March 22, 2023

NBA Big Threes that didn’t work

NBA Big Threes that didn’t work
Art by One Sports

When 2018 MVP James Harden got traded to the Brooklyn Nets in 2021, the entire basketball world took notice. Considering the combined firepower of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and The Beard, Brooklyn became instant favorites to win at least that season's NBA championship.

Fast forward to 2023.

Irving has been traded to the Dallas Mavericks. Harden is playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. And Durant is the last superstar standing in the New York borough. With no finals appearance, let alone a ring, to show for, it’s safe to say that this Nets blockbuster team-up can be filed under “Failed NBA Big Threes.”

With that, let’s look at other powerhouse trios in league history that failed to meet expectations.

Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash)

In 2012, the Lakers gifted Kobe Bean Bryant with four-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard and two-time MVP Steve Nash for teammates. As good as they looked on paper, the best finish they had was a first round playoff exit. Nash was ageing and was injured a lot, while the chemistry between Bryant and Howard was as smooth as drinking a potent mix of gin and Red Horse.

Oklahoma City Thunder (Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony)

Dubbed the "OK-Three," Russ, PG, and Melo were expected to make the Thunder a championship team. But they were anything but okay. They underwhelmed, with Anthony’s inefficiency and unwillingness to take a backseat to his co-stars becoming the team’s usual scapegoat in losses. Ultimately, their partnership was ended by the Utah Jazz in the first round of the 2018 playoffs.

Oklahoma City Thunder (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden)

The Thunder were projected to be the next NBA superpower after KD, Russ and Harden took them to the 2012 Finals. But this Big Three was broken up even before it could tap into its immense potential, with Oklahoma City surprisingly trading Harden to the Rockets before the start of following season. Essentially, the Thunder chose Serge Ibaka over the Beard as they tried to save money.

Houston Rockets (Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler / Scottie Pippen)

Barkley no longer wanted to be the bus driver, so he teamed up with fellow Hall-of-Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler with the Rockets. But in two straight postseasons, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz eliminated them in heartbreaking fashion. The first one was in 1997 when Stockton nailed a walk-off game-winning three in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. In ’99, it was Barkley, Olajuwon, and Scottie Pippen who got together in Houston. But they were too old, and Chuck and Scottie didn’t see eye to eye. Unsurprisingly, they got KO’d by the Los Angeles Lakers in round one of the playoffs.

Dallas Mavericks (Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn, Jim Jackson)

During Kidd’s first stint with the Mavs, he had two explosive teammates in Mashburn and Jackson. They were known as the three Js, and they were supposed to take over the league from the mid-90s moving forward. But R&B singer Toni Braxton supposedly came in between the three and reportedly caused a love triangle (or love square) that broke the young Mavs core (just google Toni Braxton, kids). Mashburn became a solid player for the Miami Heat and the Charlotte Hornets. Kidd went on to have a great NBA career and even won a 'chip when he returned to Dallas. Jackson, on the other hand, became an NBA journeyman.