Where Does Orlando's 2012 Rank Among Worst Years in NBA's Past 25 Seasons?

Brett David RobertsCorrespondent IAugust 22, 2012

Where Does Orlando's 2012 Rank Among Worst Years in NBA's Past 25 Seasons?

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    The "Dwightmare" the Magic just endured was awful, make no mistake.  But there have been a number of other seasons that teams have suffered through that have been just as bad, and many that were far, far worse.  

    Sometimes, the worst clouds that hang over teams' heads aren't even due to things that happen on the court.  Though the Dwight Howard Indecision jerked Magic fans and management around, the team did experience relative success on the court.  Howard still played hard until his season was derailed by a herniated disc in his lower back.

    I'm not taking a strict ranking approach to this, as much as just trying to detail some of the worst things to happen in franchises' histories.  After all, how could one really rank the death of three players as worse than one another? That's not even to mention things like Magic Johnson announcing he had HIV.  

    Those kinds of things make the Dwight Howard situation look like a breakup from a two-week relationship in junior high.  Nonetheless, I have tried to give a rough order to a series of events which all have had negative and horrible consequences for the franchises involved.  

    Here's a look at the "Unlucky 13," 13 of the worst years endured by teams in the last 25 years.

13) 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats: Historically Horrible Season

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    There have been some pretty horrible teams throughout NBA history, but the fact that the Bobcats are owned and managed by the greatest player ever tends to make it look all the worse.

    The Bobcats won only seven games of the shortened 66-game 2011-12 season and have a roster that offers little hope for quick improvement.

    Other than Gerald Henderson, a promising second-year player who averaged 15 of the Bobcats' league-low 87 points per game, their second-leading scorer was journeyman Corey Maggette.  They also featured an overrated rookie in Kemba Walker, a mediocre shoot-first point guard in D.J. Augustin and a bunch of scrubs who wouldn't see court time on any other team, with the exception of Bismack Biyombo, who is a project player who may eventually be developed into something.

    They still didn't rank at the very bottom of attendance—somehow.  They drew 487,000 fans for the year, which ranked them 26th in the league in attendance.  Still, they lost their games by an average of 13 points per contest and lost their last 23 games of the season.  It put a bold exclamation mark on a year that Bobcats fans will try hard to erase from their memories.  

    With the selection of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in this year's draft, they may have hope to best the Orlando Magic.  However, they will likely still be among the worst two or three teams in the league, barring Kemba Walker putting up the same scoring numbers he did his final year at Connecticut.

12) 2010-11 Portland Trail Blazers: Greg Oden and Brandon Roy's Injuries

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    In 2006, the Blazers selected Brandon Roy No. 6 overall.  The following year, they landed the No. 1 pick and selected Greg Oden.  Pairing these two with their other pick in 2006, No. 2 overall LaMarcus Aldridge, would make the Blazers a contender for years to come.  They had a talented core of young players, and many were pegging them to be one of the teams to keep an eye on for years to come.

    But injuries have a funny way of derailing careers, and in this case, it wasn't just a career, but two injuries that would take the Portland organization from being Finals bound to lottery bound.

    On December 9th, 2011, Brandon Roy announced his retirement.  He's since fought his way back into the league, but it's doubtful he is ever going to be the same player again as the meniscus in both of his knees is completely worn away and gone.  It's like driving a car with no oil in the engine.

    Add Roy's injury to Greg Oden's perpetually injured body, which many feel is the result of his height, and Blazers fans can only sit and shake their heads knowing that they could have had Kevin Durant.  Instead, they were saddled with Oden, who has suited up for only 21 games since the 2008-09 season, and didn't play at all last year.  He's a free agent no one is willing to take a risk on at the moment.

    It was a horrible end to a dynasty that never actually began.

11) 1996-97 Orlando Magic: the Wake of Shaq's Departure

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    Shaquille O'Neal devastated the Magic organization, but if there is a right way to do such a thing, Shaq handled it right.  He didn't jerk management around, didn't demand to be traded.  Moreover, he was lowballed by GM Pat Williams, who offered Shaq far less than the Los Angeles Lakers did.

