Cleveland Cavaliers: Are They the Worst Team In the History of the NBA?

Joseph ChasanCorrespondent IFebruary 8, 2011

Cleveland Cavaliers: Are They the Worst Team In the History of the NBA?

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    Admit it: for just a brief, very brief, moment, you actually thought this season wouldn't be so bad for the Cavs, after all.

    They started things off with a rousing, season-opening win over the Boston Celtics.  They won three straight games, all on the road, in early November.  There they stood on Thanksgiving weekend, after a win over Memphis, at 7-9.

    Sure, it wasn't great, but after losing LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal, and coach Mike Brown (ok, mostly LeBron) over the summer, things looked bleak, and 7-9 was at least something.  They actually were only a game and a half behind LeBron's new team, the Miami Heat, in the Eastern Conference standings, as the Heat struggled out of the gate and found themselves at just 9-8 as of that same Thanksgiving weekend.

    Of course, everything changed after that.  LeBron came back into town for the first time, and the Heat steamrolled the Cavs, 118-90.  From then on, it's been a true tale of two cities.  Cleveland has lost an astonishing 35 of 36, including an NBA record 25 in a row (and counting), while Miami went on to win 21 of 22.

    Now, we have to start asking the inevitable question: Are this season's Cavs the worst team in NBA history?  In order to answer it, let's look back at some of the saddest teams of years gone by.

10) 1999-2000 and 2000-01 Chicago Bulls

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    Ah, yes, what better place to start talking about the most star-crossed teams of all-time than with the Bulls of the post-Jordan dark period.

    MJ called it quits for the second time after completing his second three-peat with his iconic game winner over Bryon Russell in Utah.  Not since the Beatles broke up had a world-class group parted ways so suddenly.  Scottie Pippen was traded, Dennis Rodman was released, and Phil Jackson knew that if the party was gonna be over, he didn't want to stick around.

    The result?  Six straight years of which Chicago fans would rather we not speak.  The worst of those were 1999-2000 and 2000-01, when the baby Bulls (the beat-a-Bulls?) went 17-65 and 15-67, respectively.

    It wasn't that they didn't have some good players.  The roster those seasons featured future All-Stars like Ron Artest and Elton Brand.  But they simply weren't ready to compete at the NBA level.  The franchise was so shell shocked, it took until Ben Gordon and Luol Deng arrived in 2004-05 to break out of the funk.

9) 1988-89 Miami Heat

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    The Miami Heat were in their first year of existence in 1988-89, and as most expansion teams do when they're just getting off the ground, they struggled.  Mightily.

    Sporting a roster that featured 10 rookies at one time or another, the Heat that season were essentially a college team going up against real pros.  Their primary starting five?  Kevin Edwards, Rory Sparrow, Billy Thompson, Grant Long, and Rony Seikaly.  Yeah.

    Long and Seikaly, especially, actually would go on to have decent NBA careers, but in 1988-89, they were just overmatched.  Miami would go on to be the lowest scoring team in the league that season, and would finish 15-67.

8) 2009-10 Minnesota Timberwolves

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    The Minnesota Timberwolves are still in a state of disrepair, but last year was the height of their futility.

    Really, having Kevin Garnett in his prime was the only thing that has ever lifted this franchise up out of the doldrums.  Too bad even during those years, the T-Wolves were only able to make it out of the first round once.

    Last year, the wheels came completely off.  Actually, in this middle, they weren't that bad.  For a couple months between the end of November and the beginning of February, they went 12-23.  They just started 1-15, and finished 2-29.

    And Darko (yep, that Darko) was (and is) a starter.  You can tell me all you want about how he's improved into a capable role player, but c'mon.  He's still Darko.  I mean, just look at him.

7) 1995-96 and 1996-97 Vancouver Grizzlies

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    Really, the entire run of the Vancouver Grizzlies as a team was highly forgettable, but we'll focus on just the first two seasons here, for brevity.

    Entering the league in 1995 along with the Toronto Raptors, the Grizzlies just did everything wrong from the beginning.  From their location in that basketball haven of Vancouver, to their first draft pick, Oklahoma State's Bryant "Big Country" Reeves, to their ... unique ... uniforms, the Grizz just couldn't get things right.

    In their six year run in the Great Northwest, they finished in last place five times, and sixth out of seven teams the other year.  They went 15-67 their first season, which, since they were an expansion team, might have been able to be excused, until they went 14-68 the next year.  23-59 was their high-water mark in Canada.

    Shareef Abdur-Rahim's look says it all, doesn't it?

6) 2004-05 Atlanta Hawks

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    Atlanta fans endured a bunch of lean years in the early 2000's, but by far the leanest of them all was 2004-05, when the Hawks limped to a 13-69 record.

    The Hawks that season trotted 20 different players out there, were the third worst scoring team in the league and the second worst defensive team.  Their top player was good ol' Employee Number 8, Antoine Walker, at least until he was dealt back to the Celtics midseason.  Their roster was full of over-the-hill rejects from other teams, like Kenny Anderson and Tom Gugliotta, and even still featured a 42-year-old Kevin Willis.

