Making the playoffs in the NBA can seem like a tough feat to achieve, but it really boils down to three major things: Excellent roster management, quality coaching, and strong ownership. When teams struggle to make the playoffs, fans can grow restless and leave arenas empty. Fans of the five teams with the longest playoff droughts in the NBA know what it’s like watching the playoffs on TV instead of at the stadium.
5. Los Angeles Lakers
- Last postseason appearance: 2013
The Lakers are a storied franchise, but they also have one of the longest playoff droughts in the NBA. They haven’t made the playoffs in going on six seasons, and LeBron’s first year didn’t go as planned. Before LeBron’s arrival in Los Angeles, there was a major change in the front office, as Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took things over last season. However, failing to land top-billed free agents and not acquiring Anthony Davis at the trade deadline are two problems that contributed to L.A.’s woeful 2018-19 season.
The Lakers haven’t drafted horribly during their postseason drought, as Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma are currently core pieces of the franchise. But unless major roster moves are made this offseason, the Lakers could make it seven straight seasons without a playoff appearance.
4. New York Knicks
- Last postseason appearance: 2013
New York has had to deal with James Dolan being an inept owner; poor draft picks by Phil Jackson and the rest of terrible front office; and horrible contracts (See: Carmelo Anthony, Tim Hardaway Jr.) during its drought. On top of that, there have been numerous coaching changes and the trade of the team’s last really good draft pick in Kristaps Porzingis.
Moving Porzingis before he hit restricted free agency allowed the Knicks to pick up another max-contract slot, something the team will potentially fill this summer.
If the Knicks can sign Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, or any combination of superstars, and land Zion Williamson with the No. 1 pick, the drought could be over. As it stands now, though, they have one of the worst playoff droughts in the game.
3. Orlando Magic
- Last postseason appearance: 2012
Can you name the last good Orlando Magic draft pick? You’d have to look at former No. 4 overall pick Aaron Gordon, and that was back in 2014. Orlando hasn’t been relevant since Dwight Howard left, and they might continue that irrelevancy for quite some time.
Not only have they drafted poorly, but giving horrible contracts to players such as Bismack Biyombo hurt this team’s chances to be a free agent destination. The only way Orlando can turn this around is to do a massive rebuild and start from scratch, but by then this streak could reach double-digits.
2. Phoenix Suns
- Last postseason appearance: 2010
Who’s to blame for the Phoenix Suns mess? You could look at the questionable coaching decisions (Earl Watson stands out the most), the poor contracts (Tyson Chandler & Trevor Ariza), or the bad draft picks (Kendall Marshall & other wasted lottery picks).
Even with the No. 1 overall pick in the last draft, one could argue the Suns botched it. Instead of selecting Luka Doncic, who is having a historic rookie season, the team selected DeAndre Ayton who has been good, but not transcending.
Fans can only wonder how good Doncic and star Devin Booker, both of whom are some of the best young players in the league, would be with a coach that knows the ins and outs of Doncic’s game. The stacked Western conference doesn’t help matters, and we could be well into the 2020s before Phoenix snags a No. 8 seed, which means one of the longest playoff droughts in the league could easily reach double digits.
1. Sacramento Kings
- Last postseason appearance: 2006
The Sacramento Kings haven’t made the playoffs in three presidential eras. Think about that for a second. Twelve NBA seasons! Careers have blossomed and disappeared during that time span. Vlade Divac, the Kings’ general manager who retired from the NBA in 2005, was only one year removed from his playing career the last time the team made the postseason.
Unbelievably stupid draft picks (Jimmer Fredette, Ben McLemore, Nick Stauskas), and poor front office direction have led the Kings to become the laughing stock of the league. Sacramento tops the list of teams with the longest playoff droughts, but that could soon change.
The team has talent now due to the DeMarcus Cousins trade, as Buddy Hield and DeAaron Fox have helped push one of the fastest paced teams in the league. The Kings may not make the playoffs this year, but Sacramento could be a sneaky team in 2019.
Which team will break the streak first?
With the power in the league constantly shifting between conferences, and one draft pick panning out is sometimes all it takes to revitalize a franchise. So, which team do you think can break its postseason drought first? Our smart money is on Los Angeles if LeBron gets some help before the 2019-20 season, but Sacramento could also be in the mix.