The 2013-14 NBA season tips off in just a few weeks — October 29 to be precise — so it’s time for me to continue my series of recaps looking at the best and worst franchises in each of the four major American sports leagues. Today I look at the rankings for the 10 worst NBA franchises ever.
As with the NHL best/worst and NFL best lists I’ve already done, the formula is pretty simple. I’ve ranked all 30 NBA franchises according to a series of categories, each of which is assigned a point value. I then divided the total point value by the number of years each team has been in existence and ordered by that.
The categories and point values are as follows:
- 30 points for a league championship, and 15 points for a Finals loss.
- 2 points for a playoff berth.
- 5 points for each playoff round win (does not include a win in the Finals).
- 4 points for a division title (starting in 1970-71).
- 1 point for a winning season, -1 point for a losing season.
- 3 points for a regular-season winning percentage better than .730 (60 wins with the current schedule), -3 points for a regular-season winning percentage worse than .270 (20 wins with the current schedule).
- Consecutive winning regular seasons are worth 2 points starting with the second, 3 points for the third, 4 points for the fourth, and so on. The counter is reset after any non-winning season. So if a team has three winning seasons in a row, they get a total of 5 points.
While I may tweak the formula in future years, I think this accomplishes my two most important objectives — to reward consistently good play in the regular season, and to not give older franchises too much of an advantage just by virtue of being around for so many years. I’ve always felt that using NBA titles alone to measure a franchise’s greatness (or badness) is taking too narrow a view.
One final note — as with the NBA, these rankings to not reflect records for teams while in the ABA or NBL.
That’s about it! Let’s get to the rankings, good through the end of the 2012-13 season.
#1. Charlotte Bobcats (-10.22 avg.)
I certainly get no enjoyment out of writing about a team this absolutely terrible. Since the city of Charlotte got a pro team back after the Hornets left for New Orleans, it has been nothing but misery.
Nine years have brought just one winning season and one playoff appearance. And to cap it off, the Bobcats achieved infamy in 2011-12 when they set a league record for the worst regular-season winning percentage, winning just seven games in the lockout-shortened campaign for a .106 percentage.
Charlotte’s franchise win percentage of .344 is the worst of any franchise still in existence.
#2. Memphis Grizzlies (-2.67 avg.)
The Grizzlies have actually improved tremendously over the last four years, but they are still climbing out of a rather large hole to begin with. It took five years for the then-Vancouver Grizzlies to win at least 20 games, and it took an additional four years for the team to post a winning season.
Things are looking up, however. Last year’s team won 56 games and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. A few more seasons like that and the Grizzlies’ point average will actually be above zero.
#3. Toronto Raptors (-2.61 avg.)
Other than a few very good years with Vince Carter at shooting guard, Toronto fans haven’t had much reason for excitement. The Raptors haven’t made the playoffs in six years, and haven’t won a series in 13.
The team has increased its win total for the past two seasons after just 22 in 2010-11, but as it stands they’re still yearly candidates for the Atlantic Division basement.
#4. Los Angeles Clippers (-1.90 avg.)
The Clippers have long been synonymous with losing in pro sports, and the only reason they aren’t #1 on this list is that they have managed to log a handful of good seasons in among the crap ones. But the fact that the Clips have only been out-stunk by some expansion teams should tell you something. To be fair, L.A. now boasts Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and has made the playoffs two years in a row. But as a franchise, the Clippers are still nearly 900 games under .500 since they came into the NBA in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves. That’s just math, people.
#5. Minnesota Timberwolves (-1.50 avg.)
They say that you can tell a lot about the success of a team based on how many head coaches they’ve had. Now there’s a chicken and egg aspect to that, but let’s look at the T’Wolves as an example. 24 seasons, 10 coaches. And that doesn’t include Kevin McHale returning for a second stint partly through 2008-09. Only one of those coaches — Flip Saunders — has a winning record.
Need I say more?
#6. New Orleans Pelicans (2.42 avg.)
Finally, a team that at least has a positive lifetime average. The former Charlotte Hornets were actually decent for much of their time in North Carolina, but ultimately left due to plummeting attendance.
Things have gone less smoothly in New Orleans. The newly renamed Pelicans have just four winning seasons since moving to the Big Easy in 2002, and have just one playoff series win to their credit over the same period. It’s entirely possible that with a new identity, the Pelicans will find some sustained success, but I wouldn’t count on it just yet.
#7. Brooklyn Nets (2.54 avg.)
There are four American Basketball Association refugees in the NBA, and the Nets have consistently been the worst of the bunch. The Nets enjoyed a great run with Jason Kidd at point guard from 2001-2008, a run that was only bested by their ABA days, and reached the NBA Finals twice. That was, sadly, an oasis in the middle of a huge desert. From 1976-77, the Nets’ first season in the NBA, through 2000-01, the team won one playoff series. That’s one in a quarter century.
A relocation to Brooklyn last year brought the team’s first winning record since 2005-06, but still no playoff series win. Jason Kidd returns to the franchise, this time as head coach, and will try to get recreate some of the magic he brought as a player.
#8. Sacramento Kings (3.37 avg.)
For as unstable as this franchise has been since it came into the league more than six decades ago, I’m surprised they’re not lower on this list. The main thing keeping them afloat, point-wise, is that they have qualified for the playoffs about once every two years on average, and the fact that they have had three distinct periods of good play.
The most recent of these was started in 1998-99, when they had eight consecutive winning seasons and made the playoffs in each of them. They haven’t broken .500 in the seven years since that run ended.
#9. Cleveland Cavaliers (3.42 avg.)
Looking at a chart of the Cavs’ seasons is like looking at the EKG of someone with a really slow heartbeat. Crap seasons — good period — crap seasons — good period — crap seasons. And so on. Cleveland’s accomplishments weren’t all because of LeBron James, but a lot of them were.
Still, it would be folly to overlook the good Cavaliers teams of the late ’80s to late ’90s, led by the core group of Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Ron Harper and Larry Nance. A case could be made the the only thing standing between Cleveland and a few potential NBA titles was Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
#10. Washington Wizards (3.99 avg.)
Since joining the NBA as the league’s first expansion team on the modern era in 1961 (as the Chicago Packers), the Packers/Zephyrs/Bullets/Wizards have generally been mediocre at best. Pretty much everything notably good about the team occurred during the Wes Unseld era (1968-81), when the Bullets notched 10 winning seasons, a playoff appearance in all but one of those years, four Eastern Conference titles, and one NBA title.
After Unseld? 32 seasons, 11 playoff appearances, two series wins, and just eight winning campaigns.
The Mediocre 5
#11. Indiana Pacers (4.51 avg.)
#12. Denver Nuggets (4.73 avg.)
#13. Golden State Warriors (5.08 avg.)
#14. Atlanta Hawks (5.82 avg.)
#15. Orlando Magic (6.56 avg.)
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