When Michael Jordan played in the 90s, the Chicago Bulls were the most feared team in the league. Evident of their 6-0 Finals run during that time, there were some teams that could never get over the hump. The Knicks, Pacers, and Jazz featured some great talent during their heyday but never won a title due to the roadblock that was Michael Jordan.
When Jordan left the league a second time, it felt like the league was granted a fresh slate. Anybody could compete for a title, even when LeBron James came into the league in 2003. With that said, over the last 23 years, some teams have taken advantage of Jordan’s departure, while some have not. Here are the power rankings of NBA franchises since Jordan left the league in 1998.
30. Minnesota Timberwolves
7 playoff appearances, 1-second-round appearance, 1 Western Conference Finals appearance, 15 losing seasons
The Timberwolves have been the worst franchise in the NBA over the last two decades. Outside of making the Western Conference FInals in 2004, the team has struggled to compete. Since that spectacular season, the team owns just one winning season.
Kevin Garnett’s prime years were wasted, which led to him leaving for the Celtics. The team couldn’t build around Kevin Love. Instead of contending with a Big 3 of Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, and Karl-Anthony Towns, they became a one-hit-wonder and lost 4-1 against the Rockets in the first round. The Wolves now have Anthony Edwards and with Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell, maybe it's time to expect another playoffs appearance in the near future.
29. Sacramento Kings
8 playoff appearances, 1-second round appearance, 1 Western Conference Finals appearance, 15 straight losing seasons
Since the days of Chris Webber and Mike Bibby, the Kings have been a laughing stock in the NBA. Today, the team owns 15 straight-losing seasons and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006. Outside of their Western Conference Finals finish in 2002, the Kings have been an irrelevant basketball team.
The Kings have had just one superstar since making the playoffs eight straight seasons. DeMarcus Cousins represented the Kings in four straight All-Star games, but not even he could lead the Kings back to the playoffs, or a winning record.
28. Charlotte Hornets
6 playoff appearances, 2 second-round appearances, 13 losing seasons
Not even a name change has helped Charlotte. The once known Bobcats have never made it to the Conference Finals, while their last second-round appearance was in 2002. Outside of Kemba Walker setting the franchise record in scoring, the team has been a mediocre squad in the Eastern Conference.
Nobody can forget when the team won just seven games in a 7-59 campaign in 2012, but that wasn’t the worst part. The New Orleans Hornets (name at the time) won the lottery and selected Anthony Davis, while Charlotte selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Davis is a multi-time All-Star and All-NBA selection, while Kidd-Gilchrist doesn’t even play in the league anymore.
27. New Orleans Pelicans
7 playoff appearances, 2 second-round appearances, 11 losing seasons
The Pelicans did not join the league until the 2002-2003 season. Since that time, the team has seen Chris Paul and Anthony Davis go through with only one second-round playoff appearance to show for each player. Even with both in town, the Pelicans failed to build around these superstars.
In 2019, the Pelicans were gifted with the No. 1 overall pick again. With Zion Williamson headlining the future, maybe the Pelicans can make strides towards being a competitive franchise.
26. Washington Wizards
8 playoff appearances, 4 second-round appearances, 13 losing seasons
The Wizards have produced some great players over the last two decades in Gilbert Arenas, Antwan Jamison, John Wall, and Bradley Beal. Many believed that the 2016-2017 season was going to be the year that the Wizards qualified for the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Instead, the Wizards bowed out in the second round.
The Wizards were once a storied franchise with players like Wes Unseld leading the team. Over the years, the team has not been able to put all of the pieces together. Even with a duo of Beal and Russell Westbrook today, the Wizards are just contending for a play-in game.
25. New York Knicks
7 playoff appearances, 3 second-round appearances, 1 Eastern Conference Finals appearance, 1 NBA Finals appearance, 14 losing seasons
When Jordan left the league, the Knicks got their chance to compete in the NBA Finals. In the past, Jordan and the Bulls would do away with the Knicks in the playoffs, but not this time. Even so, the Knicks failed to beat the Spurs in the 1999 championship and have fallen on hard times ever since.
