For the past eight seasons, the NBA has been ruled by superteams. The Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors didn’t win every championship, but they were the clear favorites in all but one season, thanks to rosters stacked with at least three max-worthy superstars.
Instead of Big Threes, the NBA is now defined by star pairings.
With so many changes taking place across the league, let’s kick off the 2019-20 NBA season by re-imagining new (and old) pairings as classic WWE tag teams as they get ready to rumble for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Yahoo Sports’ WWE x NBA tag teams
First, a few ground rules. Above all, we’re not doing pure rankings here. Our team brainstormed to match the duos with their WWE counterparts in a way that made sense from a wrestling point of view, not from a talent perspective.
We also included some players who are projected to miss most, if not all of next season, which is why you’ll see Kevin Durant on this list. The first rule of professional wrestling is you never rule out a surprise return, so while Brooklyn isn’t going to have its new superstar, we decided our list would not be complete without it.
Some quick honorable mentions: LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley, John Wall and Bradley Beal, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
And now, without any further ado, we’ll ring the damn bell.
Houston Rockets: James Harden and Russell Westbrook as the Hardy Boyz
The same way the Hardys brought high-flying acrobatics to tag-team wrestling in the 1990s and beyond, Harden and Westbrook have been two of the players at the forefront of the league’s offensive overhaul.
Harden and Westbrook’s careers actually mirror their WWE counterparts pretty closely. After early success together, the duo split up and did its own thing as singles competitors. After making the NBA Finals in the 2011-12 season with the Thunder, Harden was traded to Houston and the rest is history.
What remains to be seen is if a reunion will go the same way the Hardys’ various returns have.
Sure, Russell Westbrook has averaged a triple-double in each of the last three seasons — we really don’t think about that enough — but he does very little for his team on offense when the ball isn’t in his hands and he’s a historically an awful 3-point shooter.
And yes, James Harden just posted the highest single-season points-per-game mark since a young Michael Jordan, but his improving defense has been the butt of jokes in the past and it’s still hard to separate the system from the player in Houston.
But here’s the thing. Those first statements in each of those last two paragraphs are massive. Houston is pairing two of the last three MVPs and arguably the two most statistically prolific players in the game. Both will have to change some part of their games to make it work when they’re both on the court, but this is a backcourt that could blow the doors off the West if it works out even slightly well.
No matter what happens, prepare for the hot takes.
Los Angeles Clippers: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as the New Age Outlaws
“Oh, you didn’t know?”
Wrestling fans will instantly recognize those four words as the classic intro of Billy Gunn and Jesse James, one of the most popular tag teams of all-time, the New Age Outlaws.
Gunn and James were two mid-card stars who completely rebranded their personas and joined to become one of the dominant forces during WWE’s celebrated “Attitude Era.”
We’re not saying “fun guy” Leonard has the charisma of either of these two stars, but the Outlaw title certainly fits considering he not only pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in recent memory against the Warriors, but he managed to orchestrate the heist of Paul George from the Thunder right after it.
Plus, the New Age Outlaws defeated the Road Warriors for their first WWE tag team championship, so continuity.
And the exciting part hasn’t even played out yet.
Essentially the Clippers are taking a defensively elite wing who can rebound and score at all three levels and pairing him with ... a defensively elite wing who can rebound and score at all three levels. Oh, and one of them just won Finals MVP while taking down the dominant franchise of the NBA, the second time he’s done so in his career.
Leonard and George might be similar players by the broad strokes, but that is not a problem for the Clippers because this is the exact kind of player you want to double up on. Both players’ versatility on offense should present an absurd amount of options for Doc Rivers, to say nothing of their defensive prowess.
George finished third in the MVP voting last year despite playing through shoulder issues for much of the season, and he is somehow the less heralded arrival on his new team. The only downside for now is that George is still recovering from a pair of shoulder surgeries and could be questionable for the start of the season.
