The WOATs: The 5 All-Time Worst Franchises in Basketball

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By Justin Rivers Summer Staff Writer

Oftentimes when someone says your team sucks, it is in jest. This is not one of those situations. This is a list compiled solely based on data, leaving my personal biases on the bench. If a team managed to crack this list – especially if they are your team – then you ought to write a letter to management and question your allegiance as soon as humanly possible, because this ranking is dedicated to the worst of the worst.

Regarding my methodology, I only looked at a franchise’s history in the NBA, so no ABA stats or titles will save a given team. I also took into account statistics leading up to the suspension of the NBA season this past March. I then carefully analyzed the data on all 30 NBA franchises across the following five categories:

  1. All-Time Win-Loss Percentage: This one is obvious. As the great Herm Edwards ranted in 2002, “YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!” Therefore, how could we not look at how well a franchise has fared at accruing wins during its existence. Here, I looked at percentages to avoid rewarding some franchises for having more overall victories simply because they are older. 
  2. Seasons Per All-Star Selection: Generally, great teams – even good ones – have an All-Star or two on the team. Nowadays, a great team may have three or four – like the Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green Warriors. While All-Star selections are subjective awards and are not directly correlated with team success, it is still a useful statistic nonetheless. In the history of the NBA, no team has ever won a NBA Championship sans an All-Star on the roster. Given that the All-Star Game did not begin until 1951, and there was not an All-Star Game in 1999 due to the lockout, the only exceptions to this are the 1950 Minneapolis Lakers and the 1999 San Antonio Spurs. Therefore, it is worth dedicating a category to.
  3. Seasons Per Playoff Appearance: Successful teams make the playoffs. It is as simple as that. So, how many seasons must a team play until it makes the playoffs and thus escape the lottery? 
  4. Seasons Per Finals Appearance: Winning in the playoffs is impressive and an indicator of a team being good. While everyone cannot be a NBA Champion, being a Conference Champion is no small feat – just not good enough; however, for the sake of this list, the trophy and banner a team gets for winning the conference counts.
  5. Seasons Per Championship: C’mon! Rings obviously matter.

Once these were compiled, each franchise was given a z-score in each category, because simply ranking them would not account for how dominant or how abysmal one franchise is in a certain category. Therefore, by using z-scores, the data captures how far above or how far below a given team is from the league average. Furthermore, due to the importance of the postseason and the manner with which postseason success and championships are defining characteristics of successful franchises, I weighted “Seasons Per Playoff Appearance,” “Seasons Per Finals Appearance,” and “Seasons Per Championship” by 1.25, 1.5, and 2 respectively. After summing each franchise’s z-scores taking into account the weights of each category, each franchise was then ranked accordingly.

The following graph illustrates this overall ranking across all 30 franchises:

The five franchises that ranked the worst constitute the following ranking. Below, you will find each franchise’s statistical value in the aforementioned categories, as well as how they ranked compared to the other 29 NBA franchises in parentheses.

PHEW! Now that you know the method to my madness, let’s see who makes the WOAT list…..

5.) The New Orleans Pelicans (2002-03 to Present)

Source: B/R.com
  • Weighted Summed Z-Score: -5.782 (26th)
  • All-Time Win-Loss Percentage: 0.438 (22nd)
  • Seasons Per All-Star Selection: 1.059 (17th)
  • Seasons Per Playoff Appearance: 2.571 (27th)
  • Seasons Per Finals Appearance: N/A
  • Seasons Per Championship: N/A

It ain’t easy in the Big Easy. In the Pelicans’ defense, the franchise has not long existed – not even two decades. So, they haven’t had as many cracks at the apple. In their 18-season franchise history, they’ve managed to make the playoffs seven times, making it out of the first round twice. Plus, only five of their eighteen seasons were played without an All-Star selection. In my aforementioned categories, the Pelicans ranked 22nd in All-Time Win-Loss Percentage, 17th in Seasons Per All-Star Selection, and 27th in Seasons Per Playoff Appearance. Since they’ve never made it past the Western Conference Semifinals, they didn’t register in both the Seasons Per Finals Appearance and Seasons Per NBA Championship categories. In their brief history, they’ve only ever made it to the Western Conference Semifinals twice. Aside from the aforementioned statistics, what else could have contributed to their placement on this list? Maybe the fact that, to their glowing detriment, they have difficulty retaining any of the top-tier talent that they draft. 

Chris Paul, whom they drafted fourth overall in the 2005 NBA Draft and is the franchise leader in assists, steals, and win shares, and sure-fire future Hall of Famer, was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2011 from the then league-owned New Orleans Hornets (Oh, yeah! They have since changed their name and rebranded). In return for Paul, the Hornets received two future second-round picks, guard Eric Gordon, center Chris Kaman, forward Al-Farouq Aminu, and a 2012 first-round pick via Minnesota, which turned into Austin Rivers. None of these players are still on New Orleans’ roster. Given Paul’s status at the time as a primetime, All-Star talent, this was nowhere near a worthwhile enough trade for a superstar and quintessential floor general. 

