5 seasons and counting, that is the longest current NBA playoff drought, with three teams sharing this unwanted achievement. The Charlotte Bobcats, who have been around for only five years so we’ll give them an opportunity to get there first. The other two – The New York Knicks, trying to rebuild after the scorched earth left there by Isiah Thomas and get enough cap space for the 2010 free agant sweepstakes including Lebron James and Wade, and the Minnesota Timberwolves, five years from losing in the Western Finals to the Lakers and trying to reach it’s first playoff game without Kevin Garnett.
Flashback to 2004 – Minnesota finished the 2003-2004 season with the best record in the Western Conference, 58-24. Kevin Garnett wins his first (and only to date) MVP award, averaging 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds and 5 assists. He had Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell as side-kicks, combining for almost 37 points a game together. The Wolves finally made it past the first round of the NBA playoffs, after seven straight unsuccessful attempts in the playoffs and for the first time in franchise history.
Minnesota made it to the Conference Finals, but lost the the Los Angeles Lakers in six games, with Cassell missing a lot of minutes due to an injury that hurt the team badly. But things were looking good, with one of the best players in the league in his prime and a very solid group around him. That was probably the last time Minnesota fans finished a season with a good feeling about it.
Ever since then, with most blaming Kevin McHale who is no longer with the team, the Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs once. In 2005 the team finished 44-38, but seemed to be torn apart by the players personal issues, especially Sprewell and Cassell. It was the first time the team didn’t make the playoffs since 1996. Cassell and Sprewell left the team, but things didn’t improve for Garnett and the Timberwolves, who finished the 2005-2006 season with a 33-49 record despite all the trading done in order to fix the problems and it seemed things just got worst.
In the 2006 draft Minnesota selected Brandon Roy who won rookie of the year in 2006-2007, but for a different team. Roy was traded for Randy Foye, and has been starring for the Portland TrailBlazers ever since. Minnesota finished another out of the playoffs, with a 32-50 record. Kevin Garnett finally wanted out, and the rest is known. Minny traded Garnett to the Boston Celtics for Al Jeffereson and four other players, and Garnett went on to win the 2008 title with the Celtics. Minnesota? They won 22 games in 2007-2008.
2008-2009 went a little better ,with Al Jefferson developing into quite a force in the paint, but the team lacked depth, and when Jefferson went down with a season ending injury the team went 7-25 till the end, finished the seasons with a 24-58 record.
In the off season Kevin McHale left the team after his tenure as coach and GM with David Kahn becoming the man to run the show at Minnesota. They traded Foye to Washington, and picked Jonny Flynn, Ricky Rubio and Wayne Ellington in the Draft’s first round.
Minnesota have a young squad with a lot of potential, and it seems that with the latest draft have become very deep, especially in the back court and with Jefferson and Kevin Love in the front court have a nice starting five to play with, but it seems that the team is still lacking in depth and another solid offensive threat alongside Jefferson to become a real playoff contender. I don’t think they’ll make it in 2010, but they’ll be close. I guarantee a playoff birth in 2011.
New York Knicks
Like Minnesota, the Knicks haven’t made the playoffs since 2004 – the Lenny Wilkens coached Knicks were swept in the first round by the New Jersey Nets. Unlike the Timberwolves, it wasn’t a periodical peak for the Knicks, but more like singular burst of relative success. The Knicks reached the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999, but that was the end of the successful 90′s for the Knicks. They didn’t win a title with Patrick Ewing, but they were a dominant force in the Eastern conference and always a threat to go all the way. If there was no Michael Jordan and Olajuwon, they would probably have won a title or two.
The story of Knicks in the past 5-6 seasons narrows down to one name – Isiah Thomas. The Hall of fame point guard became the teams president in December 2003, and under his tenure replaced Don Chaney with Lenny Wilkens as the Knicks’ head coach and brought on Stephon Marbury. His presence with the team was positive at first, helping the team reach the playoffs, but like Thomas, his star faded quickly and painfully. 2004-2005 didn’t go very well for the Knicks, who finished the season 33-49, missing the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. Here began all the trouble.
Isiah Thomas started trading, trading a lot. And trading bad. In his tenure as GM and also coach after 2006, Thomas traded for Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Jamal Crawford, Jalen Rose, Steve Francis and Malik Rose, creating a payroll of over 130 million dollars, the highest in the NBA by far.
Larry Brown’s coaching season in 2005-2006 turned out to be disastrous, with his Stephon Marbury relationship turning horribly bad from the start, a symbol of failure for that entire season, as the Knicks went on to finish 23-59, the Knicks worst since 1986. Larry Brown was bough out for 18.5 (!!!) million dollars, and Thomas became the head coach of the team until 2008. He won 33 games in the 2006-2007 seasons but dropped back to 23 the next season. He was fired after that season, to be replaced by Donnie Walsh as team president and Mike D’antoni as head coach.
The team became much more fun to watch, incorporating D’antoni’s run&gun style and David Lee’s improvement as a player (65 double double games, league best) alongside Chandler and Nate Robinson. Walsh also sent Marbury away from the team and also got rid of Malik Rose, Tim Thomas and Jerome James, in an attempt to clear enough cap space for the 2010 free agent bonanza, highlighter with Lebron James and Dwayne Wade.
The Knicks selected Jordan Hill in the draft’s first round, and also acquired Darko Milicic via trade. I think the Knicks will improve from their 33 wins of this season, and with the East the way it is this decade, 38 wins should be enough to reach the playoffs. Things are starting to look better in New York after a long and depressing Dark Reign period under Isiah Thomas.