So many amazing players and teams have come and gone throughout NBA history. Many of them were an iteration of the Lakers or Celtics, but almost every franchise had at least one season when it legitimately competed for a championship.
Some franchises, whether because it’s relatively new or in a smaller market, have a clear one or two teams throughout its existence that symbolize the organization’s peak. Others have been around since the league’s beginnings and fielded several legendary rosters, making it difficult to pinpoint what the single best season for it was.
To give each organization it’s fair recognition, here is the best team ever for all 30 NBA franchises. These teams are differentiated by what they accomplished in the regular season and playoffs. Some franchises had teams that may have been better than some of their championship teams, but preference is given to winning.
Atlanta Hawks: 1957-1958 (41 wins, won NBA Finals 4-2)
This St. Louis Hawks squad was built around the star tandem of Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan. The duo averaged over 45 points per game and led their team to the third-highest offensive rating (89.7) in the league, according to basketball-reference. Although this version of the Hawks won just 41 games in a 72-game season, it was the No.1 rebounding team in the NBA and the only opponent to beat the Bill Russell and Bob Cousy Celtics during their championship run.
Boston Celtics: 1985-1986 (67 wins, won NBA Finals 4-2)
This version of the Celtics is widely regarded as one of the best teams of all time. Its 67 wins led the NBA that season behind the leadership of Larry Bird — who won his third consecutive MVP — and All-Stars Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Hall of Famers Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton also thrived in their roles, with Walton winning Sixth Man of the Year in what was his last productive year of basketball.
Boston was third in offensive rating (111.8) and first in defensive rating (102.6), as well as first in rebounding and assists. Ball movement, in addition to talent, was key to the team’s playoff run that included just three losses en route to its third and final title of the 1980s.
Brooklyn Nets: 2002-2003 (49 wins, lost NBA Finals 4-2)
Jason Kidd led his New Jersey Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances from 2001-2003. The team took advantage of a weak Eastern Conference and often smothered its opponents with versatile and athletic defenders, earning the league’s top defensive rating (98.1).
Although defense was their calling card, the Nets had four players average double-digit points. With Kidd being the best passer in the league at that time and playing at an MVP-caliber level, Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and Kerry Kittles were a dangerous trio alongside the point guard. They just ran into the more talented San Antonio Spurs in the Finals.
Charlotte Hornets: 1996-1997 (54 wins, lost Eastern Conference First Round 3-0)
Unfortunately, Charlotte hasn’t fielded many championship contenders in its 32-year history. All-Star and Second-Team All-NBA member Glen Rice, who averaged a career-best 26.8 points per game this year, carried his team to a franchise-record 54 wins alongside Anthony Mason, Vlade Divac (whom the team acquired on draft night for the rights to Kobe Bryant) and Dell Curry.
The Hornets finished the regular season 29-9, but in a deep Eastern Conference, they faced the 57-win Knicks in the first round and lost all three games. It was a talented roster but couldn’t match-up with more experienced teams at the time.
Chicago Bulls: 1995-1996 (72 wins, won NBA Finals 4-2)
Michael Jordan’s first full season after returning from his first retirement saw the Bulls dominate the NBA as no previous team had. Chicago won a then-record 72 games in the regular season, earning the league’s best offensive (115.2) and defensive ratings (101.8), behind Jordan’s top scoring average of 30.4 points.
Scottie Pippen was at the top of his game and the supporting cast of Toni Kukoc and Dennis Rodman helped the Bulls cruise to the Finals against a great Supersonics bunch. The team went up 3-0 in the series before letting their foot off the gas in losing the next two, but they closed out arguably the greatest season in NBA history in Game 6.
Cleveland Cavaliers: 2015-2016 (57 wins, won NBA Finals 4-3)
LeBron James played on Cavaliers teams with more wins in the regular season in his first stint in Cleveland, but the 2016 team is the one that won it all. The big-three of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love could out-duel most teams on a given night, yet it took some superhuman-level performances from James and Irving to comeback in the Finals against the 73-win Warriors. After James’ famous chase-down block on Andre Iguodala and Irving’s stepback go-ahead triple in Game 7, the Cavaliers became the first team to ever win the Finals after being down 3-1.
