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Will Lakers' new stars pay immediate dividends?

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Pat Lovgren, TSN.ca
10/27/2012 5:58:25 PM
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Following in the footsteps of the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics before them, the Los Angeles Lakers dominated the off-season headlines, remaking their roster by acquiring two superstar players.

Much in the same way the Celtics brought in Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett and the Heat added LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the Lakers are hoping the additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard will bring immediate championships.

Bypassing the traditional team-building model of drafting and development is the new-era strategy that big-market NBA teams have been able to implement thanks to a soft salary cap which allows teams to go over the cap as long as they're willing to pay the monetary penalties.

With a starting five that features four potential Hall of Famers, Los Angeles is among the most talented squads ever assembled. Still, they will face the same chemistry and familiarity issues that other super teams have confronted in the past.

Age is another factor working against LA. There is pressure to win now with Nash approaching 40 and Kobe Bryant hinting he will not play beyond the two years he has left on his contract. Not to mention the heavy minutes 32-year-old big man Pau Gasol has accumulated over the years.

And if past history is any indication – with the exception of one club -- teams that have added star players through free agency, have had a tough time hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in their first season.

The 2007-08 Celtics were the one super-team that generated the most immediate success, winning an NBA championship in their first season after bringing in a pair of stars. Boston dominated right from the outset, finishing the regular season with a league best 66-16 record. Still, their road to a title was anything but a cakewalk, as they played the most playoff games of any championship team, including two Game 7's in the first and second rounds.

With the Celtics model in mind, the Heat added James and Bosh, but unlike Boston, Miami struggled with chemistry issues and although they seemed to find their game come playoff time, were upset by the Mavericks in six games in the NBA Finals. It was not until their second season together, that Miami was able to claim the first of what James famously predicted would be "Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven" championships.

Boston and Miami are two teams that have had success going with the "super team" strategy, but there are also just as many examples of failure.

Recently, the New York Knicks completely turned over their roster following a 53-loss 2009-10 season with a series of moves highlighted by the signing of explosive power forward Amar'e Stoudemire and a trade for Brooklyn born, Carmelo Anthony. The moves failed to pay immediate dividends, as the Knicks two new stars had on-court chemistry issues and were swept in the first round of the playoffs. The pair didn't fare much better last season even with the addition of dominant defensive big man Tyson Chandler and were again dismissed in the first round.

Prior to the recent examples in New York, Boston and Miami, you have to go back to the 2003-04 Lakers to find another team constructed in a similar manner to those in the so called "super team era."

It was during the 2003 off-season that the Lakers decided to bring in future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton to join the established core of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal after the team had their three year championship run snapped. Despite an up-and-down regular season, the team appeared to hit its stride come playoff time, winning their first three series in five games. But they couldn't close the deal, as the underdog Detroit Pistons shut their offence down, and beat them in five games.

Adding a pair of Hall of Famers to an already established core was also a strategy employed by the 1996-97 Houston Rockets. The Rockets had already added Clyde Drexler the previous season and he was a key piece in their second consecutive championship. Looking to three-peat, Houston brought in Charles Barkley from the Phoenix Suns. With the addition of Barkley, the Rockets instantly became the overwhelming title favourites, but he failed to fit in with the veteran roster and the team ended up taking a step backward, fall well short of a third straight championship.

Looking at the super teams of the past, it appears like the Lakers -- with their four dominant veteran starters -- most closely resemble the 2007-08 Celtics. However, they are dealing with one thing that the other so-called, "dream teams" didn't have to: Another super team fresh off an NBA Championship that has already solved the chemistry issues LA is looking to now overcome.

There will likely be short-term struggles, especially with Nash taking over the offence and Howard being the new defensive focus, but if the Lakers are able to put it all together come playoff time, they have a chance to repeat the history of the team they lost to in the 2008 Finals.

Lakers starters (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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