The price tag for this pair — more than $200 million in salary guarantees plus five first-round picks, four of them unprotected, and two unprotected pick swaps — was enormous for the Clippers, but the team’s big move has vaulted it into the highest tier of NBA contenders.
Opportunities for a jump like that are rare, and splurging to take advantage is worth it, especially when your Staples Center co-tenant is ...
Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James and Anthony Davis as the Brothers of Destruction
If there’s any player in the NBA today who is worth comparing to the Undertaker, it’s James.
The same way Undertaker has been digging holes and collecting souls for the past 30 years, James has been terrorizing the NBA with his unmatched athleticism and skill. Watching peak Undertaker is a lot like watching James back when he was able to steamroll opponents driving to the rim, unleash precision passes and defend all five positions.
Since we’re doing tag teams, that would make Davis, the scary-good forward/center, Undertaker’s younger brother, Kane.
Similar to the Clippers, the Lakers sacrificed nearly everything to get Davis: their draft picks, their young players, their team chemistry last season. Some would say their dignity as well. Just about the only thing of value they didn’t give up was Kyle Kuzma.
And if it means James’ career will do the proverbial sit-up in the middle of the ring, it was worth it.
James finally has the true second star he’s craved with the Lakers, just like Dwyane Wade on the Heat and Kyrie Irving on the Cavaliers. Davis is probably his best co-star yet. Entire defenses are going to gravitate toward the pair, just as a large group of NBA veterans have flocked to Los Angeles and left money on the table to join the Lakers.
By far the biggest worry for these two will be that James really is on the decline —both in performance and injury-wise — at the age of 35, but the realistic consequence of that is he’s only one of the best players in the league rather than its apex predator. The conservative expectation is that the Lakers will have two top-10 players, and these two could work together better than any pairing on this list.
Whether it’s running pick-and-roll, dominating the paint or kicking out to Danny Green in the corner, there figures to be an entirely new dynamic on the Lakers. If the organization has finally gotten past the dysfunction that has gripped it over the last few years, James and Davis should take the NBA by storm.
Boston Celtics: Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum as The New Day
One of the hottest stables in WWE, The New Day fits as the only trio we’re including this year.
Leading the trio is veteran star Kofi Kingston, who grew up in Boston.
Fair or not, the early stages of Walker’s Celtics tenure are going to be defined by who he isn’t, mainly Kyrie Irving. We’re not entirely sure how things are going to fit together with Walker in the backcourt, much like the early stages of Kingston’s recent WWE championship run, but there’s a chance Boston hits the ground running.
He might not quite match Irving as far as talent goes, but there are also hopes that he could provide the direction and cohesiveness that was painfully lacking in Boston last year.
Tatum is certainly hoping the latter is true. The 21-year-old seemed poised to jump into the NBA’s next level of stardom last year, but mostly stayed in the same place. Big E has spent some time as a singles wrestler, but by far his best work has come when he has been part of New Day.
Brown, arguably the least well-known of the three, falls into the Woods role as a player who can do myriad things and all of them well.
If this trio works out, Brad Stevens and the Celtics will stay among the contenders in a weak Eastern Conference.
Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum as Stone Cold Steve Austin and Dude Love
You can thank Lillard’s 2018 Halloween costume for this pairing.
Once we had Lillard as Stone Cold, we decided to pair McCollum with Mick Foley’s Dude Love. Austin teamed with various stars during his career and won championships with Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker and Triple H as well as Love, but we figured the third face of Foley — the most laid-back of the three — fit with Portland’s team-building philosophy.
The Blazers’ blueprint has been simple for years. Take an elite point guard, add a very good shooting guard who can take over facilitator duties when needed and fill out the rest of the rotation with solid role players (and some great ones like Jusuf Nurkic).
