The NBA is always changing and evolving. The nature of the league, the Draft, the cap space, and everything around it makes it pretty tough to dominate for a sustained period of time. If not, take a look at the Golden State Warriors, who missed the playoffs after 5 straight trips to the NBA Finals.
That goes both ways, meaning that being a bad team for over a decade isn’t something you see as much in modern basketball. More often than not, teams land a star in the Draft and at least get the chance to make it to the first round of the playoffs.
However, that hasn’t always been the case. As a matter of fact, there have been some franchises that have been near the bottom of the standings for very long. Today, we’re going to talk about the top 10 teams with the longest playoff droughts in NBA history:
10 Tie. Atlanta Hawks – 8 Seasons
1999-2000 through 2006-2007
The Atlanta Hawks haven’t exactly been the most successful team in the NBA. They’ve had plenty of ups and downs throughout their history but mostly downs. Now, Trae Young and John Collins look to finally turn the tables around and win another ring.
From 1999 to 2007, the Hawks could have never imagined that they’d have one of the most promising young cores in the league. Hell, they couldn’t even dream about making the playoffs until Josh Smith led them to their first postseason berth in 8 years.
10. Tie. Denver Nuggets – 8 Seasons
1995–96 through 2002–03
The Denver Nuggets have been a struggling franchise for most of their history. Even when they’ve fared well in the regular season and look ready to take a step forward, it seems like they always find a way to underperform in the playoffs.
They couldn’t even make it to that stage for 8 straight seasons. Even so, they’re terrible record in 2002-03 paid off, as they had the chance to draft Carmelo Anthony. Anthony helped turned around their fate for good. Now, they’ve become perennial contenders.
10. Tie. Memphis Grizzlies – 8 Seasons
1995–96 through 2002–03
The Memphis Grizzlies’ got off to a terrible start of their history during their days in Vancouver. In fact, they had to leave town and rebrand in Memphis just to get a breather. It’s working now, but it took them a long time to get to where they are.
Memphis put together a decent team in 2003-04 to put an end to their 8-year playoff drought. They now have one of the brightest futures in the NBA with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr leading the way. They’ll be perennial contenders.
10. Tie. Washington Wizards – 8 Seasons
1988–89 through 1995–96
The Washington Wizards and Bullets are used to being nowhere near the playoff picture for most of their history. Regardless of how many legendary players have been with the team over the years, it seems like they just can’t catch a break.
The Wizards were unable to make the playoffs for 8 straight years from 1988-96. They were barely able to hold on to the 8th seed in the following season but were swept in the first round by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. You may have heard of them.
7. Utah Jazz – 9 Seasons
1974–75 through 1982–83
Adrian Dantley was one of the most gifted and dominant scorers of his time. He could light up defenders as if they were practice cones but sadly, that didn’t translate to much success when he was leading the way for the Utah Jazz in the early ’80s.
The Jazz later got John Stockton and Karl Malone and became the driving force of the Western Conference. They even made it to back-to-back Finals but, then again, some guy named Michael Jordan and his team got in their way both times.
5. Tie. Phoenix Suns – 10 Seasons
2010–11 through 2019–20
Not so long ago, the Phoenix Suns had the best, most entertaining offense in the league. With Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Shawn Marion, it looked like they were poised to win an NBA Championship year after year. Then, they fell off in the playoffs.
The Suns went through a lot of agonies recently. They’re rebuilding process has experienced a lot of set-backs but it’s clear that Devin Booker is the real deal. He’ll take them back to the playoffs even if the last thing he does. Or he’ll leave, who knows.
5. Tie. Dallas Mavericks – 10 Seasons
1990–91 through 1999–2000
Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Cuban turned the Dallas Mavericks into one oft he most respected organizations in the league. They were a constant contender and even made it to a couple of trips to the NBA Finals, winning one ring in 2011.
But long before that, the Mavs had to endure tough times. They went stone-cold with a 10-year postseason drought from 1991 to 2000. That’s not likely to happen again any time soon with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis teaming up in Texas.
4. Golden State Warriors – 12 Seasons
1994–95 through 2005–06
Younger NBA fans may not remember it but there was a time when the Golden State Warriors were among the worst teams in the league. Not once or twice but every year. Real Warriors’ fans know the struggle of watching their team fail the playoffs for 12 years.
That’s one of the many reasons why the Dubs are so inspiring right now. They built through the Draft, had a sustainable and well-planned basketball project and the results were there. Now, they’re one of the powerhouses of the league.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves – 13 Seasons
2004–05 through 2016–17
The Minnesota Timberwolves could only go as far as Kevin Garnett took them. But not even a legend like Garnett could single-handedly get past the stacked Western Conference, and that’s why he had to leave and join the Boston Celtics after years of failure.
Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler helped the Timberwolves finally put an end to their playoff drought but it seems like that wasn’t sustainable. Now, they hope that D’Angelo Russell will be a better fit next to Karl-Anthony Towns than Andrew Wiggins.
2. Sacramento Kings – 14 Seasons
2006–07 through 2019–20
Even though they’ve found great talents recently, the Sacramento Kings are one of the worst-managed franchises in the league, if not the worst. They currently have the longest active playoff drought and the second-longest ever. In fact, ESPN made a report about how unlikely it is to miss the playoffs for 14 years and numbers were discouraging, to say the least:
“The Kings went #Kangz, extending their playoff drought to a humiliating 14 seasons — which is really hard to do when 16 of 30 teams make the postseason. In a vacuum — and the NBA is not a vacuum, but still, this is fun — the chances of that happening are about 1 in 40,000, our Kevin Pelton confirmed,” read ESPN’s report.
Yeah, that’s bad.
1. Los Angeles Clippers – 15 Seasons
1976–77 through 1990–91
The Los Angeles Clippers have had their fair share of struggles throughout their history. They’ve been used to living under the Lakers’ shadow and were far from a successful franchise early on. Luckily for them and the league, that’s a whole new story now.
Doc Rivers’ project and coaching made the Clippers one of the strongest teams in the Western Conference. But, unless the Kings take their record down (which is likely to happen), they’ll have to live with the burden of having the longest playoff drought in NBA history.