Dallas Mavericks: 2010-2011 (57 wins, won NBA Finals 4-2)
Many thought this Mavericks team wouldn’t recover from Caron Butler’s season-ending injury just 29 games into the season. It looked like the team didn’t have enough firepower when they went on a six-game losing streak soon after, but somehow the bunch banded together for one of the most magical championships ever.
With Dirk Nowitzki playing arguably the best basketball of his career, Dallas swept the defending champion Lakers in the Semifinals and later upset the heavily-favored big-three Miami Heat. Nowitzki was unstoppable, Jason Terry shot the lights out and the veteran supporting cast of Shawn Merion, Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler played their roles perfectly.
Denver Nuggets: 2008-2009 (54 wins, lost Western Conference Finals 4-2)
After trading the aging Allen Iverson three games into the season, the Nuggets found new life under the leadership of the newly-acquired Chauncey Billups. His consistency, championship experience and defensive abilities anchored a somewhat wild Denver roster.
Carmelo Anthony matured and the team won a franchise-record 54 games to that point (not counting ABA seasons). The team clicked in the playoffs and made it to the Western Conference Finals against the defending conference champion Lakers. Los Angeles was extremely motivated having lost the previous Finals and out-executed the Nuggets, but Denver gave them as much trouble as any other team did that season.
Detroit Pistons: 1988-1989 (63 wins, won NBA Finals 4-0)
Detroit lost the 1988 Finals heartbreakingly, so it came into the following season with a renewed determination and toughness. The Pistons embraced their “Bad Boy” image and rolled over most teams with sheer intimidation and toughness. It finished the regular season on a 36-9 run behind the Hall of Fame backcourt duo of Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars and carried that momentum into the playoffs.
The team lost just twice in its postseason run and swept the defending back-to-back champion Lakers, getting revenge and solidifying Detroit as the league’s next dynasty.
Golden State Warriors: 2016-2017 (67 wins, won NBA Finals 4-1)
When Kevin Durant announced in the summer of 2016 that he was signing with Golden State, everyone became immediately infuriated. It wasn’t that he was leaving; it was that he was joining a 73-win team and creating arguably the greatest team in NBA history.
The new-look Warriors cruised to a league-best 67 wins and top offensive rating (115.6) despite their new superstar missing 20 games. The team had no trouble dominating the playoffs either, as it lost just one game, when the Cavaliers made a Finals-record 24 3-pointers, en route to the title. This team was legitimately overpowered and dampened NBA fans’ enthusiasm for the season because everyone knew which team would win.
Houston Rockets: 1993-1994 (58 wins, won NBA Finals 4-3)
You could argue that the 1994-1995 Rockets were more talented since they traded for Clyde Drexler to pair with Hakeem Olajuwon, but team chemistry and morale cannot be understated. The 1993-1994 team had all its players playing selflessly and with toughness. It didn’t need another Hall of Famer to combat inflated egos and lazy defense.
This Houston squad held the league’s second-best defensive rating (101.4), started the season 22-1 and featured MVP Olajuwon at the top of his game. The supporting cast of Otis Thorpe, Vernon Maxwell, Kenny Smith and Robert Horry could shoot, rebound and defend, and the bench tandem of Sam Cassell and Mario Elie came up clutch in the playoffs.
The Rockets knocked-off the defending Western Conference champion Suns in the Semifinals in a grueling seven-game series, which prepared them to win Game 7 of the NBA Finals against a similarly-built Knicks team.
Indiana Pacers: 2003-2004 (61 wins, lost Eastern Conference Finals 4-2)
The Pacers did have one team in its history reach the Finals, the 1999-2000 squad, but the 2003-2004 version was much more talented. Its top-four players, Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest, Al Harrington and a 38-year-old Reggie Miller were a great balance of shooting, defense and experience, and led the team to a franchise-record 61 wins.
Indiana was third in defensive rating (97.2) and similarly built to the eventual-champion Detroit Pistons. The two defensive-minded teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals and played some extremely low-scoring contests — the conclusive Game 6 ended 69-65 — with Rip Hamilton being the one player the Pacers couldn’t stop. Had Ron Artest not shot a putrid 29.8% in the series, he and this Indiana team may be remembered differently. Instead, they’re infamous for the “Malice at the Palace” that occurred early the following season.
