In NBA history, a few heavyweight franchises have been massively successful compared to the rest; this discrepancy is probably larger than any other major sport. The Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, and Chicago Bulls have won the vast majority of the championships in the league since the 1950s — roughly two-thirds of all championships, actually.
However, for all the great teams, there must be bad teams as well. These teams often consistently experience major draft busts and disappointing staff decisions. Here are the five worst franchises in NBA history.
5. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets, who were also the Charlotte Bobcats, according to their official franchise history, are a beloved franchise playing in a small market. Back in the ’90s, fans would fill an arena they affectionately called “The Hive” to watch these exciting teams, which featured a young Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson, and the diminutive Muggsy Bogues.
But those teams were good, not great — and that’s really the best it’s been in Charlotte. The Hornets made the playoffs seven times, winning a total of four playoff series from 1989–2002. They moved to New Orleans, where they eventually became the Pelicans. However, for historical purposes, the Bobcats — now the Hornets — mesh their history together with the pioneer franchise in Charlotte.
All in all, the city has seen 10 playoff appearances, four series wins, and zero division championships or trips to the Eastern Conference Finals in 26 seasons. The team has a cumulative .440 win percentage and the best player in team history, according to Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), is Gerald Wallace with 21.7.
4. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets transitioned to the NBA from the ABA, where they had a pretty strong run of success. They won the ABA Finals two of the final three years of the league’s existence, before the NBA absorbed the ABA in 1976–77. From there, they immediately became one of the worst franchises in the league. The Nets, then in N.J., won just one playoff series in their first 24 seasons in the league.
But their fortunes turned around upon acquiring Jason Kidd and teaming him up with young players such as Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson. The Nets made back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. Since then, they’ve gone back to being a mediocre franchise, making zero trips to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Nets have a .425 winning percentage as a franchise since the ABA and NBA merger. They’ve made the playoffs 19 times, winning their division four times and making those two losing trips to the NBA Finals. Their best franchise player is Kidd, with 33.4 VORP.
3. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies, along with the Toronto Raptors, were introduced to the NBA prior to 1995–96 season as a way to spread basketball to Canada. They were originally located in Vancouver, but moved to Memphis when interest in the team grew sparse, which probably had a lot to do with the team’s .220 winning percentage in their first six seasons.
The Grizz have experienced better success in Memphis, with a .488 winning percentage and nine trips to the playoffs in 15 seasons, but they have won just four playoff series in their history and made just one trip to the Western Conference Finals (losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder).
It seems like the Grizzles should rise out of the bottom five. They’ve averaged 50 wins per season the last four years and look to be, at least, a playoff team in the Western Conference for the next couple years, but those early years really hurt them as a franchise. Their best franchise player is Marc Gasol, whose 27.2 VORP comes in ahead of his brother Pau Gasol, who is at 22.0.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
NBA fans know the Clippers as one of the worst franchises, not just in the NBA, but in all of sports. They were once the Buffalo Braves, then the San Diego Clippers, and have settled playing little brother to the Lakers in Los Angeles. Since 1971, they’ve won their division just two times and had yet to win a playoff series until 2005–06.
On the whole, they’ve never been to the Western Conference Finals; they’ve won just four playoff series in total; and they’ve made the playoffs just 12 total times. They’ve also had their owner forcibly removed from the league, which was a massively embarrassing incident. On the flip side, the Lakers have been one of the most dominating teams in all of sports, with a list of players in the Hall of Fame and 16 championships under their belt.
The Clippers franchise-winning percentage is just .394, and their best player is Elton Brand at 31.9 VORP, with Chris Paul coming in right behind at 29.1.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves might not be the team that comes to mind when someone says “the worst franchise in NBA history” — that honor probably goes to the Clippers — but Minnesota has notoriously struggled over the years. Outside of a fun stretch where the team featured greats such as Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury, and Latrell Sprewell, the Timberwolves are the laughingstock of the NBA.
They made the playoffs eight consecutive seasons from 1997–2004, being eliminated in the first round every year until finally making a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2004. But that was the last time the team made the playoffs. In fact they have not even had a winning season since 2004–05. Making eight trips to the playoffs in 26 years is a special level of incompetence.
Overall, the team has a franchise-winning percentage of .391, and it should come as no surprise that Garnett is the best player in team history, with 75.5 VORP. But even their top-10 list for VORP is somewhat pathetic, with Gorgui Dieng coming in at number 10 with 5.5.
Things are looking up, with Tom Thibodeau now running the organization from a basketball standpoint, but there’s no doubt that they’re No. 1 on this list for now.
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