Every NBA Franchise's Worst Team Ever: What Really Went Wrong?
An NBA championship recipe requires the perfect harmony of ingredients.
We're here to discuss something different.
These ingredients don't fit the same recipe. Some of them fell on the floor. Others are past their expiration dates.
None of them are edible. All of them are the painful-to-digest factors that contribute to a franchise's worst year of existence.
A series of botched draft picks can do irreparable damage. Misfiring on major free-agency investments is just as brutal. Coaching blunders can be impossible to work around. A lack of experience—from the players, or even from the franchise itself—might send a squad spiraling down the standings. The rebuilding process often requires several backward steps before any progress is made.
For a variety of reasons we'll deep-dive into, the following performances loom as the worst year ever for all 30 NBA franchises. That doesn't necessarily mean the lowest winning percentage, but that number plays a part in determining that distinction, along with traditional and advanced analytics. If anything egregious happens off the court, that gets factored in, too.
Atlanta Hawks: 2004-05 (13-69)
Despite coming off a 54-loss season, the Atlanta Hawks seemed to fashion themselves as close to competitive and made a series of moves for aging vets.
General manager Billy Knight was in his second season at the helm and busy giving the franchise a facelift. A promising Jason Terry was shipped out for declining versions of Antoine Walker and Tony Delk. Thirty-somethings Kenny Anderson and Jon Barry were added in free agency, along with Kevin Willis for his age-42 season.
Walker led the team in field-goal attempts despite a gruesome 41.5/31.7/53.4 slash line. He was traded to the Boston Celtics that February for even older players, including Gary Payton, who was waived and returned to the Shamrocks. Future small-ball bigs Al Harrington and Boris Diaw both played on the wings—52 percent of Diaw's minutes came at the 2—and rarely looked at the rim from beyond the arc.
Everything from the coaching to the personnel decisions was a mess, and it all snowballed into the worst season in Hawks' history. Their .159 winning percentage is nowhere near the second-worst (.258), and they ranked 29th in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Boston Celtics: 1996-97 (15-67)
The Boston Celtics have functioned with machine-like precision for so much of their rich history that it's only natural their worst season would be defined by losing with purpose. They wanted Tim Duncan, and they'd pile up as many defeats as possible to take their shot.
As coach and general manager M.L. Carr told ESPN's Jackie MacMullan, his job was to "take one for the team." Carr the coach was intentionally doomed by Carr the executive, who built his roster to lose—and lose big.
"I was bringing in guys like Nate Driggers and Brett Szabo," he explained to MacMullan. "It was a joke. But the idea was not to make a move that would help us too much."
It worked. Not the getting Duncan part, of course, but Boston buried itself under a mountain of losses. The Celtics posted a dismal .183 winning percentage—the only sub-.290 mark they've ever had—and had five different losing streaks of at least seven games.
Brooklyn Nets: 2009-10 (12-70)
The New Jersey Nets were three coaches into the campaign before recording their first win. They opened the year with a record-setting 18-game losing streak, during which Lawrence Frank was ousted as head coach. Tom Barrise was Frank's interim replacement for the final two losses before general manager Kiki Vandeweghe became the permanent successor.
Maybe it was karmic retribution for Vandeweghe's misfires in the front office. Spending the 11th overall pick of the 2009 draft on Terrence Williams wasn't exactly a brilliant choice. The same goes for sending Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson to the Orlando Magic for Rafer Alston, Tony Battie and Courtney Lee.
The roster wasn't quite in shambles, but it was inexperienced and didn't know how to win. The top six players by field-goal attempts—a group that inexplicably included Williams, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Yi Jianlian—were all 26 or younger. To the surprise of no one, this was the worst offense in basketball: 30th in scoring, 30th in field-goal percentage, 29th in three-point percentage.
The Nets actually showed some growth late, finishing with five wins in their last 12 games. To save you all some math, that means this team lost 63 of its first 70 games, matching the worst such mark in NBA history.
Charlotte Hornets: 2011-12 (7-59)
Raise your hands if you remember Derrick Brown. Anyone? Well, for a quick refresher, he was the 40th pick of the 2009 draft who went on to play 171 games over a three-year NBA career spent mostly with the then-Charlotte Bobcats.
Pretty forgettable player, right? Well, this team remembers him as its win shares leader. He averaged 8.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 22.2 minutes per game and, as far as this metric is concerned, contributed more to this team's success than anyone. Yikes.
