Ranking The Greatest And Most Successful NBA Franchises Of All Time

Author:
Publish date:
Ranking The Greatest And Most Successful NBA Franchises Of All Time

What’s the greatest active franchise in NBA history? That’s what we’re here to find out. Ranking the league’s 30 teams in order wasn’t easy, but a comprehensive look at their national and Conference titles, regular-season and playoffs records, best players, and best and worst eras have yielded the following ordered list. Before we get to it, let’s lay out a few rules.

ABA numbers were not considered for this ranking, and they do not factor into the stats shown for the relevant teams. That means that Indiana’s ABA titles, for instance, won’t push them any higher on this list. The “greatest players” lists for former ABA teams, however, may include some players who featured prominently prior to the NBA merger. These inclusions are meant to respect the contributions these players made to the legacy of their franchises.

Finally, for the purposes of this list, a championship trumps all. Some teams may have had great runs, but if those runs never resulted in a title, it will inevitably hurt them in the ranking. Now that the rules have been laid out, let’s get to the rankings.

30. Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves

Inaugural Year: 1989-90

Titles: 0

NBA Finals: 0

Playoffs Years: 9

Franchise Record: Wins 980 – Losses 1,496

Win Percentage: .396

Playoffs Record: Wins 18 – Losses 34

Playoffs Win Percentage: .346

Greatest Players: Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, Tom Gugliotta, Sam Cassell, Wally Szczerbiak, Al Jefferson, Christian Laettner, Andrew Wiggins

There’s no satisfaction in saying this, but that doesn’t make it less true – the Minnesota Timberwolves are, at this moment in time, the definitive worst NBA franchise. They have the lowest all-time win/loss ratio in the league for both the regular season (the only team with less than a .40 win percentage) and the playoffs. In their 30-year history, they’ve made the playoffs only nine times – second-least in the league behind the Pelicans, who were founded over a decade later.

That’s not to say the Timberwolves haven’t had moments of potential. The Kevin Garnett years stand out as the team’s most promising period, though a failure to build around KG ultimately led to his departure to Boston. Still, there is hope for Minnesota fans. The combination of D’Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns and this year’s number one draft pick could herald a new era of greatness for the Timberwolves. Only time will tell.

29. New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans Pelicans

Inaugural Year: 2002-03

Titles: 0

NBA Finals: 0

Playoffs Years: 7

Franchise Record: Wins 673 – Losses 777

Win Percentage: .464

Playoffs Record: Wins 20 – Losses 29

Playoffs Win Percentage: .408

Greatest Players: Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins, David West, Baron Davis, Jrue Holiday, Jamal Mashburn, Jamaal Magloire, P.J. Brown, Zion Williamson

As the youngest franchise on this list, New Orleans’s low ranking is somewhat justified. Still, it’s surely far from where Pelicans fans would like the team to be. Neither Chris Paul nor Anthony Davis could pull the Pelicans out of the league’s bottom tier, though each star gave New Orleans brief glimpses of greatness.

Like Minnesota, the Pelicans’ best years could be coming up soon. If Stan Van Gundy can build cohesive chemistry and effective defense around Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, they could be a contentious force in the West for years to come. The team’s .464 win percentage is far from the worst in the league, and good years ahead could mean that number rising to a winning ratio and the Pelicans finally finding consistent success in the playoffs. For now, however, they sit at 29th.

28. Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis Grizzlies

Inaugural Year: 1995-96

Titles: 0

NBA Finals: 0

Playoffs Years: 10

Franchise Record: Wins 826 – Losses 1,167

Win Percentage: .414

Playoffs Record: Wins 29 – Losses 46

Playoffs Win Percentage: .387

Greatest Players: Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Pau Gasol, Mike Conley, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay, Mike Miller, Mike Bibby, Shane Battier

Another younger team that’s struggled to make its mark on the league, Memphis checks in at 28th on our list. In 25 seasons, the Grizzlies have made the playoffs ten times, but only advanced beyond the first round three times, leaving them with a troubling .387 postseason win percentage. Their regular-season record isn’t much better.

Unlike New Orleans and Minnesota, however, Memphis has never had a true superstar on their roster. Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and the Gasols have all been great, but nothing on the level of an Anthony Davis or a Kevin Garnett. With Ja Morant on the roster, that could be changing. It’s a little too early to say for sure, but Memphis certainly seems to be heading in the right direction.

27. Los Angeles Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers

Inaugural Year: 1970-71

Titles: 0

NBA Finals: 0

Playoffs Years: 15

Franchise Record: Wins 1,659 – Losses 2,383

Win Percentage: .410

Playoffs Record: Wins 53 – Losses 70

Playoffs Win Percentage: .431

Greatest Players: Chris Paul, Bob McAdoo, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Elton Brand, Randy Smith, Danny Manning, World B. Free, Corey Maggette, Terry Cummings

Bouts of real promise over the past decade can’t erase the Clippers’ deeply disappointing history, and they still haven’t carried the franchise to a Conference Finals. LA has the second-worst regular-season win percentage in the NBA at .41, and while their playoff record is notably better (22nd in the league), it’s still not great.

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan couldn’t bring LA through the playoffs, and it remains to be seen if Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can do it. The potential remains, but the curse of the Clippers still hangs over the organization – a curse that’s kept the franchise to just 15 postseason appearances in 50 years.

26. Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte_Hornets_(2014).svg

Inaugural Year: 1988-89

Titles: 0

NBA Finals: 0

Playoffs Years: 10

Franchise Record: Wins 1,050 – Losses 1,345

Win Percentage: .438

Playoffs Record: Wins 23 – Losses 40

Playoffs Win Percentage: .365

Greatest Players: Kemba Walker, Larry Johnson, Glen Rice, Alonzo Mourning, Gerald Wallace, Dell Curry, Eddie Jones, Muggsy Bogues, Anthony Mason, Emeka Okafor

The Charlotte Hornets’ problem is twofold – they can’t win, and they can’t retain talent. Each part compounds the other in a vicious cycle that has kept Charlotte a laughingstock for much of its recent history. The Hornets have the second-worst playoff win percentage in the NBA behind Minnesota, and the fifth-worst regular-season win percentage. And while Devonte’ Graham is getting better, he’s not an All-Star yet.

The only thing pushing Charlotte ahead of the Clippers on this list is their relative youth. They’ve only made the playoffs ten times in 32 years, but that’s still not as remarkably poor as LA’s 15 postseason appearances in half a century. It would be great for the league if Michael Jordan’s team were also good. Hopefully, it will eventually get there.

25. Denver Nuggets

Denver Nuggets

Inaugural Year: 1976-77

Titles: 0

NBA Finals: 0

Playoffs Years: 26

Franchise Record: Wins 1,749 – Losses 1,802

Win Percentage: .493

Playoffs Record: Wins 77 – Losses 118

Playoffs Win Percentage: .395

Greatest Players: Alex English, David Thompson, Carmelo Anthony, Nikola Jokic, Dan Issel, Lafayette Lever, Dikembe Mutombo, Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess, Marcus Camby

At a glance, the Denver Nuggets might seem far better than this ranking would suggest. They’ve had real stars in multiple eras, from Alex English and David Thompson to Dikembe Mutombo and Carmelo Anthony. It’s also hard to dodge recency bias with Denver, since the Nikola Jokic/Jamal Murray era has made them one of the best teams in a stacked Western Conference and led them to a stunning playoffs run this year. Even the Nuggets’ all-time win record looks solid at just under 50 percent.

The problem is this – Denver is the best NBA team never to make the Finals. None of those legendary players could bring home a Western Conference title, and Jokic and Murray have yet to prove that they can. In 26 postseason appearances, the Nuggets’ win percentage is less than 40 percent. They have the potential to shoot up this list in the coming years, but it hasn’t happened yet.

24. Indiana Pacers

Indiana Pacers

Inaugural Year: 1976-77

Titles: 0

NBA Finals: 1 (2000)

Playoffs Years: 27

Franchise Record: Wins 1,789 – Losses 1,761

Win Percentage: .504

Playoffs Record: Wins 115 – Losses 126

Playoffs Win Percentage: .477

Greatest Players: Reggie Miller, Paul George, Jermaine O'Neal, George McGinnis, Rik Smits, Danny Granger, Roger Brown, Freddie Lewis, Bob Netolicky, Chuck Person

At 24th on this list, the Pacers are the first team to have a winning record in the regular season. They’re also the first team to have played in the NBA Finals, albeit only once. Their postseason record is solid as well, making the playoffs in over sixty percent of their seasons in the NBA and claiming a .477 win percentage while there.

A few things hold the Pacers back – an abysmal first decade in the NBA is one of them, as is a significant rough patch in the mid-2000s. If the ABA years were counted here, Indiana would undoubtedly be much higher, given their three national championships during that time. But unfortunately, their only real era of greatness in the NBA – the Reggie Miller years – was barricaded by Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal.

23. Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn Nets

Inaugural Year: 1976-77

Titles: 0

NBA Finals: 2 (2002, 2003)

Playoffs Years: 21

Franchise Record: Wins 1,485 – Losses 2,065

Win Percentage: .418

Playoffs Record: Wins 63 – Losses 88

Playoffs Win Percentage: .417

Greatest Players: Julius Erving, Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Brook Lopez, Derrick Coleman, Richard Jefferson, Deron Williams, Buck Williams, Stephon Marbury, Rick Barry

Like the Pacers, the Nets would be much higher on this list if their Dr. J heyday had happened in the NBA. Unfortunately, it didn’t, and Brooklyn’s post-merger history has never quite reached those heights again. Nets fans have high hopes that the KD/Kyrie Irving duo might finally bring an NBA title home to Brooklyn, but that remains to be seen.

Since the ABA/NBA merger, Brooklyn’s win percentage just breaks 40 percent in both the playoffs and the regular season. Under the on-court leadership of Jason Kidd, they became a powerful force in the early 2000s, claiming back-to-back Eastern Conference titles in 2002 and 2003 but never going all the way. Since then, the Nets have struggled to reclaim that same level of success.

22. Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic

Inaugural Year: 1989-90

Titles: 0

NBA Finals: 2 (1995, 2009)

Playoffs Years: 16

Franchise Record: Wins 1,191 – Losses 1,294

Win Percentage: .479

Playoffs Record: Wins 59 – Losses 74

Playoffs Win Percentage: .444

Greatest Players: Dwight Howard, Tracy McGrady, Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson, Jameer Nelson, Nikola Vucevic, Darrel Armstrong, Horace Grant, Grant Hill

At number 22, the Orlando Magic are the first team on this list to make the Finals in two different eras – Once with Shaq and Penny in 1995, and again in 2009 with Dwight Howard. Unfortunately, neither campaign ended in a title. Not even Superman – either of them – could take the Magic all the way.

