There are many teams in the NBA unable to find answers. Teams have not been able to secure a championship, be it because of bad drafting, non-committed ownership or simply under-achieving on the big stage. It could also be the franchise lacking an elite superstar. More so than any other league, the NBA is driven by individual star power and it makes it very difficult for a team to win a championship if they don’t have that superstar in their lineup. Just look at the Miami Heat. Yes, this is a team game, but having Lebron James just masks weaknesses and compensates for so many shortcomings. Maybe the next of these teams to end their drought is the team that finds that next superstar. In any event, here are the teams in the NBA with the longest active championship droughts.
T-10) Denver Nuggets, Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers (38 seasons)
Three teams that have never hoisted an NBA title.
The Denver Nuggets actually played as the Denver Rockets for seven years, but changed their name to the Nuggets once whispers began of a possible ABA-NBA merger in 1974.
Since the merger, the Nuggets have not made it to a championship round. The fan base has never even managed to sniff the possibility of an NBA championship.
In the 1980s, the scoring tandem of Alex English and Kiki Vandeweghe led them to nine consecutive playoff appearances, with the team regularly leading the league in scoring. The closest they came to winning it all was in 1985, where they lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Final.
They had a down period in the 1990s, but actually have three division titles in the last 10 years. The Carmelo Anthony era gave them hope, but they are back to square one after trading him.
The Brooklyn Nets seem committed to do whatever it takes to end their drought. They joined the NBA in 1976 as well, as the New Jersey Nets.
They put forth perhaps their most talented roster in 1983-84, led by Daryl Dawkins, Buck Williams, Otis Birdsong and Michael Ray Richardson. However, they were ousted in the second round by Milwaukee Bucks.
In the early 2000s the Nets franchise finally reached a high point, winning division titles in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006. Trading for Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins, Brandon Armstrong and finally Jason Kidd set up the Nets for title contention.
They had a successful 2001-02 season as a result, but were ultimately swept by the L.A Lakers in the NBA championship. They made it back the next year, coming closer, but a collapse in Game 6 against San Antonio saw the Spurs snatch the title from New Jersey.
That’s as close as they’ve come and the franchise got a rejuvenation after moving to Brooklyn a couple of years ago, having traded for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from the Celtics. Jason Kidd is now head coach and the franchise is aiming to take home a title in the near-future.
Finally we have the Indiana Pacers. Another ABA original, joining the association in 1976. One of the best basketball markets in the country, but no NBA titles to celebrate.
Reggie Miller did all he could in his time in Indiana, leading them to four division titles. He led them on several Cinderella runs in the 90s, constantly giving the New York Knicks fits.
Ultimately, they made it to one final, in 2000. They fell to the Lakers in six games, while Los Angeles was in the midst of a dynasty.
Their current roster provides hope that their drought may end very soon.
9) Golden State Warriors (39 seasons)
Originally the Philadelphia Warriors, the franchise won a NBA championship in 1956 and then as the Golden State Warriors in 1975. None since. Perhaps the most loyal fan base in the NBA, the Warriors have suffered under bad management.
After a four-game sweep by the Warriors over the Washington Bullets to win the 1975 championship, the team lost star players Rick Barry, Jamaal Wilkes and Nate Thurmond.
Since 1994, the franchise has only made the playoffs three times, including the past two seasons. Stephen Curry gives them a glimmer in hopes of contending.
8) Utah Jazz (40 seasons)
The franchise was born in New Orleans before moving to Utah, with the team retaining the Jazz name.
All its fans must be thinking to this day is, that damn Michael Jordan!
The franchise actually enjoyed a nice postseason streak of 20 straight seasons, from 1984 to 2004. John Stockton and Karl Malone led the way, emerging as one of the best point guard-power forward combos in NBA history.
As the duo was growing older, the Jazz finally reached the finals. Malone enjoyed a 1996-97 MVP season, but Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls defeated Utah in the 1997 finals.
Poised to avenge the loss, the Jazz made it back the following year, with about the same roster. They swept the Lakers in the conference finals, and earned a rematch with the Bulls, but were haunted again. Jordan made ‘the shot’ in the dying moments of Game 6 to again give the title to Chicago.
Stockton would retire a few years later and Malone left as a free agent.
The closest they have come since was a conference finals loss to the Spurs in 2007.
7) New York Knicks (41 seasons)
The current longest drought of all major New York sports teams, the Knicks are embarking on a new era with Phil Jackson, the new team president. The 68-year-old was actually part of the Knicks’ last championship as a player back in 1973.
They did beat the Bulls sans Jordan, during MJ’s hiatus in 1994, beating the Bulls in the eastern conference semi-finals and the Pacers in the conference finals, but fell to the Houston Rockets in seven games in the NBA finals. The next three years, they were eliminated by their top three rivals, the Pacers, Bulls and Heat in successive years. Another loss to the Pacers in 1998 was followed by a run to the finals in 1999. This time they bowed out to San Antonio in five games.
They haven’t been back since and are hoping Phil Jackson finds a way to end their drought.
6) Milwaukee Bucks (43 seasons)
The franchise’s lone championship came back in 1971 and they are coming off a 15-67 season. It’s very hard to see their drought ending anytime soon.
Led by Sidney Moncrief, Paul Pressey and Craig Hodges, the Bucks enjoyed some successful years in the 80s winning six straight division titles. They made it to the conference final three times, losing to the 76ers and the Celtics twice.