Charlotte was almost devoid of talent. Kemba Walker had just arrived as the ninth overall pick, but he would need a few years to get acclimated to this level. A 32-year-old Corey Maggette hobbled through his penultimate season and still finished second in average field-goal attempts. Gerald Henderson was first on that list; Byron Mullens was fifth.
These Bobcats own the lowest winning percentage in NBA history. They may have set a new high mark for total losses, too, if this campaign hadn't been shortened by a lockout.
Chicago Bulls: 1999-00 (17-65)
Take your pick of the three full seasons Tim Floyd coached, honestly. They comprise three of the Chicago Bulls' four lowest winning percentages ever, and the fourth featured 25 games of Floyd's coaching before he was shown the door.
These Bulls were only a year removed from following the lead of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson to a three-peat, but very few championship remnants remained. Toni Kukoc was the most prominent, but his shooting rates tanked (38.1/23.1/76.1) before he was dealt at the deadline. B.J. Armstrong was back, too, but he only played 27 games and retired after the season.
While Chicago's record worsened in 2000-01 (15-67), this team takes the bottom rung for its grossly inept offense.
Despite a brilliant debut by Rookie of the Year Elton Brand (20.1 points, 10.0 rebounds per game), the Bulls had the Association's worst attack by a mile. They averaged 84.8 points per game; no one else was below 92. They had the league's only sub-96 offensive rating with a 92.8 mark.
The roster was a wreck around Brand. Metta World Peace, still Ron Artest back then, was the only double-digit scorer beside Brand and Kukoc, and he couldn't shoot. Chris Anstey, playing the final season of his anonymous three-year NBA career, finished with the fifth-most points. Will Perdue somehow cleared 1,000 minutes while shooting 35.1 percent as a 34-year-old, 7-foot center.
This team did well to win the games it did.
Cleveland Cavaliers: 1970-71 (15-67)
First was truly the worst for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who debuted at the bottom in 1970-71.
They assembled their roster in a three-team expansion draft—along with the Portland Trail Blazers and Buffalo Braves—and almost none of it stuck. Five-time All-Star Don Ohl retired before playing a game. One-time All-Star Len Chappell was waived after six appearances. The Cavs drafted 11 players, and only four played prominent roles in 1971-72, including Butch Beard, who missed the inaugural season after he was drafted by the army.
This was the first NBA gig for head coach Bill Fitch, and his team never had a chance. It ranked last in scoring, offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. Its minus-12.04 simple rating system (SRS) score—an all-encompassing metric accounting for point differential and strength of schedule—was the lowest ever at the time and ranks third-worst in NBA history.
The Cavs had several candidates for this list—the 1981-82 team had four different coaches and also went 15-67; the 2010-11 club followed LeBron James' exit with an NBA-record 26-game losing streak—but the cupboards were never this barren.
But hey, at least they left themselves nowhere to go but up, right?
Dallas Mavericks: 1992-93 (11-71)
After enjoying modest success in the mid-to-late '80s, the Dallas Mavericks were trending down by 1992.
They had combined for just 50 wins the two previous seasons—or three less than the 1989-90 team posted. Their leading scorer from the 1991-92 campaign, Rolando Blackman, was traded that offseason for a future first-round pick. Their third-best scorer, Herb Williams, bolted in free agency. Their fourth-best, Fat Lever, missed the entire 1992-93 season with an injury and would only play one more year before calling it quits.
Oh, and their top scorer in 1990-91, the late Roy Tarpley, was kicked out of the NBA five games into that season for a third violation of the league's substance-abuse policy.
Dallas had to reset, and the new foundation was Derek Harper and a ton of youth. At least, that was the plan until rookie Jim Jackson, the fourth overall pick in 1992, held out and threatened to never play for the Mavericks. He eventually inked a contract, but he didn't debut until March. Without him, Dallas dropped 50 of its first 54 games.
The Mavs actually won three of their final six games, meaning those 71 losses could've been even worse. As it stands, they have the worst SRS (minus-14.68) and the worst average margin of victory (minus-15.2 points per game) in NBA history.
Denver Nuggets: 1997-98 (11-71)
After a brief rise to relevance in the mid-'90s, the Denver Nuggets went into a tailspin, and this was their rock bottom.