Taken in totality, Orlando is about as middle-of-the-road of a Franchise as exists in the NBA. Less than half of their seasons have ended in winning records, but less than half have ended in losing records (the Magic has gone even three different years). They’ve had superstars and made deep runs, but they’ve never claimed a championship. In essence, there are far worse teams than the Orlando Magic, but there are far, far better teams too.

21. Phoenix Suns

Phoenix Suns

Inaugural Year: 1968-69

Titles: 0

NBA Finals: 2 (1976, 1993)

Playoffs Years: 29

Franchise Record: Wins 2,220 – Losses 1,987

Win Percentage: .528

Playoffs Record: Wins 133 – Losses 141

Playoffs Win Percentage: .485

Greatest Players: Steve Nash, Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jason Kidd, Paul Westphal, Walter Davis, Shawn Marion, Connie Hawkins, Devin Booker,

Phoenix is one of the best NBA franchises to have never won a championship. To that end, we’ll start with the good: two trips to the NBA Finals in two different eras; three league MVP awards; two Coach of the Year awards; the eighth-best regular-season record in the NBA, and the thirteenth-best playoffs record. If you’re a Phoenix fan, you have a lot to be proud of, including the career-peaks of both Charles Barkley and Steve Nash.

Unfortunately, what you don’t have is a championship or a trip to the Finals in the last 27 years. The Nash/D’Antoni era’s inability to win even a Conference title is one of the most baffling events in recent basketball history, and it stands as a mighty asterisk on what was arguably the Suns’ best period. In recent years, Phoenix has struggled to reclaim anything resembling that high, though if Devin Booker remains, they have a decent shot.

20. Utah Jazz

Utah Jazz

Inaugural Year: 1974-75

Titles: 0

NBA Finals: 2 (1997, 1998)

Playoffs Years: 29

Franchise Record: Wins 2,008 – Losses 1,706

Win Percentage: .541

Playoffs Record: Wins: 127 – Losses 148

Playoffs Win Percentage: .462

Greatest Players: Karl Malone, John Stockton, Adrian Dantley, Pete Maravich, Mark Eaton, Deron Williams, Truck Robinson, Donovan Mitchell, Carlos Boozer, Rudy Gobert

The Utah Jazz are the last team on this list that doesn’t have a championship trophy to their name. The reason why is pretty clear – his name is Michael Jordan. That and the fact Utah hasn’t made the Finals outside of the Stockton/Malone era are the only two things keeping the Jazz this low.

Utah has the fifth-highest regular-season win percentage in the NBA at .541. Since 1983, they’ve recorded only five losing-record seasons. That includes a 21-year streak of winning over 50 percent of their games from 1983-84 to 2004-05. Unfortunately, the Jazz’s postseason record is less stellar, placing in the bottom half of NBA win percentage in the playoffs at .462

Still, the franchise would be notably higher if they had a national title, or if any of those winning seasons without Stockton and Malone had transferred into a Finals run. The Jazz have almost always had good players though, and Donovan Mitchell is no exception. His ability to lead them to the playoffs has been proven. What’s unproven, is whether or not he can finally take Utah to a championship.

19. Sacramento Kings

Sacramento Kings

Inaugural Year: 1948-49

Titles: 1 (1951)

NBA Finals: 1 (1951)

Playoffs Years: 29

Franchise Record: Wins 2,593 – Losses 3,094

Win Percentage: .456

Playoffs Record: Wins 80 – Losses 107

Playoffs Win Percentage: .428

Greatest Players: Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas, Chris Webber, Nate Archibald, Bob Davies, Mitch Richmond, Jack Twyman, Maurice Stokes, Peja Stojakovic, DeMarcus Cousins

The Sacramento Kings have been disappointing more often than not. Does that make them a bad franchise? Not necessarily, but their negative win records in both the regular season and the playoffs don’t help. It also doesn’t help that their only championship title is from 1951 (when they were the Rochester Royals), or that they haven’t been back to the Finals since then. They also have the longest active playoff drought in the NBA, having not made the postseason since 2006.

The Kings have, however, had a slew of incredible players throughout their history. Most notably, while still the Cincinnati Royals, they had Oscar Robertson, who in ten seasons with the franchise made the All-Star team ten times, was named First Team All-NBA nine times, led the league in assists six times and in scoring once, averaged a triple-double in a season where he scored over 30 points per game, and won the regular-season MVP award. They also had Tiny Archibald, Bob Davies, Jerry Lucas, and Mitch Richmond.

And, of course, in the early 2000s, they had Chris Webber. More than perhaps any other franchise on this list, Sacramento deserves an asterisk – that asterisk noting the 2002 NBA playoffs where Webber’s Kings missed the Finals under, at best, questionable circumstances. Those circumstances shouldn’t necessarily push them higher on this list, but their numerous stars over so many different eras and their championship title – even if it’s from the ‘50s – are just enough to edge them over Utah.

18. Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors

Inaugural Year: 1995-96

Titles: 1 (2019)

NBA Finals: 1 (2019)

Playoffs Years: 13

Franchise Record: Wins 955 – Losses 1,037

Win Percentage: .479

Playoffs Record: Wins 55 – Losses 62

Playoffs Win Percentage: .470

Greatest Players: Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Damon Stoudamire, Jonas Valanciunas, Tracy McGrady, Fred VanVleet

For being one of the NBA’s youngest franchises the Toronto Raptors are relatively accomplished. In only 25 seasons, they’ve made the playoffs 13 times and claimed a championship title on their first trip to the Finals. They’ve been real contenders in three different eras as well – The Vince Carter era, the Chris Bosh era, and the current, Demar DeRozan/Kyle Lowry/Kawhi Leonard (briefly) era.

That doesn’t mean the Raptors are all positives. They have losing records in both the regular season and the playoffs, and they’ve been bad about as often as they haven’t. Right now though, they’re one of the leading teams in the Eastern Conference, and it looks like that trend will remain. Since 2013, the Raptors haven’t recorded a season with less than 48 wins. They’ve broken 50 now for five years in a row.

17. Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks

Inaugural Year: 1980-81

Titles: 1 (2011)

NBA Finals: 2 (2006, 2011)

Playoffs Years: 22

Franchise Record: Wins 1,615 – Losses 1,610

Win Percentage: .501

Playoffs Record: Wins 93 – Losses 109

Playoffs Win Percentage: .460

Greatest Players: Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Mark Aguirre, Steve Nash, Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper, Michael Finley, Jason Terry, Luka Doncic, Sam Perkins

The Dallas Mavericks have become one of the NBA’s most reliable franchises. They were terrible in the ‘90s but solid in the ‘80s, and they were fantastic through the 2000s with Dirk Nowitski leading the way. Now, with Luca Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, it looks like Dallas is entering another long era of greatness.

Enough good can’t be said about Dirk’s tenure with the Mavs. The team recorded eleven straight 50-win seasons from 2000-2001 to 2010-2011, when they made their second Finals appearance and took home the trophy. Since 2000-01, Dallas has only missed the playoffs four times. They have an overall losing record in the postseason, but (just barely) a winning record in the regular season. The most exciting thing about the Mavericks is what lies ahead of them. People aren’t asking if Luka will win a championship, but when.

16. Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks

Inaugural Year: 1968-69

Titles: 1 (1971)

NBA Finals: 2 (1971, 1974)

Playoffs Years: 33

Franchise Record: Wins 2,285 – Losses 2,022

Win Percentage: .519

Playoffs Record: Wins 126 – Losses 140

Playoffs Win Percentage: .479

Greatest Players: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Sidney Moncrief, Marques Johnson, Bob Dandridge, Ray Allen, Terry Cummings, Michael Redd, Vin Baker

The Milwaukee Bucks haven’t always been great, but they’ve often been good. The franchise opened with perhaps the biggest bang in NBA history, drafting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in their second season ever, which saw him winning Rookie of the Year. He then won the league MVP the next three years in a row, taking a title for Milwaukee in just his second season – the team’s third.

While Kareem eventually left to join the Lakers, it wasn’t long before the Bucks had another major star in Sidney Moncrief. Moncrief never took Milwaukee to the Finals, but he did help them score seven straight 50-win seasons from 1980-81 to 1986-87, making several deep runs.

The ‘90s were a dark time for the franchise, but hope returned in 2000-01 when the trio of Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson, and Sam Cassell won 52 games and led the Bucks to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost in seven games to Allen Iverson’s 76ers. That squad never took them so close again, and another rough patch spread through the mid-2000s. The last two seasons have been a return to form for Milwaukee with Giannis Antetokounmpo claiming back-to-back MVPs, but it remains to be seen if he can bring the Bucks their second championship.

15. Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards

Inaugural Year: 1961-62

Titles: 1 (1978)

NBA Finals: 4 (1971, 1975, 1978, 1979)

Playoffs Years: 29

Franchise Record: Wins 2,153 – Losses 2,616

Win Percentage: .451

Playoffs Record: Wins 98 – Losses 134

Playoffs Win Percentage: .422

Greatest Players: Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, Gus Johnson, Walt Bellamy, Gilbert Arenas, John Wall, Earl Monroe, Phil Chenier, Bradley Beal, Moses Malone

The Washington Wizards have seen some high highs and some low lows through their history. The 1970s were a fantastic decade for the franchise, which saw all-time greats like Wes Unseld, Earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes, and Bob Dandridge take the Wizards (then the Bullets) to four Finals, winning one. In an era dominated by Kareem, the Bullets remained consistent contenders.

The 1980s showed another strong roster from Washington, but nothing quite matching the peaks of the decade prior. By the time Michael Jordan started crushing all comers, the franchise wasn’t much to speak of. Through the last 20 years, the Wizards have had periods of varying success, interspersed with periods of serious underperformance. Stars like Gilbert Arenas, John Wall, and Bradley Beal have all done strong work for the franchise, but no one has been able to take Washington to the Finals since 1979.

14. Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers

Inaugural Year: 1970-71

Titles: 1 (1977)

NBA Finals: 3 (1977, 1990, 1992)

Playoffs Years: 36

Franchise Record: Wins 2,169 – Losses 1,875

Win Percentage: .536

Playoffs Record: Wins 117 – Losses 151

Playoffs Win Percentage: .437

Greatest Players: Clyde Drexler, Bill Walton, Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Maurice Lucas, Sidney Wicks, Terry Porter, Brandon Roy, Geoff Petrie, Jim Paxson

Reliable is a word that comes to mind when you think of the Portland Trail Blazers – at least in the regular season, where their win percentage is an impressive .536. Since their earliest years, Portland has recorded a sub-30-win season only three times, and they’ve rarely been out of the postseason for long, having appeared there a total of 36 times. Their win percentage while in the playoffs, however, is less impressive – .437.

Still, the Blazers have almost always been respectable, and they’ve almost always had serious firepower on their roster. Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler, Damian Lillard, and LaMarcus Aldridge may jump to the top of that list, but a slew of other great role players and temporary All-Stars have all spent seasons in Portland. The only real things keeping the Blazers down are their lack of a second title and their absence from the Finals since 1992.

13. Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder

Inaugural Year: 1967-68

Titles: 1 (1979)

NBA Finals: 4 (1978, 1979, 1996, 2012)

Playoffs Years: 32

Franchise Record: Wins 2,327 – Losses 1,961

Win Percentage: .543

Playoffs Record: Wins 164 – Losses 167

Playoffs Win Percentage: .495

Greatest Players: Kevin Durant, Gary Payton, Russell Westbrook, Spencer Haywood, Jack Sikma, Shawn Kemp, Ray Allen, Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson, Lenny Wilkins

The Oklahoma City Thunder have excelled frequently since their inception as the Seattle Supersonics in the late ‘60s. Their roster has boasted numerous Hall-of-Fame-level names, including Kevin Durant, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Ray Allen, and Russell Westbrook. They’ve claimed Conference titles four times in three different decades, and they have the NBA’s fourth-best all-time regular-season win percentage at .543.

OKC also, like Portland, hasn’t won a championship since the 1970s, despite numerous teams over the years that seemed destined to go all the way. From Seattle to Oklahoma, the franchise has often been one of the best teams playing, but very rarely the best. Their postseason record is impressive, but it still sits just under 50 percent. With another rebuild currently ongoing, it remains to be seen if this next era can bring OKC their second national title.

12. Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks

Inaugural Year: 1949-50

Titles: 1 (1958)

NBA Finals: 4 (1957, 1958, 1960, 1961)

Playoffs Years: 46

Franchise Record: Wins 2,766 – Losses 2,927

Win Percentage: .492

Playoffs Record: Wins 153 – Losses 202

Playoffs Win Percentage: .431

Greatest Players: Bob Petit, Dominique Wilkins, Dikembe Mutombo, Cliff Hagan, Lou Hudson, Dan Roundfield, Joe Johnson, Pete Maravich, Lenny Wilkins, Al Horford

The Atlanta Hawks are an “old days” franchise if ever there was one. That’s not to say they haven’t had impressive spurts in more recent times, but it’s safe to say that their best days, at least at this point, are all behind them. The early decades of the NBA were the heyday of the Hawks, led by Bob Petit to four Finals and one championship victory.

Through the 1980s, the Hawks constantly looked like they were about to reclaim that old peak. Dominique Wilkins was one of the greatest players in a stacked league, and the roster around him was solid. But in a disappointing twist of fate, Wilkins never made it past the Conference Finals.

Since then, the Hawks have been inconsistent. They thrived in the mid-2000s with stars like Al Horford and Jamal Crawford, but they also recorded abysmal seasons on either side of that era. Right now, Trae Young carries the future dreams of Atlanta fans, but the team has yet to show that it can even make it to the postseason. The Hawks’ win/loss for both the regular season and the playoffs sit in the negative.

11. Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers

Inaugural Year: 1970-71

Titles: 1 (2016)

NBA Finals: 5 (2007, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)

Playoffs Years: 22

Franchise Record: Wins 1,867 – Losses 2,168

Win Percentage: .463

Playoffs Record: Wins 125 – Losses 104

Playoffs Win Percentage: .546

Greatest Players: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Mark Price, Kevin Love, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Austin Carr, John Williams, Robert Smith

Let’s start by acknowledging that the Cavaliers were really good in the early 90s. Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty, and Hot Rod Williams were excellent, but unfortunately, they had to compete with MJ’s Bulls in the Eastern Conference. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about LeBron James.

No franchise in NBA history – not even Chicago – has been so carried by a single player as the Cleveland Cavaliers. Just look at the discrepancy in their win percentages: .463 in the regular season, compared to .546 in the playoffs – fifth-best in the league. That’s a staggering figure when you understand just how many of those postseason runs (9 of 22) were led by James. And in those nine runs, Cleveland always made it out of the first round.

It would almost be accurate to say that LeBron James is the NBA’s 11th-best active franchise. That’s the level of impact he’s had. Cleveland’s only championship and their four other Finals appearances all came with James. Did he do it all on his own? Of course not. He had Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, and Tyronn Lue. But when you look at how high Cleveland belongs on this list and realize why, it’s hard not to be amazed at what LeBron did for the franchise.

