The NBA is in full effect and people are already speculating about how certain team’s core players are going to do. It all started in the offseason of 2007 when the Celtics started off by trading for All-Star shooter Ray Allen and then eventually trading for All-Star big man Kevin Garnett. Those two along with Paul Pierce helped to form the NBA’s first version of having a “Big Three”. Some would argue that the Celtics in the 1980’s had a big three with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, but there weren’t as many teams doing that strategy back then. In the current day era of the NBA, it seems like All-Stars are trying to come together to have a more realistic chance of winning a championship. The Celtics won their championship during the 2007-08 season. LeBron James went to Miami and recruited Chris Bosh to join him and Dwyane Wade to win championships. That paid off as they won two championships in the four years LeBron was in Miami and the other two years, they made the Finals. Now it seems like everybody in the NBA will join whatever team has the most star players to have a better chance to win.
However, there are some of the forming of these teams that just don’t seem to work out. It is interesting to think about where certain players fit within certain offensive schemes and organizations. Some of these stars in their current “super team” could leave next year to go to a perennial powerhouse. This list takes a look at eight “big threes” that will break up next summer and seven that will stay intact. Let’s get right into it, shall we?
15. Split Up: Detroit Pistons (Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson & Avery Bradley)
Leading us off for big three departures is the big three that rolls through the motor city with the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons have been a team that have been an afterthought over the past five years. They do have a great big man in Andre Drummond who is a threat to put up a double-double any given night. They have a point guard in Reggie Jackson that has blossomed into a nice point guard that can distribute the ball and play defense. They also made a trade in the offseason, acquiring Avery Bradley from the Boston Celtics. Bradley is a very underrated player. He is arguably one of the best on ball defenders in the NBA and has significantly improved his outside shot since he came into the league. The only problem is that this group probably won’t last.
The biggest problem is going to be Avery Bradley. He is an unrestricted free agent after this year and will have many suitors. Maybe a potential reunion with the Celtics could happen? Maybe he signs with a dark horse team like Dallas? The point is, he probably will not be a Piston next season. Reggie Jackson is signed through 2020 and Andre Drummond is locked in until 2021, unless a trade happens. The Pistons would need a miracle to keep all three together.
14. Stay Together: Los Angeles Lakers (Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram & Kyle Kuzma)
The Los Angeles Lakers are in a great spot thinking ahead to the 2018-19 season. They have a great young core and have a lot of cap space to sign a big name free agent in the 2018 offseason. Big names like LeBron James and Paul George have been rumored to land in sunny Los Angeles. Besides the big names, they already have some young talent that will make them fun to watch for the next five to seven years.
Lonzo Ball is the biggest name out there right now for the Lakers. The number two pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, he is a point guard that is unselfish and loves getting his teammates involved. He can also shoot from the outside when called upon. Another intriguing piece is Brandon Ingram. He is a 6’11 athletic big man that can only get better with time. Plus, he is signed through 2020; so the Lakers see him as a pivotal part of their future.
Kyle Kuzma is a rookie who was a big time star playing in college for Utah, is 6’9 and also athletic. This big three is young and continuing to develop. Add LeBron or George to the mix and this group will get even better. Watch out for the Lakers in the next coming years.
13. Split Up: Washington Wizards (John Wall, Bradley Beal & Marcin Gortat)
The Washington Wizards made a great run in last year’s NBA playoffs, losing a hard-fought seven game series to the Boston Celtics. They look to make another run at the Eastern Conference crown with Cleveland struggling in the early part of the season and Boston losing Gordon Hayward for the year. They have a strong core together for now, but it looks like that core might not be there for much longer.
The Wizards are led with the back-court of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall can do it all, pass, shoot, defend, you name it and he can do it. Bradley Beal, like Avery Bradley, is one of the most underrated shooting guards in the NBA. Then, they have the big man in the middle Marcin Gortat who has gone very unnoticed as well. Wall and Gortat have one year left on their contacts before they hit free agency. Who is to say one of them won’t get traded before season’s end or in the offseason? Gortat would be the more realistic option to go, but in the NBA these days; you never know. Just look at the Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas trade, anybody is worth trading now these days. Look for the Wizards to be shopping for some new faces if they rid of any of their current big three members before next season.
