May 22, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) and Dwyane Wade (3) during the second quarter of game 5 of the 2012 NBA eastern conference semi-finals against the Indiana Pacers at the American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Ever since LeBron, Wade and Bosh joined forces in Miami, the progression has been toward superstars teaming up together, a trend reflected in this year's All-NBA selections where four of the five first teamers have teammates on the second or third team.
When the 2011-2012 All-NBA teams were announced Thursday, it was hard not to notice a pattern. Four of the five first team selections -- LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul -- have a teammate on either the second or the third team. The era of superstars teaming up that was hastened by LeBron's Decision and the simultaneous signing of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami is reaching critical mass. Along with New York Knick teammates Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, each selected third team All-NBA, 10 of the 15 players honored are joined on the teams by a teammate.
Some of this comes in the traditional process of building teams -- Durant and Russell Westbrook were chosen by the Oklahoma City Thunder in back-to-back drafts, Bryant and Andrew Bynum were each chosen out of high school by a prescient L.A. Lakers front office -- but there's no sense in denying a trend in the sheer number of these high profile pairings. It started with Miami. Then Carmelo forced his way to New York to join 2011 second team All-NBA performer Amare Stoudemire and then Chandler joined them. Eventually, Paul orchestrated a trade to the Clippers to team with newly minted All-NBA power forward Blake Griffin.
As recently as three seasons ago, the 10 players on the All-NBA first and second teams came from 10 different teams -- this season only seven teams can lay claim to a first or second teamer, and only 10 teams total have any All-NBA selection on their roster.
You know who else has probably noticed this trend? Dwight Howard, the only first team All-NBA selection who does not have a teammate elsewhere on the All NBA team (or anywhere close to it, for that matter). Second teamer Kevin Love is probably mildly interested in what's happening also.
Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo have been a part of super teams for several seasons now, even if they weren't joined on the All-NBA team this year, and with all due respect to Dirk Nowitzki, he's 33, just won an NBA title and used to play with Steve Nash, so no one is going to feel too sorry for him that he's a little lonely in Dallas right now.
But Howard and Love (and last season's MVP Derrick Rose, who suffered so many injuries this season) must surely be looking at the NBA landscape and wondering who is left to team up with.
Love begins an extension in Minnesota next season, so he'd best hope that Ricky Rubio is a worthy sidekick if he wants to join in on the fabulous friend fun before 2016 or so. And who knows what's going to happen with Howard at this point given how quickly everything went south in Orlando last season. Now that Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith are gone, can Howard be convinced to stay? Or will the team decide to trade him to get something in return, with or without his agreement to sign an extension with his new team?
And when do we start seeing super pals poaching from each other? As of now, Howard and Paul are scheduled to become free agents at the same time next summer. Will Paul be looking to upgrade from his second team All-NBA comrade to a first teamer in a new location? The fact that Howard and Paul might both be free agents in 2013 has certainly caught the eye of more than a few NBA general managers.
All this also begs the question: which is the most dynamic of the duos?
Of the four tandems that feature a first team All-NBA selection, two are still playing in the Conference Finals, Durant and Westbrook of the Thunder and James and Wade of the Heat. But the Lakers with Bryant and Bynum and the Clippers with Paul and Griffin each had solid seasons as well, losing in the conference semifinals. It comes as no surprise that these teams with multiple All-NBA selections formed half of the final eight teams in the playoffs this season.
Each pairing has its strengths and weaknesses.
- James, the league's MVP, and Wade are both still relatively young (27 and 30 respectively) and arguably have the most sheer talent of all the pairings. But at times they seem to be somewhat incompatible, taking turns dominating games rather than dominating together.
- Durant and Westbrook are the youngest duo, each just 23, which is a truly frightening prospect for the rest of the NBA. But like James and Wade, they are both most effective with the ball, and at times seem to be working at cross-purposes. They supplement each other to be sure, but they don't necessarily complement each other.
- Paul and Griffin have a nice mix of youth (27 and 23 respectively) and positional blend. They form a true inside-outside combination with the potential to run a devastating pick and roll combination for years to come. But Griffin needs to develop more, and the two have played together the shortest of these pairings, with the hoped for synergies coming relatively slowly in Year 1 of the partnership. Then there's the question of how long they'll remain together, given that each is coming up on free agency, and the Clippers have not had the best history of player retention.
- On paper the duo of Bryant and Bynum should be terrific, one of the truly great perimeter scorers in the league paired with one of the dominant low post forces. In practice, Bryant doesn't play well with others, and Bynum hasn't been the most mature presence himself. The two often seem to be competing with each other when they should be cooperating.
As we continue into the super team era, which direction will this go? Will two megastars no longer be enough so that we'll see more Bosh-like third amigos? Like disposable razors, the next steps are fairly obvious: the Trac II begat the Mach III begat the Quattro begat the Hydro 5 (what will they think of next? Six blades?) Will four megastars get together at some point and decide, "to heck with having to struggle to win a title, let's do this the really easy way"? Or will salary caps and stringent luxury taxes have their desired effect and redistribute the talent to allow more teams to compete?
Keep an eye on Dwight Howard to get an early indication of where this is heading next.