Most Disappointing Superteams in NBA History


Gary Payton and Karl Malone, 2003 press conference (via Byung Kee Park, Gugguro Media)

When multiple superstars join forces to contend for a title, most NBA fans would refer to them as a "superteam." These teams are always title favorites, but that doesn't mean they are always able to live up to their hype.


The 2017-2019 Warriors come to mind when thinking of superteams, as a 72-9 roster added a top-three player in Kevin Durant during the summer of 2016, leading the team to two titles over three years. The 2011-2014 Miami Heat are also prevalent examples, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh leading them to two titles and four finals appearances. Some would consider the 2015-2016 Cavaliers to be a superteam, as they had an all-star trio of LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Others would argue that the Shaq/Kobe Lakers of the early 2000s was a superteam simply because of how dominant the duo was, leading their team to a three-peat from 2000 to 2002.


Regardless of how you define what a superteam is, the trend is clear in these examples: superteams have a ton of star power and very high expectations, and these teams were able to meet those expectations with multiple titles or multiple finals appearances.


Then, there are superteams that just never meshed well. Some of them struggled to reach the playoffs, let alone the NBA finals. Here are five of the most disappointing superteams ever assembled in NBA history. They were definite contenders on paper but a total mess on the court.



5) 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers


Superstar core of Bryant, Malone, O'Neal, and Payton (via Andrew D. Bernstein, Getty Images)

Prior to the 2003-04 season, the Lakers had won 50 games and finished their season off in a disappointing fashion, losing in 6 games to the Spurs in the second round. The season was marred with inconsistency and injuries from Shaq, but the team still had high expectations regardless.


Adding Hall-of-Famer Gary Payton during the summer of 2003 only amplified these expectations. Despite being 34-years-old in the 2002-03 season, Payton was still an All-Star who averaged around 20 points and 8 assists per game.


Then came another Hall-of-Famer in Karl Malone, who had just averaged 20 points, 8 rebounds, and nearly 5 assists per game in his last season for the Utah Jazz. Despite being 39-years-old, he was more than capable as an NBA big man, and with three other superstars in Kobe, Shaq, and Payton already on the team, he didn't have to worry about shouldering the load.


We all know how this story ended: a disappointing 4-1 finals loss to the underdog Detroit Pistons, the retirement of Karl Malone, the trading away of Gary Payton to the Celtics, and the breakup of Shaq and Kobe that would haunt the Lakers for the next five years.


Sure, the Lakers made the finals this year, so why are they on this list? There are two things to consider.


One, the expectations were much higher for this superteam than many other superteams we remember. The Lakers were already a team capable of winning another title with Kobe and Shaq, two of the top-five players in the league, not to mention the solid core built around the duo. Adding Payton and Malone meant that everyone in the world saw another parade for L.A in June.


Two, they were dismantled by a Pistons squad that had zero All-NBA members. Yes, the '04 Pistons were a very strong, cohesive, and well-coached team. But let's not forget that at the time, not a lot of people gave them a chance against the star-studded Lakers.



4) 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks


Dirk Nowitzki and Baron Davis after the Warriors' shocking first-round upset (via Jeff Chiu, Associated Press)

Putting the '07 Mavs on this list was a bit iffy, considering how some may argue that they didn't have enough firepower to be considered a "superteam," but judging by the personnel they had for this season, calling the Mavs a superteam wouldn't be too big of a stretch. At worst, the Mavs were a really talented and deep squad led by MVP Dirk Nowitzki. Many consider this Mavs team to be one of the greatest regular season teams of all time.


Josh Howard was an All-Star that year, Jerry Stackhouse was still a solid contributor off the bench, and Jason Terry averaged 17 points per game as a starter. The team won 67 games (tied for seventh-most wins in NBA history) and were expected to, at the very least, face the Suns or the Spurs in the conference finals.


Instead, the Mavs would go down as the most disappointing first team in history, losing in 6 games to the Golden State Warriors in the first round. This was the first time in NBA history that an 8th seed upset the 1st seed in a seven-game series.



