A New Era of Superteams

The 2022-2023 trade deadline has allowed teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, and Phoenix Suns to acquire elite players to create a Western Conference full of superteams.

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The sun is blazing and everyone is relaxing with a cold, refreshing drink. It’s July 7, 2016, a day that would change NBA history, with the Golden State Warriors primed to add Kevin Durant to an already historical superteam. That team was thought unlikely to ever be matched in skill and dominance, which reigned true for a long time, until now. The truckload of talent shifted in bundles into the Western Conference has opened the door for a successor to the 2016-17 Warriors to emerge, as teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, and Phoenix Suns have acquired elite players to create a conference full of superteams.

Over the past month, both of Los Angeles’ NBA teams have been stacking up for hopeful playoff runs. To open the trade frenzy, the Los Angeles Lakers dealt guard Patrick Beverly to the Orlando Magic and acquired the 7’0” forward Mohamed Bamba to improve their big man depth, an area of concern with Anthony Davis being injury prone. Additionally, they acquired D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, and Jarred Vanderbilt in a three-team trade that saw the Jazz receive Russell Westbrook, who had fallen out of favor with Los Angeles, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and Damian Jones, while the Timberwolves received Mike Conley, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and second-round picks in 2025 and 2026. Russell and Beasley improve the Lakers’ depth, as both can provide crucial minutes and allow the Lakers to rotate players and reduce the stress on Lebron James and Davis. The Lakers gained playmakers, lethal shooters, and big man depth at the cost of only one star player, Westbrook, and have put themselves in a far better position for a hopeful playoff run.

Soon after the trade, Westbrook took a buyout from the Jazz and joined Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the new-look Los Angeles Clippers. The trio of Westbrook, George, and Leonard revamps a previously deflated Clippers team, who were lacking a true point guard. While George and Leonard can score in bundles, Westbrook can provide the Clippers with a unique ability to make plays for the shooters, which the Clippers have been struggling with throughout the season, as they rank 25th in assists per game in the league. Additionally, Westbrook’s dominance in the paint will help elevate the Clippers rebound metrics, as they are hovering around league average. The addition of Westbrook also benefits the Clippers’ emerging stars who can learn from his experience. The chemistry between the newly bonded trio seems promising for the often overlooked Los Angeles-based team.

However, as dominant as Los Angeles looks, the Phoenix Suns are looking like the team to beat. While many have tried, the Suns current roster resembles the 2016-17 Warriors most closely. The Suns have a playmaking genius in Chris Paul, a mid-range machine in Devin Booker, an all-time player in Durant, and the explosive center Deandre Ayton, boasting easily the most foolproof roster in the league. Sports Commentator Stephen A. Smith explains that Durant has walked into the perfect situation with this trade: “Durant doesn’t have to worry about being a leader, [Paul] got that covered [sic]. You don’t have to look for another star, [Booker] got that covered, [Ayton] and you have a high-level, high-IQ coach in Monty Williams. All [Durant] has to do is be him,” Smith said. This trade is beneficial both for Durant and the Suns, who finally have all the resources to build a championship-caliber team. Durant adds another superstar for a Suns team already loaded with superstars, but the trade cost shortens their contention window. As former-Laker player and Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal said, “The Suns are definitely in the question [of winning the Championship], but they have to do it now.” The Suns are clearly determined to not let history repeat itself after losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2021-2022 Western Conference Semifinals. The possibility of a rematch has NBA fans across the nation excited for what will surely be a tense series characterized by bad blood and rosters brimming with talent.

The Suns weren’t the only ones gearing up for a championship run, nor were they the only ones calling the Nets about a game-changing player. Before the Suns could make their big move, the Dallas Mavericks and the Brooklyn Nets shocked the NBA world with a trade that sent the talented but controversial Kyrie Irving to the Mavericks. After searching for the perfect complement to Luka Dončić for years, the Mavericks have given him a true superstar in Irving. However, both players are playmakers and prefer playing with the ball in their hands, so rotating either the two superstars or the lineup around them would be required. The rotation may work in favor of the Mavericks as it allows the team to boast a dominant support system even when Dončić isn’t on the court, as Irving would be able to control the flow of the game. But, both players possess a unique IQ and game sense that playing them simultaneously is conceivable, especially during the end of a game. Adding Irving was definitely a smart move from the Mavericks, as it reduces competition and allows the Mavericks to excel during any part of a game. In reaction to the Kyrie trade, ex-basketball player and current sports commentator on “NBA on TNT” Kenny Smith said, “Kyrie being traded snowballs everything because this is the first time in the NBA, there are seven or eight teams who say they can win it. Normally there’s two or three.”

While the Irving trade only made the West more powerful, it signaled the beginning of the end for the Nets’ failed “Big Three” experiment, and the team acknowledged it by sending Durant to the Phoenix Suns. In the trade between the Suns and Nets, the Nets prioritized their future, receiving Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, first-round picks in 2023, 2025, 2027, and 2029, in addition to a 2028 first-round pick swap. Even with this in mind, the Nets clearly lost these trades, as they lost a unique playmaker in Irving and a genuine superstar in Durant, who provided the vast majority of the team’s offensive contributions. However, after Bridges joined the Nets, he wreaked havoc in a relatively depleted Eastern Conference, boasting dominant performances against the Conference’s headliners: the Miami Heat, the Milwaukee Bucks, and Boston Celtics. With Bridges’ positive signs, the caliber and potential of Seth Curry and Ben Simmons, and the future picks that the Nets received, the Nets have something to smile about, even after losing the triple threat of Harden, Irving, and Durant.

While others teams were making superteams, some teams in the league made small yet significant trades to add versatility to its team. Jakob Pöeltl returns to Toronto Raptors from the San Antonio Spurs after five years. Pöeltl gives the Raptors a consistent field shooter and a solid rebounder, which the Raptors’ roster had previously lacked. The Spurs, in return, get a look in the future, as the Spurs gain three picks in the draft in the following three years, hoping to cash in on talent to improve a struggling team. In a four-way trade with the New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, and Portland Trail-Blazers, the Philadelphia 76ers acquired Jalen McDaniels, who has bolstered his defensive performance recently. McDaniels builds the 76ers’ defensive arsenal, and complements Joel Embiid perfectly to improve the chances of the 76ers winning the trophy this year. Meanwhile, in a failed return, the Warriors received Gary Payton II from the Portland Trail Blazers, but the Trail Blazers failed to provide an adequate physical during negotiations, causing excessive drama as the deal was held up until the last possible minute. Payton II bolsters the Warriors’ depth, however, and has proved valuable for them in previous playoffs.

The trade deadline has created new combinations and possibilities that the NBA could have only dreamed of. Teams in both Eastern and Western Conferences are full of superteams creating a new balance of competition for the league and taking the game to a new level. As the intensity increases for each team on the court, the viewers can sit back, enjoy, and cheer for their already existing or newly built superteam.