That resulted in 53 wins, a Western Conference finals berth and a shot for the ages last season. It didn’t do them much good against the Warriors, but the Blazers can at least enter a wide open West next season with the hope that continuity can be rewarded, though Nurkic returning at full strength from a broken leg would also help immensely.
Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry and Draymond Green as the Road Warriors
For three years, we would have had to find a way to link four players to Golden State with Curry, Klay Thompson, Green and Durant, but now that Durant is gone and Thompson is out for most of the season, the task is much easier.
We’re not going to get overly cute here and pretend like there are any real parallels to be drawn between Hawk and Animal, and Curry and Green. Sometimes you just need to not overthink things and take the layup.
Golden State Warriors, Road Warriors. Wow, that was easy.
Curry and Green have been playing together since 2012, and, clearly, it’s a pairing that has worked. When it comes to scoring margin for a team when a player is on and off the floor, the two best seasons in the NBA’s database, which goes back to 2007, were Curry and Green during the Warriors’ 73-win season in 2015-16, per ESPN’s Zach Lowe.
Sure, Curry had some rough performances in the playoffs last year, and Green’s offense has fallen off a bit. However, Curry is still overwhelmingly the greatest shooter in NBA history, and Green is the defensive leader and facilitator that helped the Warriors stay on top of the West for half a decade.
The Warriors’ dynasty has undergone a major renovation this offseason, but its two most integral pillars are still intact.
Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis as Edge and Christian
Edge and Christian started out as kayfabe brothers and members of “The Brood” stable before branching out on their own as one of the most decorated tag teams in WWE history.
Dallas was aggressive in acquiring both Doncic and Porzingis last year and should hope that the change of scenery is just what Porzingis needs to help the pairing become one of the most fearsome and dynamic duos in the NBA.
The Mavericks traded up to third overall to grab Doncic when the Sacramento Kings passed on the EuroLeague MVP, then watched him blossom into a do-everything franchise centerpiece.
Then the Mavs sent out Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews and two first-rounders to New York when the Knicks’ relationship with Porzingis soured. In our WWE analogy, this makes the Knicks the infamous Gangrel.
Porzingis still hasn’t taken the floor in a Mavericks uniform, but he and Doncic present a tantalizing pick-and-pop duo. The Mavericks might not be a playoff team, but they’ve already done well to secure a pair of stars to build around.
With Porzingis 24 years old and Doncic only 20, this duo could have a similar career trajectory to the WWE stars.
Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as the nWo
This list wouldn’t be complete without including Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.
Similar to how Hall and Nash helped sparked the “Monday Night Wars” with their defection to WCW, Embiid and Simmons are the two integral pieces to the Sixers’ infamous “Process” and the New World Order of tanking in the NBA.
While Hall and Nash experienced success early in their careers, it wasn’t until they came together officially as The Outsiders that they were launched into superstardom.
Yes, yes, right now, Simmons can’t hit a jump shot. He posted 10 points or less in five games during the playoffs. Free throws and turnovers remain an issue. Those problems don’t change the fact that he has the clearest path to superstardom in the league if he can add even a reliable pull-up jumper, and that he’s one of the league’s top point guards regardless, thanks to the rebounding and defense his size affords him.
Combine that with Embiid, who is probably the only player in the league who has a legitimate argument against Nikola Jokic as the league’s top center, and you have the foundation for the Sixers’ plan next season of outsizing opponents at every position and smothering them on defense.
Fit remains a question due to the paint-heaviness of both players’ games on offense, but you aren’t going to find a better pair of players 25 or under in the league. And while we’re talking about pairings, it’s worth noting that Al Horford and Tobias Harris aren’t too shabby either.
There are still some kinks to work out, and yet it is very easy to see why the Sixers would eagerly commit to this core long term.
Not pictured above: Jimmy Butler in his nWo Wolfpack attire down in South Beach.
New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball as Rock ’n’ Sock Connection
Williamson, who will miss the start of the season, is entering the league with a level of hype we haven’t seen since LeBron James made the jump from high school in 2003. The high-flying Duke star has been captivating audiences since he was in high school and now is the most electrifying rookie in the NBA.