10. New York Knicks

New York Knicks

Inaugural Year: 1946-47

Titles: 2 (1970, 1973)

NBA Finals: 8 (1951, 1952, 1953, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1994, 1999)

Playoffs Years: 41

Franchise Record: Wins 2,799 – Losses 2,988

Win Percentage: .484

Playoffs Record: Wins 186 – Losses 189

Playoffs Win Percentage: .496

Greatest Players: Patrick Ewing, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Harry Gallatin, Carmelo Anthony, Richie Guerin, Bernard King, Carl Braun, Earl Monroe

For anyone who only knows the last 20 years of basketball, placing the Knicks in the top ten probably seems outrageous. But the numbers don’t lie: eight Finals appearances spanning from 1951 to 1999; two championship titles, which is more than any prior team on this list; and a regular-season win percentage that just barely dips below 50 percent through eight decades.

Unfortunately, understanding the past greatness of the Knicks only makes their 21st century doldrums more depressing. When New York fans talk about the league being better when the Knicks are good, they aren’t lying. The Reed/Frazier/DeBusschere years were stellar, and the Patrick Ewing era is arguably the greatest period for any franchise not to result in a title.

After Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant went to Brooklyn over the Knicks, many of the last New York holdouts gave up hope. But that doesn’t mean the team can’t still return to glory. Will it happen under Tom Thibodeau and RJ Barrett? It seems like a longshot, but stranger things have happened.

9. Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets

Inaugural Year: 1967-68

Titles: 2 (1994, 1995)

NBA Finals: 4 (1981, 1986, 1994, 1995)

Playoffs Years: 34

Franchise Record: Wins 2,269 – Losses 2,019

Win Percentage: .529

Playoffs Record: Wins 158 – Losses 164

Playoffs Win Percentage: .491

Greatest Players: Hakeem Olajuwon, James Harden, Moses Malone, Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, Ralph Sampson, Rudy Tomjanovich, Elvin Hayes, Calvin Murphy, Clyde Drexler

The Houston Rockets are a great basketball team, plain and simple – two national titles, four Conference titles, and a cavalcade of great players over the course of numerous eras. They’re the only team outside Chicago to claim multiple titles in the ‘90s, and they’ve hosted two MVP winners in two different decades.

Houston is 7th in the league in regular-season win percentage, and 12th in the league in playoffs win percentage. That discrepancy is a large part of what’s keeping them from rising any higher on this list. The Rockets frequently make the playoffs, but their record once there isn’t quite to the standards of many other teams in the top ten.

The other current blotch on Houston’s record is the James Harden, which, despite great seasons and great performances, has consistently failed to launch the Rockets to the NBA Finals. The way the West is looking now, it’s possible that Harden’s Rockets may be remembered similarly to Ewing’s Knicks. But that doesn’t mean the sharpshooter is done yet.

8. Miami Heat

Miami Heat

Inaugural Year: 1988-89

Titles: 3 (2006, 2012, 2013)

NBA Finals: 6 (2006, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2020)

Playoffs Years: 21

Franchise Record: Wins 1,338 – Losses 1,229

Win Percentage: .521

Playoffs Record: Wins 138 – Losses 107

Playoffs Win Percentage: .563

Greatest Players: Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Alonzo Mourning, Chris Bosh, Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Hardaway, Jimmy Butler, Glen Rice, Udonis Haslem, Rony Seikaly

These days, the Heat are about as strong a franchise as you’ll get. A lot gets tossed around about the “Heat culture” that Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra have instilled, and with good reason. In a relatively short history, Miami has cemented itself as one of the preeminent teams in the NBA.

Their .521 regular-season win percentage is impressive, but not nearly as impressive as their .563 win percentage in the playoffs – better than every other team except the Lakers. Miami has been to the Finals six times in 15 years, taking home the trophy half of those times. Their incredible success across numerous roster changes has solidified them as a phenomenal organization; a team that’s been helped by superstars like LeBron and D-Wade, but which can turn any squad into a winning squad.

Even before the Heat took their first title in 2006, they’d already had years of greatness in the Alonzo Mourning era. Now, with Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and Kendrick Nunn all playing fantastic basketball at such young ages, Miami has one of the most promising futures out of any franchise in the league.

7. Detroit Pistons

Detroit Pistons

Inaugural Year: 1948-49

Titles: 3 (1989, 1990, 2004)

NBA Finals: 7 (1955, 1956, 1988, 1989, 1990, 2004, 2005)

Playoffs Years: 42

Franchise Record: Wins 2,753 – Losses 2,927

Win Percentage: .485

Playoffs Record: Wins 188 – Losses 182

Playoffs Win Percentage: .508

Greatest Players: Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Chauncey Billups, Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, Ben Wallace, Bob Lanier, Richard Hamilton, Grant Hill, Tayshaun Prince

Just because the Pistons have struggled in the last decade doesn’t mean they aren’t still one of the NBA’s leading franchises. Their win percentages, while not bad, aren’t quite at the level of some other teams ranked at this level, but that also does not reflect the full history or pedigree of Detroit.

The Pistons were a fantastic team through the early years of the NBA, a contender in the ‘70s under Bob Lanier, and an absolute force in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. The “bad boy” era, when Chuck Daly coached an all-timer squad of Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars, and Bill Laimbeer, is one of the best for any franchise in NBA history. The Pistons made nine straight playoffs in that time, with three straight Conference titles and two straight national championships.