In the offseason following the Paul trade, New Orleans selected Anthony Davis first overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. After his 7-year career with the franchise (because, yes, he was traded too), he registered as the franchise leader in points, field goals, blocks, and rebounds. Personally, I find it slightly disconcerting that an injury-riddled 27-year-old power forward can be a franchise’s leader in this many categories. Nevertheless, he was traded during the 2019 offseason to the Lakers for Brandon Ingram, a former number two overall pick coming off blood clots; Lonzo Ball, the overhyped former number two overall pick, who was appearing to be more of a draft bust than a hit; Josh Hart, a serviceable 3-point marksman, and three first-round picks – including the Lakers 2019 pick, which after another trade with the Hawks turned into the eighth overall pick, Jaxson Hayes.

To their credit, Ingram was a 2020 NBA All-Star, and, while the number of postseason berths and lack of playoff success did not bode well for the Pelicans in the data and my final standings, the franchise has always possessed some semblance of star power, and that has led it to a respectable number of victories. They do however still sport a closer to .400 winning percentage than .500. Between Jamal Mashburn, Jamaal Magloire, Baron Davis, Chris Paul, David West, Anthony Davis, briefly Demarcus Cousins, and now Brandon Ingram, the franchise has had near-constant representation at the All-Star festivities, but, as I previously mentioned, an All-Star player here and there is not directly correlated with overall team success. Therefore, although their 1.059 Seasons Per All-Star Selection places them 17th in the league in this statistic, it is not something to immediately phone home about. Nowadays, with ample draft capital, David Griffin at the helm, and the sky-walking big man Zion Williamson on the roster,  the team seemingly has the means to dig itself out of the 5-spot on my list. 

4.) The Los Angeles Clippers (1970-71 to Present)

Source: B/R.com
  • Weighted Summed Z-Score: -5.861 (27th)
  • All-Time Win-Loss Percentage: 0.410 (29th)
  • Seasons Per All-Star Selection: 1.724 (27th)
  • Seasons Per Playoff Appearance: 3.571 (30th)
  • Seasons Per Finals Appearance: N/A
  • Seasons Per Championship: N/A

For starters, I find it comically sad that Chris Paul spent his best years as a member of some of the worst franchises in the history of the league; nevertheless, here at the 4-spot on my list of WOATs, I have the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers franchise is notoriously known for their putridity; as such, it only makes sense that they occupy a spot on the list. Regarding the three categories in which they registered – since they have neither a NBA Finals appearance nor a NBA Championship to their name, they ranked last in Seasons Per Playoff Appearance, next to last in all-time winning percentage, and 27th in Seasons Per All-Star Selection. The Timberwolves are the only team with a worse franchise winning percentage. 

In their 50-year history, they’ve made the playoffs only fourteen times and sport a well below .500 record. They have never been to the NBA Finals – let alone sniffed the Conference Finals. Actually, they came close to the Conference Finals once, but they inevitably blew a 3-1 series lead against the Houston Rockets in the 2015 Conference Semifinals. I swear it was as if they did not want to see themselves be great. As sad as it is, they have only ever escaped the first round of the playoff four times.

Back in ancient times, when the Clippers were the Buffalo Braves and featured Bob McAdoo, they made the playoffs three times in eight seasons. Moving to warmer weather did not help much, as they missed the playoffs in all six seasons as the San Diego Clippers. They finished half those seasons dead last in their division, and the other half they finished second to last. To add insult to injury, as the Los Angeles Clippers, they needed to have their owner forcibly removed from the league, too. Moreover, it certainly cannot help living in the shadow of the 16x NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers, one of the best all-time teams in the league, as their extremely unsuccessful and often-times hopeless little brother. 

To their credit, they have recently looked very promising, under new ownership and with the acquisitions of 2x Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and All-Star forward Paul George. Truth be told, I would have bet money on them finally making the Western Conference Finals for the first time this season. They had a great chance of making it all the way to the Finals, too. Now, onto the worst-3!

3.) The Charlotte Hornets (1988-89 to Present)

Source: B/R.com
  • Weighted Summed Z-Score: -6.124 (28th)
  • All-Time Win-Loss Percentage: 0.438 (26th)
  • Seasons Per All-Star Selection: 2.308 (29th)
  • Seasons Per Playoff Appearance: 3 (28th)
  • Seasons Per Finals Appearance: N/A
  • Seasons Per Championship: N/A

C’mon! Do you really blame Kemba Walker for leaving Charlotte? For a team that, for most of its recent history, has been owned by the GOAT, “His Airness,” Michael Jordan, this team has entrenched itself amongst the WOATs – third worst in fact! While holding down the 3-spot on my WOAT ranking, the Charlotte Hornets ranked 26th, second to last, and 28th in the following three categories respectively: all-time winning percentage, Seasons Per All-Star Selection, and Seasons Per Playoff Appearance. While the Hornets are a beloved team, their glory years were during the ‘90s with exciting teams, featuring Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues, and Dell Curry; however, these teams were good, not great, and – sadly – that’s the best it’s been in the Queen City. 

