The 8 Most Disappointing NBA Teams of All-Time

Robert FeltonAnalyst IISeptember 2, 2010

The 8 Most Disappointing NBA Teams of All-Time

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    Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of being blessed with extraordinary talent is the levels the expectations will reach as a result.

    The 2010-11 Miami Heat, for example, are either destined to fulfill all the promise of their talented roster and ride their big three to playoff greatness, or be relegated as one of the most over-hyped and disappointing teams ever assembled.

    There really is no middle ground in Miami.

    Let's face it: We've all seen teams who failed to meet expectations. The Vegas Odds picked them as the favorites, their fans had stocked up on season tickets and league passes so as not to miss a single game and every Sportscenter analyst was glowing about how far ahead of the pack they were.

    But the team comes out, faces a team that doesn't believe the hype and that favorite is sent crashing back down to earth with a decisive thud, deemed by NBA historians in the year's that follow as an also-ran.

    These are the clubs whose hype never quite matched their games.

    Here are the most disappointing NBA teams of all time.

    Miami Heat, you all may want to take notes.

8. 2006 Detroit Pistons

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    The 2006 Detroit Pistons were the odds on favorite to advance to the finals and win it.

    After back-to-back trips to the finals saw the club win one title and come to within a quater of besting the San Antonio Spurs for another, the team returned the next season with a new mindset and coach, Flip Saunders to chase the NBA championship once again.

    Now Flip wasn't known as the playoff winner that his predecessor Larry Brown was, but he was a good coach whose teams always played solid offense and led the league in fewest turnovers per game.

    This team raced off to a blistering start to the season going 47-9 and seemingly comfortable in Saunders new system. Team point guard Chauncey Billups was put in the conversation for league MVP and most analyst felt, once the team finished the season with the league's best record of 64-18, they were destined to advance to the finals three straight years like the "Bad Boys" Pistons had.

    But, it didn't happen.

    Their defense came and went throughout the playoffs and when they faced Dwyane Wade and a rejuvenated Shaq in the conference finals, they simply had no answer for either.

    Wade averaged 26.6 ppg in the series, including that legendary circus shot in the lane, helping to effectively end one of the best and most disappointing season's in Pistons franchise history.

7. 1998 L.A. Lakers

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    This team began the season 11-0, although so did the Atlanta Hawks that same year, but they had nowhere near the talent that the Lakers possessed.

    With Shaq having one year as a Laker under his belt and Kobe Bryant, Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell beginning to cohere offensively and defensively, this team looked pretty scary.

    "Shaq, like [Hakeem Olajuwon] is winning every battle in the middle and the three point shooters are just backing up and knocking them down," proclaimed hall of famer Bill Walton.

    Finishing the season with a 61-21 record they made quick work of the their first two playoff opponents, the Trailblazers and Supersonics. The Lakers simply looked dominant in both series and beat the Sonics by an average margin of 17 ppg in the series.

    In the Western Conference Finals, they faced rival Utah Jazz, in what was considered a payback series, after Utah beat L.A. the previous year.

    Going into the series, the Lakers, who were already considered "the most talented team in the NBA," by several experts were considered the favorites to win the series and perhaps beat Chicago.

    John Salley said, "I pick them to beat the Jazz and go on to the finals."

    Peter Vecsey agreed saying, "The bigs for the Jazz, Greg Foster, Antoine Carr and Greg Ostertag can't handle Shaq. The Jazz will probably double-team him and leave the 3 point shooters open. When that happens look for LA to run away with this series."

    The Lakers, acting curiously like a favored team, began the game by chanting, "down, down, down, Utah's going down!"

    Well, Utah did not go down and neither did LAs shots as they were obliterated by the Jazz 112-77 en route to a demoralizing sweep of the Lakers.

    L.A. recovered, of course, and won five titles over the next 11 years, but this was not the way a season and playoff run that saw the Lakers looking so dominant at times, was supposed to end.

6. 1973 Boston Celtics

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    What can I say?


    I mean seriously, 68-14.

