NBA PM: Young Cores Rarely Pan Out


While the NBA playoffs are in full swing, fans of teams bound for the upcoming lottery have an eye out for their future. There are numerous young cores around the league that are causing excitement throughout their fan base because of the upside and potential they represent.

But the true reality is that young cores rarely grow together long enough to do anything meaningful.

Fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks among others might not want to hear this reality, but history is littered with plenty of examples that clearly show young guys just don’t get it.

Teams like the Golden State Warriors with a homegrown collection of talent such as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are the rare exception and not the rule. Golden State’s trio has been able to grow together seemingly free of chemistry-killing egos and are now on pace to win their second title.

But here’s the deal: For every Golden State, there are numerous youthful cores over the years that have fallen flat, been quickly dismantled and ultimately landed in a “what if” scrap heap.

Here are some of the teams with strong young talent that people are extremely high on moving forward:

Minnesota Timberwolves
Core Group:
Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio

Philadelphia 76ers
Core Group:
Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid (if healthy)

Utah Jazz
Core Group:
 Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Dante Exum, Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood

Milwaukee Bucks
Core Group: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Michael Carter-Williams, Greg Monroe

This is a pretty impressive list, until you consider some of the talent on teams of years past that failed to pan out.

Here’s a list of once promising youthful cores that didn’t live up to the hype:

1996 Dallas Mavericks
Core Group: Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn and Jimmy Jackson

Back in the mid-1990s, the Mavericks put together a strong collection of highly established guys who excelled at the collegiate level. All of the players on this list had a strong career. But their union together wasn’t as fruitful, as the Mavericks never reached the playoffs and the group failed to record 30 wins. The group was disbanded pretty quickly after forming. Mashburn developed into an All-Star level performer, Kidd is a future Hall-of-Famer and Jackson was a productive long-term player in the league. But together it didn’t work. The chemistry wasn’t there.

1998 Minnesota Timberwolves
Core Group: Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury

The Timberwolves were once in a similar position. The franchise had a young Garnett and then picked up a promising young point guard in Marbury. On paper, the duo looked to be the second coming of John Stockton and Karl Malone. In Garnett and Marbury, the Timberwolves had two young players barely scratching the surface of their potential. However, the unit never panned out. Garnett and Marbury both went on to have strong careers, but the early excitement of them joining forces never came to fruition.

Early 90s Orlando Magic
Core Group: Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway and Nick Anderson

The Magic once had a strong collection of talent headed by O’Neal, Hardaway and Anderson. While this is the most successful group on this list, having reached the NBA Finals together, they were unable to stay together over the long-term. O’Neill left for Los Angeles in 1996 and Hardaway left for Phoenix soon after.

Early 90s Brooklyn Nets
Core Group:
Derrick Coleman, Kenny Anderson and Drazen Petrovic

In the early 1990s, the then New Jersey Nets had a trio of All-Star talent that had yet to come close to their physical prime. The team was one of the most dynamic up-and-coming squads in the Eastern Conference and their growth together could be witnessed on a nightly basis. The trio was headlined by All-Stars Derrick Coleman, Kenny Anderson and Drazen Petrovic. All three guys were young, full of talent, not scared of the moment and not even close to their prime years. However, this group never got to reach its full potential. Petrovic died in a tragic car accident, Anderson battled injuries the rest of his stint with the team and Coleman battled conditioning issues. Nets fans were excited about this team’s future, but it all went up in smoke without a significant playoff run to remember.

At the end of the day, we don’t know if the Bucks, Timberwolves, Sixers or Jazz’s young cores will develop. It is fun to imagine what could be and understandable that fans get excited about the team’s potential, but the harsh reality is far more real than what the imagination can dream.


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About Lang Greene

Lang Greene

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last eight seasons

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