    The city of Orlando also didn't rally for Shaq to stay.  In an Orlando Sentinel poll, when asked "Is Shaq worth $115 million?", 91.3% of the voters said 'no.'  

    That was why I never blamed Shaq for leaving Orlando.  Neither the fans nor management ever gave him his due respect, and despite the fact that he began his career loved by Magic fans, he would end it reviled by them.

    The 1996-97 season would be one of disappointment, though the Magic's pocket schedule for that year read "The Magic continues," showing the five starters from the 1995 Finals team on the cover of it. The team would not reach the NBA Finals again the next year, as the Jordan-led Bulls won a record 72 games and got full revenge against the Magic from the year prior by sweeping the Magic in four games.

    Shaq left, and the Magic did continue; it was just nowhere as bright, and the team wouldn't make its next Finals appearance for another 14 years.  He went on to make his days in Orlando a distant memory, and the Magic moved on, but never really recovered from the blow to the organization, despite the fact it was self-inflicted. 

10) 2007-08 New York Knicks: Isiah and the Sexual Harassment Suit

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    Isiah Thomas found numerous ways to dismantle the Knicks during his tenure as a GM and coach.  It just all reached its head with the sexual harassment charges filed by Anucha Browne Sanders, and the Knicks had finally had enough of Isiah by that point…

    It was a bad enough incident that we never really got the full sense of.  It was settled that the Knicks would pay $11.6 million in punitive damages for Thomas' actions, but he'd already ran up a bunch of poor contracts that made that look like a drop in the bucket.

    Via The New York Times:

    Ms. Browne Sanders appeared outside the courtroom and said the decision was important not just for herself, but also for “the women who don’t have the means and couldn’t possibly have done what I was able to do” and for “everybody that cares about working in a civil work environment.”

    It was a clear message to not only the Knicks and Isiah, but to all, that women should not be objectified and treated as sexual objects, as Thomas was reported to have said some pretty lewd things to Browne Sanders.  

    It was just a fitting end to a disastrous time in New York for Thomas, whose legacy was scarred beyond recognition.  Only the most zealous basketball fans can look at the former Pistons point guard without thinking of how horrible he was in his later years off the court.

9) 2011-2012 Orlando Magic: the Dwightmare

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    Ah, to the point of this slideshow, the ranking of the infamous "Dwightmare" and the "Indecision."  

    Dwight Howard was due to become a free agent at the end of the 2011-2012 season with an early termination option built into his contract.  From the beginning of the season, there was speculation as to whether or not he would exercise the option or not, and if the Magic would trade the three-time defensive player of the year to avoid getting nothing in return.

    There was a campaign in Orlando to keep the superstar in town. "StayDwight.com" and others focused their efforts on pleasing the 26-year-old unhappy superstar.  Magic fans still loved Howard and wanted to convince him he could be happy remaining in Orlando.

    His words off the court, to friends, were quite different.  He made it clear to the organization that he wanted out and desired first and foremost to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets.  Then came the most enigmatic part of the entire ordeal.  Howard waived his early termination option and decided he would give the Magic organization one last chance at making the team a winning ball club.

    But he wanted changes.  He wanted coach Stan Van Gundy fired.  They obliged, firing Van Gundy after the season and then fired GM Otis Smith. And Howard still demanded a trade.  

    The entire situation would be a breach of contract in any other business, but Howard and many superstars are given extra privileges as professional athletes.  He knew what he wanted the entire time, and at one point even claimed he was "blackmailed" (though he never said what the blackmail actually was) into staying with the Magic.  When asked about this by media, he said he never said that at all.

    His words were two-faced and the entire season the Magic were playing with a strange tension and awkwardness both on the court and in the locker room.  Things just never seemed quite right.  It all came to a head just recently as Howard was dealt to the Lakers, and though the package the Magic received in return wasn't exactly the best offer imaginable, fans were no longer saying "Stay Dwight", but instead were saying "Good riddance."