Dikembe Mutombo, the centerpiece of that success, left for the Atlanta Hawks in free agency during the 1996 offseason. That same summer, the team traded away Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf for a declining Sarunas Marciulionis and a second-round pick. Antonio McDyess was shipped out in a three-team Oct. 1997 trade for a collection of draft picks, meaning nothing that actually helped the 1997-98 squad.
Denver stumbled out of the gate with 12 straight losses. After winning two of their next five, the Nuggets face-planted into a 23-game losing streak. For the non-math majors reading this, that was a whopping two victories to show for the club's first 40 games. A later 16-game losing streak left the team with a single win in the entire month of February.
The defense ranked dead last, and the offense landed one spot from the cellar. Eric Williams grabbed the early scoring lead (despite shooting 39.3 percent), but he only lasted four games before tearing his ACL. That left 34-year-old Johnny Newman as the high provider in total points even though he started just 15 of his 74 games and averaged only 14.7 points in 29.4 minutes per game.
Detroit Pistons: 1979-80 (16-66)
In search of a new identity, the Detroit Pistons handed the coaching reins over to Dick Vitale, who had helped nearby Detroit Mercy turn around its basketball program. In hindsight, the decision wasn't so awesome (baby...sorry).
Ahead of the 1979-80 season, Vitale's second at the helm, M.L. Carr signed with the Boston Celtics. The Pistons were entitled to compensation and asked for Bob McAdoo. The Celtics asked for and received a pair of 1980 draft picks, which they later turned into Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.
For a spell, these Pistons had a pair of Hall of Famers in McAdoo and Bob Lanier. But the latter was coming off an injury-riddled campaign and was dealt at the deadline for Kent Benson and a first-round pick. McAdoo had his own injury issues and was waived in March 1981.
Losers of 52 games in Vitale's first season, the Pistons won three of their first four to start the 1979-80 campaign before losing seven of their next eight. Vitale was axed and replaced by Richie Adubato, which might have been a merciful end to the former's NBA tenure.
"It became a tough situation," Vitale told The Athletic's Thomas Neumann in May 2018. "I couldn't ... handle ... losing. Losing ripped me apart. Patience was not part of my personality."
Golden State Warriors: 1997-98 (19-63)
You could almost throw a dart at any of the 16 seasons the Golden State Warriors spent under former owner Chris Cohan (1994-2010) and argue that was the low point of this organization's history. In fact, the 1997-98 team only tied for the franchise's fifth-worst winning percentage (.232), and the 1952-53 squad held the bottom spot with a 12-57 record (.174).
But the 1997-98 club ranked dead last among all Warriors teams in SRS (minus-9.20). And, oh yeah, its best player, Latrell Sprewell, played just 14 games before drawing an 82-game suspension (later reduced to 68) for attacking and choking head coach P.J. Carlesimo during practice on Dec. 1, 1997.
Katie Dowd recapped the incident in a 2017 retrospective for the San Francisco Chronicle:
"Carlesimo had been riding Sprewell hard since arriving at Golden State that season. That day in December, he allegedly told Sprewell he wasn't passing sharply. Sprewell didn't like that.
"... Carlesimo and Sprewell started jawing at each other, crossing the court until they were close enough to touch. Then, Sprewell reached out a choked Carlesimo with his bare hands and, according to some reports, threatened to kill him.
"... After a few shocking seconds, players pulled Sprewell away from Carlesimo, and Sprewell was ejected from practice. He took a shower, changed into street clothes and then — according to the Warriors organization — he returned to commit a second assault on his coach, punching Carlesimo before being escorted out."
Jim Jackson arrived at the deadline and ended with the highest non-Sprewell scoring average while shooting 40.2 percent from the field and 27.8 percent from three. Joe Smith, the top pick in 1995, was sent packing in the Jackson trade.
Misfiring at the draft in 1996 (Todd Fuller at No. 11, two spots ahead of Kobe Bryant) and again in 1997 (Adonal Foyle at No. 8, one pick before Tracy McGrady) only exacerbated the issue.
Houston Rockets: 1982-83 (14-68)
The Houston Rockets played in the 1981 Finals. Two years later, they were the NBA's worst team by a mile. Their average game was an 11.6-point loss.
How is that possible?
It starts with selling low on an MVP as Houston sent Moses Malone—a nightly supplier of 31.1 points and 14.7 rebounds the previous season—to the Philadelphia 76ers for Caldwell Jones and a 1983 first-round pick that became Rodney McCray. Jones played two seasons in Space City and averaged just 9.7 points and 7.7 boards. McCray played a solid-but-unspectacular five years for the Rockets.
