Every year, there are several sports teams that spend big in an attempt to “win the offseason,” bringing in big-name free agents or making bold trades with the hope of creating a bulletproof roster destined to win a championship. In most cases, these moves lead to preseason predictions of outright dominance that make the regular season and playoffs nothing more than a coronation for the team that looks best on paper.
These kinds of roster moves sometimes work out quite well, as the NBA in particular has seen several of these so-called “super teams” enjoy immediate success. The 2008 Boston Celtics won the title following years of mediocrity by making savvy trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in the 2007 offseason, and the Miami Heat won two titles in four years by adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh to their roster. While there have been plenty of examples in all sports where this strategy has worked, there have also been a host of failures as well.
There are a multitude of reasons why these moves don’t always work out, with some players finding it difficult to adapt to a lesser role, while others simply cannot accept that they are no longer a team’s primary figure. Some rosters are simply poorly assembled, as a collection of exceptional talent does not always mean that the roster will be functional on the field. Despite the fact that the following 15 teams all had talented rosters and enjoyed a great deal of preseason hype, each team was ultimately a disappointment that failed to deliver in the postseason.
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15 2004 New York Yankees
Through an offseason trade, the Yankees got a hold of the reigning AL MVP, trading for Alex Rodriguez and giving up Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias in the process. A-Rod was coming off a phenomenal season in which he slashed .298/.396/.600 with 47 home runs and 118 RBI while playing Gold Glove defense at shortstop, but it wasn't like the Yankees were lacking in the talent department at the time. The club also added Kenny Lofton to a high-priced team that was already loaded with former All-Stars at varying stages of their careers, including Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Derek Jeter, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera.
While the team won 101 games and topped a difficult AL East, the Yankees suffered one of the greatest playoff collapses in sports history by losing four straight to the Boston Red Sox after winning the first three games of the ALCS. With the amount of talent on the Yankees roster, anything short of a title would have been a disappointment, but losing four straight to their most bitter rival in the most unbelievable way possible was salt in the wound.
14 2011 Philadelphia Eagles
Dubbed a “Dream Team” by none other than Vince Young, the Philadelphia Eagles broke the bank to bring in many of the best available free agents during the offseason, most notably signing Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin to free-agent deals while also re-signing Michael Vick and bringing in Young as the backup. With so many talented acquisitions, the Eagles were a popular choice to take the league by storm, but instead had to win their last four games just to finish at 8-8 and had no chance at even earning a playoff berth.
13 2008-09 San Jose Sharks
The Sharks had an unquestionably great regular season, racking up 117 points on the way to a first-place finish in the Pacific Division and the top seed in the Western Conference. With Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau already in place, the Sharks signed Rob Blake and traded for Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich during the offseason, but their regular-season success did not translate to the playoffs. San Jose was upset by the eighth seed in the first round, losing to the Anaheim Ducks in six games.
12 1996-97 Houston Rockets
Having won back-to-back titles as recently as 1993 and 1994, the Rockets added Charles Barkley to a roster that already included Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, giving Houston three of the 11 active players to have just been named to the list of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. Barkley had pushed for a trade from Phoenix to Houston because he felt that the Rockets gave him the best shot at winning the title that had thus far eluded him. The Rockets finished third in the Western Conference and won 57 games, but they fell short of reaching the NBA Finals, instead losing to the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals.
11 2015 Washington Nationals
By adding Max Scherzer on a massive contract to an already talent-laden rotation, the Washington Nationals looked like a team that would dominate the NL East simply by virtue of their starting pitching staff alone. With Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth providing the offensive punch, the Nationals were a popular choice as the favorite to win the World Series this season.
Things have not gone as planned, however, as the Nats have hovered around .500 and have been overtaken by the New York Mets in their own division. Harper has been nothing short of incredible and Scherzer has shown flashes of dominance, but Washington still remains on the outside looking in at the moment. There is still plenty of time for Washington to recover and earn a playoff berth, but it’s clear that they have not lived up to the lofty expectations following their major offseason and trade-deadline additions.