8) 1997-98 Golden State Warriors: Latrell Sprewell Choking PJ Carlisemo

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    Latrell Sprewell was on his way towards being a pretty popular player, but things took a turn for the worse in practice one day when he lost his cool with Golden State Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo.  Carlesimo simply told Spree to make his passes a little crisper.  He just caught the talented shooting guard at the wrong time on the wrong day.  Sprewell told him to back off and let him play.

    Carlisemo did no such thing, however.  He approached Sprewell, angering him, prompting Sprewell to say he would kill him, as he grabbed the coach and dragged him backwards off the court, choking him for about ten seconds before his teammates came to Carlisemo's rescue.  

    But it wasn't over at that point.  Sprewell returned 20 minutes later after showering and kept it up, hitting Carlisemo in the face before he was pulled off the battered coach and restrained by teammates and assistant coaches.  

    The Warriors were allowed to void his contract which cost him over $23 million and the NBA suspended Sprewell for over a year.  He took the case to court and the suspension was reduced from 82 games to 68 (the remaining games that year).  

    The madness for Sprewell continued as he was charged with reckless driving during the time of his suspension, and many wondered if any team would be crazy enough to take Sprewell back into the NBA.  He was traded to the one team crazy enough to do it, the New York Knicks, where he eventually went on to get a $62 million, five year contract.  

    Still, Warriors fans will never forget a player audacious enough to choke his coach for simply telling him to make crisper passes.  Those words seem like kisses on the cheek compared to players who displayed similar aggression with much greater provocation.

7) 1994-95 Houston Rockets: Vernon Maxwell's Altercation in the Stands

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    This is the first fan vs. player altercation of the slide show, but it won't be the last.  The only thing that keeps it from ranking higher is the fact that the other players in question were higher profile players and the implications far greater.  Still, Maxwell went into the crowd and punched a taunting fan who had been bothering him during the game.

    Apparently, the guy said some pretty charged and loaded words to Maxwell, because his lawyer addressed it by saying (via ESPN), "If I had been there, I would had probably cold-cocked him, too."  The rudest of fans don't just tell players how horrible they are, but use words that I really can't even put into an article like this.  His lawyer simply said, "You can't think of anything more vulgar, more fighting words than what this guy said to Vernon."

    While it is unclear what actually was said, Maxwell received a $20,000 fine and was suspended for 10 games.  It wasn't his only dubious actions of the year, either.  He also faked a hamstring injury and took games off, but he was really just upset due to his lack of playing time. 

    It's hard to say that Maxwell's incidents ruined the year for the Rockets, as they went on to win a championship in that season, but the fight with the fan and his general discontent made an otherwise great and successful season seem a little less bright.  

    Vernon, like others we will address later in this slideshow, let his anger get the best of him.  The only difference is he did it in front of thousands of people.  Besides, we all know there is such a thing as "fighting words."  It's just a matter of finding that place to fight, and in front of a crowd in the middle of an NBA game is hardly the place to do it.  Sometimes, however, all of that goes out of the window, as his lawyer made clear.

6) 2004-05 Indiana Pacers: Palace Brawl

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    Many will say the actions of Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest, now known as Metta World Peace, were inexcusable.  They say, no matter what, players don't go into the stands to assault hecklers, but I'm not fully on board with this.  I've met Ron, and he's one of the more cool and down to earth people off the court.

    The brawl was incited after an on court altercation between Ben Wallace and Artest, as Artest had supposedly warned Wallace he would be hit later in the game.  He violently fouled Wallace from behind with the Pacers up by 15 and 45 seconds remaining in the game.  It was an inexcusable foul, to say the least.

    Fans then decided to take matters into their own hands. 

    Artest and O'Neal had drinks thrown on them as the five fans in question screamed at them, undoubtedly hurling some pretty vile insults, but one could only speculate as to what was actually said, save the handful of people in the immediate vicinity of the fans.  Artest was already frustrated and was looking to take something out on someone…  

    It ruined the image of Artest, O'Neal, Stephen Jackson (who also participated and entered the stands), and the Pacers.  Fans both in Indiana and around the league were appalled that players would have the audacity to go and confront fans for being overly rowdy, but I do think there was more to it than that.  There's really no telling what those fans said, and Artest was not in a mind state to be heckled at the time.