They occupied the basement of the league for most of the 90s before somewhat of a resurgence in the late 90s, starting with the hiring of coach George Karl.
Led by the “Big Three” Ray Allen, Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson, the Bucks made it to the 2001 Eastern Conference Final, losing in seven games to the Philadelphia 76ers. They have not won a playoff series since that season.
5) Los Angeles Clippers (44 seasons)
If you were to pick one team on this list that will end their drought first, you’d probably go with the Clippers. Arguably the biggest laughingstock of a franchise for so long, the Clippers, at least on the court, finally seem set for success.
Originally the Buffalo Braves, then the San Diego Clippers before the move to L.A., they were the punching bag for their fellow Los Angeles team the Lakers for so long. They’ve only held better records than the Lakers five times in their history.
We won’t even get into Donald Sterling as the owner throughout this time.
Drafting Blake Griffin, trading for Chris Paul and coach Doc Rivers appears to have changed the fortunes of this franchise and will have them contending for NBA titles for the foreseeable future. In fact their only two division titles have come in the last two seasons. Things are definitely on the upside for the Clippers at this time.
4) Cleveland Cavaliers (44 seasons)
Not even Lebron James was able to bring a championship to the city of Cleveland.
Founded in 1970, the Cavaliers have only made the finals once, thanks to Lebron, back in 2007 but were overwhelmed by the San Antonio Spurs and swept in the finals.
Besides a conference finals appearance in 1976, the franchise enjoyed little success. They were very competitive in the late 80s and early 90s, led by Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Ron Harper and Larry Nance for a while.
They made the playoffs in eight of nine seasons between 1987 and 1996, with three 50-win seasons. However, they only made it as far as the conference finals once, losing to Chicago in 1992.
The arrival of James in 2003 gave them the saviour they had coveted for so long. Lebron led the Cavs to five straight playoff appearances, including the run to the finals in 2007, but the team could not surround Lebron properly and fell short.
Since Lebron’s infamous departure to Miami in 2010, he’s won two championships in three seasons, looking for a third in 2014, while the Cavs have been forced to rebuild once again.
3) Phoenix Suns (46 seasons)
The Phoenix Suns have no championships since being founded in 1968.
They went on a surprising run to the NBA Finals in 1976, but were ousted by the Boston Celtics in six games. That set the tone for many successful seasons, as they made the playoffs for eight straight seasons, from 1978 to 1985.
Scandals arose though, with three players indicted on drug-related charges in 1987 (James Edwards, Jay Humphries and Grant Gondrezick). That led to an unstable franchise and young center Nick Vanos was killed in a plane crash, providing more turmoil for the Suns.
In 1988, their luck began to turn and they began a streak of 13 consecutive playoff seasons. The arrival of Charles Barkley lifted the Suns to the 1993 finals, where they lost to the Chicago Bulls.
In 1996, they drafted Steve Nash, who would also bring them close. He had two MVP seasons, but the Suns were outmatched by the Spurs in the 2005 Western Conference Finals and the Dallas Mavericks the following year. They also fell to the Lakers in the 2010 conference finals. Nash is now gone, as well as Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns are rebuilding once again, still searching for a title.
2) Atlanta Hawks (56 seasons)
No NBA titles since 1958 and no finals appearances since 1961. The Atlanta Hawks have had flashes, but nothing more.
The Dominique Wilkins era provided some hope, as they won 50 games in each season from 1985 to 1989. They had a franchise-record 57 wins in 1986-87. However, through all this success, they were unable to reach the conference finals.
The Hawks have made it back to the playoffs the past seven seasons, with little success as well, unable to reach the conference finals. Their all-time playoff record is 138-183.
1) Sacramento Kings (63 seasons)
The last time this franchise won a title, they were known as the Rochester Royals, back in 1951.
The franchise went through several name changes in Rochester. They moved to Cincinnati in 1957, to Kansas City in 1972 and finally to Sacramento in 1985.
The franchise has constantly been mired in back luck. The roof literally came off of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City in 1979, and the team continually lost star players to other teams. The team was sold to new owners with interests of moving the team to Sacramento.
It happened in 1985, and the Kings made the playoffs in their first season in California, losing in the first round of the 1986 playoffs.
The Kings then struggled for several years. Their fortunes began to turn in 1998, when they drafted Jason Williams. They signed Vlade Divac, traded for Chris Webber, and Peja Stojakovic came over from Serbia. Rick Adelman had the reigns as head coach and led “the Greatest Show on Court” through the late 90s and early 2000s.
They were undoubtedly the most exciting team to watch in basketball and the fan base grew. Prior to the 2001-02 season they traded Williams and Nick Anderson to Vancouver for Mike Bibby and Brent Price. This was done in order to improve their defence and become more effective in the playoffs.
They seemed poised for a championship, finishing 61-21 with the best record in the NBA. After series wins over Utah and Dallas, they lost a devastating seven-game series to the L.A. Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference finals. It was one of the most memorable series in NBA history and one of the most controversial, thanks to Tim Donaghy and company allegedly sabotaging game 6 to extend the series in the interest of the NBA.
The Kings haven’t come as close since. Their core group was devastated from the loss, the team aged, Rick Adelman’s contract wasn’t renewed after 2006 and the team has missed the playoffs for eight straight seasons, their future in Sacramento having been uncertain for a while before new ownership stepped in. The Maloof family sold the team to a group led by Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur Vivek Ranadivé last year for $535 million.
The Kings have long suffered and fans in Sacramento have been patient. Hopefully they are rewarded fairly soon.
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