The team has played in the playoffs just six times since. Players like Eddy Curry, Frank Ntilikina, and Jordan Hill scare this team. The Knicks will finally break a playoff drought dating back to 2013 this season.
24. Los Angeles Clippers
9 playoff appearances, 5 second-round appearances, 12 losing seasons
When Jordan left the league, the Clippers won nine games the following season. Then, the team spent all of the 2000s barely competing, qualifying for the postseason just one time. It wasn’t until 2011 when Chris Paul joined Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to form “Lob City” that L.A. remembered there were two basketball teams in the city.
Paul, Griffin, and Jordan entertained the city but never made the Conference Finals, When they left, the new regime of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George squandered a 3-1 lead last year in the second round. The Clippers are one of the few teams in the lower rankings that has high potential to move up.
23. Atlanta Hawks
10 playoff appearances, 6 second-round appearances, 1 Eastern Conference Finals appearance, 13 losing seasons
The Hawks made the playoffs one season after Jordan left and then went eight seasons without making it back. With a new foundation of Josh Childress, Joe Johnson, Al Horford, and Jeff Teague, the Hawks made the postseason 10 straight seasons,
In 2014-2015, the Hawks were the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Conference Finals before LeBron and the Cavaliers swept the team. The Hawks haven’t made the playoffs since 2017, but that is all looking to change this season, which will be Trae Young’s first experience.
22. Memphis Grizzlies
10 playoff appearances, 4 second-round appearances, 1 Western Conference Finals appearance, 11 losing seasons
In the early 2000s, Pau Gasol helped lead the Grizzlies to the first round of the playoffs. Once he was moved, the duo of Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol helped the team qualify for their first-ever Western Conference Finals appearance in 2013.
The Grizzlies joined the league in the 1995-1996 season and moved to Memphis in 2001. In their franchise history, the team has never won a division title.
21. Orlando Magic
12 playoff appearances, 3 second-round appearances, 1 Eastern Conference Finals appearance, 1 NBA Finals appearance, 11 losing seasons
If you look at the past decade, the Magic have been one of the worst franchises in basketball. From 1999-2012, the Magic qualified for the playoffs 10 times, including making a trip to the NBA Finals in 2009. Dwight Howard was one of the best individual players in the league and nearly pulled off the impossible in beating the Lakers in the Finals.
In the end, the Magic never replicated that success, and Howard left for the Lakers to play in a bigger market. Since then, the Magic have made the postseason two times, wasted Nikola Vucevic’s All-Star seasons, and could be on the verge of contending for a No. 1 overall pick in the future.
20. Denver Nuggets
12 playoff appearances, 5 second-round appearances, 2 Western Conference appearance, 9 losing seasons
From 2004 to 2013, the Nuggets made the postseason in each season but were bounced in the first round in all but one year. That was their lone Conference Finals appearance, headlined by a couple of superstars in Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.
Anthony made the Nuggets relevant thanks to his effortless scoring. When Allen Iverson enjoyed an All-Star season with Melo, it gave the team one potent offense. In the end, the Nuggets were the first-round bust each year. The Nugget made the Conference Finals this past postseason and has Nikola Jokic favored to win the MVP. Maybe, their luck is finally changing.
19. Chicago Bulls
11 playoff appearances, 5 second-round appearances, 1 Eastern Conference Finals appearance, 10 losing seasons
After Jordan left, the Bulls failed to make the postseason six straight seasons. It took a trio of Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, and Luol Deng to bring the Bulls back to relevance. Then, the team added fan-favorite Joakim Noah and was given luck in landing Derrick Rose with the No. 1 overall pick in 2008.
Rose grew to become the youngest MVP ever in 2011 at the age of 22 and led the team to the Conference Finals before getting defeated by the Miami Heat. Had Rose never sustained devastating injuries the following seasons, the Bulls might have won a championship by now. Instead, the team hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2017 and is looking to miss again this season.
18. Phoenix Suns
9 playoff appearances, 5 second-round appearances, 3 Western Conference Finals appearances, 10 losing seasons
From 2011 to 2020, the Suns failed to make the playoffs, which means that the franchise wasted a decade’s worth of opportunities. To be fair, can the average fan remember a superstar in the mix besides Devin Booker in the last 10 years? The future is bright with Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton competing for the No. 1 overall seed in today’s playoff race, but the 2000s were the years of the Suns.
