Written by: Jordan Vitkauskas
The end of another decade in the NBA is almost here. We’ve seen a lifetime’s worth of noteworthy memories in the last 10 seasons, including the Miami Heat big three, a title finally brought to the city of Cleveland and a seemingly unstoppable Warriors dynasty. We also saw the beginning of true player empowerment, franchise-altering trades (see – James Harden) and the introduction to load management. It’s truly been a whirlwind decade that will go down as one of the most influential in NBA history. With less than a month before 2020 begins, we’re taking a look back at some of the best moments, players and teams from the 2010’s.
*For statistical purposes, all stats are from the 2009-10 season through the end of the 2018-19 season.
Team of the Decade
515 Wins (2nd-most), 9x Playoffs, 1x Finals, 4x Conference Finals
Oklahoma City was primed for several Finals appearances after losing a hard-fought series in five games to the Miami Heat in 2012. Then they inexplicably traded James Harden and never made the Finals again. Their title window had come and gone without them even realizing it. The Thunder came close a few times, losing in six games to San Antonio in 2014, and blowing a 3-1 lead against the Golden State Warriors in 2016, but was never quite able to get over the hump.
Boasting the dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City averaged 55 wins from 2013 to 2016, before Durant signed with Golden State following the 2016 playoffs. Westbrook took over the team as a solo act from there, winning the 2017 MVP, but the Thunder failed to make it out of the first round in three straight seasons with him (and eventually Paul George) at the helm. What should have been a decade of title runs and historic success for Oklahoma City turned into a decade of some of the biggest what-ifs in league history.
388 Wins (17th), 5x Playoffs, 4x Finals, 1x Champion, 4x Conference Finals
The Cavaliers, like they have done since 2003, needed LeBron James to keep them relevant in the East during the decade. When he was with Cleveland (2009-10, 2015-16 to 2018-19) the Cavs went 272-138 (.663) with four Finals appearances, including the improbable 2016 championship (thanks to the Draymond Green suspension).
The Cavaliers lost to Golden State in the 2014-15 Finals, and one can only wonder how different it may have turned out, as James played without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love from the middle of overtime in game one through the rest of the series. In 2017 and 2018, Cleveland was no match for the “Hamptons Five” lineup featuring Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green.
Now, without James, Cleveland sputtered, going just 116-278 (.294%) with zero playoff appearances. Normally, a stretch of such poor results would keep a team off this list. However, the body of work during James’s tenure with Cleveland is too good to ignore and is the reason the Cavs find themselves on these rankings.
480 Wins (5th), 7x Playoffs, 4x Finals, 2x Champions, 4x Conference Finals
The Heat made the first big splash of the decade, signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to pair with Dwyane Wade, and jump-started the player empowerment era. Widely criticized and cast as villains, Miami made four straight Finals, winning in 2012 and 2013 to give James and Bosh their first taste of a championship (Wade had already won one in 2006). Also included in their run was a 27-game winning streak, from Feb. 3 through March 25 of 2013, which is the third-longest in NBA history. It included 17 double-digit victories and showcased just how dominant that 2013 squad could be when properly motivated and focused.
James left to return to Cleveland after the 2014 Finals, and the Heat stumbled, making the postseason in just two of the next five years. Wade left to play for his hometown Chicago Bulls and then the Cavaliers, before being traded back to Miami in 2018 to finish up his Hall-of-Fame career. Miami could’ve possibly seen more postseason success had Chris Bosh not been diagnosed with a blood clot issue, forcing him out of action after the 2015-16 season. The Heat’s two titles are the second-most of any team this decade, while their 480 wins rank fourth.
559 Wins (1st), 10x Playoffs, 2x Finals, 1x Champion, 4x Conference Finals
The model on consistency, San Antonio lead the NBA in wins and playoff appearances during the decade. Greg Popovich kept the Spurs running in near-perfect rhythm, relying on his big three of Tony Parker, Manu Ginóbili and Tim Duncan to start the decade, and then centering around pieces such as a fully developed Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and DeMar DeRozan to end it.
San Antonio reached two NBA Finals, famously battling the Miami Heat back-to-back in 2013 and 2014. The 2013 Finals goes down as one of the most exciting ever, with the Ray Allen corner three-pointer forcing a game seven that also came down the wire. Instead of crumbling under the heartbreak, the Spurs refocused and came back to dominate Miami in one of the best displays of team basketball in NBA history, winning the 2014 Finals in just five games.
San Antonio should have continued making runs to the Finals, but injuries to Leonard, along with trade request before the 2018-19 season, has kept the Spurs ceiling limited. Still, they finished the decade as a model franchise from top to bottom, capable of beating any team at any time thanks to their discipline and willingness to play team basketball.
505 Wins (3rd ), 7x Playoffs, 5x Finals, 3x Champions, 5x Conference Finals
Was there ever going to be anyone else? The Warriors forever changed how basketball is played, and their overall resume edges out the other teams on this list.
They started off the decade averaging 28.3 wins from 2010-12. Golden State had drafted Steph Curry the summer before the 2009-10 season and continued to build the foundation for the team’s success the rest of the decade, drafting Klay Thompson (2011), Harrison Barnes (2012) and Draymond Green (2012) in consecutive drafts. From there, the Warriors would make the postseason each of the next seven years, culminating in a five-year run from 2014-15 to 2018-19 that included five Finals appearances, three NBA titles, a 73-win regular season in 2015-16 and one of the greatest offensive lineups ever produced after adding Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016.
Curry (back-to-back regular-season MVP’s in 15/16) and Thompson (NBA record 14 made 3’s in 2018) broke the mold for three-point shooting, while Steve Kerr helped Green (DPOY in 2017) transform into the ultimate versatile power forward/small-ball center, capable of quarterbacking the defense while being a high-level facilitator on offense. The Durant signing only made them more unstoppable, as they cruised (for the most part) to two consecutive titles. Only injuries and the Kawhi Leonard trade to Toronto prevented Golden State from a three-peat, and while their start to the 2020s has been far from ideal, they are firmly cemented as the team of the decade.
*Video clips courtesy of YouTube.
*Feature image courtesy of SB Nation.
*All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference or ESPN.com unless otherwise stated.