The 1982-83 Rockets didn't have anyone average 15 points. For context, 62 players cleared that mark throughout the league. Allen Leavell led the way with 14.8 in his only season featuring more than 61 starts.
Houston had the Association's worst field-goal percentage (44.8) and fewest points per 100 possessions (97.0). But hey, at least the defense was only fifth from the bottom.
Indiana Pacers: 1982-83 (20-62)
The Indiana Pacers don't have too many unsightly blemishes on their franchise resume, but the mid-1980s were rough. All four of the team's sub-.330 winning percentages came over a four-season stretch, beginning with this one.
It started with the 1978 draft. The Pacers won a coin flip for the No. 1 pick and could have spent it on in-state legend Larry Bird. But the future Hall of Famer wanted one more go-round at Indiana State University, so Indiana traded the No. 1 pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for Johnny Davis and the No. 3 pick, which the Pacers spent on Rick Robey. The Celtics nabbed Bird three picks later and signed him the following April.
Bypassing on Bird looked worse when the Pacers couldn't find a centerpiece. Davis actually led the 1981-82 team in scoring—17.0, no one else topped 12.3—but Indy traded him in Dec. 1982 for a second-round pick.
Rookie Clark Kellog, the No. 8 pick in 1982, aced his featured-option duties with 20.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game for the 1982-83 squad, but he didn't have enough help to lift the offense above mediocrity.
That proved a massive problem when the defense was dreadful. The Pacers surrendered an average of 114.5 points per game and ranked second-last in defensive efficiency. After starting the season 9-12, they went a miserable 11-50 the rest of the way.
Los Angeles Clippers: 1999-00 (15-67)
The Los Angeles Clippers led a mostly miserable existence through their first few decades, save for a few seasons of Bob McAdoo magic when they were still the Buffalo Braves. But L.A. never had it worse than in 1999-00 when the franchise was still reeling from its all-time gaffe atop the 1998 draft.
Among the top-10 selections from that talent grab were Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce and Antawn Jamison. Naturally, the Clippers instead spent the No. 1 pick on Michael Olowokandi. Because if a raw 7-footer is posting huge numbers at Pacific, he's clearly worth becoming an organizational cornerstone.
He was a literally massive bust, but the 1999-00 club wasn't ready to accept that yet. Well, that or it had no other choice but to trot him out for 31.2 minutes per night. The roster was almost completely devoid of talent, and the top five players by field-goal attempts were a rookie Lamar Odom, Maurice Taylor, Tyrone Nesby, Derek Anderson and Olowokandi.
The Clippers shot 42.6 percent as a team, and their defense (29th out of 29 teams) actually ranked worse than their offense (28th). They never won more than three games in a row (and only did that once), and they had four different losing streaks of at least nine games.
Los Angeles Lakers: 2015-16 (17-65)
By Kobe Bryant's final season, the Los Angeles Lakers had long ago abandoned plans of constructing a contender around him. Beyond the farewell tour, L.A.'s plans for the campaign mainly involved the development of D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.
The offense was predictably choppy. It seemed like everyone (other than maybe Marcelo Huertas) had glue on their hands, so no one averaged even 3.5 assists. The shooters piled up bricks like they were considering a second career in construction. No team fared worse from the field (41.4 percent) or from three (31.7 percent).
And yet, defense was the Lakers' bigger downfall. They had the second-highest field-goal percentage allowed (47.3) and forced the third-fewest turnovers (12.6 per game). Their defensive rating checked in at a league-worst 110.3.
They never had an egregiously long losing streak, but almost every win stopped some kind of skid. They lost at least four games in a row 11 different times. And remember, they don't secure their 17th win in the final outing of the season without some Black Mamba magic.
Memphis Grizzlies: 1996-97 (14-68)
This was only the Memphis Grizzlies' second year in existence, and most of their issues stemmed from that.
As part of their expansion agreement, both the Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors were prevented from landing a top-five pick in the 1995 draft. In addition, the league's other teams could protect their top eight players from the expansion draft. You know, because building a fan base from the ground up isn't challenging enough.
The Grizzlies snagged the sixth overall pick in that draft, which they spent on plodding post player Bryant Reeves. The first five picks before him went as follows: Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett. Stackhouse produced the fewest win shares of those five with 52.4; Reeves delivered all of 13 over his six-year career.
