5 NBA Teams That Started Well but Missed the Playoffs

A couple NBA teams had strong starts to the 2016–17 season. Examples include the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls. While the Spurs backed up their hot start, the Bulls did not suddenly transform into one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Regardless, they made it to the playoffs; something the Miami Heat missed altogether. Here are five past teams that got off to a great start but still missed the playoffs.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (200001)

5 NBA Teams That Started Well but Missed the Playoffs
Cleveland Cavaliers’ guard Andre Miller (R) drives against New Jersey Nets’ guard Jason Kidd | David Maxwell/AFP/Getty Images)

Just a few years prior to landing LeBron James in the NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers were a middling franchise struggling just to sneak into the postseason. In 199900, the Cavs were 32-50 behind diminished star Shawn Kemp and small forward Lamond Murray. But the following season, Kemp was gone and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas returned to the court after sitting out a full season with a foot injury. Point guard Andre Miller busted out, and the Cavs were off to a 15-7 start.

Unfortunately, Ilgauskas re-injured his foot after just 24 games and was forced to sit out the rest of the season. That, plus a normal regression, deeply affected the Cavs. After the hot start, the team went just 15-45 over the course of the regular season. That landed them the No. 8 overall pick in the draft, which they used on center DeSagana Diop. The silver lining: All the Cavaliers’ bad seasons helped them get LeBron and completely transform their future.

2. Chicago Bulls (201516)

5 NBA Teams That Started Well but Missed the Playoffs
Jimmy Butler (L) and Fred Hoiberg chat during a Bulls game | Stacy Revere/Getty Images

It’s hard to take the Chicago Bulls’ 3-0 start seriously due to the way the team finished the 2015–16 season. Granted this team has a lot of new faces, with Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, and Robin Lopez replacing Derrick Rose, Mike Dunleavy Jr., and Pau Gasol. However, a lot of last year’s components remain. The 2016 Bulls got off to a solid 22-12 start to the season, sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference after finishing in the top three the season prior.

Sadly, injuries and general dysfunction led the Bulls to a 20-28 record from that point forward; good enough to allow them to finish over .500, but not good enough to get them into the postseason in the deep yet mediocre East. This season, all the Bulls’ players are healthy for the first time in years. They actually seem to be playing hard and forging an identity under second-year head coach Fred Hoiberg. Still, where they finish in the standings is anyone’s guess.

3. Milwaukee Bucks (200102)

5 NBA Teams That Started Well but Missed the Playoffs
Milwaukee Bucks forward Glenn Robinson guards Jamal Mashburn of the Charlotte Hornets | Nell Redmond/AFP/Getty Images

Back in 2000–01, the high-scoring trio of Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson, and Sam Cassell led the Milwaukee Bucks to a 52-30 season and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals under head coach George Karl. Those Bucks forced the Philadelphia 76ers to a seventh game in that series. Sadly, they lost the game and watched the Sixers face the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals. The next year, many people kept an eye on the Bucks after they rounded out their roster by signing aging power forward Anthony Mason.

The Bucks justified the offseason love by running out to a 26-13 record. At that point, Milwaukee sat just a half-game behind the New Jersey Nets for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. However, Allen missed 13 games and Robinson missed 16, while backup point guard Greg Anthony missed almost the entire year. The Bucks’ high-scoring offense dropped to the middle of the pack, and they ended up just 15-28 down the stretch. They finished the year at 41-41 and missed the playoffs.

4. Orlando Magic (201516)

5 NBA Teams That Started Well but Missed the Playoffs
Nikola Vucevic represents a member of the 2015–16 Orlando Magic | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Much like the Chicago Bulls, the Orlando Magic got off to an excellent start to the 2015–16 season. Unlike the Bulls, the Magic don’t look so good early this year (they’re 0-3). But behind defensive-minded head coach Scott Skiles, as well as some talented players in Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris, Orlando went into the new calendar year with a 19-13 record. They sat in the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference at the time, just three games behind the league-leading Cleveland Cavaliers.

But the Magic fell apart after the calendar changed to 2016. They didn’t listen to their coach or play strong defense, and their record dipped to 16-34 the rest of the way. Now Skiles, Oladipo, and Harris are all gone and the Magic have head coach Frank Vogel, forward Serge Ibaka, and several others forming an unbalanced roster that provides little in the way of scoring.

5. Utah Jazz (201011)

5 NBA Teams That Started Well but Missed the Playoffs
Head Coach Jerry Sloan of the 2009–10 Utah Jazz | John G. Mabanglo/AFP/Getty Images

In 2009–10, the Utah Jazz were 53-29 and went to the second round of the playoffs in the Western Conference, losing to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. Fans placed high expectations on Utah in 2010–11, despite losing Carlos Boozer in free agency. They still had head coach Jerry Sloan, along with star point guard Deron Williams, young forward Paul Millsap, and recently signed center Al Jefferson. The Jazz put it all together early and got off to an outstanding 24-11 start to the season.

At that point, Utah was in third place in the West. But things unraveled, causing Sloan to decide to retire at mid-season. The Jazz began to lose at a rapid pace, triggering a long rebuilding effort in dealing Williams to the New Jersey Nets at the trade deadline. The Jazz’s 24-11 start turned to a 15-32 finish, missing the playoffs that year, as well as four of the next five seasons.

Statistics courtesy of ESPN and Basketball-Reference.