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The last superteam ... is ‘Big Three’ no longer a winning model?

2022 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Looking around the NBA’s conference finals, there’s really only one “Big Three” and all of its stars — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — are homegrown. The Celtics are probably closest, but the Heat have five undrafted players on their roster. The two teams most invested in the superteam model — the Nets and Lakers — are deep into their Cancun vacations, so to speak.

It’s not just the personalities that have to be managed. It’s the salary cap and the luxury tax bill, rehab schedules, etc. etc. Of course it has worked in Golden State and with Miami, Boston and yes, San Antonio (where the “Big Three” wasn’t assembled. It was organic.)

But after the collapses in New York and Los Angeles, there are now doubts that it can work, as both Brian Lewis and Stefan Bondy have written in the last few days.

Lewis takes a long drive back to when Spencer Dinwiddie went down at the beginning of the 2020-21 season to track the decline of the Nets “Big Three,” ending in the Celtics sweep. He notes that the week before Dinwiddie went down, the Nets had won two games by historic margins and in the week after his surgery, Kyrie Irving went AWOL and the Nets traded for James Harding, giving up their young corps and control of all their first rounders until 2028, as Bondy points out.

Investing so much of your owner’s treasure in such a small group and hoping year after year that you can find the low-priced talent needed to fill out a roster can be tricky. So can managing personalities and health outcomes.

“I think potentially they have the makings of a good roster. The real issue is that they have issues,” said Stan Van Gundy of Turner Sports said this week at a promotional appearance, amending that to “They have a lot of issues...

“Over time — Reggie’s been there with teams — are guys going to look around and really have trust for other guys? Or will they be looking around saying, ‘You know what, that dude is going to let us down. I know he is. We can’t count on him,’ ” Van Gundy said. “And so they’ve got a lot to overcome in that way, which I think may even be more important than the talent they put out on the floor.”

His Turner Sports partner basically agreed.

“It’s hard to say what their Big 3 is because now their Big 3 is with Ben Simmons,” Hall of Famer Reggie Miller spoke at the same event, as Lewis notes. “So it’s hard to say what the Nets can or can’t be until we see Ben Simmons with Kyrie and with KD and with a healthy Joe Harris and with a healthy Seth Curry. So it’s kind of hard to say, ‘Hey, this roster is flawed’ or ‘the Big 3 model is flawed’ because we haven’t seen it.”

Of course, we haven’t seen it because life can intervene — whether it be an injury or political conviction — and ruin the plans of any New Zealand GM.

Marks, however, is not thinking about changing the model, not with two of his “Big Three” in the prime of their careers and the third still only 25. Assuming the Nets and Kyrie Irving get things done, they will all be under contract for the next three years. They’re committed.

Asked if the Nets might want to move away from the model, Marks said as much.

“I don’t know that we’d consider it right now this summer,” Marks said at his and Steve Nash’s end-of-season press conference. “I mean, I think you have to play the cards you’re dealt. And … we had built something over the first four or five years here where it was an attractive place. Brooklyn is an attractive place for star players to come. I mean, it’s a big market. And obviously right now people are … going to want to come here and play with the likes of Kevin. He’s an attractive audience for them.”

Marks also has repeatedly said he wants to get back the grit-and-grind culture that led a group of young players surprising everyone, including their owners, to win 42 games in 2019. Grafting that onto a “Big Three” model that infused with player empowerment seems like a challenge. Responsibility for getting it done will be widespread but will particularly fall on team leadership. As Bondy wrote, the culture can get tattered if stressed too far.

As David Stern’s NBA transitioned to Adam Silver’s, the players took greater control of the business. The threat of a superstar deserting a franchise became so powerful, regardless of how many years remained on his contract, that the placating expanded and whatever “culture” was in place is quickly dissolved. Coaches are easily replaced. Accountability is blurred. The players become the GM and recruit their friends, sometimes to the detriment of winning.

Of course, there is the talent. It’s there. Even assuming that least worst circumstance, the “Big Three’s” potential is undeniable. But if it doesn’t work in Brooklyn or L.A. this season, we may be seeing the last superteam for a while.