"When you go back and look at 1995, and the players that were available in the top five of that draft, I think it's safe to say that had ourselves and Toronto been able to pick in the top five, it may have changed the direction of both of our franchises," then-Grizzlies general manager Stu Jackson told Bleacher Report in 2015.
The Grizzlies lost 67 games and had the NBA's worst offense during their first season, but at least their 18th-ranked defense was semi-functional. In its sophomore season, Vancouver again landed dead last in offense, but it also fell to third-worst on defense.
Miami Heat: 1988-89 (15-67)
Expansion seasons are rough. The transition between celebrating the arrival of a new professional franchise and realizing that you're starting from the bottom is a steep drop even the wildest thrill rides can't match.
The Heat had 10 rookies on this team. Three others were either in their first or second seasons. Leaning on their veterans meant seeing what Rory Sparrow and Pat Cummings had left.
Kevin Edwards, the 20th overall pick, played a bigger role with the Heat than he had at DePaul, taking more shots (14.0 to 13.8) in fewer minutes (29.7 from 33.3). Sparrow, who averaged 4.5 points the previous season, functioned as the second option. Sylvester Gray, their eighth-leading scorer, counted this as his one and only NBA season.
Miami's first game was a 20-point defeat at the hands of a Clippers club that lost 61 games that season. It wouldn't get much better in South Beach from there. The Heat opened with a then-record 17-game losing streak, and they would suffer another double-digit losing streak before the All-Star break.
Milwaukee Bucks: 2013-14 (15-67)
Some of these rosters are collections of Who He Play For? All-Stars. This team couldn't have been more different.
While no one realized it at the time, the Bucks already had their key pieces to take control of the Eastern Conference. During the 2013 offseason, they made a pair of value buys that would turn around this franchise. Giannis Antetokounmpo arrived as the 15th overall pick of the draft (14 spots after Anthony Bennett), and Khris Middleton came a month later as a supporting actor in the Brandon Knight-Brandon Jennings swap.
But Antetokounmpo and Middleton both landed outside the team's top 10 in usage percentage. Knight held the top spot in that category, while Gary Neal (dealt at the deadline) and Caron Butler (waived in February) ranked second and third, respectively, while they were around. The Bucks landed fourth from the bottom in offensive efficiency.
Defense, though, was their Achilles' heel. Larry Sanders signed a four-year, $44 million extension that offseason to anchor their interior, but he couldn't stay on the court because of injuries, inconsistency and a suspension for a drug violation. And he was the only Buck to appear in at least 10 games and not have a negative defensive box plus/minus (his was 0.0). No team had a worse defensive rating.
Minnesota Timberwolves: 2009-10 (15-67)
After trying and failing to build something formidable around Kevin Garnett during the final seasons of his tenure, the Timberwolves' shelves were effectively empty once they accepted fate and sent the Big Ticket to the Boston Celtics.
They thought they had moved him for a rebuilding starter kit, but almost nothing would stick. Gerald Green and Theo Ratliff wouldn't last a season. Sebastian Telfair made it through two, while Ryan Gomes and Al Jefferson were gone after three. The Timberwolves added a pair of 2009 first-round picks and ultimately had four selections in that draft, two in the top ten. They selected Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn with the fifth and sixth picks, respectively; Stephen Curry went seventh.
Rubio stayed overseas for two more seasons, and these Timberpups desperately needed a table-setter to bring them together. Flynn did what he could, but Minnesota fared much better with the rookie point guard on the bench. Speaking of which, that's where a young Kevin Love opened 22 of the 60 games he played. Ryan Hollins actually started more games than Love, often alongside Jefferson in a paint-clogging combo.
This team wasn't easy on the eyes or especially good at anything. The defense was the league's second-worst; the offense also landed 29th. Love clashed with head coach Kurt Rambis, who couldn't make the triangle offense work with this young roster. It was brutal.
New Orleans Pelicans: 2004-05 (18-64)
Mystery culprits doomed some of these teams. The party responsible for the 2004-05 then-Hornets' demise was easily identified.
The injury bug did it. Sure, every team has injuries, but the number of medical maladies with this group was ridiculous.
Jamal Mashburn, a 20-point scorer the season prior, missed the entire campaign with knee problems and retired during the following campaign. Baron Davis, the incumbent high scorer, made just 18 appearances. Jamaal Magloire, a 2003-04 All-Star, suited up 23 times. David West, a future two-time All-Star, played 30 games.