10 2015 San Diego Padres
The recently acquired Matt Kemp called Padres GM A.J. Preller a “rock star” after the flurry of offseason moves that brought Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, James Shields, Craig Kimbrel and Derek Norris to San Diego. While many saw a potential offensive juggernaut in San Diego, it wasn’t hard to see that the roster had its share of shortcomings, especially on defense. Kemp, Upton and Myers were heralded as one of the best offensive outfields in baseball, but that triumvirate’s potential offensive aptitude could not hide the glaring defensive weaknesses.
The Padres are now under .500 and have little chance at contending for the postseason, making the San Diego season a major disappointment. The most glaring failure of the offseason overhaul is the fact that many of the prospects the Padres traded away are now beginning to make meaningful contributions at the big-league level. The Padres now face the daunting task of trying to rebuild a farm system that they decimated in exchange for a lot of preseason hype followed by an astonishingly mediocre 2015 season.
9 2003 Oakland Raiders
Just one season after making it to the Super Bowl, the Oakland Raiders rapidly descended to the bottom of the NFL despite returning the bulk of a roster that included the reigning NFL MVP in quarterback Rich Gannon and future Hall of Fame receivers in Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. On defense, the Raiders had Charles Woodson, Rod Woodson and Bill Romanowski, yet the Oakland franchise went from 11-5 and first in the AFC West to 4-8 and last place in the division in just a single season. While the roster was undeniably old, no one expected such a precipitous fall from the reigning AFC Champion.
Bill Callahan, the head coach of the Silver and Black during that 2003 season, once referred to his club as the “dumbest team in America,” which was an ironic assessment coming from the man who never even bothered to change any of the team’s play calls before the Super Bowl despite facing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that was coached by Jon Gruden, the same man who originally put the play calls in place before being dismissed from the Raiders via trade by owner Al Davis after the 2001 season.
8 1999-00 St. Louis Blues
The Blues’ regular-season success led to 114 points and a first-place finish in the Western Conference, but a roster made up of Hart Trophy winner Chris Pronger, Al McInnis, Pavol Demitra, Pierre Turgeon and Roman Turek could not push St. Louis past their first-round adversary in the eighth-seeded San Jose Sharks. The Blues lost in seven games despite having enjoyed a season in which they posted the league’s best record.
7 2012 Miami Marlins
The Marlins began the 2012 season with outsized expectations, as the team had acquired Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell in the offseason before opening a new, taxpayer-financed stadium in Miami. Those players joined Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton on a roster managed by the fiery Ozzie Guillen, and it was supposed to represent a departure from the low-budget operating strategy that saw previous World Series teams dismantled when core players became too pricey to retain.
Instead of contending in the NL East, however, the Marlins stumbled out of the gate and were sellers at the trade deadline, sending away Ramirez on the way to losing 93 games and finishing last in their division. Reyes, Bell and Buehrle were all traded away during the following offseason, and even Guillen was let go despite having three years remaining on the contract he had signed during the previous offseason.
6 2004 USA Olympic Basketball
Apparently even the United States National Team is susceptible to complacency, as the team was coming off gold medal performances in each of the last three Olympic Games in 1992, 1996 and 2000. The 2004 Olympic Team had burgeoning superstars in LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, along with established stars in Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson, but the group was unable to continue the run of international dominance, losing to Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Argentina on the way to winning a bronze medal. The poor 2004 performance led to a complete overhaul of USA Basketball, with Jerry Colangelo taking over roster construction and Mike Krzyzewski being named head coach.
5 1991-92 New York Rangers
Having endured one of the longest championship droughts in sports history, the New York Rangers made a trade to bring in Mark Messier from Edmonton in the hope that he could help bring the Stanley Cup to a franchise that had not won one since 1940. In Messier’s first season in New York, he won the Hart Trophy while Brian Leetch won the Norris, and the Rangers looked unstoppable on the way to a conference-best 105 points.