Steve Nash won back-to-back MVP. Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire helped the team make three trips to the Conference Finals. The Suns owned one of the best offenses in the league. Too bad the team never got to play for a championship.
17. Milwaukee Bucks
13 playoff appearances, 5 second-round appearances, 2 Eastern Conference Finals appearances, 10 losing seasons
The Bucks have made the Conference Finals in 2001 and 2019. Players like Ray Allen, Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut, and Khris Middleton have played like All-Stars in the past to keep the team competitive. Today, Giannis Antetkounmpo reigns as the back-to-back winner of the MVP and looks to lead the team to their first title since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s playing days.
The Bucks have been playing some of their best basketball in recent years. With a championship window, it could finally be Milwaukee’s time.
16. Utah Jazz
14 playoff appearances, 8 second-round appearances, 1 Western Conference Finals appearance, 5 losing seasons
By the time Jordan left, Karl Malone was not in his prime. The same guy who led the Jaz to the NBA Finals, only to lose to Jordan and the Bulls, could only get the Jazz to the second round a few times.
After Malone, the Jazz has seen Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer lead a team to the Conference Finals. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Derrick Favors have been some nice players that have dropped in. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are presently All-Stars and have the Jazz competing for the No. 1 overall seed.
15. Houston Rockets
14 playoff appearances, 8 second-round appearances, 2 Western Conference Finals appearances, 3 losing seasons
It took the Rockets some time to get back on track, but the team went on a run of five playoff appearances in six seasons in the mid-2000s. With the duo of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, the Rockets had two future Hall of Fame players. Instead of making deep runs, the tandem made the second round one time, as neither finished their NBA career healthy.
The Rockets then regrouped from 2013 to 2020, making the postseason in each year. James Harden won an MVP and three scoring titles, while Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook made their way to Houston at some point. Despite all the talent, the Rockets never made the NBA Finals.
14. Philadelphia 76ers
13 playoff appearances, 7 second-round appearances, 1 Eastern Conference Finals appearance, 1 NBA Finals appearance, 11 losing seasons
In 1996, Allen Iverson became the No. 1 overall pick and groomed the 76ers for a deep run. Philadelphia made the second round two seasons before his MVP season that saw the 76ers make the NBA Finals in 2001. Iverson, along with Kyle Korver and Andre Iguodala, helped the 76ers remain competitive in the mid-2000s.
After a playoff drought that lasted from 2012 to 2017, the team formed a core of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Two second-round appearances, as well as a heartbreaking dagger from Kawhi Leonard, have resulted from the group. Today, the 76ers are battling the Nets for the No. 1 seed in the East.
13. Portland Trail Blazers
15 playoff appearances, 7 second-round appearances, 3 Western Conference Finals appearances, 6 losing seasons
The Trail Blazers made the Conference Finals in back-to-back seasons directly after Jordan left the league, but never could make it to the NBA Finals. The team remained competitive for a few more years but has been plagued with bad luck and bad draft choices. Brandon Roy was going to be the next sensational player, but couldn’t stay healthy. Then in 2007, the team drafted Greg Oden instead of Kevin Durant and we all know how that goes.
With Damian Lillard in the fold, the Trail Blazers have flirted with contention, including making the Conference Finals in 2019 before falling to the Warriors. As long as Lillard remains in Portland, the team will be competitive.
12. Indiana Pacers
17 playoff appearances, 9 second-round appearances, 4 Eastern Conference Finals appearances, 6 losing seasons
The Pacers jumped on the opportunity without Jordan in the way. Just one year later, the Pacers made the Eastern Conference Finals, and then made the NBA Finals in 2000. The Lakers pushed past Reggie Miller and Co. Then, Jermaine O’Neal led the 2004 Pacers back to the Conference Finals before falling to the Pistons.
In 2013 and 2014, the Pacers made back-to-back trips to the Conference Finals with the help of Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert leading the way, but couldn’t get past LeBron and the Miami Heat. From 2016 to 2020, the Pacers made the playoffs but bowed out in the first round.
