The age of the NBA super team seems to have faded when Kevin Durant left the dynastic Golden State Warriors last summer, but the NBA’s unique restart has presented an opportunity for a revival for star players looking to join up in the future.
In fact, one coach inside the NBA’s Disney campus believes it will happen.
“The next super team will come out of this,” he told Yahoo Sports. “I believe it’s inevitable.”
The coach doesn’t believe players are coming into the campus with the mindset of recruiting players from other teams. In fact, he said the superstar players are providing the example of keeping everything on track to ensure the restart can be completed for the financial sake of the players.
“Guys wanna play in the now, but they’re also looking ahead,” he said. “They know it’s a lot of money at stake for the immediate future and for way down the line.”
But in the present, there’s so much down time on the Disney campus, there are opportunities for players to fraternize with each other and plan their next moves. It’s not dissimilar from the USA Basketball setup that produced the entertaining and polarizing Miami Heat trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who joined forces in 2010.
The three took the unprecedented path of signing shorter extensions following their third seasons, with many believing they discussed it with each other during the summers spent together with USA Basketball leading to the 2008 Olympic Games.
It was also the setting that birthed the relationship between Brooklyn Nets players Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan, sources said, when they were all on the 2016 Olympic Team in Rio, which took place weeks after Durant left Oklahoma City to join the Golden State Warriors.
It’s not as if clusters of stars don’t exist already, with James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the Clippers, and James Harden teaming up with Russell Westbrook in Houston.
All those are established stars, and even they have taken shorter-term deals to ensure flexibility, as in the case of Leonard and George having outs after two years. But there’s a younger group of players looking to make their mark in the future, and the so-called bubble will not only show guys how far they have to go to be a contender but also put like-minded players in their faces every day.
The coach believes history will repeat itself, merely due to the proximity of players sharing the same space and being in the same hotels for an extended period of time. It could take years to bear fruit, as in the case of the Miami Heat Big Three, but this could be the root of the future.
“I walk into my hotel, I see [All-Star player] in the lobby,” he said. “We’re on the elevator, I get off on one floor, he’s on another. If I knew him like that and wanted to meet up with him, I could. We could golf, we could fish. There’s so much to do in the downtime, the league can’t police that stuff.”
The NBA has much at stake in this ambitious venture. The strict rules about social distancing and keeping players safe from the coronavirus are top priority. Monitoring natural fraternization between players on opposing teams doesn’t register on the league’s radar, all things considered.
They have the “snitch” hotline, but that’s for players violating the rules concerning social distancing, the boundaries of the campus and mask wearing — not communication or potential tampering.
An owner of a team outside of the campus doesn’t think recruitment is a huge concern, telling Yahoo Sports, “It’s a concern about those playing getting advantages when it comes to visibility, conditioning and playing time, but this is such an uncharted terrain with uncertain conditions ahead, I don’t think it’s something anyone is ringing alarm bells about, at least not at this point.”
The league has also loosened restrictions for teams outside of the campus to send representatives inside to scout games, and although it doesn’t create a natural opening for Facetime, it allows them to see and be seen in an exclusive environment.
A prominent agent said the next generation of players doesn’t have the natural familiarity that James, Wade and Bosh had because they were in the 2003 draft together. But he said the recent pandemic has brought several star players closer due to the players union Zoom calls and widespread discussions about the plan to play and how to use their voices for social justice.
“All these guys, they’ve been forced to have all these conversations about social justice, racism. What it means to be Black. And now it’s snowballed to where these guys have developed significant bonds with one another, when before, they only knew each other in passing,” he told Yahoo Sports.
“And now, you’re on this campus, it feels like an AAU thing. Misery loves company. You see these guys every day. There’s only so many people you can talk to.”
Young stars like Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and Bam Adebayo were on calls together before the restart was finalized, discussing insurance policies with National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts and senior counsel Ron Klempner, sources said. The young players are in line to cash in through restricted free agency when their rookie scale contracts are up, but wanted to get policies in case of injury or illness (it was revealed Mitchell contracted COVID-19 after being tested in March).
If they didn’t have familiarity before then, it’s not a stretch to believe they have some now.
“I’m not saying it’s far-fetched. I could definitely see it,” the agent said. “Anybody would be naive to believe those conversations weren’t happening or aren’t happening. When you have 22 teams and so many of the powerful players in the world in a confined space for an extended period of time, you’re going to talk to each other about things. Not just basketball, but business, too."
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP and favorite to repeat, is atop everyone’s list, even though the Milwaukee Bucks star has routinely shot down questions about hitting unrestricted free agency following the 2020-21 season, when his four-year, $100 million deal expires.
“I think he’s focused on winning right now and he wants to win it all, not just get to the Finals,” a league source said. “But it won’t stop people from reaching out.”
Devin Booker’s name has been uttered by talking heads, even though he’s given no outward indication of unhappiness in Phoenix and his contract isn’t up until 2024.
There’s also the significant hurdle of what the NBA landscape will look like in the future, assuming this experiment goes off smoothly. Several NBA figures believe the owners will open up the collective bargaining agreement this offseason regardless, because there doesn’t appear to be certainty surrounding fans being in the stands next season and they could want to recalculate the basketball related income (which affects the salary cap).
Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who also owns Major League Baseball’s Chicago White Sox, recently told USA Today that his losses are in the nine-figure range. It’s not difficult to see other owners claiming financial losses and wanting the players to give something back.
“The owners want to turn red into black,” an agent said. “It’s a business for the players, too. But it’s personal. They realize their power, they’re emboldened now. With social justice and the climate of the world, they know their power. And they’re gonna stick together.”
The unusual circumstances can produce some strange bedfellows and unlikely partnerships. It’s happened before, and the next couple months could plant the seeds for it to happen again.
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