Worst Franchise in NBA history?
Losing is as much a part of basketball as winning, but some teams do the former a lot more often than the latter. They lose so much that they become synonymous with losing. The Clippers have been the butt of many jokes, especially during the 1990s, about their winning futility, but they seem to have turned it around once being sold off.
So who is the worst team in NBA history? Obviously, the Los Angeles Clippers come to mind first and foremost. This is a franchise that all but embraced losing and made it part of their identity. But a forced ownership change has seemingly given the Clippers a new identity that has taken them away from the trash heap of the NBA. The glitz and the glam of LA also added to the Clippers mystic as the unlovable losers, and the franchise did deserve a lot of the bashing it got for sucking.
The Clippers were run by a terrible owner in Donald Sterling and had a terrible general manager in Elgin Baylor, that Sterling insisted on keep even though the team was always terrible. From 1977 until 2011 the Clippers made the playoffs just 4 times, and didn't win a playoff series from 1976 until 2006. They have still yet to make it to the conference finals, and have blown series clinching leads in six of seven playoff series that they have lost, most recently being up 3 games to 2 on the Utah Jazz before falling in 7 games. But this is playoff futility, while painful, it is not bottom of the heap stuff that would qualify a team for the worst franchise in NBA history and for that reason their recent success has eliminated the Clippers from contention.
Another bottom of the barrel franchise can be found just north and in the same state as the Clippers. The Sacramento Kings are the oldest franchise in professional basketball owing their beginnings to the 1920s in upstate New York. Yet, the Kings have been terrible nearly their entire existence in the NBA.
The Kings, or Royals as they were called, where one of the greatest National Basketball League teams and were invited to join the NBA in 1947, a year after the league started. The Royals found initial success and ended up winning the NBA title in 1951, and this is where things go down hill for the Kings franchise.
The franchise has moved several times, first in 1957 they relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio where they played for 15 seasons before relocating to Kansas City in 1972. Between 1972-75 the Kings split their home games between Kansas City and Omaha, Nebraska. In 1975 the Kings stayed strictly in Kansas City. In 1985 the franchise relocated a final time to Sacramento where they have tenuously existed since. The Franchise has been in turmoil and it has been rumored that they could move to Seattle or Las Vegas on several occasions.
Winning has gotten progressively harder for the Kings since they left Rochester. While in Rochester the Royals made the playoffs in 7 of their 9 years, made their only finals appearance and won their only title. In Cincy they made it 7 times in 15 seasons but six of those came during the Oscar Robertson era. In Kansas City they made it just 5 times and since moving to Sacramento in 1985 have made the post season 10 times and 8 of them were a stretch in the early 2000s.
The stretch from 1999 until 2006 saw the Kings become an NBA elite with Mike Bibby, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac. During that time they posted their top 4 best records in franchise history including a franchise high 61 wins in 2002 and fell just a controversial game away from their first NBA finals in half a century.
But even all this futility does not make them the worst franchise of all-time, after all they do have an NBA title and 9 active franchises do not have one. They also have 7 50-win seasons under their belt and if you include their NBL days you add another championship.
What about the Charlotte Hornets? Since they came back alive as the Bobcats in the early 2000s they have been terrible. If we were just talking about the history since then, than a good case can be made for them. But they are a newer team and they do have the original Hornets history which is quite good.
The Original Hornets seen some success in the 1990s behind Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning and Muggsy Bouges, but they never got past the second round. Since they relocated to New Orleans, than the league reset their history and they become the Bobcats than the Hornets again, they have sucked. They have not won 50 games since 1998 and for a 3 year span managed to win 62 games, total.
A very good case can be made for the Hornets, but they do get some points for being good in the 1990s and some slack for the relocation debacle.
So who is the worst franchise in the history of the NBA? It's the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Some might look to the Wolves record and say that they had a similar run to the Kings in the early 2000s and even made a western conference finals, so why are they below the Kings? They are below the Kings because that is the zenith of their NBA historical importance.
The 2004 Minnesota Timberwolves season was a great on, they won 58 games got the top seed in the west and went all the way to the WCF and star Kevin Garnett was named league MVP. But that is literally the only thing this franchise has accomplished in its 30 year history.