12. Stay Together: Toronto Raptors (Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan & Serge Ibaka)
The Toronto Raptors are a team that like the Wizards, as they have a very strong back-court duo. They just needed somebody in the front-court to help them out. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are two of the better guards in the Eastern Conference and have been carrying the Raptors for years. They just needed a big man to help them out defensively and down low. At the trade deadline in 2017, they got that man in Serge Ibaka, the big man from France that was blocking shots and pulling down rebounds in Oklahoma City previously.
The three of them seem to work well together and can help Toronto climb the ladder in the Eastern Conference. The key thing to remember here is those three guys are not free agents in 2018 or 2019. They aren’t even restricted free agents either of those two years. Especially with all of the flip-flopping going on in the NBA, particularly in the Eastern Conference; they know they can make a run at a championship with these guys in the fold for the next few seasons.
11. Split Up: Cleveland Cavaliers (LeBron James, Kevin Love, Isaiah Thomas)
The team that will most likely split up their big three in the offseason has to be the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs have a big three of LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Isaiah Thomas. Thomas has not appeared in a game for the Cavs yet, but he is sure to assume the point guard duties once he returns from a hip injury. This team just doesn’t have the supporting cast to stay together.
There has been a lot of speculation that LeBron James will be going to the Los Angeles Lakers after the 2017-18 season. Not only does that significantly hurt the Cavs, but it puts Isaiah Thomas and Kevin Love’s futures there in question as well. Love has two more years left on his contract before that expires. But do not be surprised if LeBron leaves that the Cavs decide to ship off Love to start a total rebuild. Isaiah Thomas is due to hit the free agency market after this season so he could leave before he makes any type of impression in Cleveland. Expect a team like the Magic to pursue Thomas’s services. Any way you look at it, this Cleveland big three has one year to make one more run at a title before the demolition begins for the Cavaliers…again.
10. Stay Together: Philadelphia 76ers (Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz)
The Philadelphia 76ers are one of the unluckiest franchises in the NBA. Year after year, they acquire top five draft picks and it seems like their draft picks find someway to get hurt. They picked up Joel Embiid in the 2014 NBA Draft. In 2016, they had the number one overall pick and drafted Ben Simmons out of LSU. Philly then went out this past NBA Draft with the number one pick again thanks to a trade with the Celtics and selected Markelle Fultz, the beast coming out of Washington. So far Fultz has been disappointing, but that could be because of an injury as some are speculating.
But this group is here to stay long term. They are all under the age of 25 and still developing. Embiid has slowly proven he can handle banging around with some of the best big men in the game. Simmons has blossomed since he started playing again this year and has shown signs of greatness with his athleticism and his play-making skills. Fultz is 19 years old and will continue to grow and learn into a solid NBA guard. He is 6’4 and can handle the ball very well and set up his teammates, so when his fully healthy; watch out! This 76ers team will be something scary in a few years if all of these three stay healthy.
9. Split Up: San Antonio Spurs (Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge & Pau Gasol)
The San Antonio Spurs had some good times with their original big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli. Multiple championships, knocking off LeBron James, having a great coach in Gregg Popovich were only a few of the good things that were going on in San Antonio. But the times have passed. Tim Duncan is retired, Ginobli and Parker are working their way out the door and the Spurs new big three seems like they are ready to move on.
They have a young superstar in Kawhi Leonard that has already become one of the top 10 best players in the NBA. He is also signed through 2020. However, he has a player option in 2019; which isn’t a concern for after this season. LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the best athletic power forwards in the NBA, but he is signed through 2019. He could be a guy that gets traded in the offseason for younger pieces if the Spurs choose to do a rebuild around Leonard. Pau Gasol came over from the Chicago Bulls to be a part of a contending team late in his career. He looks like a realistic option to stay as he is signed through 2020 as well. The thing to think about is Leonard with that player option and Aldridge’s contract is almost up. If the Spurs go into sell mode, which is very possible, we won’t be seeing much more of this big three for long.