    This remains a Boston Celtics franchise record for regular season wins and after losing in the conference finals the previous year to the New York Knicks, the Celtics of Dave Cowens, Jo Jo White and John Havlicek came into the 1973 season on a mission.

    However, after posting that brilliant regular season mark, the rest of the team's records were more dubious.

                    -The only team to win 68+ games in the regular season and not win a title (a record that still stands).

                     -The only team to ever lose back-to-back confernce finals series with homecourt advantage against the same team (Knicks).

                      -One of the few Boston Celtics teams of the era with  hightened expectations that can be described as failing to get it done.

    To be fair, this team, unlike many of the others on this list, did win the title the very next year, redeeming themselves somewhat from this disappointment. But when you get a glance at that record, you can't help but consider this as a huge letdown for the club.

5. 1969 and 1970 LA Lakers

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    A lot is being made of the Miami Heat's big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as they represent three of the 20 best players in the league today.

    Well, how about this big three: Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West.

    They may represent three of the top 20 players of all-time and they were all on the same team chasing the first Laker title since relocating to LA from Minneapolis. 

    In 1969, the trio faced the Boston Celtics in the finals and were looking to finally put an end to beantown's dominace in their rivalry. Facing the older, injured Celtics team, the Lakers were the prohibitive favorites to take the title that year.

    Celtic great Bill Russell, however, had other ideas, motivating his team prior to game 7 by informing them of the balloon drop the Lakers were planning to celebrate their championship triumph. A fired up Celtic squad beat the Lakers in LA and once again thwarted Baylor's chance to win that ever elusive ring.

    In 1970, the finals, (known for the Jerry West shot from halfcourt that sent game 3 into overtime, damn late 3-point rule and "will Willis {Reed] play?") the Lakers once again lost in seven games, this time to the New York Knicks.

    These two years, the Lakers had excellent shots to win the championship and were favorite to do so (especially in 1969) but they didn't quite get it done. They would, however, see the clouds part and their fortunes change in 1972 when they racked up a 69-13 regular season record and the title.

    Unfortunately, by that time Baylor had already retired.

4. 1999 Indiana Pacers

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    Sort of the Oklahoma City Thunder of their day.

    A year after playing the Chicago Bulls to a virtual standoff in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, they were deemed the team to take their place atop the NBA title holders after the Bulls were broken up following the Bulls' 1998 championship season.

    They had a veteran group of players. They were led by playoff clutch shooter Reggie Miller and were motivated by the experience of having lost in the Eastern Finals in three of the last five years, all in game 7s on the road. They were also well coached by Larry Bird and played solid defense.

    Once they beefed up their lineup with the off-season acquisition of Sam Perkins and it was announced that they were rigorously practicing throughout the NBA lockout months of 1999, every analyst was picking them to win it all.

    "The Pacers have defense, size, shooting and experience," said Bill Walton. "If they don't win it MUST be the coach," not realizing the irony of his words at the time.

    The team itself even got in the act.

    "Now I know what it's like to be hunted from the start of the season," said Pacer point guard Mark Jackson at the time about his team's position as favorites. "We have been targeted from day one. Everyone is gunning for us, but we welcome the challenge. It will just make the victory that much more sweet."

    But the Pacers ran into an 8th seeded buzzsaw in the New York Knicks(man, they can't give a favored team a break!) who had somehow found their playoff rhythm and beat the Pacers despite losing Patrick Ewing for the final four games of the series.

    The Pacers started the playoffs 7-0, but eventually went down in flames 4-2 against the Knicks with one of Reggie Miller's rare poor playoff performances.

3. 1993-1995, 2005 Phoenix Suns

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    "God wants us to win the NBA Championship!"

    So proclaimed Charles Barkley during his team's triumphant run through the 1993 NBA season which saw him being named the MVP and being picked the favorites to win the NBA title.

    However, if the immortal words of Larry Bird are to be believed, Michael Jordan arrived in full Holy Man attire to swatted down Barkley's words in resounding fashion taking both game 1 and game 2 in Phoenix.

