Secret to a Superteam

If you haven’t been living under a rock, no doubt you’ve heard the term “superteam” in sports before. For those not in the know, a “superteam” is when a given team is loaded with multiple star players.

Although popular amongst fans, the term has even leaked into the sports media world. In June 2017, after a 4-1 finals series loss to Golden State, LeBron James was asked if he was a fan of the concept of superteams, to which he replied “No not really.. I don’t believe I’ve played for a superteam “; an intriguing statement to say the least. LeBron has been to 13 postseasons of his 15 year career in the NBA, nine of which were championship appearances. During his first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, his team was comparatively lacking in supporting talent, but from the day he took his talents to South Beach, LeBron has been surrounded by all star level teammates such as Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – a collection of talent that looks pretty “super” to the casual observer.

The “superteam” phenomenon is a relatively new one in modern sports, or at least in leagues with a salary cap. The dominance of the same five teams year on year in the English Premier League, or the fact that teams like the Boston Red Sox of the current decade and the Yankees of the 90s and early 00s can bankroll their way to titles, is evidence to suggest that the concept of a superteam is not a new one.

However, in terms of salary capped leagues, the first attempt at forming a “superteam” in the modern sporting era is arguably the NBA’s 2007-2008 Boston Celtics. Although their success wasn’t sustained, they did win a championship immediately off the back of their three stars: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The 2010-2011 Miami Heat were the next one, re-signing Dwyane Wade after a record-breaking season, followed by signing superstars Chris Bosh and LeBron James in July of 2010. Each of the ‘superfriends’ in Miami took less than maximum salaries in order to allow the Heat to recruit more stars. Expectedly, the team made the NBA Finals in 2011 and though they lost to the Dallas Mavericks it was Miami’s first finals appearance since 2006. The same trio would go on to win the next two consecutive NBA Finals, firmly establishing the “superteam” blueprint as a highly viable path to team success.

The term superteam has been sprayed among other sports, with some claiming that the Los Angeles Rams (NFL) and the Sydney Roosters (NRL) are also superteams, after recruiting star players in their offseasons and dominating in their respective leagues. In the offseason after the 2017 NRL season, the Sydney Roosters went all out by bringing in Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco, both superstars of rugby league and representative players for their state and country. The moves paid off in a big way, as the Roosters went on to win the 2018 NRL Premiership over the Melbourne Storm.

There were claims aplenty of cheating or rorting the salary cap, but it appears the Roosters were just well prepared for the $2.4M salary cap increase in 2018. And that’s what it comes down to – salary.

As the Roosters took advantage of the increased salary cap and the Miami Heat took pay cuts to load up the team, we look at the case of the Los Angeles Rams. In 2018 the Rams signed Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Brandin Cooks (all pro-bowlers – the NFL’s equivalent of an all-star) and there were articles written about how stacked the team was .

Again though, great salary cap management drastically affects the construction of a superteam, specifically in the NFL where there is a hard cap and less money available on a per-player basis. Having stud QB Jared Goff on a rookie deal that pays him less than $28 million for four years of service plays a big part in allowing the Rams to do what they’ve done, because securing a top tier player at the most expensive position in football for a lower cost has helped the Rams spread their cap among their plethora of stars, leaving them loaded with talent at every single position on the field.

Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles similarly took advantage of QB Carson Wentz’s rookie contract during their Super Bowl-winning season. Contrast this with teams that have splashed out big deals on merely average to above-average QBs like Matt Stafford (5year/$92m) and Derek Carr (5 year/$125m). These teams have gone all out on the one position, and have subsequently suffered from a lack of elite players elsewhere.

The team most strongly associated with the superteam moniker is easily the Golden State Warriors in the NBA. This dynasty has won 3 of the past four NBA titles and have appeared in the past four straight. Four of their five starting players were selected as All Stars in 2018, and they continue to dominate in the 2018-19 season with their load of elite talent. This is thanks to the a combination of drafting incredibly well (Steph Curry round 1 pick 7, Klay Thompson round 1 pick 1,  and Draymond Green round 2 pick 35 of their respective drafts), team friendly deals, and more recently, the salary cap increase, has allowed them to make some notable acquisitions such as Kevin Durant and Demarcus Cousins in recent years.

It was a perfect storm that helped them make their superteam, and was formed in a drastically different way from the other teams mentioned above. The Oklahoma City Thunder with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are closest recent example to a superteam being built in a similar fashion to the Warriors, but the horrendous Harden trade happened before they ever had the chance to truly reach their superteam potential.

Whether you like them or not, it appears that superteams are here to stay across all salary-capped sports. Whether they’re constructed through salary sacrificing like the Miami Heat, shrewd timing like the Sydney Roosters, players on rookie deals like the Los Angeles Rams, or through incredibly good (and slightly fortuitous) drafting like the Golden State Warriors, one thing is certain – they’re an incredibly successful blueprint for sustained team success.