8. Stay Together: Minnesota Timberwolves (Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins & Jimmy Butler
The Minnesota Timberwolves have been an interesting franchise over the past few years. They have been viewed as a team that was going to be able to take the next step to being a playoff contender. They definitely have two big pieces in place. They have Karl-Anthony Towns who is a monster in the middle of the paint who can also shoot from the outside. They also have Andrew Wiggins who is a young perimeter player who can drive to the hoop and has unbelievable athleticism. They looked like they were one big piece away from jumping into serious contention for the Western Conference. Then, they made a big move and traded with the Chicago Bulls to get star shooting guard Jimmy Butler.
This big three is here to stay. Wiggins was recently extended to a long-term contract. Towns is the superstar that Minnesota cannot let get away. Butler is signed for the next two seasons after this one, so it looks like he will be in a good situation with the Wolves. These three guys can complement each other really well and help them make a run. They may not be the Warriors right now, but they can definitely knock them off if they choose to separate.
7. Split Up: Los Angeles Clippers (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan & Danilo Gallinari)
The Los Angeles Clippers suffered a big loss when Chris Paul decided to join James Harden and the Houston Rockets. They decided to give Blake Griffin his payday as he received a five year, $170 million deal. They also have DeAndre Jordan, who is known for his rebounding ability, down low dominance and horrendous free throw shooting. Losing Chris Paul was definitely a blow but it helped that they replaced him in the offseason…sort of. They went out and was part of a three team trade that brought over Danilo Gallinari from the Denver Nuggets. He could be the third wheel the Clippers realized they always needed or it could be a total bust. But don’t look for this group to play together too long.
Jordan has a player option this offseason. If he doesn’t take it, he will become an unrestricted free agent again. This time, look for Jordan to seriously explore other options to leave L.A. for good. Griffin won’t be going anywhere seeing as how he just signed a long contract. Gallinari is also signed through 2020, so it looks like he won’t be going anywhere either. If Jordan leaves, that is a huge loss in the middle for the Clippers. They kept him twice, but I find it hard to believe that he stays again considering the Clippers can’t get anywhere in the playoffs.
6. Stay Together: Houston Rockets (James Harden, Chris Paul & Trevor Ariza)
This next team might spark some disagreement about whether they will stay together or whether they will have players departing for other destinations. The Rockets were a team for awhile that relied primarily on the play of All-Star guard James Harden. He had the ball in his hand more than anyone on his Rockets teams, respectively so. But this off-season, they made a splash and traded for longtime Clippers point guard Chris Paul. They also Trevor Ariza who is experienced and known to have a good three point shot as he has made his way around the NBA.
This team is destined to stay together beyond this season. Harden got his superstar status in Houston and will not be going anywhere as his is under contract until next season. Ariza wants to win as soon as possible and the Rockets are a good team to stay with considering he is playing along side Paul and Harden. Chris Paul will love playing with James Harden so much that he will realize he won’t have the same opportunity to win like he does in Houston. With these three leading the Rockets, they can make a postseason run that will have all three of them re-structuring their contracts to stay put.
5. Split Up: New Orleans Pelicans (Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins & Rajon Rondo)
Anthony Davis has been the main guy in New Orleans since he was drafted by the team in 2012. He surely has shown he can handle being a star in a market like New Orleans. He definitely needed help though so the Pelicans went out and acquired DeMarcus Cousins at the trade deadline last season. They also went out and signed Rajon Rondo to a one year deal to help balance the Pelicans out a bit. However, this dream scenario will not last too long for Pelicans fans.
