The tip-off of the NBA season, at long last, has arrived. Mired as it is in the thrush of competing Fall sports, including the ongoing NFL season and the culmination of the baseball season in the form of the World Series, the concomitant emergence of hoops is frequently greeted with little notoriety or a benign shrug of the shoulders. Still, for those of us firmly invested in the trappings of hardwood and rubber, it is notably propitious. For the franchises dwelling in decades-long tribulations of despair, a flash of hope may intrepidly emerge, destined to ameliorate their suffering. For the franchises entrenched in the heavens of the hoops universe, it is time to wield further their sustained dominance, with increased alacrity, adding further banners to their already bedecked rafters.
We, alas, will not analyze the projected vicissitudes of the upcoming 2023-2024 season. We reserve the right to discourse on the aimless amblings of Kevin Durant, the latest faux-intellectual comment from Kyrie Irving, or Lebron James’ ferocious, though futile, resolve to defeat Father Time at another flashpoint during the regular season. No, for today, we’ll peer more closely at the footprint left by some of the most dominant teams of 21ist century.
It’s been a curious 23 years. The beginning of the 2000’s presaged a return to the rugged legacies erected by notable greats like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Shaq, Tim Duncan, even Yao Ming, were perceived as the thoroughbreds necessary to serve as the keystones required to unlock the greatness of a franchise. We were quickly disabused of that notion, as dominant wing players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant hearkened more to the career trajectories previously delineated by Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, or Magic Johnson. Several years later, the game transformed almost beyond recognition, as the success of the “Splash Brothers” introduced concepts of spacing oriented around maximizing the competitive advantage of the three point line.
Regardless of the approach leveraged, the teams below displayed levels of dominance that were transcendent. We’ll identify what made each of these teams memorable, why they were viewed as especially formidable within the context of NBA history, and how they’ve managed to shape the current manifestation of the league today. Here are the top 5 NBA teams of the 2000’s.
5. 2022-2023 Denver Nuggets
Like the Spurs before them, the 2022-2023 Denver Nuggets were a quintessentially understated squad. Unlike many of their forebears, they lacked the multiplicity of star players that seemed compulsory to win a championship, let alone winning a championship without too much staunch resistance.
Led by Nikola Jokic, “The Joker,” a Serbian passing sleuth, the Nuggets first wrested the West with ease, then dominated the Celtics en route to the franchise’s first NBA championship. That often gets overlooked: It was the Nugget’s first NBA championship as a franchise.
In their NBA Finals performance against the intrepid and rugged Miami Heat, Jokic was the obvious selection for Finals MVP. He averaged 30.2 PPG, 14 rebounds and 7.2 assists. His sidekick, the criminally underrated Jamal Murray, also averaged 25 PPG, five assists and five rebounds during the overall post-season. The Nuggets, additionally, compiled an 18-4 playoff record during their run to the Larry O’ Brien trophy, a display of dominance in the contemporary playoff scene only rivalled by the early-aught Lakers.
Whatever your thoughts on their humdrum regular season record, the Nuggets were still the undisputed #1 West seed entering the 2023 playoffs. They present the rudiments of a dynasty akin to the Duncan-led Spurs. Keep an eye on the Nuggets going forward. They’re going to be special.
4. 2015-2016 Cleveland Cavaliers – Top 5 NBA Teams
This selection could be contentious, as ardent Warriors fans may assert they deserve this spot, were it not for Draymond Green punching LeBron James in the groin during a critical play that ultimately resulted in him missing the proceeding contest. Who knows what may have happened absent the “Groin Punch Heard Round The World?”
Still, one cannot relegate the 15-16 Cavaliers as an outright oddity, given their dominance during the regular season. When healthy, there was never much dispute over who would ultimately face the Warriors, the regular-season champions, coming off a 73-win season, the best in NBA history.
