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By Stefan Bondy

NEW YORK — The template had been established, and proven worthy of application in the NBA, for as long as we can remember. Acquire as many superstars as possible and the rest will fall into place. Coaching and filling out the roster are tertiary.

The Heat’s Big 3 enhanced the fad and, as recently as the Lakers title in 2020, it still felt like the chosen path to a title.

Having problems getting past LeBron James? So what? Do everything to get Kevin Durant in Golden State or Kawhi Leonard in Toronto.

Is Boston stuck at the hump? Just trade for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

But more recently there’s been a shift, as holes in the superstar strategy have turned into craters. The Nets are the obvious example and most relevant to this market. Their Big 3 of Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden is already fractured and finished with just one playoff series victory. The failure of GM Sean Marks left him with no cap space and no control of his own first-round draft pick until 2028.

In Philadelphia, the different iterations of super teams — whether it’s with Ben Simmons or Jimmy Butler or Harden — haven’t advanced out of the second round, with Thursday’s elimination to Miami serving as something of a death blow.

On the West Coast with the Clippers, the exorbitant money spent on Kawhi and Paul George has mostly just produced DNPs. The Lakers, with James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis, would be in the lottery but, of course, they traded the draft pick.

Of the top 14 players remaining in the playoffs (two for each of the seven teams), only three — Butler, Jrue Holiday and Chris Paul — weren’t drafted by their respective teams. The franchises still vying for a title — Bucks, Celtics, Heat, Suns, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Warriors — were built from the ground up and, for the most part, filled out the roster with young and athletic pieces committed to defense.

They’re not winning a championship because of the buyout market, which the Nets mistakenly hitched their wagons to.

So why is the superstar model falling apart?

There are several reasons, but let’s start with player empowerment because it trickles down from there. As David Stern’s NBA transitioned to Adam Silver’s, the players took greater control of the business. The threat of a superstar deserting a franchise became so powerful, regardless of how many years remained on his contract, that the placating expanded and whatever “culture” was in place is quickly dissolved. Coaches are easily replaced. Accountability is blurred. The players become the GM and recruit their friends, sometimes to the detriment of winning.

Only the Miami Heat seem immune to such takeovers. Nobody is forcing Pat Riley to fire Erik Spoelstra.

James was a pioneer of the player empowerment movement but he is also a very special case. Not only is LeBron a once-in-a-lifetime talent, he also was available to play almost every game.

Now we have load management and teams falling behind because the top-heavy strategy built on trades and free agency is no longer so viable.

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Dive Deeper:
LAYUP LINES: Kyrie Irving may have lost himself a lot of money last season
Kyrie Irving's absences are piling up.
Dave Hyde: Heat’s undrafted players outplayed 76ers' pedigree — sports at its best
There was a moment in the second half of this signature Miami Heat night, this beautiful Thursday night, when the…
Greg Cote: Jimmy Butler and defense rise again as Heat eliminate 76ers, advance to Eastern finals
The Philadelphia 76ers were desperate and home Thursday night, must-win in the literal sense, the great James Harden in hero…
Damian Lillard will represent Blazers in next draft lottery
Damian Lillard will hope the ping pong balls bounce in Portland's favor when he represents the Blazers at the 2022…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Jeanie Buss on whether LeBron, Klutch Sports run the Lakers
Jeanie Buss addressed the critics who claim that she and the rest of Lakers management are subservient to LeBron James.
How optimistic is LeBron James about the Lakers’ situation?
Does LeBron James feel the Lakers can turn things around next year? How invested is he in a team he…
Get all your news in one place