3) 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets


Trading away their future for two guys over 36 years old wasn't a great idea (via Nathaniel S. Butler, Getty Images)

In hindsight, the Nets basically pulled off a mass-demolition of their future by trading away a million draft picks for future Hall-of-Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.


At the time, however, this was a power move that the Nets pulled off to become legit contenders in the East. They already had an elite point guard in Deron Williams, who had just averaged 19 points and 7.7 assists in the prior season, and by his side was (at the time) 6-time All-Star guard Joe Johnson, who averaged 16 points per game in 2013.


Then there was Brook Lopez, who was coming off an All-Star campaign in the 2012-13 season. With five players capable of making an All-Star team, the Nets were expected to challenge the Miami Heat for the Eastern Conference title.


Alas, Garnett and Pierce were 37 and 36-years-old, respectively, and their age really showed throughout the season. Lopez struggled with injuries throughout the year, playing in only 17 games. The Nets finished sixth in the East with a 44-38 record, five games worse than their previous season, but they managed to squeeze past the Raptors in the first round. They would then barely put up a fight against the Miami Heat in the second round, losing in five games.


2) 1996-97 Houston Rockets


Superstar trio of Drexler, Olajuwon, and Barkley (via Stephen Dunn, Getty Images)

In the summer of 1996, the Rockets were just one year removed from back-to-back titles. After a disappointing second-round exit in May, the Rockets traded for Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley from the Pheonix Suns, who was coming off a season averaging 23 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. With Hakeem Olajuwon averaging 27 points and 11 rebounds in the prior season, along with a Clyde Drexler still performing at an All-Star level, the Rockets officially had a superstar trio heading into the 1996-97 season.


The superteam initially looked unstoppable with a 21-2 record to start the season. However, Drexler and Barkley struggled with injuries throughout the season, and though the Rockets finished with a solid 57-25 record, good for the 3rd seed in the West, the team looked helpless against the Jazz in the conference finals.


With such a disappointing end to the season, the Rockets would never be the same again, barely making the playoffs as the 8th seed in the next season. Olajuwon and Barkley would never make another All-Star team again, while Drexler would retire in 1998.

1) 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers


A season marred by injuries, locker room issues, and inconsistency (via Noah Graham, Getty Images)

The '13 Lakers are probably the most infamous superteam in the modern era. Why is this team the most disappointing one in history? Let's look at the full context.


The Lakers had just come off a disappointing end to a season, losing in 5 games to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round. The team had finished 3rd in the West, and although the Lakers were widely considered a strong team in the west, they were no longer the main contenders.


Then in the summer of 2012, they traded Andrew Bynum and a bag of chips for Dwight Howard, who was by far the best center in the NBA at the time. At 27-years-old, Howard was still in his physical prime, coming off a season averaging 20 points and 14.5 rebounds. He was also a member of the All-Defensive First Team. Unlike the other superteams listed, the Lakers weren't adding a superstar at the tail end of his career; Dwight Howard was expected to provide elite numbers for years to come.


The Lakers also acquired Nash in a sign-and-trade deal from the Suns that summer. Though he was 39-years-old, Nash was coming off of an All-Star season, averaging 12.5 points and 10.7 assists per game.


Think about it: the Lakers already had a solid core around Kobe and Pau Gasol. They were still fringe contenders in the 2012 season. Now add the best center in the league and a point guard who was still performing at an elite level, and you've got the perfect team to win a ring. Remember all the fans moaning about how unfair this team was? On paper, that was 100% true.


Unfortunately for the Lakers, the season was marred by injuries with Gasol, Nash, and Howard. They barely got much time on the court with each other, and Kobe had to shoulder most of the load near the end of the season. At 34 years old, the team was too heavy to carry, and he would suffer a season-ending Achilles injury in April. The Lakers finished with a 45-37 record, barely making the playoffs as the 7th seed. They got swept by the Spurs.


This was the last year we saw a prime Kobe Bryant, while Howard would leave for Houston in the summer of 2013. The Lakers would be a lottery team for years to come.




Preview photo credit: Byung Kee Park, Gugguro Media

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