth and multiple ways of winning.”

The playoffs rolling on with homegrown superstars and without superteams is a great thing for the NBA because, for the second postseason in a row, multiple teams truly have a chance to win it all. As the NFL has proven time and again and perhaps the NBA is embracing with its play-in tourney, parity leads to prosperity. None of that is to say that the superteam is over. It isn’t. But even though NBA superteams aren’t dead, they’re all on vacation now.

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