The Hornets won 41 games and took their first-round opponent to seven games the previous season. Injuries destroyed any hopes of repeating—let alone furthering—that success. Of course, switching from the Eastern Conference to the West probably didn't help, either.
New York Knicks: 2014-15 (17-65)
It's hard to remember this now, but there was legitimate excitement around the 2014-15 'Bockers.
Phil Jackson took over front-office operations in March 2014, and that seemed like a good thing. He hired Derek Fisher as head coach in June, a point guard-turned-skipper deeply schooled in the triangle offense. Speaking of which, the triangle was supposed to be ideal for Carmelo Anthony, who inked a five-year pact with the Knicks after entertaining a free-agency recruiting tour.
"The triangle is tailor-made to bring the best out of Anthony's abilities while simultaneously reigning him in and preventing the type of ball-stopping isolation plays that have become a hallmark of his game," ESPN's Amin Elhassan wrote at the time.
The Knicks even looked exciting in action—at least for the first week. After opening with a humbling loss to the Bulls, they promptly spoiled LeBron James' return to Cleveland with a five-point win over the Cavs. The Knicks won their next time out and then lost seven in a row and never really stopped the spiral.
December witnessed the end of a 10-game losing streak and the opening of a 16-game skid. An eight-game losing streak encompassed most of February, and a nine-gamer went into April. The Knicks were bottom-three performers on both ends, Anthony couldn't stay healthy (40 games), and the roster had no consistency. By year's end, Tim Hardaway Jr. was New York's only player to make 45 appearances and average double digits.
Oklahoma City Thunder: 2007-08 (20-62)
The send-off season for the then-Seattle SuperSonics delivered Kevin Durant's debut and little else worth mentioning.
P.J. Carlesimo was the first and last coach to deploy Durant primarily at the 2, and the future MVP struggled to find his footing. While he pumped in 20.3 points a night—enough to take home the Rookie of the Year award—he did so while shooting just 43.0 percent from the field and 28.8 percent from deep. Both remain his career lows, as does the barely above-average 15.8 player efficiency rating he posted.
Seattle's 29th-ranked offense was basically Durant-or-bust, and it busted a lot. With little in the way of support scorers—Chris Wilcox and Wally Szczerbiak were the second- and third-leading scorers, respectively—the Sonics waged nightly wars with consistent production. But when they barely took any threes (league-low 11.5 per game) and struggled to generate free throws (22.8 attempts per night, 28th), efficient offense was never going to be easily found.
It took the Sonics nine tries to record their first victory, and their only three-game winning streak directly followed a 14-game skid. The franchise bolted for the Sooner State the following summer, and Carlesimo was given his walking papers after a 1-12 start to that campaign.
Orlando Magic: 1989-90 (18-64)
Like many expansion teams, the Magic started at rock bottom. Their roster wasn't nearly as freshman-heavy as Miami's, but Orlando's veterans didn't inspire a ton of confidence.
Leading scorer Terry Catledge averaged 19.4 points, nine more than the previous season with a 42-loss Washington Bullets team. A 32-year-old Reggie Theus ranked No. 2 in what was his second-to-last NBA campaign. Scott Skiles probably deserved more minutes than his 20.9 for dishing 4.8 assists against 1.3 turnovers and hitting 39.4 percent of his threes, but the Magic were only 22nd in three-point attempts despite playing at the third-fastest pace.
Orlando's defense offered less resistance than a wet paper bag. The team's first 10 opponents all reached triple digits, and only one scored less than 110. The Magic allowed 114.3 points per 100 possessions; only four other teams cleared 110, and no one else topped 112.6.
After opening the year 7-7, Orlando would lose all but 11 of its final 68 games. Otis Smith and Michael Ansley tied for the team lead with 3.3 win shares, which didn't even rank among that season's top 125.
Philadelphia 76ers: 1972-73 (9-73)
Eat your heart out, Sam Hinkie. Despite all of the tank-tastic maneuvering of the process-trusters of the mid-2010s, no Sixers team lost bigger than the 1972-73 club.
No team ever did, in fact. Philly lost its first 15 games of the season, and that was one of only four losing streaks that spanned at least 10 games. Once the Sixers hobbled through the marathon's final stretch, they had suffered a league-record 73 losses, which still stands as the high (or low?) mark in NBA history.
