“Big Three” Era is Officially Over in NBA


In the past five years across the Association, teams were loading up their rosters to reach the magical number of three.  Three stars on a team was the gateway to championship contention, a sure bet.

It may have started at some other time in basketball history, and in a city not called San Antonio, but I’m going to place the epicenter of the Big Three movement in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.  20 years before TNT & ESPN analysts would dub the Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce led Celtics “The Big Three”, there was Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale.

In the 1980’s we saw Magic, Kareem, and James Worthy.  The 1990’s gave us Karl Malone, John Stockton, and Jeff Hornacek of the Utah Jazz.  Remember the Olajuwon, Drexler, Barkley trio in Houston?  How about Shaq, Nick Anderson, and Penny Hardaway for the Orlando Magic?

Even San Antonio got in on the craze.  A young man from Wake Forest would be added to a David Robinson and Sean Elliot managed Spurs-squad in 1998. That group evolved to the Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili iteration of the championship methodology that shot adrenaline straight into the heart of the Big Three crusade.

But when Garnett left Minnesota, and joined Allen and Pierce in Boston, the Big Three fad went to another level.

It went main-stream.

Soon all we saw, heard, or wrote about was a team’s Big Three.

We were obsessed.

No matter how underserving that third player would be, we would make him a star to fill out our formula.

We used to call the Sacramento Kings’ trio of Mike Bibby, Chris Webber, and Peja Stojakovic a Big Three.  Remember the Big Three of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum?

Some collaborations are legitimate assemblies of players in their prime.  Ginobili, Duncan, and Parker never age, and queue the smoke machines, the LeBron, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh Heat teams that made our heads explode.

But, it is this columnist’s view, which you can take as fact, that the era of the “Big Three” is dead.  Fade to black.  Slowly bring up “Don’t Stop Believing.”

Your favorite NBA team will not win a title unless they have a “Big Four.”

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  • No, I didn’t just supersize the Big Three value meal and sell you the same basic concept.  There is some real justification.  The 2011 champion Dallas Mavericks Big Three of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and Tyson Chandler were incredible, but, it wasn’t until point guard JJ Barea stepped up big in the Playoffs that Dallas claimed their prize.

    In the next year Miami won by a successful rotating key-fourth player in Chalmers.

    Remember his numbers against the Thunder in the Finals?  He shot 44%, adding 10 points and four assists per game for Miami.

    Those same Thunder really had something growing in the Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka grouping before Harden escaped in 2012.

    Could you image that team today if they stayed together?

    The 2013 Heat would have lost the Finals in six games had it not been for their Big Fourth player, Ray Allen, hitting a last second three to upset the Spurs- sending them to Game 7.

    Your favorite NBA team will not win a title unless they have a “Big Four.”t

    The following season it wasn’t the great play of the San Antonio Spurs’ Big Three to put them over the top.  It was the maturation and big-time play of Kawhi Leonard.

    So, if your team doesn’t have a “Big Four” you won’t win this year.  The Chicago Bulls lost their chance by letting Luol Deng go last year.  Portland is only half-way there with Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge carrying the team.  The Houston Rockets never even had a Big Three- just ask James Harden.

    The Cavaliers have a promising Big Three in LeBron, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving, but as you just learned, the era of the Big Three is dead.  Don’t try to make Tristan Thompson a star.

    Miami has something brewing with Wade, Bosh, Deng, and a combination of Chalmers and Norris Cole. Heck, even Josh McRoberts can get into the action.  They are deeper in the point guard positon than anyone in the East with Napier, and that will give them an excellent opportunity to take the East.

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    In the Western Conference I can see the same potential in Mark Cuban’s latest concoction.  With a hint of Tyson Chandler, a dash of Houston Rockets castoff Chandler Parsons, and equal parts Monte Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs have a Big Four.  Watch out for this team.

    And then there are the NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs.  The “Big Three” of yesteryear are aging like a fine wine.  All the Spurs have done is put that vintage into a new bottle.  This is the Kawhi Leonard-led version of the Spurs.  The Finals MVP has proven that he is a star in the league and rounds out a Big Four looking to repeat.  Mid-season San Antonio will see the return of Patty Mills; giving them even more depth.

    So, as the season gets underway in the upcoming weeks, and the NBA pundits start making their predictions, be sure that your Champion prediction has a legitimate Big Four or they won’t win when it matters the most.

    This season spells the death of the Big Three, and the rise of the Big Four.  It’s math, and you can’t argue with math.