Evaluating modern dynasties in the NBA (Part 1)

In the rising “Player Empowerment” era, we take a look if dynasties are harder to build as we enter a new decade. Part 1 takes a look at how dynasties are built

(Part 2: The problem with building dynasties in today’s NBA)

Photo from AP

The NBA has grown into a billion-dollar sports league through its fair share of dynasties which has carried the league’s popularity globally over the years. Whether it was Bill Russell’s Celtics, the Showtime Lakers, the 90’s Chicago Bulls, the Big Three Miami Heat, or the super team Golden State Warriors, each team built a dynasty that became the highlight of their respective eras, impacting other legacies along the way.

With the ever-changing landscape of the modern NBA, forming a team has to take into account the dynamics of city markets, player empowerment, and coaching schemes changing. Here’s a look at what blueprint teams should follow to build a dynasty in the modern NBA.

Ingredients of a Dynasty

Out of the 30 teams in the NBA, eight teams have won 80% of all NBA championships since the NBA’s inauguration as a league. These eight compose of franchises that have at least three championships to their name. Over the years, the NBA has seen different types of dynasties form such as three-peats, long eras of consistent winning, or even years of championships that were suddenly cut short.

A dynasty needs to have a solid definition, especially since many championship teams are known for changing the game and a long-lasting legacy while others just found the perfect opportunity to capture titles but lacked a title or two to be called a dynasty. For consistency’s sake these are the parameters for the definition of a “dynasty” in this article:

  1. At least two NBA championships
  2. At least four trips to the NBA Finals
  3. A winning percentage above 70%

With that definition in mind, here are the teams that sit on the NBA Dynasty Table:

Ingredients of a Dynasty

From the list of dynasties above, a common denominator seems to form across the teams. Three ingredients stand out in forming these dynasties which is a testament to the work their respective front offices, coaching staff, and players put in to sustain their winning culture across seasons. 

Having a superstar on a cheap deal in a dynasty be it accidental or deliberate, is one of the first steps in forming a dynasty. A smaller cut of the overall pie for the team’s best player allows the team to land more talent while staying under the salary cap for multiple title runs.

It’s a given that teams need a franchise-changing superstar to win for multiple years like Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, or Magic Johnson. But, all dynasties above have shown that there is a Robin to each Batman who was willing to take a pay cut or was underpaid in the duration of their title runs.

The best example of this was Scottie Pippen who got paid $2.8 million per season during Chicago’s run in the 90s. Sometimes it’s the franchise-players themselves that come with economical salaries like Stephen Curry earning $11 million per year before his supermax deal, or Tim Duncan earning only $12 million on average from 1999-2005. These scenarios opened up the budgets for front offices, giving them flexibility to improve other areas of their team before these players eventually got their big paydays.

Photo from Getty Images

Once the stars are secured, having complementary role players supporting them should sound easy on paper, but the results have been a mixed bag over the years. Take for example the Houston Rockets surrounding James Harden with shooters or the 2013-14 LA Lakers surrounding their aging Big Three with fillers who did not fit well.

Dynasty teams have mastered this art though. Backing up the main guns, are solid role players that are proven to be consistent, easily interchangeable, and adaptable in any moment of the season. This pattern can be seen in with the Bulls, Lakers, and Spurs dynasties where they found role players that fit well with the system and their superstars. When these teams needed a reliable point guard to run the Triangle Offense or to surround their post players with unselfish floor-spacers, they filled out those spots with guys like John Paxson, Steve Kerr, Ron Harper, Robert Horry, Danny Green, or Brett Barry.

These teams all had an identity stemming from the star of the team which they stuck with throughout their tenures. What separated them among the pack was their ability to add minor pieces to their puzzle to utilize their roster from top to bottom while still keeping their core identity intact throughout the course of the season.

Photo from NBAE

The final piece to form a dynasty is an elite coach that will elevate the whole roster into championship contenders. That is possibly one of the most important factors in sustaining a run of dominance in the NBA.

A team must find a solid coach that builds his system around his superstar and finds the role players to work within that system. That is why finding the right coach with the right system makes the difference for a contender to become bonafide championship contenders. A coach is usually the final piece in the championship puzzle as they could take a team over the hump like the Warriors replacing Mark Jackson with Steve Kerr or the Bulls pulling the trigger with Phil Jackson.

Photo from Sports Illustrated

Having a superstar on a cheap deal, surrounding those superstars with the right complementary players and finding an elite coach that will build the right system for the team all contribute to the overall success of those dynasties. But there’s also a lot of luck and tough decisions involved in building dynasties. What if Jordan didn’t fall to the Bulls or the ping pong balls moved a different direction for the Spurs? What if the Warriors kept Jackson on or the Celtics held on to their top pick instead of nabbing McHale and Parish?

These crucial moments shaped the dynasties in the NBA and allowed all the pieces to fall into place for those teams to have sustained success in the league. But, teams looking to build dynasties should also have that DNA that allows them to stay hungry year after year, especially as the competition continues to improve to try to dethrone them. That challenge gave these teams a bigger incentive to continue winning, changing the legacies of their own team and the teams that they took down along the way.