11. Brooklyn Nets
11 playoff appearances, 6 second-round appearances, 2 Eastern Conference Finals appearances, 2 NBA Finals appearances, 12 losing seasons
When the team was based in New Jersey, the Nets made the NBA Finals in back-to-back years thanks to the leadership of Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson but were bounced by the Lakers and Spurs. Vince Carter eventually came to town to form a Big 3, but all the team got were three second-round appearances.
After a min-drought from 2008-2012, the Nets brass made a bold move to acquire Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to team up with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez. The Nets were depleted in draft capital and only made it to the second round. With Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden in the fold, the Nets are competing for the championship. With all this star power in the last 20 years, it’s hard to believe the Nets haven’t won a title.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder
13 playoff appearances, 6 second-round appearances, 3 Western Conference Finals appearances, 1 NBA Finals appearance, 6 losing seasons
From 1999 to 2008, the once upon a time SuperSonics were an irrelevant team. A couple of first-round postseason appearances, Gary Payton, and Ray Allen were all the team had to show. It wasn’t until 2007 when Kevin Durant was drafted with the No. 2 overall pick that the team’s fortunes began to turn around.
Right after Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden were selected in the following drafts. The trio led the Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2012. After Harden left, the duo of Westbrook and Durant led the team to the Conference Finals in 2014 and 2016 before Durant infamously left for the Warriors. In 2017, Westbrook averaged a triple-double and won an MVP. Despite Chris Paul, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony all wearing a Thunder uniform, the team couldn’t make it back to the NBA Finals.
9. Toronto Raptors
12 playoff appearances, 6 second-round appearances, 2 Eastern Conference Finals appearances, 1 NBA championship, 10 losing seasons
At the tail-end of Jordan’s career, Vince Carter emerged as the team’s face of the new franchise. After Carter’s departure, the team qualified for the playoffs just two times from 2003 to 2013, largely in part to a young Chris Bosh. But, Bosh ultimately left the franchise, and it wasn’t until a tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan put the Raptors up into relevance.
Lowry and DeRozan couldn’t get past LeBron despite multiple attempts which led to Coach of the Year Dwyane Casey’s firing and DeRozan’s exit via trade. In one magical season, Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, and Pascal Siakam led the Raptors to their first-ever NBA championship in 2019.
8. Dallas Mavericks
16 playoff appearances, 6 second-round appearances, 3 Western Conference appearances, 2 NBA Finals appearances, 1 NBA championship, 6 losing seasons
Dirk Nowitzki is everything to the Mavericks. In a way, he was the Dallas version of Michael Jordan. He leads the franchise in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. He helped the team make the playoffs in nearly every year of his prime, including the team’s improbable run to the 2011 championship.
During Dirk’s tenure, the team never finished with a losing record. Now with Luka Doncic leading the charge, the Mavericks look to get back to being competitive.
7. Detroit Pistons
12 playoff appearances, 7 second-round appearances, 6 Eastern Conference Finals appearances, 2 NBA Finals appearances, 1 NBA championship, 11 losing seasons
Let’s forget that the Pistons have made the postseason just two times since 2009 and are on track for a major rebuild. From 1999 to 2009, the Pistons had one of the best stretches that any basketball franchise could ask for. That included 10 playoff appearances, six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, two trips to the NBA Finals, as well as the 2004 championship.
The combination of Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince will always be remembered by avid Pistons fans. Despite their recent woes, the Pistons fared very well after Jordan’s departure.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers
9 playoff appearances, 9 second-round appearances, 6 Eastern Conference Finals appearances, 5 NBA Finals appearances, 1 NBA championship, 12 losing seasons
Would you rather have 17 playoff appearances with no triple to the Finals, or nine trips to the playoffs with a 50% chance of making the NBA Finals? When LeBron James led the Cavaliers, he was the equivalent of Michael Jordan each season. LeBron, a four-time champion, led the Cavaliers to their first title in 2016, including four straight trips to the NBA Finals.
