Ranking the Most Successful Franchises in NBA History

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 29, 2011

Ranking the Most Successful Franchises in NBA History

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    Without any live NBA games to satiate our thirst for professional basketball, let's take a look back through the annals of the Association's history and see how the 30 current NBA franchises stack up. 

    Any basketball fan can tell you which two will find themselves at the top, so the picture above isn't really giving anything away. 

    But how do the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics compare to each other? And what about the other 28 NBA teams?

    Read on to find out.

30. Charlotte Bobcats

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    Inaugural Year: 2004

    Historical Team Names: Charlotte Bobcats

    Conference Titles: None

    NBA Titles: None

    Notable Players: Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson

     

    Since 2004, when the Charlotte Bobcats were first brought into existence, they have made the playoffs just one time.

    That says it all for this inept franchise.  

29. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Inaugural Year: 1970

    Historical Team Names: Buffalo Braves, San Diego Clippers, Los Angeles Clippers

    Conference Titles: None

    NBA Titles: None

    Notable Players: Bill Walton, Bob McAdoo, Blake Griffin

     

    The Los Angeles Clippers have been around since 1970. They have made the playoffs six times and only twice since the franchised moved away from San Diego in 1984. 

    There is a reason that players don't smile on draft day when the Clippers call their name. 

28. Toronto Raptors

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    Inaugural Year: 1995

    Historical Team Names: Toronto Raptors

    Conference Titles: None

    NBA Titles: None

    Notable Players: Vince Carter, Damon Stoudemire, Chris Bosh

     

    With five playoff seasons in their brief history, the Toronto Raptors haven't been too awful. But they've only made it past the first round of the playoffs once, back in 2001. 

    When Chris Bosh left to join Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in South Beach, it put the Raptors back in rebuilding mode yet again. 

27. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Inaugural Year: 1995

    Historical Team Names: Vancouver Grizzlies, Memphis Grizzlies

    Conference Titles: None

    NBA Titles: None

    Notable Players: Bryant Reeves, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay

     

    Since the franchise moved to Memphis, the team has started experiencing a little bit of success. The Grizzlies have made it to the playoffs in four of the last nine seasons, but last year was the first time they'd won a series in the franchise's short history. 

26. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Inaugural Year: 1989

    Historical Team Names: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Conference Titles: Zero

    NBA Titles: Zero

    Notable Players: Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell, Kevin Love

     

    When Kevin Garnett was with the Minnesota Timberwolves, they made the playoffs year after year, even making it to the Conference Finals in 2004. 

    When Kevin Garnett has not been a part of the Minnesota Timberwolves, they have been awful. 

25. New Orleans Hornets

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    Inaugural Year: 1988

    Historical Team Names: Charlotte Hornets, New Orleans Hornets, New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, New Orleans Hornets

    Conference Titles: Zero

    NBA Titles: Zero

    Notable Players: Chris Paul, Larry Johnson, Glen Rice

     

    The New Orleans Hornets have never made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but they've won quite a few playoff series in their short history. 

    They better enjoy that past success because Chris Paul is leaving soon. 

24. Denver Nuggets

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    Inaugural Year: 1976

    Historical Team Names: Denver Nuggets

    Conference Titles: None

    NBA Titles: None

    Notable Players: Alex English, Dan Issel, Carmelo Anthony

     

    One of the better teams in the ABA, the Denver Nuggets went a little bit downhill after they merged into the NBA at 1976. 

    34 years after they entered the league, the Nuggets have yet to make a Finals appearance. 

23. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Inaugural Year: 1970

    Historical Team Names: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Conference Titles: One (2007)

    NBA Titles: None

    Notable Players: LeBron James, Brad Daugherty, Mark Price

     

    If it wasn't for LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers would have a pretty pathetic history. So all mourning Cleveland fans, take that as solace. While that may be a little harsh, it's still kind of true. 

22. Indiana Pacers

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    Inaugural Year: 1976

    Historical Team Names: Indiana Pacers

    Conference Titles: One (2000)

    NBA Titles: None

    Notable Players: Reggie Miller, George McGinnis, Danny Granger

     

    The Indiana Pacers were incredible while they were a part of the ABA, but the NBA has been a different story. 

    Indiana made their only NBA Finals appearance in 2000, but the rest of their history has been littered with flops in the playoffs. 