    Make no mistake, while I am defending Artest here, the scene was awful.  Fans rushed out of the arena, and no one could seem to successfully break up the fight.  

    The NBA struggled to repair its image following the incident, and despite the implications of the words exchanged, fans should feel safe at games; as long as they aren't hurling drinks at players' heads and screaming at them for committing fouls that would later be dealt with by league office, anyway.  Leave the punishment of players up to David Stern.

5) 1993-94 Chicago Bulls: Jordan's Forced (?) Retirement

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    So, Michael Jordan really wanted to play baseball?

    That's the way many Jordan and Bulls fans view it through their rose-tinted glasses, but how many players walk away right on the very top while still in the heart of their primes to play a sport they are not even mediocre at?  How many athletes switch to a sport they didn't even play at the college level?  Jordan hit .202 at the Double-A level with 11 errors. 

    His father James had just been murdered in the summer of 1993, which many felt was a big reason for his desire to switch sports, to fulfill a dream of his father's. However, even though Jordan and David Stern have publicly denied a secret suspension (latest public denials occurring in McCallum's book), I'm not sure that was the entire story.

    Everyone knew Jordan liked to gamble, to speak a bold understatement.

    But would David Stern want to publicly suspend a player whose image was big not just in the NBA and in the United States, but globally? 

    Jordan's popularity has been unparalleled, and to most the idea that he was forced into retirement is an abominable theory espoused by NBA conspiracy theorists.

    It was a huge blow to the Bulls organization, Jordan and Stern's motives aside.  Second fiddle Scottie Pippen now became the alpha dog, and it became clear he was never meant for such a role.  He averaged roughly the same amount as without Jordan in the 1993-94 season, and the Bulls still won 55 games.

    However, the Bulls didn't contend until Jordan returned late in the 1994-95 campaign.  Even then, Magic fans will recall the famous "Nick Anderson stole the ball!" moment of the 1995 playoffs, as the young Magic eliminated the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.  It was a shining moment in the history of the Magic organization, but a huge black mark on Bulls fans' memories.

    Anderson stole the ball, and Jordan's decision to retire stole a little limelight from him in the heart of his prime.  It wasn't a fatal blow to his career, and no one really knows if Stern gave him an undisclosed suspension or not, but many are inclined to believe that was likely the case.

4) 1991-92 Lakers: Magic Johnson's Retirement

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    Magic Johnson was and still is one of the most loved sports personalities in history.  His smile lights up a room, his jokes make people laugh, and he had been a fixture in the NBA for about a decade leading up to his huge announcement in 1991.

    No one was smiling then.

    At the time Magic Johnson acquired the HIV virus, less was known about how to counteract the virus than now.  It wasn't quite a death sentence then, but it was a life shortening sentence, to say the least.  People gave Magic another 10 or 15 years before he'd succumb to an awful and early death.  20 years later, exercise, diet, and expensive medicines have enabled Magic to remain a fixture on TV and in our lives.

    Magic would come back to visit the court once more in the 1992 All-Star game.  Many felt that his participation should have never been allowed in light of the fact he was retired and hadn't played a game that season, but the MVP performance gave us one last memory of the greatest point guard ever.  I still remember his fade away three late in the game, a shot almost as iconic as Jordan's last jumper over Bryon Russell leading up to his (second) retirement.  We were then treated to another last hurrah with the 1992 Dream Team, but then Magic disappeared from the court forever.

    Magic has a place in the hearts of all basketball fans, but for the Lakers, it was a huge blow to see the versatile point guard retire.  Lakers fans came to games under the delusion that Magic's ghost would grace the court, but it was a terrible thing to see the disappointment on the faces of fans everywhere, who just wanted a little more magic in their lives.  The Lakers won 43 games and still made the playoffs, but missing Magic overshadowed any joy fans had from an almost salvageable season.

    Thankfully, though his career was shortened, his broadcasting career has enabled him to extend his presence long past his playing days.