The 15-16 Cavs were the first team ever to win a playoff series, after being down 3-1. Even more incredulously, they accomplished this feat against a team that had laid waste to the entire NBA over the course of an 80 game season. If you have your druthers about the Cavs, let that single fact alone sink in.
We all were waiting for Lebron’s MJ moment, where we could at least stomach the notion that he may be somewhat of an equivalent to Michael Jordan. I still don’t believe that’s entirely true, but the “LeBlock” cemented a moment in time that will crystallize his legacy in the NBA. LeBron already had two titles nestled away in his closet prior to bringing a championship back to his hometown of Cleveland; but what he accomplished during his time second stint with the Cavs, regardless of the ensuing excellence of the Warriors after the acquisition of Durant, will forever remain his true legacy in the annals of NBA history.
3. 2012-2013 Miami Heat
The 2012-2013 edition of the Miami Heat were the forebears for what the Splash Brothers would eventually accomplish in Oakland. They finished the season 66-16, completed a 27- game win streak, while still seemingly not displaying their full prowess on the court. On their roster, they had several future NBA Hall-of-Famers, including Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and sharp-shooter, Ray Allen.
Aggressive defensively, with elite athletes assertively roaming around the perimeter, they created steals and organized a half-court offense oriented around spacing. This provided latitude for James and Wade to either drive to the basket unimpeded, or dish the ball to the perimeter for open looks from Mike Miller, Ray Allen, and Shane Battier at the three-point line.
Granted, the Heat, for as formidable as they were, faced a daunting contest in the Finals against the experienced Spurs, led by the ageless Tim Duncan. It took a miracle-shot from Ray Allen, during the waning seconds, to secure a second straight title for the Heat franchise. Still, this team made the promise of LeBron’s arrival in Miami come to fruition. It may not have been 8 titles, as LeBron initially suggested in a bout of hubris, but it was still a wonder to behold as a fan.
2. 2006-2007 San Antonio Spurs – Top 5 NBA Teams
The Spurs were the most dominant, consistently excellent, franchise of the 21st century. Built around an enigmatic big man, Tim Duncan, who abhorred the spotlight, who was a consummate team player, Duncan engendered a culture of resilience and resolve that proved as durable in the mid-aughts as it did a decade later. The Spurs won 5 titles over the course of Duncan’s career, even amidst the ever-evolving trends of the NBA. Teamwork, it turned out, proved to be the most consistent variable in achieving success.
The 06-07 Spurs faced their battles. Still, once they reached the NBA Finals against the overmatched Cleveland Cavaliers, there really wasn’t a question as to the ultimate outcome. Surrounded by veterans like Robert Horry and Bruce Bowen; as well as emerging stars such as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili; Duncan possessed the core and surrounding talent to excel. They swept the Cavaliers in the Finals, signaling to the rest of the league that the Spurs were no mere outlier; they would be a perennial contender.
1. 2000-2001 Los Angeles Lakers
The Shaqobe Lakers were the epitome of catching lightning in a bottle. Shaq was already a megastar when he arrived in LA, departing the Magic franchise rather ignominiously as fans in Orlando squabbled over whether he was worth a considerable investment. Their reluctance to grant him his due catalyzed Shaq to seek greener pastures. Enamored as he already was with the circumference and gravitas offered celebrities enmeshed in the Hollywood culture, he decided to sign with LA Lakers during his free agency, completely altering the post-MJ landscape. Had the Magic elected to prioritize Shaq in the infancy of his NBA career, the epicenter of the NBA may have been in Orlando once MJ hung up his shoes.
Alas, it was not to be. Shaq struggled for several years to bring the Lakers their coveted title, but in conjunction with the precocious Kobe Bryant, he managed to achieve it during the 1999-2000 season. In the ensuing 2000-2001 season, the Lakers ran a victory lap, largely unmolested by any serious opposition. They swept the Blazers, the Kings, and the Spurs en route to the NBA championship. Though they did drop one game to the Iverson-led Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers nonetheless managed to win their second straight title resolutely. It seemed a new dynasty was dawning in LA.