The Wolves have 3 other 50 win seasons, but managed to win just 2 playoff series both in 2004. Outside the 8 playoff appearances during the Garnett era from 1997-2004, the Wolves have managed to make the post season just one other time, that being in 2018. The Wolves have managed to finish above .500 only 8 times in their history.
Their 976 franchise wins puts them 26th all-time just slightly above the younger Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans. The Raptors should pass the Timberwolves either late in the 2020 season or in the 2021 season. They average around 31 wins per season, that is the fewest in the NBA. The Kings average around 36 and the Clippers around 33. The three teams training the Wolves in the total win column also average more wins per season, with the Raptors around 37 wins a season, the Grizzlies around 33 and the Pelicans 37
The Wolves have a franchise win percentage of .397, which is the worst in the NBA with the next closest being the .409. The Wolves playoff win percentage is also by far the worst in the NBA of the active teams at .346. The Wolves are just 18-34 all-time in the playoffs, take away 2004 where they went 8-8 they are just 10-26 for a .277 winning percentage.
Kevin Garnett is by far the franchises biggest star, and one of the few things the franchise has ever gotten right when they drafted him in 1995. He made them interesting and they were a pseudo title contender for a couple of seasons. But beyond KG, the Wolves personal decisions have been questionable to down right horrific.
One of the most famous things that has ever befallen the franchise, and is likely the catalyst to them being the worst franchise in NBA history, was the Joe Smith signing debacle. Basically, the Wolves and Smith came to secret agreements where he would re-sign with them for smaller sums ever year until they got his bird rights and would than pay him more than he was worth. This violated league rules and when the NBA found out, they voided the contract, suspended ownership and management, and forced the franchise to forfeit several years worth of first round picks. This event sent the Timberwolves in a free fall that they have yet to recover.
Before the Joe Smith incident the Wolves were on their way to becoming a good franchise. They had just had their most successful season in franchise history, KG was in the prime of his career, and they had several very good pieces. Instead, they lost several years of picks, those pieces became overpaid and injury prone and without the picks the Wolves could never jettison salary or add newer pieces, and KG became disgruntled and was shipped off to Boston for Al Jefferson and pieces.
The KG rebuilding process has been a never ending cycle of mistakes and rebuilds. First the Wolves were going to rebuild around Al Jefferson, a young center who had shown flashes of brilliance. But after an injury and several poor season the Wolves traded Jefferson to the Jazz for practically nothing.
One thing that is a hallmark of bad teams is poor drafting, and the Wolves may be the worst drafting team in the last quarter century in any sport. The draft has really been the Achilles heel of this franchise, they very rarely get a pick right and usually miss out of a great talent.
The drafting woes began immediately for the Wolves, who in 1989 selected Pooh Richardson with the 10th pick in the draft. Richardson was an okay player, but they missed out on Tim Hardaway, Shawn Kemp, BJ Armstrong, Dana Barros and Vlade Divac; all who became all-stars.
The draft lottery was unkind to the Wolves as well as they ended up with lower picks despite their record. They finally got a top 5 pick in 1992 and selected Duke forward Christian Laettner, who was one of the most promising players in decades. Sadly, Laettner never worked out for the Wolves or lived up to his reputation and he was traded to the Hawks. The following year the Wolves selected JR Rider with the 5th pick passing on Vin Baker and Allan Houston.
The Wolves finally hit pay-dirt in 1995 with Garnett, but had the opportunity to pair him with another would be hall-of-famer in Ray Allen, whom they drafted at five but traded for Stephon Marbury. Starbury would last two and a half seasons in Minnesota before being traded and never living up to his hype either, though he would drastically improve once he got to New Jersey and became a 2 time all-star.
The Wolves had a chance to add some really good pieces with KG in the 1999 draft where they had two lottery picks. At 6 they selected Wally Szczerbiak, who made an all-star team with the Wolves but was injury plagued and they passed up on Richard Hamilton, and Shawn Marion. At 14 the Wolves selected William Avery, who lasted just 3 seasons in the NBA, and the Wolves could have had Ron Artest, James Posey, Kenny Thomas, or Andrei Kirilenko.