Los Angeles Clippers: 2013-2014 (57 wins, lost Western Conference Semifinals 4-2)
The 2019-2020 Clippers may be the franchise’s best team by the end of this season, but for now, the 2013-2014 iteration gets the nod. Led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin — who finished third in MVP voting this season after averaging 24.1 points and 9.5 rebounds — Los Angeles won a franchise-record 57 games and earned the league’s top offensive rating (112.1).
The team was deep and talented with role players such as J.J. Reddick, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Darren Collison. This bunch was dubbed “Lob City” due to Paul’s knack for throwing alley-oops to Griffin and DeAndre Jordan but couldn’t get over the hump in the playoffs against the superior star power of the Thunder.
Los Angeles Lakers: 1971-1972 (69 wins, won NBA Finals 4-1)
The Lakers organization has 16 championships to its name and fielded too many spectacular squads to count. For all the talent that has come through L.A., it was the 1971-1972 season that saw the franchise finally win a championship with Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain as its core.
This team won a record 69 games, which stood for 24 years, and still holds the record for consecutive wins with 33. The Lakers experienced some sort of revival once Elgin Baylor retired just nine games into the season and were determined to not come up short of expectations like it had the previous three seasons. Under new head coach Bill Sharman, L.A. held the league’s top offensive rating (103.1) and second-best defensive rating (92.6) and was led in scoring by Gail Goodrich’s 25.9 points per game.
Memphis Grizzlies: 2012-2013 (56 wins, lost Western Conference Finals 4-0)
The Grizzlies organization is only 25 years old and relocated from Vancouver to Memphis in 2001, so it hasn’t produced many successful teams. The beginning of the 2010s, though, marked the best period in Grizzlies history, with the 2012-2013 bunch being the pinnacle.
They won a franchise-record 56 games despite trading their leading scorer, Rudy Gay, in the middle of the season. Marc Gasol was the anchor on defense, winning Defensive Player of the Year, while Mike Conley and Zach Randolph scored efficiently on the other end. Role players like Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince and Ed Davis helped the team earn the league’s second-best defensive rating (100.3) but couldn’t put up enough points to beat a deeper and more talented Spurs team in the Western Conference Finals.
Miami Heat: 2012-2013 (66 wins, won NBA Finals 4-3)
The Heat entered the league in 1988 yet have fielded several contending teams. The 2012-2013 iteration, though, is by far the best in the franchise’s history, winning a record 66 games behind the infamous big-three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Miami held the No.2 offensive rating (112.3) and had its stars’ chemistry at an all-time high, earning the NBA’s top shooting percentage (49.6). James won his fourth and final MVP and was virtually unstoppable until the team met adversity in the NBA Finals. The newly-acquired Ray Allen had to hit arguably the most clutch shot in NBA history to force a Game 7. James then took over and hit the clinching jumper in the game’s closing seconds to win back-to-back titles for Miami.
Milwaukee Bucks: 1970-1971 (66 wins, won NBA Finals 4-0)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s arrival in Milwaukee immediately marked a turning point for the franchise. Oscar Robertson would join the center on the Bucks in 1970 and the team immediately took off.
Milwaukee began the year 17-1 en route to an MVP campaign for Abdul-Jabbar in just his sophomore season. The Bucks won a franchise-record 66 games, held the league’s top offensive (103.9) and defensive ratings (93.1) and cruised to a 12-2 playoffs record. Aside from the team’s two superstars, Bob Dandridge and Jon McGlocklin headlined an elite supporting cast. Robertson wouldn’t age gracefully enough for the team to win another title, but no one was stopping the Bucks this season.
Minnesota Timberwolves: 2003-2004 (58 wins, lost Western Conference Finals 4-2)
Kevin Garnett was a sensation in Minnesota right out of high school. He gave the franchise 12 stellar seasons and peaked in 2003-2004 during his MVP campaign. Behind Garnett’s leadership on both ends, the Timberwolves accumulated a franchise-record 58 wins and secured the No.1 seed in the conference.
Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell and Wally Szczerbiak also played well off the superstar forward and helped spread the floor. The team couldn’t overcome Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in the Western Conference Finals, though, but earned the respect of the league as a legitimate franchise with a capacity for winning.
