Tag Archives: Seattle Supersonics

The Best NBA Teams TO NOT Win a Title

 

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Shaq and Penny were supposed to be the 1990’s version of Kareem and Magic.

The 1994-1996 Orlando Magic were one of most popular teams in NBA history in the last 35 years. As they are immortalized in the most recent ESPN 30 for 30, which was an excellent time capsule of my favorite team from my childhood.

It’s hard to believe this team led by Shaq and Penny didn’t stick together and win several Larry O’Brien trophies. As Shaq said in the film, they were Shaq and Kobe, before Shaq and Kobe. At the time in the mid-90s, they were often affectionately called the new version of Magic and Kareem.

IMG_3879As I’m watching the film, I can’t help but think of other great teams that didn’t win a title. In addition to the Magic of the 90’s, here are my best teams of the last 35 NBA seasons to not win a title.

The 1992-1995 Charles Barkley led Phoenix Suns. In 1992-1993, his first season in the desert, “Sir Charles”, Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle won a league high 62 games and Barkley took home league MVP over Michael Jordan. The Suns lost in a tough 6-game series to the Chicago Bulls—a theme that will be repeated a couple times on this list—in the NBA Finals that included an epic three-overtime game 3 victory. That would be the closest this group would come to a championship.

In 1993-94 and 1994-95, after winning 56 and 59 games respectively, the Suns would lose in the Western Conference Semifinals to eventual Champions the Houston Rockets and NBA MVP Hakeem Olajuwon, after leading both series 3-1.

The 1996-1999 Stockton to Malone Utah Jazz made back-to-back NBA Finals in 97 and 98 before losing to…. Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in 6-games. Those teams won 64 and 62 games, respectively. Like Barkley in 1993, Malone took home the NBA MVP over Jordan in 1997, a loss MJ took personal since he had just led the Bulls to a 69-13 regular season. With Jordan retired, the Jazz were the overwhelming favorites to win the championship in the 1999 Lockout Shortened season following their two Finals losses. Utah won 37 of 50 games that season, but went out in the Western Conference Semifinals 2-4 to a Portland Trailblazers team that lost to the eventual NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

The 1985-86 twin towers of Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olajuwon led Houston Rockets. No one can blame this team for losing in the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics in 6-games (2-4). The original Celtics Big 3 of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish are arguably one of the greatest teams of all-time. The hold the record for home wins in a season at 40-1, and won a league high 67 wins that year.

The Rockets won 51-games this season and knocked off the defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s in 5-games (4-1).

Following the 85-86 season, Houston would take several steps back. In 86-87, they won 42 games and lost in the Western Conference Semifinals 2-4 to the lowered seeded Seattle Supersonics, followed by four consecutive 1st round series losses. Ralph Sampson’s promising career was derailed by injuries, and “The Dream” had to change his name to Hakeem to get his two rings (’94 & ’95) and 1994 NBA MVP. I’m joking.

For you young fans, the father of rising Minnesota Timberwolves superstar Andrew Wiggins, Mitchell, was a key reserve on this team.

The 1993-1994 Shawn Kemp-Gary Payton led Seattle Supersonics won a league best 63 games, and were primed to take over the title left by Michael Jordan’s first retirement to play baseball. Instead, the Sonics became the first number one seed to lose to an eighth seed in the playoffs 2-3 back when the first round was a best of five series.

The Sonics would bounce back and finally make the NBA Finals in 1996, but ran into a rejuvenated Jordan and the 72-10 Bulls. After going down 3-0, Seattle rallied back to lose in 6-games. They followed their Finals appearance with back-to-back Western Conference Semifinals loses after winning 57 and 61 games respectively, even after trading Shawn Kemp away to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1997 offseason. They would miss the playoffs in the 1999 season, and the closest they’ve come to a title since, was the 2011-2012 Oklahoma City Thunder who lost to the Miami Heat 1-4.