Despite having five players total more than 30 goals over the course of the season (Messier, Mike Gartner, Tony Amonte, Sergei Nemchinov and Darren Turcotte), and having the league’s best defenseman and best player, the Rangers were unable to make a deep run in the playoffs, instead falling in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. While the Rangers didn’t end the drought in Messier’s first season in New York, the club was able to finally win the Stanley Cup in 1994 by defeating the Vancouver Canucks.
4 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers
Gary Payton and Karl Malone became a pair of basketball mercenaries during the 2003 NBA offseason, as the pair sought the NBA title that had eluded them both throughout their illustrious careers. By joining forces with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, a pairing that had already racked up three NBA titles together, it seemed like a forgone conclusion that Payton and Malone would be able to get a ring and be free of their reputations as great players who never won a title.
Shaq recruited the two future Hall of Famers to come to Los Angeles despite having to take a healthy pay cut and reduced roles, with both Malone and Payton more than willing to make sacrifices after having been previously denied titles as the focal points of their own teams by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. Though the Lakers won 56 games and made it to the NBA Finals, tensions simmered throughout the season and Los Angeles ultimately lost in five games to a Detroit Pistons team that many felt was inferior.
The fallout from the disappointing season was almost immediate, as Phil Jackson resigned following the championship loss and called Kobe “uncoachable.” Shaq and Payton joined new teams during the subsequent offseason, with Malone opting for retirement. Payton eventually teamed up with Shaq again in Miami, finally winning a title in 2006.
3 2000 Washington Redskins
The Redskins under owner Dan Snyder are probably best known for spending big in the offseason with little thought over how to best assemble a functional roster. It’s not surprising that this haphazard approach has yielded little in the way of results, but the 2000 season was particularly disappointing given the team’s solid 10-6 campaign during the previous season that, if not for a missed 51-yard field goal, nearly included a berth in the NFC Championship Game. Despite adding Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith and Jeff George in the hope of bolstering that 10-6 roster, the Redskins were only able to manage 8 wins on the season and missed the playoffs altogether.
2 2011 Boston Red Sox
During the 2010 offseason, the Boston Red Sox were among the most active teams, signing Carl Crawford and trading for Adrian Gonzalez, leading some to compare Boston’s lineup to that of the 1927 New York Yankees. With David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury already on the roster, the Sox looked like a potential juggernaut and appeared headed to a playoff berth late in the season. What followed was a historic late-season collapse, as Boston failed to make the playoffs despite holding a 9-game lead in the AL East in September.
The fallout was significant and the 2011 edition of the Red Sox is now best remembered for its dysfunction, most notably relating to the pitching staff’s apparent penchant for drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games. Terry Francona and Theo Epstein left in the offseason and Gonzalez and Crawford, the prized acquisitions of the 2010 offseason, were traded away in August of 2012 as Boston overhauled its roster after the disappointing 2011 campaign.
1 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers
With Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol already on the roster, the Lakers brought in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard via trade during the offseason. That foursome, along with Metta World Peace, was thought to be an intriguing and balanced mix of offensively and defensively gifted players who had all played at exceptionally high levels throughout their careers. Nash and Bryant had both won MVP Awards (Nash in 2005 and 2006; Kobe in 2008), and Howard and World Peace had both won Defensive Player of the Year Awards (Howard in 2009, 2010 and 2011; World Peace in 2004), but the season was an unmitigated disaster right from the start.
The team fired Mike Brown just five games into the season and eventually brought in Mike D’Antoni, spurning Phil Jackson in the process. Howard, a pending free agent who would leave at season's end, sulked through most of the season and Bryant tore his Achilles just before the playoffs started. A team many had pegged as serious title contenders was instead swept in the first round of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs.
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