In the NBA, one great draft pick is enough plenty of times to change the fate of the franchise, which is why long playoff droughts aren’t that common. But managements that don’t change make repeated mistakes, which means there are four teams in the league: The Minnesota Timberwolves, the Sacramento Kings, the Toronto Raptors and the Washington Wizards, who haven’t been to the playoffs in five years.
Out of the 14 teams that didn’t make the playoff last year, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Phoenix Suns are the only teams to have their last postseason trip end in the conference final,
Phoenix Suns – 3 Seasons
Unlike most teams on this list, the Phoenix Suns have only started tasting constant failure last season. They finished very close to .500 or just at during Steve Nash’s last two years with the team, putting up a combined 73-75 record. Last year, with Nash leaving and Alvin Genry being fired (replaced by Lindsey Hunter), the Suns finished last in the division with a 25-57 record, and it doesn’t seem like they’ll end this drought next year.
Cleveland Cavaliers – 3 Seasons
Since LeBron James left to the Miami Heat, the Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t been even remotely close to making the postseason. They’ve finished 15th, 13th and 13th in the Eastern Conference, winning only 27.8% of their games. All those losing seasons have been with Byron Scott, who made way for the head coach was at the helm the last time the Cavs made the playoffs, Mike Brown.
Charlotte Bobcats – 3 Seasons
In the nine seasons the Bobcats have been in the NBA, they’ve made the playoffs only once, in 2009-2010. Since then, the moment they realized it wasn’t going to be repeated Michael Jordan blew up the team and has been scratching the bottom of the NBA ever since. If the 2010-2011 season ended with a reasonable 34-48 records, the two seasons that followed were quite abysmal, including an NBA record of only 7 wins in the 66-game season (winning 10.6% of their games), and an “improved” 21 win-season last year. Steve Clifford will be the third head coach the Bobcats have since Larry Brown last led them to the playoffs.
Detroit Pistons – 4 Seasons
The last time the Detroit Pistons made the playoffs it was in 2009, and it was an 8th consecutive appearance; a streak that ended with a first round sweep against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since they’ve had two head coaches: John Kuester and Lawrence Frank, posting a combined record of 111-201, never finishing above 4th in the Central division, or winning more than 38% of their games.
Washington Wizards – 5 Seasons
It seems that the moment the Wizards decided to gamble all the money they had on Glibert Arenas, things started to go South for the Franchise. They made the playoffs four consecutive times between 2005 and 2008, losing three times to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round and once to the Miami Heat in the conference semifinals. Since then they haven’t won more than 29 games in any of their seasons, replacing Eddie Jordan with Ed Tapscott, Tapscott with Flip Saunders and Saunders with Randy Wittman. They’re 29-53 from last season was their best in this five year stretch.
Toronto Raptors – 5 Seasons
The Raptors thought they had a chance of long term success with Andrea Bargnani and Chris Bosh, but they made only two playoff appearances with the duo before sinking into mediocrity and even worse. If the two seasons after their last appearances went moderately well (winning a total of 73 games), since Chris Bosh left to the Miami Heat things haven’t been going as well, with the Raptors winning only 34.3% of their games without him.
Sacramento Kings – 7 Seasons
The Kings will remain in Sacramento despite the threat from Seattle, but it’s been a very long time since the Kings have had a successful season. Rick Adelman left them after 2006 and a first round exit against the San Antonio Spurs. That followed with two years of a combined 71 wins, but in 2008-2009 things really fell apart with a 17-win season. Things have slowly began to pick up with plenty of promising draft picks, but things haven’t gelled together, and Sacramento’s best season over the last five years is last season’s 28-54, with five different head coaches failing on the sidelines after Adelman.
Minnesota Timberwolves – 9 Seasons
The last time the Minnesota Timberwolves made the playoffs was in 2004. It was the 8th consecutive season with Kevin Garnett, but also the first (and only one) in which they made it past the first round, stopped by the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals. They followed that up with a 44-38 season in 2004-2005 which wasn’t enough for one of the 8 playoff seeds, and things deteriorated quickly from there until Garnett left in 2007.
Since he left, Minnesota have won only 28.3% of their games, which includes two consecutive seasons of 17 wins or less. Things have gotten better recently with the emergence of Ricky Rubio, but unless they put it together soon (which means this season), their best player, Kevin Love, is going to push for an exit.