The 1990’s Patrick Ewing led New York Knicks’ chances began and ended with the start, and emergence of two of the greatest dynasties the Association has ever seen. Like a few others on this list, that guy Michael Jordan and his Bulls—told you there was a theme—curtailed any chances of them winning a title by beating them in 4 grueling, physical series in the decade (’91 1st. round 0-3, ’92 Semifinals 3-4, ’93 Conference Finals 3-4, ’96 Semifinals 1-4).

When 23 in red and black retired in 1993, many assumed Ewing would lead them to New York’s first title since 1973. While they finally made it to the Finals, they would go on to lose to Olajuwon’s Rockets in seven games (3-4) for their first of two ‘chips.

Then MJ returned, and knocked them out again. In 1999 during the Lockout shortened season, with an injured Ewing sitting out, Latrell Sprewell, Larry Johnson and Alan Houston led Knicks became the first ever 8th seed to make the Finals where they ran into Tim Duncan and David Robinson’s San Antonio Spurs and lost 1-4. New York hasn’t made it past the Conference Semifinals since ’12-13.

The Jason Kidd led New Jersey Nets of the early 2000s. Kidd came over from Phoenix in a 2001 offseason trade for Stephon Marbury and immediately transformed the lowly Nets from a 26 win lottery bound team into title contenders. New Jersey boosted their win total to 52 games and took home the Atlantic Division title. But like their tri-state area companion Knicks, they ran into two dynasties.

Their first Finals appearance was a 4 game sweep at the hands of the Shaq-Kobe Los Angeles Lakers on their way to their third consecutive championship. The following season, the Nets made it back to the Finals after winning 49 games in the regular season, but ran into Tim Duncan, David Robinson and the Spurs. San Antonio beat the Nets in 6-games (2-4) on their way to their 2nd Championship, they would go on to win 5 total. The Nets returned to the Conference Semifinals where they faced a Detroit Pistons team they knocked off twice on their way to Eastern Conference titles. The Piston went on to win the championship that season, the Nets haven’t made past the conference semifinals since.

The 2009 LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers. LBJ miraculously led the 2007 Cavs to the NBA Finals after beating a Detroit Pistons team that had appeared in seven consecutive Eastern Conference finals, winning a title, and 2 Eastern Conference Championships along the way.

The ’09 Cavaliers won a league high 66 games, LeBron won the first of his four NBA MVP’s in a landslide, and appeared headed towards a highly anticipated matchup between James and Kobe Bryant in the Finals. Cleveland swept the first two rounds of the playoffs, But the Orlando Magic led by Dwight Howard, fresh off their 7-game series victory over the Kevin Garnett-less defending Champion Boston Celtics, dominated Cleveland and won the series in 6-games (2-4). The following season the Cavs won 61 games and LeBron another MVP, but they lost in the conference semifinals to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics.

In the offseason following that loss, James made his “Decision” to go to South Beach and the Cavs suffered through four losing seasons where they won as little as 19 games and as many as 33, before James returned and took them back to the Finals in his first season back in “The Land”, finishing with a 6-game series loss to the Golden State Warriors.

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NBA Expansion: Reservations for Seattle Plus One

It’s no secret the NBA wants to bring a franchise back to Seattle. It’s been in discussion since Oklahoma City owner Clay Bennett lifted the Sonics from the great Northwest in 2008 and successfully made them a staple in the Heartland. Former commissioner David Stern said he wished he would’ve accomplished it before leaving his post this past February and current commissioner Adam Silver says it’s on the top of his agenda to happen within his first five years at the helm.

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Sonics fans are itching for the NBA to return.

So, assuming Seattle is a no brainer to be the home of thirty first organization, you would think the league would be looking at adding a thirty second to keep the landscape in each conference equal, a la the NFL with its sixteen teams each in the AFC and NFC.