New Orleans Pelicans: 2007-2008 (56 wins, lost Western Conference Semifinals 4-3)
There’s been a basketball franchise in New Orleans for only 18 years, and the organization had a rough beginning when Hurricane Katrina forced the team to play its games in Oklahoma City for a couple of seasons.
In its first full-length return to the “Big Easy,” however, Paul led the team to a franchise-record 56 wins and was second in MVP voting. The team was balanced and deep, with David West, Peja Stojakovic and Chandler all playing well off of the point guard. Unfortunately, they ran into the juggernaut that was San Antonio and lost a heartbreaking seven-game series after being up 3-2.
New York Knicks: 1969-1970 (60 wins, won NBA Finals 4-3)
For as famous and influential as the Knicks franchise is, it only has two championships to its name. Both came in the 1970s and first was arguably as spectacular a championship as any.
New York won a franchise-record 60 games — beginning the season 23-1 — earned the league’s best defensive rating (92.4) and center Willis Reed was named MVP. Six players on the roster averaged double-digit points.
In Game 5 of the Finals, though, Reed tore a muscle in his thigh and was likely to miss the rest of the series against the big-three Lakers with West, Chamberlain and Baylor. He miraculously returned for the first half of Game 7 and inspired his team to take home the trophy. The season set the standard for what basketball in New York should be, but the franchise hasn’t replicated the success it had with players like Reed and Walt Frazier.
Oklahoma City Thunder: 2012-2013 (60 wins, lost Western Conference Semifinals 4-1)
Because the SuperSonics and Thunder franchises technically share the same basketball history, there are plenty of choices for the organization’s best team. The 1990s Seattle teams were great, as were the 2011-2012 Thunder with a young James Harden that unexpectedly made the Finals.
But the 2012-2013 team was the peak of the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook era. This team won 60 games, had the league’s best offensive rating (112.4) and was more determined and mature having lost in the Finals the previous season. They didn’t make it past the second round of the playoffs, however, because Patrick Beverley unnecessarily ran into Westbrook’s knee in the first round and tore the Thunder guard’s meniscus. Had Westbrook not been taken out, there might have been a Finals rematch between Miami and Oklahoma City.
Orlando Magic: 1995-1996 (60 wins, lost Eastern Conference Finals 4-0)
Between O’Neal and Dwight Howard, the Magic have fielded some tremendous teams around two franchise centers. Although the organization has made the Finals twice in its existence, the franchise record for wins was set in 1995-1996 with 60 despite O’Neal missing 28 games.
This squad was a well-rounded group with Dennis Scott, Horace Grant and Nick Anderson supporting superstars O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Orlando met the 72-win Bulls — whom they eliminated the previous year — in the Eastern Conference Finals, but with an injured Grant, the Magic didn’t stand a chance and got swept. Chicago outrebounded them by nearly 15 a game. Grant’s presence was sorely missed.
Philadelphia 76ers: 1966-1967 (68 wins, won NBA Finals 4-2)
You could argue the 1982-1983 76ers were the best team in franchise history, but the 1966-1967 team set the NBA-record for wins at the time with 68. The team began the season 46-4 and Chamberlain won the MVP after averaging an absurd 24.1 points, 24.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists.
Philadelphia had six players averaging over 12 points per game thanks to the team’s unselfish play style. They ended Boston’s streak of eight straight championships and handily defeated Rick Barry’s Warriors in the Finals. There weren’t many, if any, duos better that season than Chamberlain and Hal Greer.
Phoenix Suns: 1992-1993 (62 wins, lost NBA Finals 4-2)
Charles Barkley’s first season in Phoenix marked the best season in franchise history. He put together an MVP campaign and led his team to a franchise-best 62 wins and the league’s top offensive rating (113.3).
Like so many other great teams, though, the Suns ran into Jordan’s Bulls in the Finals. They arguably played Chicago better than all five other championship contenders of the Jordan era, but his Finals-record 41 points per game were too much to overcome. Between Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Richard Dumas, Cedric Ceballos, Tom Chambers and Danny Ainge, this team was deep and experienced and deserved to win a title. All seven players averaged double figures in scoring. It just wasn’t meant to be.