See what we did there?
Before he became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson billed himself as the most electrifying man in sports entertainment. Nearly everything The Rock did during his time in WWE was a huge hit, thanks to his unparalleled skills on the microphone and his strong in-ring work. Zion’s dunking ability is how he made his name and it will likely always be the strongest part of his game, but he’s shown that he can be a matchup nightmare at several different positions on the floor.
Ball was cast out of Los Angeles just two years after being the No. 2 overall pick for the Lakers and is likely to be a bench player for the Pelicans to start the season. Mick Foley (appearing on this list twice) was arguably never a bigger star than he was when he was paired with the charismatic Johnson.
It remains to be seen how New Orleans’ young roster will mesh together, but if Williamson can help unlock the potential of Ball, these two can be the NBA’s most exciting — and unlikely — star pairing.
Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray as the Dudley Boyz
With the exception of a certain portion of diehard wrestling fans in the 1990s, Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley’s appearance in the then-WWF came out of nowhere. The ECW stars quickly made a name for themselves and won over crowds due to their innovative offense and signature use of tables during their matches.
Like the Dudleys, the Nuggets rose to have the second-best record in the West last year to the surprise of the casual NBA fan, driven mainly by the emergence of Jokic as the most awkwardly lethal big man in the league.
The former second-rounder is a passing savant, easily the NBA’s top passing big man and possibly the best overall half-court passer as well. He led the league last year in passes made per game. Add a diverse stable of post moves and put it in a 24-year-old, 7-foot body, and you’ve got an All-NBA first-teamer.
In the backcourt, Murray progressed enough over the last two years to earn a max contract extension and seems to be the second-most important member of the Nuggets.
All that’s left is to cast the youngest of the Dudley brothers — Spike. Yes, we’re looking at you Michael Porter Jr.
Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as the Harlem Heat
In another somewhat geographical fit, we’re casting Durant and Irving as Booker T and Stevie Ray from the 10-time tag-team champion Harlem Heat.
For all of those New Yorkers who are ready to complain about how Brooklyn is in an entirely different borough, neither of the actual members of the Harlem Heat were born anywhere near New York City. Also, if we’re being completely honest, the city’s allegiances lie in the Barclays Center now, not Madison Square Garden.
Even with Durant expected to miss the entire season as he recovers from an Achilles injury, the Nets are going to be one of the most exciting teams to watch this season. Coming off a playoff berth, Brooklyn essentially swapped D’Angelo Russel for Kyrie Irving at point guard and added DeAndre Jordan to bolster its frontcourt presence.
In a weak Eastern Conference, a second-straight playoff berth seems likely, and with Durant on board for the foreseeable future, the Nets should be on the short list of title contenders after this season.
Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol as the Hart Foundation
Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart were one of the greatest tag teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Canadian duo won two tag-team championships during that time before eventually disbanding in 1991. This mashup was fairly obvious considering the Canada connection — although Hart is from Calgary, not Toronto.
The Raptors’ Finals win thankfully got the playoff performance questions off Kyle Lowry’s back, and we can finally start giving one of the league’s top point guards the credit he’s due. Lowry ranked second in the league last season with 8.7 assists per game, and also ranked second in secondary assists as well. Simply put, he’s the perfect tag-team partner.
Lowry is the kind of player who does everything well without receiving all of the fanfare that other stars in the league get, much like Hart was considered the best technical wrestler of his generation, but without all of the glitz and glamour.
Gasol, like Neidhart, is the muscle for the Raptors. The 34-year-old center was a defensive standout for Toronto during its playoff run, accounting for 4.3 defensive points per 100 possessions and 1.3 defensive win shares during the postseason, per Basketball Reference.
Want to take a closer look at the illustrations? Click below for the slideshow of each team.
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