The problem with this big three is that Cousins and Rondo are both unrestricted free agents after this season. Rondo has been known lately to last one year wherever he goes before he drives the coaches and organization crazy and they don’t bring him back. Cousins has also had his problems with losing, just ask Vlade Divac and the entire Kings organization. If he doesn’t wear out his welcome in New Orleans, then Cousins will surely be asked about playing for other teams next season. Maybe Cleveland comes along, signs him, and convinces LeBron to stay? Who knows. But it is safe to say the New Orleans big three will be a short term memory remembered in bars on Bourbon street.
4. Stay Together: Boston Celtics (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward &
The Boston Celtics have been the one NBA team that everybody was waiting for to make a big splash via free agency or trade. They got dominant All-Star players in both of those categories. They signed Gordon Hayward to a max deal and traded for Kyrie Irving. Those two along with Al Horford, who signed the previous offseason with Boston, were going to come together and give the Cavaliers a run for their money. Unfortunately, that plan was shortly lived as Hayward went down game one with a horrific ankle injury that will probably cost him his season. However, this trio will not be broken up any time soon.
Hayward will be hungrier than ever next year to prove to Boston Celtics fans and everyone in the world that he was worth the max deal. He also has his old college coach Brad Stevens at the helm which is a huge plus. Irving has repeatedly boasted about how much he loves the city of Boston and wants to prove he can be the leader of his own team. Horford has two more years after this year remaining on his contract and has suddenly become an unexpected veteran leader on and off the court. Don’t worry Celtics fans, this big three will be around for a while.
3. Split Up: Golden State Warriors (Steph Curry, Kevin Durant & Klay Thompson)
The Golden State Warriors had a big three of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green before Kevin Durant arrived. Since the arrival of Durant, Green has taken sort of a back seat to have Durant be the third part of their new formed big three. But just because the Warriors are making a dominant run now, doesn’t mean it will necessarily last.
Steph Curry signed a five year, $200 million contract this past offseason, so he isn’t going anywhere. Klay Thompson is signed through 2019 but that doesn’t mean his name has been free from trade rumors in the past. The big mystery here is Durant. He took a bargain contract to stay in Golden State, but he has an opt-out option after this year. Will he keep taking a lower pay to keep a championship team together? Probably not. He can opt out of his two year deal this offseason be courted upon to leave the Bay Area. Durant left a team once, who’s to say he wouldn’t do it again now that he has his championship ring?
2. Stay Together: OKC Thunder (Russell Westbrook, Paul George & Carmelo Anthony)
The Oklahoma City Thunder were probably the most aggressive team in the Western Conference as far as boosting up their roster for a deep postseason run. Yes, Russell Westbrook was the MVP last season, but he proved one man cannot do it by himself in today’s NBA. The Thunder lost convincingly in the first round of the playoffs last season against the Rockets.
The front office knew there was work to be done. They went out and acquired All-Star forward Paul George from the Indiana Pacers. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, they then went out and got All-Star Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks and suddenly, the Thunder were back. This trio will stay together because Russell Westbrook doesn’t mind distributing the ball, which is great for George and Anthony because they will still get their shots. They have a great chance to compete with and maybe even knock off the Warriors, so why would they bother to move on after? There are rumblings that George will go to L.A., but with this team in place, George might just be convinced Oklahoma City is the new city for him long term.
1. Split Up: Dallas Mavericks (Dirk Nowitski, Harrison Barnes & Dennis Smith Jr.)
Dirk Nowitski is the most loyal man in the NBA, and no, he won’t leave the Mavericks and sign with another team, or ask for a trade, but rather than stick around while the Mavs spin their tires, he may choose to simply retire a Maverick after this season. The Mavs went out and signed Harrison barnes in the 2016 offseason and they have Dennis Smith Jr. who looks like a promising rookie, but the reason this trio will be split up will likely come with Dirk’s retirement. Many are surprised that Nowitski elected to come back even for this season, as a turnaround doesn’t seem to be on the horizon in Dallas. Once Nowitski retires, the Mavericks will have to evaluate how to build their team going forward; will they opt for a rebuild or will they try to form a new super team?
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