There have been rumors of Louisville, Kentucky, but in my honest opinion I don’t think a city that’s rich in College Hoops tradition would be a prime locale for the NBA. I’d also scratch Lexington, Kentucky and Storrs, Connecticut as well. So, here is my list of cities that could potentially become home for an Eastern Conference team. Like Seattle, three of them have deep NBA roots.

1.) St. Louis, Mo
TV DMA Market#21

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The “Lou” is a great sports town with NBA roots.

PRO: Once was home to the Atlanta Hawks for thirteen seasons (1955-1968), it’s where they won the franchises’ only League Championship and four Conference titles. The “Lou” is a great, proud sports city that already supports three teams in the four major sports (Cardinals, Rams, Blues). Two of them have won championships in the last fifteen years—Rams in 1999 and the Cardinals in 2006 & 2011. The city has also done well in hosting the NCAA Final Four (2005) and several other rounds within the NCAA tournament. And, if the Rams do get their wish and the NFL allows them to relocate to Los Angeles, the financial support will be there from the void left.

St. Louis is twenty first on the TV DMA Market list. Only Seattle (Market 13), Tampa (Market 14)—Orlando is technically their team—are higher markets without a franchise.

A St. Louis team could compete in the Central or Southeast division of the Eastern Conference.

CON: The Scottrade Center where the Blues plays its games will be twenty years old this fall and has not been renovated into the state of the art arena the NBA desires their franchises to have. Arena quality has been cited as reason why the Sonics were moved from Seattle and building a new one was at the center of the Sacramento Kings potential move the last couple of seasons. Another potential con would be, if St. Louis fans would support another winter sports team. Hockey is a big draw in St. Louis and could make it too competitive for an NBA team to be successful.

2.) Columbus, Oh
TV DMA Market #32
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Columbus’ downtown area has thrived since opening Nationwide arena, which would benefit the NBA.

PRO: Columbus is a die hard sports city and the largest in the “Buckeye State.” City leaders and fans have actively and publicly attempted to get on the NBA radar by sending letters to Commissioner David Stern during his tenure and receiving a reply. There was also a website created to state the city’s case.

Although it’s a football first town, fans have successfully supported expansion NHL (Bluejackets, 2000) and MLS (Crew,1996) Franchises. There is also already a state of the art arena in place that is only fifteen years old and seats 19,500 for a basketball game. Nationwide Arena has hosted a handful of Buckeye basketball games and first and second round NCAA tournament games. It’s also located in an expanding vibrant entertainment district.

Columbus is thirty second on the TV DMA Market list. Even though it’s low, it’s still higher than Oklahoma City which is forty first and has done very well, especially for a city that was once thought of as a college town because of its close proximity to the University of Oklahoma in nearby Norman.

While Columbus has supported the NHL well during the winter months, hockey still hasn’t become too dominate in the area that an NBA team would struggle to draw fan support. Now that the novelty of having a major pro sports franchise in town has worn off, attendance has dropped from an average of over 18,000 to 14,500 since the Bluejackets inaugural season in 2000-2001.

A Columbus franchise could compete in the Central division with the Cavs, Bulls, Pacers and Bucks.

CON: While Cleveland is a two hour drive away, pro hoop fans in the 614 are lifers when it comes to the Cavs. “Buckeye City” is known as a College town, several minor league pro basketball teams haven’t had much success there. Fans also didn’t turn out when the Cavs hosted training camp and preseason games in the city even when they had LeBron James in his first run with the organization.

3.) Pittsburgh, Pa
TV DMA Market #23

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The “Steel City” has die hard sports fans that support their teams, but would the NBA be one too many?

PRO: The Burgh has a very supportive fan base for their three major pro sports franchises, including lean years, see the Pirates from 1992-2013. The $321 million Consol Energy Arena where the Penguins play is only four years old and is just the type of facility the NBA pushes for their teams to have.

Much like St. Louis, the Burgh is in a top twenty five market, that means big revenue dollars to the league. Don’t think market size won’t play a factor in the decision of where an expansion franchise is placed.

