Which NBA Franchise Is The Worst Ever?

Dec 1, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Mo Williams (25) is defended by Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes (22) at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 1, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Mo Williams (25) is defended by Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes (22) at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

This week Stat Central attempts to determine the worst NBA franchise of all time.

With a lack of NBA action during the extended All-Star break, ESPN Stats & Info took to asking trivia questions to help pass the time:

The answer is the Toronto Raptors.*  Toronto is currently 36-17, meaning it only needs to go 14-15 the rest of the way to lock up the franchise’s first-ever 50-win season.  But, the question got me wondering if the Raptors are the worst squad in league history.  And if it’s not them, who is it?

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Since this is Stat Central, I’m viewing this strictly from a numbers perspective.  Things like terrible trades, horrible draft picks and bad ownership do not come into play.  Also, for the purposes of this analysis only clubs that are currently in existence are eligible to qualify (sorry, Sheboygan Red Skins).

Right off the bat I’m ruling out every team that has won a title–you’re obviously not the worst franchise ever if you’re a previous champion.

Of the 30 franchises in the league, 13 have never won it all: In alphabetical order, the Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz.

Of those 13, seven have failed to even reach the NBA Finals: The Hornets, Nuggets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Pelicans and Raptors.  It’s safe to say the league’s worst-ever franchise is one of these seven.

Going back to 1968 and their ABA days, the Nuggets actually have an all-time record of 1,933-1,932, one game over .500.  That’s good enough to eliminate them from the conversation.

The Hornets and Pelicans represent a confusing situation.  The original Charlotte Hornets are now the Pelicans.  Between 1989-2002, Charlotte went 542-574.  From 2003-15 New Orleans is 480-541.  Combined, the Pelicans franchise is 1,022-1,115, a winning percentage of .478.  It’s certainly not good, but it’s also nowhere near the bottom.

The current Hornets are formerly the Bobcats, and have only been in existence since 2005.  Between 20-14 the Bobcats went 293-511.  Throw in their 22-30 record as the Hornets this season and Charlotte is 315-541 in its history.  That .368 winning percentage definitely makes the Bobcats/Hornets a contender for worst franchise ever.

Here’s how the rest of the candidates stack up (with first season in parentheses):

Clippers (1970) 1395-2219, .386

Grizzlies (1995) 636-927, .407

Timberwolves (1989) 813-1242, .396

Raptors (1995) 665-898, .425

In addition to the .425 winning percentage, this year will mark Toronto’s seventh postseason appearance in 20 seasons, giving them a playoff rate of 35 percent.   Come April, Memphis will likely make its eighth trip to the postseason in 20 years, a 40-percent success rate.  That’s enough to take each of those clubs out of the running.

Minnesota has eight playoff appearances in 26 years, 31 percent.  The Clippers are on track to make their 11th playoffs in 45 seasons, just 24 percent.  And finally, Charlotte made the postseason twice in 10 years (20 percent), but is on the bubble this season.

The Bobcats/Hornets have never won a playoff series.  In fact, the franchise has yet to even win a single postseason game, getting swept 4-0 in each of its two appearance.  Statistically speaking, Charlotte has had the least amount of success of any NBA club.  But, it also has the smallest sample size.

By comparison, Minnesota has zero playoff appearances since Charlotte even joined the league.  The Timberwolves have won just two postseason series in their history (both in 2003-04), an average of one every 13 years.  The Clippers have won four series in 44 years (not counting this season), an average of one victory every 11 seasons.  Two of those happened in the last three years.

Verdict: Charlotte is too new a team, and the Clippers recent success is just enough to get them out of the cellar.  Congratulations Minnesota Timberwolves, you’re the worst NBA franchise of all-time.

*The new Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets have never had a 50-win season either, but the NBA officially gave them the history of the original Hornets in the record books.  I chose not to honor this altered reality.

Next: NBA's most unlikely 50-point games in the last 20 years

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