Portland Trail Blazers: 1976-1977 (49 wins, won NBA Finals 4-2)
Several Trail Blazers teams have won more games in a season than the 1976-1977 team, but this was the lone champion for the franchise. Walton led the league in rebounding (14.4) and blocks (3.2) while manufacturing an unselfish and positive culture within the team. Portland was second in offensive rating (103.2) and fifth in defensive rating (98.0) and would have put up better numbers and more wins had Walton not missed 17 games.
The frontcourt of Walton and the strong Maurice Lucas was too formidable for the team’s Western Conference foes, but in the Finals an extremely talented 76ers team took a 2-0 lead. Portland then won four games in a row in what became one of the all-time Finals upsets. The only shame is that the team was even better the following year until Walton’s injuries derailed his career.
Sacramento Kings: 2001-2002 (61 wins, lost Western Conference Finals 4-3)
This Sacramento team is perhaps the most tragic bunch on this list. Centerpiece Chris Webber missed 28 games this season and the Kings still won a league-leading 61 games. The team was deep and truly played like a unified group, but allegedly faulty refereeing in the Western Conference Finals kept them from glory.
With Sacramento up 3-2 on the defending back-to-back champion Lakers, Game 6 of the series lives in infamy. Convicted former NBA referee Tim Donaghy alleges the referees purposely favored the Lakers to try and get them to advance to the Finals. Had everything been fair, Webber probably has a Finals MVP and the Kings franchise may have had a more successful history. Either way, this iteration of Sacramento was fun to watch and exemplified how team-basketball should be played.
San Antonio Spurs: 2013-2014 (62 wins, won NBA Finals 4-1)
This Spurs team is one of the deepest champions ever. It featured a still productive version of the big-three in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili while also having clutch contributors like a 22-year-old Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Tiago Splitter and others.
This group was motivated to redeem themselves after a heartbreaking Finals loss to Miami the year before and did so by effectively ending the “Heatles” era in a five-game beatdown in the rematch. San Antonio led the league in 3-point percentage (39.7), assists (25.2) and guarding the arc. The 2013-2014 Spurs had no weaknesses and no singular player who dominated the spotlight, as evidenced by the up-and-coming Leonard being named Finals MVP.
Toronto Raptors: 2018-2019 (58 wins, won NBA Finals 4-2)
It was unclear what version of Leonard the Raptors would get when he was traded in the summer of 2018. What transpired was a strange regular season consisting of “load management” that was followed by one of the most spectacular playoff runs of all time.
Toronto wasn’t great at anything but also didn’t have a real weakness. Pascal Siakam came into his own, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka were consistently productive and acquiring Marc Gasol mid-season helped them guard players like Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the postseason. All the pieces came together for one lone year before Leonard left for L.A., and everyone was happy the Raptors’ first championship came while also defeating the Warriors.
Utah Jazz: 1996-1997 (64 wins, lost NBA Finals 4-2)
The 1996-1998 Jazz were essentially the same team that went to back-to-back Finals, but the 1996-1997 version won a franchise-record 64 games and held the league’s second-best offensive rating (113.6). Karl Malone was awarded his first MVP and the team cruised to the Finals before meeting their end against Jordan’s Bulls.
It was clear who the second-best team in the league was all season, but the Jazz simply didn’t match-up well against Chicago. John Stockton and Malone’s chemistry, along with Jeff Hornacek’s perimeter scoring, gelled together beautifully. It was an offensive clinic whenever they played. Utah just peaked at the wrong time.
Washington Wizards: 1977-1978 (44 wins, won NBA Finals 4-3)
The 1977-1978 Bullets didn’t win close to the franchise-record for games, they won the franchise’s lone title instead. The team simply wasn’t anything special in the regular season.
Washington was slightly above average on both ends and its players couldn’t stop fouling. What it did do well was rebound thanks to Hall of Famers Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld. That frontcourt steered the ship, and by the time the playoffs began, the team finally found its footing. Bob Dandridge and Kevin Grevey supported Hayes in the scoring department in the postseason as the Bullets upset the Spurs, 76ers and SuperSonics en route to a title. Sometimes, size prevails.