T-1) 1993-94 New Jersey Nets: the After-Effects of Drazen Petrovic's Death

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    Drazen Petrovic had finally helped start to make the New Jersey Nets relevant.  Paired with two lefties, Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman, the trio all shined during his time with the Nets, giving the team some exposure and attention that they hadn't experienced in decades.

    In the summer of 1993, following a 43-39 season and rare playoff appearance by the Nets, Petrovic headed off to Poland as the Croatian team was playing in a qualification tournament for the 1993 Eurobasket championships.

    Sadly, Petrovic died in a car accident on a rainy night on the German autobahn, when a semi-truck cut off the car he was traveling in on June 7, 1993, only about four months before his 29th birthday.  

    Petrovic was on his way to being an NBA All-Star, after averaging 22.3 points per game and shooting over 44 percent from three in the 92-93 season.  It was a huge blow to the Nets, but a bigger blow to the world.

T-1) 1993-94 Boston Celtics: the Aftermath of Reggie Lewis' Death

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    After the death of Reggie Lewis from a sudden cardiac death on the basketball court on July 27th, 1993, it was easy to see why the Celtics were so cautious with Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox last year, who both experienced cardiac trouble and were immediately sidelined when the problems were noticed.

    See, they weren't as cautious with Lewis, and it cost him his life.  He'd been experiencing problems for the months leading up to the incident, and suddenly his ticker just went off.  It was attributed to a hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and attempts to revive Lewis were unsuccessful.  

    They mentioned the possibility that Lewis, like the Len Bias, may have experimented with cocaine, but the doctor who performed his autopsy said the scarring on his heart was inconsistent with cocaine usage.  

    Needless to say, after the death of Lewis, fans minds weren't as much on the pitiful 32-50 season the Celtics endured that year.  Some things really are more important than basketball, believe it or not.

T-1) 1986-87 Boston Celtics: the Wake of Len Bias' Death

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    Seeing Len Bias die from a cocaine overdose was one of the most horrible things to ever happen in pro sports, and the fact it happened just two nights after being selected second overall in the NBA draft only made it that much more tragic.

    In Bias, the Celtics had their small forward of the future, after he starred at the University of Maryland, showing the promise that would have enabled the Celts to curtail Larry Bird's minutes and extend his career.  Many analysts consider Bias the best player ever to never suit up for an NBA game, and it's a pretty clear cut conclusion that he would have been not just a good player, but a superstar, a perennial All-Star, and likely Hall of Famer.

    But that all ended one night on June 17th, 1986.  The No. 2 overall pick was acquired from the Seattle Supersonics from the Gerald Henderson deal in 1984, and it was a pick that brought more curse than blessing, as Celtics fans mourned not just the loss of a great basketball player, but a great person.

Dishonorable Mentions

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    1) 2011-12 Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose, down!

    The Bulls finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference for the second consecutive year just to suffer a loss to the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers after star point guard Derrick Rose went down with a season ending knee injury.  His timetable on a return is undefined but he is likely to miss the entire 2012-13 season, which will prove to be a downer for Bulls fans this year.

     

    2) 2001-02 Sacramento Kings: Losing due to Tim Donaghy's betting 

    There's few things more despicable than a referee betting on and essentially rigging games, but that's what happened to the Sacramento Kings in the 2002 playoffs as they lost to the L.A. Lakers in the Conference Finals in game six of a series that should have gone seven.  It possibly could have resulted in the Kings reaching the NBA Finals.  

    "If we get to re-rack that series, the Kings beat the Lakers 99 out of 100 times in a seven-game series,” former Sacramento player Scot Pollard said, according to The Daily Beast. “There’s no question in my mind that we were the better team.”

     

    3) 2003-04 Chicago Bulls: Jay Williams motorcycle accident

    The Bulls also suffered a huge hit in 2003 when their No. 2 overall pick from the 2002 NBA draft went down for what ended up being a career ending injury.  Williams crashed his motorcycle in the summer of 2003 after an inconsistent and disappointing rookie year.  The former Duke product could have made the Bulls a much better team than the 23-59 they finished with that season, as that was the second worst record in the Eastern Conference.