As Chris Mannix relayed in a 2015 Sports Illustrated article, Philly advertised its coaching vacancy in Philadelphia newspapers, and the late Roy Rubin, a small college coach in Long Island, New York, answered it and was incredibly rewarded with the gig (plus a three-year, $300,000 contract). Rubin was out at the All-Star break with the team holding a woeful 4-47 record.
"I wouldn't wish a full season like that on my worst enemy," center Mel Counts told Mannix.
The Sixers played at the second-fastest pace and still averaged the fifth-fewest points per game. Three of their top five scorers shot worse than 40 percent from the field, and only reserve center Dale Schlueter had better than a 46 percent connection rate.
Phoenix Suns: 2017-18 (21-61)
The Suns fired head coach Earl Watson just three games into the 2017-18 season. It was stunning to see, even with the team losing two of those contests by more than 40 points and Eric Bledsoe attempting (and eventually succeeding) to tweet his way out of town.
But Watson actually knew the hammer would drop before the curtains even went up.
"I was given notice in training camp," Watson told Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times in 2019. "I was going to be out for sure."
The manner of Watson's ouster was dysfunctional, even for the Robert Sarver-owned Suns. The on-court performance was arguably worse. Phoenix had that season's worst offense and worst defense. When Alex Len is your win-shares leader—by a comfortable margin, no less—something has gone seriously wrong.
After Jay Triano took over as interim coach, the Suns actually won four of his first five games. But they'd go just 17-57 the rest of the way, trotting out a total of 22 different players (most in the infant stages of their careers) in the process.
Portland Trail Blazers: 2005-06 (21-61)
In the mid-2000s, the Trail Blazers were looking for a fresh start—really, anything that would move them away from the Jail Blazers era. So, during the 2004 offseason, they deemed it good business to ink Darius Miles to a six-year, $48 million deal and give Theo Ratliff a three-year, $35 million extension.
Considering their worst campaign in franchise history followed a year later, those maybe weren't the best investments the Blazers ever made. But considering how little was around at the time (the 2005-06 squad featured just six players with five-plus years of NBA experience), Portland probably didn't feel it had another option.
Either way, the Blazers gave new head coach Nate McMillan an underwhelming roster with next to no hope for success. Zach Randolph handled the heaviest scoring load despite shooting just 43.6 percent as an interior power forward. Ruben Patterson was fourth on that list before being dumped in a four-team trade that netted Portland a past-his-prime Voshon Lenard (in his final NBA season) and a never-had-a-prime Brian Skinner.
The offense played slow and still missed a ton of shots. The defense couldn't keep opponents off the scoreboard or turn them over. With a league-worst average margin of minus-9.45 points per game, the Blazers expected win total was a dismal 16.
Sacramento Kings: 2008-09 (17-65)
The 2008-09 Kings were two seasons removed from their last playoff berth and four away from their last postseason series win.
In other words, these were the early stages of a reset. Mike Bibby had been moved out the previous season. Metta World Peace was traded that summer. Sacramento had a potent scoring guard in Kevin Martin, but the rest of the roster was either place-holding vets or question-mark youngsters.
The Kings, who axed coach Reggie Theus after a 6-18 start, tried an all-offense approach with Martin and John Salmons at the forefront. But the team was nothing special on that end (25th), and it was disastrous at the other (30th). Sacramento surrendered 113.4 points per 100 possessions; the 29th-ranked (and 19-win) Washington Wizards allowed 112.1. Salmons was shipped out at the deadline.
Martin led the team in win shares, and once Salmons left, rookie Jason Thompson rose to second in the category, even while posting a subpar 13.9 PER. Of the 11 different Kings to make 40-plus appearances, only Martin and Brad Miller had positive box plus/minus ratings.
San Antonio Spurs: 1996-97 (20-62)
The Alamo City is almost allergic to bottoming out, but the 1996-97 season made an exception just in time to hit the lottery jackpot. We'll get to the prize later. First, we have to sort through the wreckage of the only completed losing campaign of the Gregg Popovich era.
An early back injury and later broken foot forced David Robinson to swap his silver-and-black threads for street clothes in all but six contests. Sean Elliott had knee surgery and only played 39 games. Sharpshooter Chuck Person missed the campaign after offseason back surgery. Backup big man Charles Smith battled knee problems and only played 19 times.
The Spurs started 3-15, which was enough for Popovich, then the general manager, to dismiss head coach Bob Hill and take over the position. When the record barely improved from there (17-47), the faithful were ready to turn on Pop.