    No team before or since has lost the first two games of the NBA Finals at home.

    Barkley's Suns fought back taking two of three in Chicago, before John Paxon's three-point dagger and Horace Grant's block on Kevin Johnson officially ended the Suns title hunt.

    Then in 1994 and 1995, with Jordan either completely out of the picture or not quite back to his be-like-Mike ways, Barkley tried again to prove that he knew God better than the rest of us.

    He took 2-0 series leads against the Houston Rockets in both years, and the several media outlets were already lamenting about his team's prospects for an NBA Championship.

    "We're in great shape," Barkley said. "All we have to do is finish them off. It's time to win that title."


    He greatly underestimated the heart of the champions and lost a 2-0 series lead in '94 and 3-1 series lead in '95 to the eventual champs.

    Then in 2005, finally free of Barkley's predictions another franchise MVP Steve Nash lead the Suns to a 62-20 mark and then number one seed in the Western Conference.

    Suns fans began to believe, after the disappointments with the Barkley led team, that maybe, this was their year.

    After racing out to a 8-2 start to the playoffs in the first two rounds, the Suns were finally brought to their knees by arguably their old nemesis...defense!

    The Spurs used their superior defense to overwhelm the Suns and ousted them in a mere five games. To be fair, the Suns were faced with a key injury in that series when their forward Joe Johnson went out with a broken face, but this was still a bitter loss.

    While Nash has certainly had a hall-of-fame caliber career, he  seems like he may face the same fate as his franchise predessesor Sir Charles and never win a ring. 

2. 2009 Cleveland Cavaliers

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    The good news for the 2010-11 Miami Heat is that at least LeBron James knows what it's like to be heavily favored to win it all and not succeed.

     Perhaps the feeling of coming up short when every NBA analyst had picked him to advance to the finals will motivate him to avoid the same fate with his current squad.

    On the other hand, when you have the chance to lead your team to the finals as a number one seed with a 66-16 record and you don't come through in a town that hasn't seen a champion since The Dirty Dozen was in production, well, those things can haunt you your entire career and create a stigma that can never be overcome.

    The 2009 Cleveland Cavaliers seemingly had it all to win a championship: The league MVP coming off his best season, two "all-star" players, a dominant home record where they went 39-2, the NBA's best point differential of 8.9 ppg which most NBA analyst will assert is the true measure of a team's greatness and a nearly five decade score to settle with a certain "Cleveland sports curse."

     Expectations began to reach a fever pitch when the Cavs swept the first two rounds of the playoffs.

    But when they faced the Orlando Magic in the ECF center Dwight Howard simply punished them in the paint while Hedo Turkoglu  and Rashard Lewis just posted up the smallish Cavs forwards at will. While LeBron averaged 38.5 ppg in the series, his teammates were just manhandled all series and a season, which began with thoughts of putting the curse to bed for good, came to a crashing close.

1. 2007 Dallas Mavericks

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    There was no doubt that 2007 was the Dallas Mavericks' year.

    Or so many had claimed.

    This team was looking for redemption after blowing a 2-0 lead in the finals the previous year to the Miami Heat. And many analyst picked them to do just that.

    "This is a team on a mission," said Jamal Mashburn. "They have been there before. They still have a bitter taste in their mouth after losing the finals last year. I think they are the best team."

    The Mavs seemed poised to prove Mashburn right getting an MVP winning season out of its star Dirk Nowitzki, it had posted a franchise best 67-15 record and it was coached by the "little general" Avery Johnson.

    But the Mavericks served as a textbook example why records matter a whole lot less than matchups.

    The Mavs didn't matchup with the Golden State Warriors all year going 0-3 against their former coach Don Nelson's scrappy team. And when they lost to the team 4-2 in the first round, it was not just a team not fulfilling leaguewide expectations of championship success, it was an embarrassment of jaw-dropping proportions.

    Never before had a team with such high expectations performed so poorly when it mattered most.

    And for Miami's sake,  may it never be rivaled.


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