One thing we know for sure is that the uniform color scheme will include black and gold, just like the other pro teams in town. The Pittsburgh franchise could compete in the Central division of the Eastern Conference.

CON: During the winter months hockey dominates in the Steel City. It possibly would be too much for a Pro Basketball team to overcome to have success and be a big draw. To make matters worse, the city doesn’t seem to really support their top college hoops program, the Pitt Panthers.

4.) Baltimore, Md
TV DMA Market #27

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Baltimore has deep basketball roots and was a longtime home of the Bullets, now Wizards franchise.

PRO: Was once home to the Washington Bullets, and currently home of two of the four major sports (Ravens and Orioles). This is a major basketball scene. Several of the top talent on the pro and college level have come from “Charm City.”

It’s very close to Washinton D.C. but, anyone who lives in this area will tell you these city aren’t really that close. Many estimates have the drive at an hour and ten minutes in relatively light traffic. Plus, New York and L.A. both have two teams, and while they are the number one and two markets in America, the DC area is eight and Baltimore is twenty seventh. As I’ve written already, DMA market size is a plus for this area when it comes to revenue. I think they can sustain two franchises within a forty one mile distance. It could also create a much needed rivalry. The NBA could use the model the NFL has with the Ravens and Redskins.

This team could compete in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference.

CON: The one major arena—Baltimore Arena—has been opened since 1961 and as recently as 2008 was considered to have outlived its shelf life. Like a couple of the cities on this list, the lack of a state of the art arena will not be appealing to commissioner Silver and his advisors. However, the city and it’s leaders are in talks about constructing a new arena which they hope will attract a pro basketball franchise or other leagues such as Arena Football and the NHL. Discussions have put the new arena at a cost of $300 million and that would definitely be of interest to the NBA.

5.) Kansas City, Mo
TV DMA Market #31

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The Sprint Center is the crown jewel of Kansas City.

PRO: Once home to Kings franchise for thirteen seasons from 1972-1985, it was the last stop before moving to Sacramento. Kansas City doesn’t have the NHL for the NBA to compete against. Unlike half the cities on this list, they have a state of the art arena. The $276 million dollar Sprint Center opened in 2007 and can seat 18,972 for basketball games.

A Kansas City franchise could compete in the Central or Southeast division of the Eastern Conference.

CON: Does Kansas City want pro basketball? Like St. Louis they had a franchise and have never made a huge case to get another. The city was rumored to be in the hunt for the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans and Sacramento Kings when both considered relocation before settling their issues. Many have questioned if there’s a fan base for Pro basketball. Kansas City strongly supports it’s Chiefs during the fall and the Royals during spring and summer. It be nice to see this great sports city show off for a winter sport like basketball.

6.) Nashville, Tn
TV DMA Market #29

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“Music City” could play the right tune for Commissioner Silver.

PRO: The “Music City” successfully supported the Houston Oilers when they moved into town in 1997, even securing a new stadium for the team in 1999 which is still the now Tennessee Titans’ home. The city has also been home to NHL’s Nashville Predators since their inaugural season in 1997-1998. Nashville was rumored to be in the hunt to draw an NBA Franchise before being awarded the Predators.

The Bridgestone Arena, the main venue in town where the Predators play, opened in 1996 and seats 19,395 for basketball. It has played host to the SEC Men’s basketball tournament and several Men’s NCAA Tournament sessions as well as the 2014 Women’s NCAA Final Four. The arena has undergone several million dollars worth of renovations as recently as 2007, which should be appealing to NBA brass.

The Nashville franchise could compete in the Southeast division of the Eastern Conference.

CON: Unlike with Columbus and the Bluejackets, the NHL has already gained a seventeen year grip on the city. The Predators are very popular and the NBA may not want to take on that challenge, much like in Pittsburgh and St. Louis on this list.

So what are some other cities you think would be a great landing spot for a thirty second NBA franchise?