21. Orlando Magic

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    Inaugural Year: 1989

    Historical Team Names: Orlando Magic

    Conference Titles: Two (1995, 2009)

    NBA Titles: None

    Notable Players: Penny Hardaway, Shaquille O'Neal, Dwight Howard

     

    The Orlando Magic may have had quite a few good big men in their history, most notably Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard, but it hasn't translated into much success. Orlando's championship window is also firmly shutting in the present day. 

20. Utah Jazz

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    Inaugural Year: 1974

    Historical Team Names: New Orleans Jazz, Utah Jazz

    Conference Titles: Two (1997, 1998)

    NBA Titles: None

    Notable Players: Karl Malone, John Stockton, Adrian Dantley

     

    The Utah Jazz have been to the playoffs at the end of almost every single season from 1984. It is no coincidence that John Stockton was drafted in 1984 and Karl Malone in 1985. 

19. New Jersey Nets

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    Inaugural Year: 1976

    Historical Team Names: New York Nets, New Jersey Nets

    Conference Titles: Two (2002, 2003)

    NBA Titles: Zero

    Notable Players: Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Drazen Petrovic

     

    Don't make the mistake of thinking that Julius Erving's years with the franchise count. They don't because that was back when the Nets were part of the ABA. 

    Since then, the Nets have had a pretty spotty record with the exception of the early 2000s, when they were a playoff mainstay and lost in back-to-back NBA Finals appearances. 

18. Phoenix Suns

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    Inaugural Year: 1968

    Historical Team Names: Phoenix Suns

    Conference Titles: Two (1976, 1993)

    NBA Titles: None

    Notable Players: Charles Barkley, Steve Nash, Kevin Johnson

     

    The Phoenix Suns are the NBA franchise with the most wins to never win an NBA title. Additionally, they have the fourth-highest winning percentage of all teams. 

    Ever since the unsuccessful first seven years, the Suns have been a mainstay in the playoffs. They just haven't won anything yet. That is the only reason I can't bump them above any of the other teams in the league. 

17. Miami Heat

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    Inaugural Year: 1988

    Historical Team Names: Miami Heat

    Conference Titles: Two (2006, 2011)

    NBA Titles: One (2006)

    Notable Players: Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning

     

    Considering the fact that the Miami Heat have only been around for 21 years, they really haven't been too bad. But that said, the one championship came in 2006 when Dwyane Wade carried the team throughout the playoffs. 

    Something tells me that the Miami Heat will have a few more titles when we look back at these rankings in five years or so. 

16. Dallas Mavericks

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    Inaugural Year: 1980

    Historical Team Names: Dallas Mavericks

    Conference Titles: Two (2006, 2011)

    NBA Titles: One (2011)

    Notable Players: Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd

     

    The Dallas Mavericks have had the same number of conference titles and NBA titles as the Miami Heat. They've even come in the same years. 

    But what the Mavs have and the Heat don't is a lengthier history. 

15. Sacramento Kings

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    Inaugural Year: 1948

    Historical Team Names: Rochester Royals, Cincinnati Royals, Kansas-City-Omaha Kings, Kansas City Kings, Sacramento Kings

    Conference Titles: One (1951)

    NBA Titles: One (1951)

    Notable Players: Oscar Robertson, Nate Archibald, Chris Webber

     

    The Sacramento Kings have been one of the NBA's most inept teams in recent years, but they were quite good back in the Cincinnati and Kansas City days thanks to Oscar Robertson and Nate Archibald, among others. 

14. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Inaugural Year: 1968

    Historical Team Names: Milwaukee Bucks

    Conference Titles: Two (1971, 1974)

    NBA Titles: One (1971)

    Notable Players: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Sidney Moncrief

     

    The Milwaukee Bucks are one of the more storied NBA franchises, but that's due more to the primacy effect than anything else. Ever since the stacked teams of the 1970s and 1980s, the team really hasn't done too much. 

    But then again, that's just what happens when the quality of players drops from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson to Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings. 

13. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Inaugural Year: 1970

    Historical Team Names: Portland Trail Blazers

    Conference Titles: Three (1977, 1990, 1992)

    NBA Titles: One (1977)

    Notable Players: Bil Walton, Clyde Drexler, Brandon Roy

     

    Forgetting about the infamous Jail Blazers, the Portland Trail Blazers have been very successful ever since they were first formed in 1970. In fact, they have been successful enough that from 1977 to 1995, the team sold out 814 straight home games, an unmatched streak in American professional sports. 

    Ever since Portland made the playoffs for the first time in 1977 and won their only championship, the Trail Blazers have been a part of the playoffs each and every year with the exception of a down spell from 2004-2008. 

12. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Inaugural Year: 1967

    Historical Team Names: Seattle SuperSonics, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Conference Titles: Three (1978, 1979, 1996)

    NBA Titles: One (1979)

    Notable Players: Gary Payton, Kevin Durant, Nate McMillan

     

    Even though the Oklahoma City Thunder have established themselves as one of the best teams in the NBA right now, the Seattle SuperSonics are the ones that earned this franchise a spot just outside the top 10.

    More years than not, the Sonics advanced to the playoffs, where they normally won at least one postseason series. The highlight came in 1979 when the Sonics knocked off the Washington Bullets for their first and only NBA title thus far. 

11. Washington Wizards

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    Inaugural Year: 1961

    Historical Team Names: Chicago Packers, Chicago Zephyrs, Baltimore Bullets, Capital Bullets, Washington Bullets, Washington Wizards

    Conference Titles: Four (1971, 1975, 1978, 1979)

    NBA Titles: One (1978)

    Notable Players: Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, Earl Monroe

     

    Falling just short of the top 10 is the current playoff-misser known as the Washington Wizards. But thanks to the franchise's past, John Wall's up-and-coming team still manages to find itself at No. 11 in these rankings. 

    Back in the days of Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld, the Bullets were a perennial contender. That all changed though in 1988. After a first-round defeat at the hands of the Detroit Pistons, this franchise has only been back to the playoffs five times. 

    That said, the absolute dominance in the 1970s earns them a pretty high spot. 

10. Atlanta Hawks

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    Inaugural Year: 1946

    Historical Team Names: Buffalo Bisons, Tri-City Blackhawks, Milwaukee Hawks, St. Louis Hawks, Atlanta Hawks

    Conference Titles: Four (1957, 1958, 1960, 1961)

    NBA Titles: One (1958)

    Notable Players: Bob Pettit, Dominique Wilkins, Pete Maravich

     

    The Atlanta Hawks' franchise history has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. 

    When the franchise moved to St. Louis, they were contenders year in and year out as Bob Pettit led the team to its only NBA Championship in 1958. But it was tough to win more than that with the Boston Celtics dominating the league. 

    After Atlanta became the new home of the team in 1968, Atlanta remained a good, but not great, team with plenty of memorable and forgettable seasons until the new millennium. Then the team was just pathetic until the recent rise back into "contender" status. 

9. Houston Rockets

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    Inaugural Year: 1967

    Historical Team Names: San Diego Rockets, Houston Rockets

    Conference Titles: Four (1981, 1986, 1994, 1995)

    NBA Titles: Two (1994, 1995)

    Notable Players: Yao Ming, Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone

     

    It seems as though the Houston Rockets have always had one very good player on their team. First it was Elvin Hayes, then Calvin Murphy, Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Steve Francis, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. 

    With the exception of a few seasons interspersed throughout the franchise's history, the Rockets have been consistently good but rarely great. Of the exceptions, the two that stand out are the championship years in 1994 and 1995. 

8. New York Knicks

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    Inaugural Year: 1946

    Historical Team Names: New York Knicks

    Conference Titles: Eight (1951-1953, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1994, 1999)

    NBA Titles: Two (1970, 1973)

    Notable Players: Walt Frazier, Patrick Ewing, Willis Reed

     

    The New York Knicks are one of the NBA's most famous franchises, probably because they play in the major media market called New York City, and they are one of the league's charter members, but they haven't necessarily been the most successful. 

    I was actually a little bit surprised to learn that the Knicks have only won two NBA titles in their lengthy history. 

7. Golden State Warriors

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    Inaugural Year: 1946

    Historical Team Names: Philadelphia Warriors, San Francisco Warriors, Golden State Warriors

    Conference Titles: Six (1947, 1948, 1956, 1964, 1967, 1975)

    NBA Titles: Three (1947, 1958, 1975)

    Notable Players: Wilt Chamberlain, Nate Thurmond, Rick Barry

     

    It's been a while since the Warriors were a dominant NBA team, but that time did exist long ago. With incredible players like Wilt Chamberlain, Nate Thurmond, Rick Barry, Paul Arizin and plenty of others, the franchise enjoyed quite a run in the league's early stages. 

    Ever since the 1980s rolled around, though, the Warriors have usually been absent from the postseason. The beginnings of the franchise are up their with the elite teams and that's why they're this high in the rankings. 

6. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Inaugural Year: 1949

    Historical Team Names: Syracuse Nationals, Philadelphia 76ers

    Conference Titles: Five (1977, 1980, 1982, 1983, 2001)

    NBA Titles: Three (1955, 1967, 1983)

    Notable Players: Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson

     

    As one of the league's most historic teams, the Philadelphia 76ers have almost always been good. From the incredible "Fo', Fo', Fo'" season in 1982-1983 to the dominant years of Wilt Chamberlain to the exciting tenure of Allen Iverson, Philly has always been a major player in the NBA.

    The 76ers have only missed the playoffs 16 times and 11 of those occasions came in the 1990s or 2000s.   

5. San Antonio Spurs

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    Inaugural Year: 1976

    Historical Team Names: San Antonio Spurs

    Conference Titles: Four (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007)

    NBA Titles: Four (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007)

    Notable Players: George Gervin, David Robinson, Tim Duncan

     

    The newest of our elite teams, most modern NBA fans can't remember a day and age when the San Antonio Spurs weren't talked about as title contenders. 

    Since they joined the NBA, there have only been four seasons in which they didn't make the playoffs. That is not a typo. 

    There's a reason that I call the Spurs the NBA's model franchise. They seem to do everything right all the time. 

4. Detroit Pistons

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    Inaugural Year: 1948

    Historical Team Names: Fort Wayne Pistons, Detroit Pistons

    Conference Titles: Seven (1955, 1956, 1988-1990, 2004, 2005)

    NBA Titles: Three (1989, 1990, 2004)

    Notable Players: Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas, Dave Bing

     

    The Detroit Pistons may be the most surprising team to work their way into the top five, but they absolutely belong there. After all, they've had three pretty dominant phases in their history. 

    Back in Fort Wayne, the Pistons made the playoffs eight years out of the nine they spent in the city, the lone exception being the first NBA season after the transfer from the NBL. Then from 1983 to 1992, the Pistons made the playoffs every single year as the Bad Boys captured two of the franchise's three NBA titles. 

    Then the defensively-oriented Pistons of the early 2000s won another title and made the playoffs on a consistent basis. 

    They haven't ever been elite for very extended periods of time, but not many teams have. 

3. Chicago Bulls

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    Inaugural Year: 1966

    Historical Team Names: Chicago Bulls

    Conference Titles: Six (1991-1993, 1996-1998)

    NBA Titles: Six (1991-1993, 1996-1998)

    Notable Players: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman

     

    The Chicago Bulls find themselves at No. 3 in the rankings for one reason and one reason alone: Michael Jordan. 

    Without MJ at the helm, the Bulls would have no NBA titles. With him, they have six, placing them third in the NBA in that category. 

    The two three-peating teams to which the Bulls can lay claim to are some of the most dominant squads in NBA history. Even with those, though, Chicago can't touch the top two franchises in NBA history. 

    No one can.  

2. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Inaugural Year: 1948

    Historical Team Names: Minneapolis Lakers, Los Angeles Lakers

    Conference Titles: 31 (1949, 1950, 1952-1954, 1959, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968-1970, 1972, 1973, 1980, 1985,1986, 1987-1989, 1991, 2000-2002, 2004, 2008-2010)

    NBA Titles: 16 (1949, 1950, 1952-1954, 1972, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, 2000-2002, 2009, 2010)

    Notable Players: Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant

     

    To be perfectly honest, I wanted to cop out and have the Lakers and the Celtics tied for No. 1. But that would've been wimpy and not really my style. Instead, I'll take a stand. 

    The Los Angeles Lakers, hearkening all the way back to George Mikan's days in Minneapolis, have been an absolutely incredible franchise. There really isn't a single time in their history that they've been bad. 

    16 Hall of Famers have played for the Lakers at some point in their careers and another four have paced up and down the sidelines. 


1. Boston Celtics

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    Inaugural Year: 1946

    Historical Team Names: Boston Celtics

    Conference Titles: 21 (1957-1966, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1981, 1984-1987, 2008, 2010)

    NBA Titles: 17 (1957, 1959-1966, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1981, 1984, 1986, 2008)

    Notable Players: Larry Bird, Bill Russell, John Havlicek

     

    With more NBA titles than any other franchise in league history (an amazing 16 of which Red Auerbach was somehow involved with), the Boston Celtics can lay claim to the top spot in these rankings. 

    Make sure you don't overlook where it says 1959-1966 in the NBA Titles section. That run was pretty damn impressive. 

    So too is the fact that two top-five players of all time, Bill Russell and Larry Bird, have played in the Boston Garden, as well as another 23 Hall of Famers. 

    No matter how you look at it, Boston's record is quite impressive. 

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    Adam Fromal is a syndicated writer and Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on   Twitter.

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