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(Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)
(Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

Why "The Big Three" Still Works in the NBA

The Big 3 has been synonymous with the NBA for over a decade, but it has experienced its ups and downs.

What started it all was LeBron James’s “The Decision” quote in July of 2010 where he infamously said, “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.” Once he got to Miami, James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had that famous press conference where James had another quotable. When it came to how many championships the trio would win, he said, “not one…not two….not three…not four…not five…not six…not seven.” As we all know they would only win two titles as a group, but the trio would define an era of basketball in the 2010s. 

Soon after, many teams noticed what the Heat were doing and thought that it was the golden ticket to winning a championship. Speaking of golden, the Golden State Warriors were the next team to create a three-headed monster. In the 2016 Western Conference Finals, former Thunder Kevin Durant got beat by the Warriors in seven hard-fought games. He saw how good the Warriors could be in the future and demonstrated the saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Similar to James’s move, Durant’s decision accumulated controversy from fans and pundits alike. However, all the chatter dissipated quickly when Durant won two Larry O’Brien trophies with the lethal backcourt duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

It has been proven twice that superteams can succeed in the NBA, but fans were beginning to feel skeptical of this era because they knew who was going to win it all on Opening Night. That skepticism would eventually lead to a much bigger issue when Durant and guard Kyrie Irving both signed lucrative contracts with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2019. A couple years later, the Nets made an eye-opening four-team blockbuster trade that brought James Harden on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. All in all, that Big 3 would only play 16 games together and were a few inches away from beating the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. But, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Due to all three players being injured and their egos getting in the way of winning a championship, fans and teams across the league turned their back on the superteam era, which made it extinct. At least for the time being. 

This season, we are seeing two teams bring back this philosophy, and it’s actually leading to winning basketball. 

The Phoenix Suns traded for Durant and guard Bradley Beal in a span of five months to build around franchise cornerstone Devin Booker. Coming into the season, fans and media placed this overarching expectation that they have to win this year or they will be doomed for years to come. Into the first 30 games of the season, the injury bug bit the Suns, making their record 15-15 over that stretch. However, once all three players were healthy and playing together, they won 15 out of their next 21 games, making their record 30-21 as of Wednesday. Furthermore, they sit as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. Additionally, the Suns’ Big 3 has already played more games than the Nets’ Big 3 with a total of 20 games and counting.

The Los Angeles Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard and traded for Paul George in the 2019 offseason, making one of the more prolific duos in basketball. Throughout the duo’s tenure, they were unsuccessful when it mattered most because either George, Leonard or both players would be injured for extended periods of time. But, within the first month of the season, owner Steve Ballmer decided to pull the trigger on yet another eye-opening transaction for the franchise. That transaction was a trade for Harden, P.J. Tucker and Filip Petrusev in exchange for Marcus Morris, Robert Covington, Nic Batum, KJ Martin, three picks and a pick swap. Comparable to the Suns start, the Clippers’ new Big 3 started their first 12 games with a losing record of 5-7. However, they did manage to turn it around to win 26 out of their next 31 games and are atop the Western Conference with a total team record of 34-15 as of Wednesday. 

Notice the trend here? Yes, there are some bumps in the road with getting to know each other’s play styles and knowing how to play as a cohesive unit. But, history has told us before that, with the right situation and the right timing, teams can still win championships using this philosophy. The biggest question for both of these teams going forward is, will they be able to keep their momentum going and go on a deep run in the playoffs. Only time will tell. For right now, the Big 3 era is back at its peak. 

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