LeBron may never pass Jordan for the greatest of all time, but he will get the last laugh for now as his Cavaliers were more relevant than the Bulls for the last 23 years.
5. Boston Celtics
16 playoff appearances, 11 second-round appearances, 7 Eastern Conference Finals appearances, 2 NBA Finals appearances, 1 NBA championship, 8 losing seasons
When Paul Pierce came into the league, he was the first true face of the Celtics since the days of Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, and Larry Bird. Pierce nearly led a team to the NBA Finals in 2002 but came up short against the Nets. Just a few years later, the Big 3 of Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen led the Celtics to a championship in 2008.
After coming up short against the Lakers two years later, the Celtics have meandered into the playoffs, but have come up short in the Conference Finals three of the last four seasons. With a core of Jayson Tatum and Jaylon Brown, the future looks bright.
4. Golden State Warriors
8 playoff appearances, 7 second-round appearances, 5 Western Conference Finals appearances, 5 NBA Finals appearances, 3 NBA championships, 13 losing seasons
Refer back to our question laid out in the section with the Cavaliers. Despite only eight playoff appearances since the day Jordan left the league, the Warriors created a dynasty that was unmatched by anyone in the NBA for five seasons. Five trips to the NBA Finals easily negate any first-round playoff appearance, even if the team has doubled the Warriors’ total.
The combination of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green brings back memories to the days of Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. The trio won their first title in 2015 and then won 73 games, breaking Jordan’s Bulls record of 72. Then, when Kevin Durant joined the team in 2017, two more titles were won, as well as their last NBA Finals appearance in 2019. Next season, when Curry, Thompson, and Green are all healthy, many believe that the team will have one last dance together.
3. Miami Heat
16 playoff appearances, 10 second-round appearances, 7 Eastern Conference Finals appearances, 6 NBA Finals appearances, 3 NBA championships, 5 losing seasons
Since Jordan left the NBA, the Heat have seen Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, and Bam Adebayo wear a team jersey. One cannot forget that Jordan’s Bulls took down the 1997 Heat to make the NBA Finals with Pat Riley as a coach. However, Pat Riley got the last laugh after winning a title in 2006, as well as two more as an executive in 2012 and 2013.
The Big 3 of Lebron, Bosh, and Wade is said to be the beginning of superstars joining other superstars. During that four-year run, the Heat made the NBA Finals in each season. Since coming into the league in 2003, Wade was a superstar, including winning a Finals MVP in 2006. For nearly 25 years, the Heat have been one of the best basketball teams in the world.
2. San Antonio Spurs
21 playoff appearances, 15 second-round appearances, 10 Western Conference Finals appearances, 6 NBA Finals appearances, 5 NBA championships, 1 losing season
It was Gregg Popovich’s first season as head coach in what was Jordan’s final season. In the first season without Jordan, the Spurs won the NBA title with David Robinson and Tim Duncan leading the way. The duo would win another title together in 2003. Then, the formation of Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili helped the team win a title in 2005, 2007, make the Finals in 2013, and then watch Kawhi Leonard win a Finals MVP in 2014.
Last year, the Spurs missed the playoffs for the first time since 1997. It was the first time in Pop’s coaching career that the Spurs missed. Once Jordan left, a new team had to take over as modern-day champions and the Spurs were right in the thicket for the best team since.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
15 playoff appearances, 12 second-round appearances, 8 Western Conference Finals appearances, 8 NBA Finals appearances, 6 NBA championships, 7 losing seasons
At first glance, it may feel like the Spurs should hold this title, but it’s something to be said about making the NBA Finals two more times, as well as winning one more championship. Kobe Bryant is the closest player to Michael Jordan we have seen since the GOAT left the league. Bryant was the little brother that Jordan never had, but from a winning standpoint, he nearly matched him too.
Bryant won five NBA championships, including a three-peat with Shaq from 2000-2002, and back-to-back titles with Pau Gasol in 2009 and 2010. Then, the year of his death, LeBron and Anthony Davis led the Lakers to their first title since the days of Kobe, keeping his memory alive. In a way, it seems natural that Kobe has won the most championships since Jordan departed from the league, especially once we found out how close of a bond the two had with each other.