Then, in the 2000s, Detroit was amazing again, knocking off the juggernaut Shaq/Kobe Lakers in spectacular fashion in 2004 and remaining a top team for years after. The Pistons have had periods of lesser performance, certainly. The past ten years have made up one of the worst. But even now, it looks like Detroit could be on the upswing once again.f

6. Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers

Inaugural Year: 1949-50

Titles: 3 (1955, 1967, 1983)

NBA Finals: 9 (1950, 1954, 1955, 1967, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983, 2001)

Playoffs Years: 50

Franchise Record: Wins 2,900 – Losses 2,723

Win Percentage: .515

Playoffs Record: Wins 228 – Losses 219

Playoffs Win Percentage: .510

Greatest Players: Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain, Dolph Schayes, Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley, Hal Greer, Moses Malone, Billy Cunningham, Maurice Cheeks, Joel Embiid

Count Philadelphia by their records, and they’re excellent: three championships in three decades, five Finals appearances in five, and winning percentages in the playoffs and the regular season. Count them by their stars, and they’re even better: Dolph Schayes, Hal Greer, Wilt Chamberlain, Dr. J, Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Joel Embiid, and the list goes on and on. You can chart a course through NBA history following the stars who’ve played for the Sixers.

Unfortunately, some of that legacy feels tainted of late. “The Process” rubbed so many people wrong that Philly became massively loathed almost overnight. It hasn’t helped either that the fruits of that process, of that 10-win 2015-16 season, haven’t delivered on its promise. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are great, but they haven’t taken Philly to the Finals.

Once again, Philadelphia seems to be at a pivotal moment. Do they trade away half of the duo that was meant to bring the trophy home, or do they stay the course? The franchise’s history promises a return to true greatness in the future, but how long will fans have to wait? It may not be fair, but the cloud of the Process may continue to overshadow the Sixers until Philadelphia is a city of champions once again.

5. San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio Spurs

Inaugural Year: 1976-77

Titles: 5 (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014)

NBA Finals: 6 (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2013, 2014)

Playoffs Years: 39

Franchise Record: Wins 2,194 – Losses 1,355

Win Percentage: .618

Playoffs Record: Wins 222 – Losses 181

Playoffs Win Percentage: .551

Greatest Players: Tim Duncan, David Robinson, George Gervin, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, James Silas, Alvin Robertson, John Beasley, LaMarcus Aldridge

It’s nearly impossible to find a bad thing to say about the San Antonio Spurs. They have the highest regular-season win percentage in the NBA at a staggering .618. They’re fourth all-time in the playoffs, winning over 55 percent of their postseason games. In 44 seasons since the NBA/ABA merger, the Spurs have recorded losing seasons only seven times and missed the playoffs just five times. The Spurs have been a threat almost every year since their inception.

The Gregg Popovich/Tim Duncan years are in contention for the most impressive extended stretch for any NBA franchise. San Antonio made the playoffs 22 years in a row from 1998 to 2019, appearing in six NBA Finals and winning five of them. Other teams have had more titles in less time, but no one else has sustained such a high level of success for so long. The Spurs were a championship-caliber threat nearly every year for two decades.

It’s true though that San Antonio has never made the Finals without Tim Duncan. At a glance, that sounds similar to the Cavaliers’ history with LeBron, but the reality is quite different. Duncan was always a constant, but the cast around him rotated – David Robinson, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Kahwi Leonard, and LaMarcus Aldridge, to name a few.

Still, the relative recency of all of San Antonio’s greatest success is what keeps them from climbing any higher on this list. If the Iceman had been able to lead the Spurs to a title in the ‘80s, or even to a Finals, the conversation might be different. Unfortunately, San Antonio’s five titles aren’t enough to break the top four. And it remains to be seen if the franchise can remain a titan in a post-Pop world.

4. Golden State Warriors

Golden State Warriors

Inaugural Year: 1946-47

Titles: 6 (1947, 1956, 1975, 2015, 2017, 2018)

NBA Finals: 11 (1947, 1948, 1956, 1964, 1967, 1975, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019)

Playoffs Years: 35

Franchise Record: Wins 2,787 – Losses 2,998

Win Percentage: .482

Playoffs Record: Wins 190 – Losses 159

Playoffs Win Percentage: .544

Greatest Players: Stephen Curry, Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Klay Thompson, Paul Arizin, Kevin Durant, Chris Mullin, Draymond Green, Neil Johnston, Nate Thurmond

The Warriors have been so unbelievably good this past decade that it’s almost diminished their prior accomplishments. But make no mistake: they were a force well before Steph Curry put on a jersey, and they will likely remain one well after he’s gone. The Warriors have won six titles over a span of 70 years, and they’ve appeared in nearly twice as many NBA Finals.

However, the Warriors are also perhaps the greatest franchise with the messiest record. They had Wilt for six years but never won a title. They’ve had incredible highs, but prolonged periods have poor performance. They’ve dominated while in the playoffs, but have missed them more often than not. Despite all their trophies, they still hold a losing record in the regular season. And most recently, the Warriors blew a 3-1 Finals lead at the end of a season where they won 73 games.