In their 30-season history, they have only made the playoffs ten times; they’ve won only four postseason series; plus, the franchise has neither made a trip to the Conference Finals nor the NBA Finals. Their best player in franchise history as far as win shares and value over replacement is Kemba Walker, and, to his credit, he is a 4x All-Star and a good player; however, for a franchise to be a great franchise, you need better than Kemba Walker as a franchise leader in win shares and value over replacement. 

The Hornets’ 13 franchise All-Star selections trail the Pelicans’ 17 selections, and the Pelicans franchise has been around 12 less seasons. The 2011-12 then Charlotte Bobcats finished the lockout season with a 7-59 record. This equated to a .106 winning percentage, the worst in league history. Remembering that this team is owned by the GOAT only makes it worse, and do not get me started on the amount of absolutely dreadful contracts on their books, especially that of Nicolas Batum, who they signed thinking it was a smart move. Ugh! Next!

2.) The Memphis Grizzlies (1995-96 to Present)

Source: B/R.com
  • Weighted Summed Z-Score: -6.748 (29th)
  • All-Time Win-Loss Percentage: 0.415 (28th)
  • Seasons Per All-Star Selection: 4.167 (30th)
  • Seasons Per Playoff Appearance: 2.5 (26th)
  • Seasons Per Finals Appearance: N/A
  • Seasons Per Championships: N/A

Speaking of deplorable and atrocious contracts handed out by a seemingly moribund franchise, the Memphis Grizzlies, the second worst WOAT on my list, inked Chandler Parsons to a four year, $94.5 million contract in 2016. Coming off of two seasons in Dallas that were cut short due to knee surgeries, which should have been a red flag to Grizzlies brass, the Grizzlies signed him to the aforementioned contract. During his three seasons in Memphis, the injury-riddled forward averaged a measly 7.2 PPG and 2.6 RPG on 39.1% shooting from the field. Does that sound like a $23.6 million/year player? NO! But, that is the Grizzlies – a franchise that ranks 28th in all-time winning percentage, 26th in Seasons Per Playoff Appearance, and dead stinking last in Seasons Per All-Star Selection. 

The Grizzlies, then the Vancouver Grizzlies, were introduced into the NBA prior to the 1995-96 season, eventually relocating to Memphis, Tennessee, after six seasons in the Great White North. Their relocation probably had something to do with their .216 winning percentage, while in Vancouver. (Honestly, they looked more akin to the Bad News Bears than a pro-basketball team.) However, to their credit, they currently sport a .415 winning percentage.

The franchise has experienced some success in Memphis, accruing six All-Star selections and ten playoff appearances in their nineteen seasons there. Their grit-and-grind era run of seven straight playoff berths, behind Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Zach Randolph, is what saves the franchise from the bottom-of-the-barrel spot on the list. It is only now, with high-flying rookie Ja Morant as the lead guy in a young core that includes the likes of Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, and Brandon Clarke, that the Grizzlies appear to have a promising future on their hands.

1.) Minnesota Timberwolves (1989-90 to Present)

Source: B/R.com
  • Weighted Summed Z-Score: -6.843 (30th)
  • All-Time Win-Loss Percentage: 0.396 (30th)
  • Seasons Per All-Star Selection: 1.632 (26th)
  • Seasons Per Playoff Appearance: 3.444 (29th)
  • Seasons Per Finals Appearance: N/A
  • Seasons Per Championship: N/A

Albeit the Minnesota Timberwolves may not be the first team to come to mind when someone thinks “the worst franchise in the history of basketball,” but, over the years, they have routinely been champions of failure. In their 31-season history, they’ve only made the playoffs a grand total of nine times and once since 2003-04. They are the sole owners of the worst all-time winning percentage in league history, .396. Moreover, they ranked second to last in Seasons Per Playoff Appearance and 26th in Seasons Per All-Star Selection. While they have nineteen total All-Star selections to their name, three players are responsible for 15 of them and are the only ones to have been selected to the All-Star game on more than one occasion for the franchise.

They have made questionable draft choices, such as picking Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn over future All-Stars and/or All-NBA players, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, and Jeff Teague. Plus, they traded Kevin Love, their only All-Star since Kevin Garnett and only one until Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler in 2017-18, to Cleveland for two questionable former number one overall picks in Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett (who frankly is probably in contention for being the WOAT in regards to number one overall picks).

While the Timberwolves made the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons between 1997 and 2004, they only made it out of the first round once – getting eliminated in their sole trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2004. Since then, they have made the playoffs once, and they have only ended the regular season with a winning record twice. Yes, twice! In over a decade! Regardless, in a league where more than half the teams make the playoffs, nine trips in 31 seasons illustrates a damning level of ineptitude. Thus, the Minnesota Timberwolves are in fact the all-time worst franchise in basketball. 

In case you missed it, here is how all 30 NBA franchises stacked up in the ranking. One represents the best team, and 30 represents the worst. Check out how your squad fared!

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