"By the end of that dreadful season, an Express-News poll of nearly 4,000 fans found 92.2 percent felt Popovich should be fired as both coach and general manager," Rene A. Guzman of the San Antonio Express-News noted in 2019.
San Antonio, of course, stuck with Popovich, landed the top pick, spent it on Tim Duncan, won 56 games the following season and captured its first championship a year later. But for a fleeting moment, the mighty Spurs were abysmal.
Toronto Raptors: 1997-98 (16-66)
The Raptors' third season of existence was an avert-your-eyes kind of campaign. Nineteen of their first 20 games were losses, and the lone win in that stretch came against the Warriors group that made an earlier appearance on this list.
Things technically improved from there—Toronto didn't have a .050 winning percentage the whole year—but it was basically impossible to head the other direction. The Raptors struggled with both point production (third in pace, 17th in scoring) and point prevention (last in opponents' scoring).
The difficulty only increased when Damon Stoudamire, the team's first-ever draft pick and then-leading scorer, was traded at the deadline for a package built around two first-round picks and Kenny Anderson. But Anderson refused to report to the Raptors and had to be rerouted to the Celtics. As Sports Illustrated's Phil Taylor wrote at the time, Toronto tried to get Kendall Gill, but he "threatened to retire rather than play in Toronto."
The Raptors had young talent, but they needed more seasoning. Chauncey Billups shot just 34.9 percent after arriving in the second Anderson deal. Marcus Camby, the second overall pick in 1996, shot a head-scratching 41.2 percent. A rookie Tracy McGrady, fresh from the prep ranks, didn't have a long enough leash to make a difference (18.4 minutes per game).
Toronto ranked among the bottom five on offense and defense, and it never won consecutive games outside of a four-game winning streak in January.
Utah Jazz: 2013-14 (25-57)
The 1974-75 New Orleans Jazz should arguably hold this spot with worse performances in winning percentage (.280) and SRS (minus-7.30). But at least that group got to watch Pete Maravich's magic shows most nights.
This team, which opened with an eight-game losing streak and lost 14 of its first 15 contests, was left hoping one of its youngsters would grab the reins after parting ways with four starters the previous offseason: Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and Randy Foye. Demolishing a 43-win, veteran-heavy team is fine, but it can (and did) take time to get back on track.
The Jazz knew they were in for a lengthy rebuild, so they effectively rented out their cap space to the Warriors, who sacrificed a pair of first-round picks to clear enough money to sign Andre Iguodala. Utah added three players in that exchange, but only Richard Jefferson played a significant role.
Coach Tyrone Corbin mostly let the kids run wild, as five of Utah's top six players in minutes per game were age 23 or younger. Gordon Hayward shined the brightest with 16.2 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds, but he had career-worst shooting rates from the field (41.3) and from three (30.4). Trey Burke took the second-most shots while hitting just 38 percent of them. The offense was the NBA's sixth-least efficient.
But the defense was even worse (29th), which surely didn't sit well with a rookie Rudy Gobert, who was tethered to the bench (or toiling in the G League) for all but 434 minutes. Gobert was one of only three players—along with lesser-used reserve Mike Harris and Derrick Favors—who didn't grade out as a negative defender.
Washington Wizards: 2010-11 (23-59)
While this is only the seventh-worst record in Wizards history, only one previous iteration had a lower SRS. That team was the 1961-62 Chicago Packers, which gets a pass here for two reasons. First, the Chicago Packers sound like an NBA 2K-created team from a gamer with mixed loyalties. Second, that team got to watch Hall of Famer Walt Bellamy at his most productive, as he piled up 31.6 points and 19 rebounds per game.
The 2010-11 Wizards, on the other hand, had a rookie John Wall, a few remnants of their wacky Wizards days and a handful of players even hoop junkies have probably forgotten. Gilbert Arenas was even somehow still around after the December 2009 locker room gun incident between he and then-teammate Javaris Crittenton. Arenas was finally traded in December 2010 for Rashard Lewis.
Jordan Crawford arrived at the deadline and promptly led the team in field-goal attempts per game while shooting 39 percent overall and 23.8 percent from three. Removing Arenas from the equation, Andray Blatche and Nick Young were second and third in shots, respectively. JaVale McGee was the runaway leader in win shares.
Washington was worse than the record shows, as it closed the campaign with a 6-4 stretch. The Wizards' average game that season was a 7.4-point loss, their third-lowest margin in franchise history.