The shadow of 2016 looms large over Golden State’s recent era of domination, but it doesn’t undo the five straight Finals appearances, three championships, or back-to-back MVPs for Steph Curry. The Warriors are not just the best franchise of the past six years – they are the most important and influential franchise of the modern NBA era. The Splash Brothers have changed basketball in a way that no player has since Michael Jordan. And in all likelihood, Steph and Klay are far from done.

Put next to San Antonio, the Warriors couldn’t be more different. Where the Spurs have excelled on the merits of their consistency, Golden State has excelled through incredibly high highs, interspersed with significantly lower lows. But the numbers speak for themselves – six is simply greater than five.

3. Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls

Inaugural Year: 1966-67

Titles: 6 (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998)

NBA Finals: 6 (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998)

Playoffs Years: 35

Franchise Record: Wins 2,227 – Losses 2,135

Win Percentage: .511

Playoffs Record: Wins 186 – Losses 158

Playoffs Win Percentage: .541

Greatest Players: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Derrick Rose, Bob Love, Artis Gilmore, Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier, Dennis Rodman, Joakim Noah, Chet Walker

It’s finally time to talk about Michael Jordan. The Bulls’ regular-season win percentage is .511, but from their first year with Jordan to their last year with Jordan it was .653. Their playoff record in that same time frame was .664, compared to .541 over the course of the franchise’s history.

You already know about the six Finals appearances and subsequent six championships. You know about Mike and Scottie, about Rodman and Phil Jackson. You know that for an entire decade, the legacies of numerous great teams and Hall-of-Fame players were stifled by the Chicago Bulls. It’s basketball canon.

Yes, the Warriors have almost twice as many conference titles. If one more of those had turned into a championship – if KD had three-peated or they hadn’t lost in 2016 – then the Bulls would be fourth on the list. But that’s not what happened. The Warriors, in their best era, choked one too many times. That’s something Michael Jordan simply didn’t do.

It also helps that the Bulls have been spectacular outside of MJ. The early 2010s looked like the start of a new period of domination, and it might have been two if Derrick Rose had managed to stay healthy. What we have instead is an inconsistent record since 1998. Is that more significant than the decade that came before? Absolutely not.

2. Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics

Inaugural Year: 1946-47

Titles: 17 (1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1981, 1984, 1986, 2008)

NBA Finals: 21 (1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 2008, 2010)

Playoffs Years: 58

Franchise Record: Wins 3,426 – Losses 2,370

Win Percentage: .591

Playoffs Record: Wins 381 – Losses 289

Playoffs Win Percentage: .569

Greatest Players: Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Paul Pierce, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Bill Sharman, Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn, Dave Cowens, Kevin McHale

There’s no debate over what the two greatest NBA franchises are. You knew from the start the Celtics and the Lakers would top this list. It’s almost impossible to talk about one team without talking about the other, but it’s important to separate the two to understand why one is the greatest ever, and why one is just a step behind.

Let’s start with why the Celtics are better than every other franchise save for one. They have 17 national titles and 21 Conference titles. They have the third-best win percentage in both the regular season and the playoffs. They’ve been spectacular in every era except the ‘90s, and they’ve made the postseason 58 times. And of course, the Celtics boast the most dominant period by any single franchise, claiming 11 championships in 13 seasons between 1957 and 1969.

The Celtics also claim a near-endless list of incredible players through their history, from Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, to Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, to Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. Russell’s contributions alone would be enough to catapult Boston near the top of this list. The fact the Celtics have continued delivering since the 1960s is what’s made them one of the greatest sports franchises of all time.

So why aren’t they number one? A few reasons. They hold the same number of rings as LA but are substantially lower in Finals appearances (more on that in a second). Their win percentages are worse. And, perhaps most notably, the Celtics simply haven’t been as great over the past 30 years – only one championship and two Conference titles. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a stellar organization. It just means that only one team can claim that highest spot.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers

Inaugural Year: 1948-49

Titles: 17 (1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1972, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010, 2020)

NBA Finals: 32 (1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1959, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1988, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2020)

Playoffs Years: 62

Franchise Record: Wins 3,385 – Losses 2,301

Win Percentage: .595

Playoffs Record: Wins 454 – Losses 301

Playoffs Win Percentage: .601

Greatest Players: Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, George Mikan, James Worthy, LeBron James

Here’s the number lofting LA above Boston: 32 Finals appearances compared to 21. The Lakers have made the Finals in nearly half the years they’ve been a franchise. Not just in the playoffs – in the Finals. It should be no surprise that their win percentage there is the highest in the league by a huge margin. They are the only to have won over 60 percent of their postseason games.

The Lakers are so good, it’s hard to say which era was their best, or which player. Magic and Worthy? Shaq and Kobe? Kobe and Gasol? Wilt and Jerry? Kareem? These aren’t just great players, they’re Hall-of-Famers, several of whom have cases for being the greatest of all time.

Writing about Los Angeles is writing about success. Before 2014, they’d only missed the playoffs five times. Five times, from 1949 until 2014. That’s an absolutely insane figure, and it’s a testament to the Lakers’ apparent inability to be bad.

The only time the Lakers have truly been bad were the six seasons leading up to this last one. It may seem worse because of how recent that bad patch was, but the fact that they just came back again to win their 17th championship and tie themselves with Boston is a testament to the prowess and endurance of the organization. Three years ago, there would have been an argument, but there isn’t one now – the Los Angeles Lakers are the greatest franchise in the history of the NBA.