Because of bad trades and the Joe Smith incident the Wolves had only one first round pick from 2000 until 2005, that was in 2004 when they selected Ndudi Ebi, who played a total of 19 games in the NBA.
Perhaps the pinnacle of the Wolves crazy draft issues came in 2009, when the Wolves had the 5th and 6th overall picks in the draft. The draft was seen as a deep draft and it has lived up to its hype producing 6 all-stars and 2 league MVPs. This could have been a draft that forever changed the Wolves, as they had 4 first round draft picks, instead the Wolves bungled it.
The Wolves selected Ricky Rubio at 5, a point guard from Spain who was compared to Pete Maravich. Rubio has had a fine NBA career, but has never been an all-star and is at best the worst starter on an average playoff team. The following pick the Wolves selected another point guard in Jonny Flynn. Flynn, who did have a hip injury, may be the poster child for busts in the modern era. He played just 3 seasons in the NBA and was gone from Minnesota after just 2 seasons. The Golden State Warriors used the next pick to select Steph Curry, a two time league MVP who has guided the Warriors to 3 NBA championships. Two picks later the Raptors drafted Demar DeRozan.
But the 2009 draft gets worse for the Wolves, they also had the 18th pick which they also used on a point guard in Ty Lawson, than traded him to Denver. The Wolves could have used that pick on Jeff Teague, or Darren Collison, The Wolves than had the 28th pick which they used on a shooting guard Wayne Ellington. The Wolves also had 2 second round picks that they used on Nick Calathes, who got kicked out of the league, and Hank Norel, who never played in the NBA. They missed out on Danny Green, and Patty Mills.
The 2010 draft is similar to the 2009 for the Wolves. They again had a multiple first round picks and again blew them. They had the 4th overall pick and took Wesley Johnson, skipping over DeMarcus Cousins, Gordan Hayward and Paul George. They took Luke Babbit over Eric Bledsoe, and Avery Bradley and took Trevor Booker, who actually was not a bad pick up there.
The Wolves followed two bad drafts up with a third in 2011. Again, they had 2 first round picks and managed to use them on Derrick Williams and Donatas Montiejunas, skipping over Klay Thompson or Kawaii Leonard.
2013 is another drafting debacle by the Wolves, who entered the night with 2 first round picks. They managed to turn the 9th pick into Trey Burke who they traded to Utah for the rights to Shabbazz Muhammed and Gorgui Dieng, than flipped Andre Robertson for second round picks. The Wolves instead could have had Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert, both of which were drafted proceeding picks they had.
It is still too early to tell if the latest picks are going to turn out well, but Karl Anthony Towns looks to be the best player the Wolves have drafted since Kevin Garnett.
When you lose basketball games in the NBA, your fans expect you to reward them with a high draft pick and an exciting player to watch grow and develop. But the Wolves have not done that for their fans, instead they have shown utter incompetence in the draft and with player management.
The Wolves have not been good at developing talent either. The Wolves have had 21 players drafted in the lottery play for them in their first or second season and only Garnett, Szczerbiak, Kevin Love and Karl Towns have made the all-star game.
Seven different Wolves have been select to the NBA all-star game from the Wolves roster totally 20 appearances in all, though KG made 10 of those and Kevin Love made another 3.
The Wolves have not made many good trades either. Recently, they traded lottery picks in Kris Dunn and Zach Lavine for Jimmy Butler, only to turn around and trade Butler for less than they gave up for him. This is not a new phenomenon for the Wolves either. They did the same thing with KG and Al Jefferson.
The Wolves are currently near the bottom of the western conference and will likely finisher there again, and rumors keep springing up involving Karl Anthony Towns, so its likely the Wolves will be entering another rebuilding era here shortly.
The best thing for the Wolves may be for Glen Taylor to sell the franchise. The Knicks have a similar problem to the Wolves in that they have a bad owner. The Clippers and Warriors previously had this issue, and got sold and now they are amongst the most popular franchises in the league. The Wolves issue is not their market, yes Minneapolis is fridged, but the Vikings and Twins seem to do fine in competing.