NBA Superstars Still Run the Show: The Future of the Spurs and why the Dejounte Murray Trade was Necessary

Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

NBA superstars still run the show. 8 of the last 11 NBA titles were one by one of two men: Stephen Curry and Lebron James. The other 3? Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Heading into the 2022 playoffs, I was curious to see whether or not there would be a shift. If a team could overcome a lack of top-end stars by having a great amount of talent down the roster. The example that would be the ultimate test of this potential change was the 64-win Phoenix Suns. 

In hindsight, the Phoenix Suns look damn near fraudulent. When we look back:

  • A Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers taking the Suns 6 games in the WCF (after a miraculous game-winning dunk from Ayton)
  • The Lakers had a 2-1 lead on them before Anthony Davis got hurt

And now, the crescendo of the Suns’ fraudulence as a top-tier contender: losing to the 2022 Mavericks.

And with that, the question of whether or not superstars still matter has been answered pretty resoundingly: “YES!” You still need one of the guys. Superstars still run the show.

NBA Superstars Win Finals

It’s no coincidence that Jayson Tatum struggled in the NBA Finals. It’s no coincidence that Jaylen Brown was inconsistent. The reality is that only a select few players in the league play well on the biggest stages. It takes a Steph, a LeBron, Kawhi, a Giannis, or a Kevin Durant to be on that stage against the very best defenses. All of this while still facing the biggest pressures and still being comfortable playing well enough under the lights.

Even Jimmy Butler, who had a handful of unbelievably dominant games in the NBA playoffs on big stages in the past few years has surrounded his dominant performances with a bunch of mediocre to clunkers. It’s 40 one night then he’s bad the next night. To be consistently great on this stage, there’s only a tiny handful of guys who can do it.

There is the singular exception about once every dozen years. Kawhi in 2014 was not yet a superstar. Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups were certainly not in the top 5 tier. But aside from the rare, deep roster, you still need one of the guys. If you don’t have one of those guys, you’re not winning. 

What Do You Do?

The message of this trend is clear: if you want to win a championship you need to be building a clear path. Either you: 

  1. Have that guy and he’s young and you’re developing him
  2. You’re developing young players so that you can either trade for that guy, have the draft capital that will help you attain that guy, or are simply furnishing the talent necessary to win with that guy.

And if that’s not what you’re doing, you’re looking in the wrong place. 

Dejounte Murray was about the 30th-best player in basketball. Receiving 3 first-round picks for the 30th-best player in basketball is a deal too good to refuse. At the start of the season, the Spurs were off to a hot start, and the development of the young stars will pay massive dividends. It is difficult to evaluate talent when you are receiving the other team’s worse effort. The Spurs have already shown they cannot be taken lightly.

The development of Keldon Johnson’s shot creation and Devin Vassell’s proficient volume-scoring has been a revelation for the Spurs. This shows that each player has the potential to go well beyond their projected ceilings of being high-end rotation players as they each emerge into young stars (and perhaps Most Improved Player candidates too!). But the Spurs still need that guy. And if they can find him, the league better watch out because the Spurs may be back ahead of schedule!

Which NBA superstar would you want to see most land in San Antonio?



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