    The good news is that it's been a steady improvement for the franchise since that season's low point.  Their wins have gone up from 13 that year, to 26 the next, then 30, 37, 47, and finally last season's 53-29 team.  This year they're on pace to better that.

    So there's your bright side, fans of bottom dwellers.  It can only go up from there.

5) 1986-87 Los Angeles Clippers

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    With 12 seasons of 59 or more losses in their 41 years in the NBA, and an all-time record that's approaching 1,000 games below .500, the Clippers have had such a history of being bad that attempting to single out just one year as the worst is a bit like trying to pick what type of fungus is the most gross.

    They've had just one 70 loss season though, so we'll go with that one.  That year, the Clips best players were guard Mike Woodson and forward Michael Cage, who averaged a career high 15.7 points and 11.5 rebounds.  And...well, there have to be some other good things I can think of to say, don't there?  Hmm...I guess not.

    It was just their third season after moving up the coast to L.A. from San Diego, and they gave up 115.9 points per game, at the height of the 80's offensive boom.  They've forever been L.A.'s other team.  While the Lakers are chasing their 11th title since 1980 this season, the Clippers have had just one playoff series win during that time.  Yikes.

4) 2009-10 New Jersey Nets

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    The Nets were the team we were talking about in this context just one year ago.

    The dismantling of the nucleus of the teams from the early 2000's that had been perennial contenders in the Eastern Conference, and back-to-back Finalists in 2002 and 2003, had left the Nets an empty shell of a team.  Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Vince Carter had all moved on.  All that was left was Brook Lopez and Devin Harris.

    At just 92.4 points per game, the Nets were the lowest scoring team in the league.  They set a record by losing their first 18 games, and with a month to go in the season, sat at 7-63.  They appeared to be a lock to become the worst team ever, but like most teams in this situation, they managed to put together a late season run, going 5-5 over their next 10 games, and finishing 12-70.

3) 1997-98 Denver Nuggets

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    The Denver Nuggets in 1997 were just three seasons removed from pulling off the biggest upset, and most dramatic comeback, in NBA playoff history.

    They became the first eighth seed to defeat a top seed, knocking off the Seattle Supersonics in five games after coming back from a 0-2 hole.  The image of a prone Dikembe Mutombo clutching the basketball in tearful ecstasy as the buzzer sounded is one of the most iconic basketball images of all-time.

    Unfortunately, their fortunes went downhill from there.  Mutombo signed as a free agent with Atlanta in 1996, and guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was traded to Sacramento that same summer.  They were left with journeyman Johnny Newman, in his only season in the Rockies, as their leading scorer.  That should tell you something.

    They were 2-38 at midseason, and 5-58 in mid-March.  Three wins in four games in March helped their fortunes, however, and they managed to finish 11-71.  At least they got to double figures.

2) 1992-93 and 1993-94 Dallas Mavericks

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    I'm combining these two seasons into one, because they essentially blended together.

    The Dallas Mavericks were basketball Siberia in the early 90's.  OK, during the entire decade of the 90's.  But especially during 1992-93 and 1993-94.  While the Bulls finished off their first threepeat, and the Rockets emerged as the post-Jordan heir apparent, the Mavericks went a combined 24-140.

    Their 11-71 record in 1992-93 was the worse of the two.  That season they scored the second least points of any team in the NBA and gave up the most.  Derek Harper and Jim Jackson did what they could, but they couldn't do much.

    Dallas was 4-57 in mid-March, but as usually happens late in the season, they were able to turn things around a bit down the stretch.  Wins in their final two games prevented them from tying the all-time worst record in NBA history, set by ...

1) 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers

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    The worst team in NBA history remains the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers.  Their lone bright spot was guard Fred Carter, who averaged 20.0 points per game.

    The nexus of this debacle of a year was the exodus of another luminary star, this time Wilt Chamberlain.  The Stilt had grown frustrated and disillusioned in Philly, and forced a trade that sent him to Los Angeles to join the Lakers.  Going down in the summer of 1968, it ended up being one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.

    Further compounding the problems, forward Billy Cunningham, who had averaged 23.3 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game for the Sixers in 1971-72, jumped ship to the ABA for 1972-73.  This left the Sixers with a depleted lineup and no star.

    They lost their first 15 games and by the middle of February were 4-58.  Only an incomprehensible 5-2 stretch after that prevented them from even further ignominy.

    And to think, just six years earlier they went 68-13 and won the NBA title.

Conclusion: The Cavs Aren't The Worst Team Ever ... Yet

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    So things have gone bad ... really bad ... for Cleveland over the last two months, but they've still got a ways to go before they can be considered the worst team of all-time.

    Just last year we had a team that looked like they were on the path to unseating the 1972-73 Sixers in the hall of shame, but they got their act together towards the end of the season and avoided setting the wrong kind of history.  There's reason to think the Cavs can do the same thing.

    I'm not saying they're going to be shocking any contenders anytime soon, but it's more an issue of disharmony and bad mojo right now along the shores of Lake Erie, than it is a lack of talent.  Once they somehow break this streak, things should pick up enough to render them to one of the side wings of the hall of shame, rather than the featured exhibit.

    Wanna hear about a light at the end of the tunnel?  Just three years ago, the Heat went 15-67.