Steve Nash helps Los Angeles Lakers contend for title of most stacked starting lineup in NBA history

Air Mikkelson?

LeBron-Wade-Bosh. Paul-KG-Ray. Kobe-Shaq-Malone-Payton. Hakeem-Pippen-Charles.

So-called NBA super teams are far from new. If anything, they’re in danger of veering into the ho-hum. Every couple summers, such a talent core is cobbled together and the pundits have a field day discussing the possibility of a looming dynasty. As October rolls around, discussion of a run at the ‘96 Bulls’ NBA record of 72 wins in a season ensues. This happens every time. Given such cyclical predictability, is two-time MVP Steve Nash’s arrival in Los Angeles really all that special?

Actually, yes.

The reason? Start with Udonis Haslem, Kendrick Perkins, Devean George and Cuttino Mobley. And, for previous superteams, recall Kurt Rambis, Marc Iavaroni and Wali Jones.   For almost every team that has tried to put together a starting five for the ages, there has been some “glue guy” speedbump to potential era-bestriding superiority. Plenty teams have put out three or four All-Star starters but one of their teammates, the one known for unselfishness, or effort, or defense – anything but mad game built on skill – inevitably screws up his team’s shot at unfathomable sweetness.

Well, the days of a Rick Fox or Byron Scott in the starting lineup are over in the City of Angels. Steve Nash is coming to join four bonafine All-Star caliber players, giving the 2012-13 Lakers some serious elbow room at the table of contenders for the title of most accomplished starting lineup in league history.

Here are top candidates:

1) 1972-73 New York Knicks – This team will be hard to top, unless the Oklahoma City Thunder stay together and tack on yet another star. Not only were each of these Knick starters All-Stars, they would each go on to make the Hall of Fame.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Fan Nation, of the 105 PPG the team collectively averaged, Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, Earl Monroe and Willis Reed “accounted for 80 of them. Two Knicks (DeBusschere and Frazier) were named to the 1st All-Defensive team, while Frazier was named to an All-NBA 2nd team. Reed would win the Finals MVP, the second of his career. After putting together a 57 – 25 record, the Knicks would collectively smoke the Bullets and Lakers, winning 10 of 12 games in the playoffs (going 7 games with Boston in a hard-fought conferences finals).”

2) 2012-13 – Los Angeles Lakers – Each member of this starting five has already made an All-Star game (World Peace in 2004; Bynum in 2012). The quartet of World Peace, Bynum, Bryant and Gasol have racked up plenty other accolades, and a 2010 title to boot. They expect a preternatural feel for the game and superb shooting from Nash, yes, but the most important asset the guard brings to the table is found in what he doesn’t own. Nash’s ringless fingers are exactly the kind of spark this team needs for a return to the promised land.

3)  1985-86 – Boston Celtics –  Generally considered the strongest of the Larry Bird-era Celtics, and for good reason: this team’s frontcourt alone featured five All-Stars. You know about Bird, McHale and Parish. You may even know Bill Walton, hobbled but still and effective passer, came off the bench. But did you know a 6-7 Celtic scrapper of a sub named Scott Wedman had also done the All-Star thing a decade before? This embarrassment of riches, combined with All-Star Dennis Johnson and (future) All-Star Danny Ainge, explains how these guys ended up going 40-1 at home.

4) Minneapolis Lakers 1952-53 – I couldn’t resist pulling this old-school lineup from the cobwebbed hat. Even though these guys would get killed 97% of the time versus any other squad mentioned here. I can only go by the times, and for the era these Lakers were supremely stacked. Player of the Decade George Mikan was the centerpiece, around which high-flying forwards Jim Pollard (he was dunking from the free throw line in the 1940s) and Vern Mikkelson – both All-Stars – orbited. Seven time All-Star Slater Martin manned the point, while the strangest All-Star selection in NBA history ran beside him. Bob Harrison, who once scored all of his high school team’s 139 points but only eked out 7.2 points and less than three assists and rebounds a game in the pros, somehow made the 1956 All-Star game. Which makes Dana Barros’ 1995 selection seem more just than Solomon.

It’s extremely rare to have five players who have been selected as All-Stars in one starting lineup. It appears these new Lakers and the ‘73 Knicks are the only ones to do it so far. Still, the difference between a starter and a sixth man is slim with some teams and a few squads have even boasted Hall of Fame-caliber subs. That’s why I felt the following teams deserve recognition, too:

1) Boston Celtics 1962-63 – Tack most teams of the colossally successful Celtics franchise circa the 1960s to a board, throw a dart at them and you’re bound to hit something with no less than seven Hall of Famers. Still, of all those teams, the most talented might have been the 1962-63 edition. It featured established All-Star starters in Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, Sam Jones and Bob Cousy, along with Jim Loscutoff. Off the bench was some rook named John Havlicek, a 6-5 guard who could throw a football 80 yards but would become a 13-time All-Star in basketball.

2) Philadelphia 76ers 1967-77 – Without Wilt Chamberlain, no way this team averages 125 points a game and stops Boston’s eight-title streak. Still, this was the first time Wilt had such an able cast to help with the heavy lifting: All-Stars Lucious Jackson, Hal Greer and Chet Walker joined him in the starting lineup, along with Wali Jones. Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham bounced off the bench.

3) 1982-83 Philadelphia – Moses Malone and Julius Erving are the ‘nuff said centerpieces of this 65-17 juggernaut. All-Stars Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney handled the guard work, with Marc Iavaroni as a forward. The 6-9 sixth man Bobby Jones, who made eight consecutive All-Defensive first teams, played much more time at that spot. These Sixers gutted the Lakers 4-0 in the finals.

4) 1982-83 Los Angeles Lakers – When everybody was healthy, this might have been the most talented squad of the Showtime era. Kareem and Magic, of course, formed the backbone. Future NBA Finals MVP James Worthy, though, ended a great rookie regular season with a broken leg. The Lakers still had plenty of firepower with point guard Norm Nixon and small forward Jamaal Wilkes, both All-Stars. Moreover, former MVP Bob McAdoo came off the bench. But McAdoo and Nixon both suffered injuries in the late playoffs, dooming the Lakers’ upset bid of Philadelphia.

You’ll notice the absence of the likes of the‘72 Lakers, ‘87 Lakers and ‘96 Bulls. Those teams and others certainly merit inclusion in a list of all-time best teams, but here I’m interested on the breadth, not necessarily depth, of talent on one team. I grant Michael Jordan may have more talent than Norm Nixon and Jamaal Wilkes combined, but that doesn’t matter in this argument.

It’s not clear if these Nash-led Lakers will even stay intact through the summer, not with unexpected sign-and-trades flinging stars across the continent with nearly the force of a Large Hadron collider. For now we only have a starting five on paper; even so, this group already deserves a spot among the all-timers.

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