Four All-Stars and What Golden State Can Learn from Their Stacked Predecessors
The Golden State Warriors are sending four players to the All-Star Game this year (and it could have been five had ex-Soviet Georgia gotten its way). Four teammates representing is a lot, but not entirely unprecedented. The mark has been reached seven other times in NBA history, with three teams also sending two starters. This puts Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson into pretty elite, popular, and respected company — but not necessarily the company of champions. While every team with four all-stars has (shockingly) made the playoffs, only two have won it all: Red Auerbach's 1961-62 Boston Celtics and Moses Malone and Julius Erving's 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers. If the Warriors learn anything from history's super-teams (and 73 wins) it's that having talent means you will reach the post-season, nothing more. The Dubs play a high-paced game that puts their veterans under a lot of physical stress (see: Andrew Bogut missing half of last year's Finals); the Spurs and Rockets seem to have unparalleled, albeit contrasting, chemistry; and LeBron James still exists — so injuries, teams with better chemistry, and all-time greats are history's repeatable roadblocks for the NBA's newest villains.
The 1961-62 Celtics sent two starters and two reserves to the All-Star Game. They got to the Finals in good health and won the chip. The 1982-83 76ers sent three starters and one reserve to the All-Star Game, got to the Finals in good health, and followed through on Moses Malone's proclaimed route to the Larry O'Brien trophy ("'Fo 'Fo 'Fo") by practically sweeping their way to the chip. The intermediary super-team? The 1974-75 Celtics? They sent a starter and three reserves to the game, lost all-star Dave Cowens for the season, and couldn't make it to the Finals. A great team in February means little without full health in June.
The nineties saw a new, healthy super-team formed: the 1997-98 Lakers who sent two starters and two reserves to the All-Star Game. With Shaq and Kobe in their second year with the team, chemistry was still bubbling and, despite their health and wealth of talent, the Lakers were comfortably swept by the historic teamwork of Stockton and Malone's Utah Jazz in the Conference Finals. A newly formed super-team outdueled by established chemistry in their own conference? The Warriors will need to be clicking come May if they don't want to suffer the same fate at the hands of two Texan platoons. The San Antonio Spurs are another team with historic chemistry, whose post-play forte is Golden State's weakness, and the Houston Rockets experiment from mad scientists Mike D'Antoni and James Harden is still showing no signs of implosion as it pushes the boundaries of modern perimeter basketball.
Finally, we reach the 2000's and the advent of modern superstars. In 2006, the Detroit Pistons sent Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, and Ben Wallace to the All-Star Game. In the Conference Finals, a burgeoning Dwyane Wade's Miami Heat sent them home en route to their championship. In 2011, the Boston Celtics sent their Big Four to the All-Star Game — a nice memory before meeting the Miami Heat's Big Three, helmed by the behemoth LeBron James, and getting an early start on their summer vacation. The last quadruple all-star super team before this year's Warriors? The 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks quartet of All-Stars found themselves facing Cleveland's second iteration of LeBron James and soon after watching the playoffs finish from their couches. Maybe paying less stars leaves enough salary for greater team depth, or maybe quality just outduels quantity in the playoffs — especially when LeBron is involved.
For today's random, cherry-picked statistic we find that no team with four All-Stars has made the NBA Finals since 1983. A consolidation of talent might mean a consolidation of salary, leaving a superstar team with less depth and thus a greater susceptibility to collapse if one of their key cogs gets hurt. This is what broke the '75 Celtics and what the Warriors should keep in mind given the history of Stephen Curry's ankles and their dependence on increasingly fragile veterans (Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, and David West are all over 30). More All-Stars also means larger egos, and egos correlate with clashes when confronted with a composed and balanced squad. Just as the '98 Lakers struggled to work through Shaq and Kobe's beef against a mature Jazz squad, the Warriors will need to iron out their differences so that Draymond and KD can do less bickering and more winning against historically mature and weirdly balanced teams like, respectively, the Spurs and Rockets. Last but not least: LeBron. Having a lot of All-Stars is nice but as the Pistons, Celtics, and Hawks know all too well — the greatest players of one year often pale in comparison with the greatest of all time. No team with four All-Stars has won a Championship with Michael Jordan or LeBron James in the league. The Warriors are probably the most stacked team in the history of the NBA, but their depth exists in a bevy of affordable and possibly unsustainable veterans so their Big Four will need to stay healthy, get on the same page, and be ready for LeBron's unrelenting mind-games and unending physical dominance if they want to bring the trophy back to Oakland this June.