Last week the Timberwolves suffered an especially humiliating loss at the hands of the previously winless 76ers prompting some fans to speculate that the franchise had entered a new low point. Now personally I don't have the energy nor the wherewithal to get into the specifics of why this could be true nor why it probably isn't. Both sides of this debate are, frankly, too depressing to engage. Instead, much like NASA scientists explore the universe in an effort to determine that we are not alone in the universe, I will take a few minutes to explore the Basketball Reference Website to (hopefully) determine that we Timberwolves fans are not alone in the universe of NBA fan suffering. I expect that my explorations will be much safer than those of my brave NASA counter parts but I'm not 100% certain of this. I may never return from this journey and, even if I do, I may never be the same. Still, this is a job that needs to be done and I think I just may have the right stuff embark on this thankless journey. Now lets get started before I change my mind.
6. Sacramento Kings
Franchise Win Percentage: .462
Low Point: The franchise won the NBA championship in just it's third season as the Rochester Royals and it's been all downhill ever since. As with all of the teams lucky enough to make this list, picking out a lone low point is not going to be easy. The 1989/90 version won just 23 games while relying heavily on Danny Ainge and Vinny Del Negro. I can't say I remember this team but the image I conjure up in my mind is not pretty. More recently, the 2008/09 Kings, which posted a dismal season record of 17-65, was forced to include Rashad McCants in 24 games. Yikes! Also there are the Maloof Brothers. Yes sir, there are low points aplenty in this franchise's 67 year history.
High Point: I think it's fair to say that most NBA observers would agree that the Sacramento Kings high point was the Rick Adelman era in which the team enjoyed eight consecutive seasons of playoff basketball. The pinnacle of this run was undoubtedly the 2001/02 season which resulted in the Kings losing an exciting and controversial Western Conference Finals match up with the Los Angeles Lakers. This team, you will remember, featured a four headed monster of Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic, Vlade Divac and Chris Webber and was a joy to watch from an offensive perspective. We feel your pain Sacramento. Honorable mention goes to a nice run as the Cincinnati Royals in the 1960's featuring Oscar Roberson.
Future Outlook: New owners and a new stadium bring a fresh round of hope to fans of the Sacramento Kings. As recently as last year the franchise seemed destined for yet another relocation but now that fear should dissipate as fans are able to focus on the basketball. Currently the team is more entraining than they are successful- a fact that is due almost entirely to their talented and fan polarizing center DeMarcus Cousins. All indications are that Cousins provides the franchise with an excellent foundation to build on but the team will need to be careful not to accept simply being happy to have a shiny new downtown stadium. It's hard to imagine the Kings sorting things out anytime soon but Cousins and a new ownership group should have fans feeling optimistic. Prognosis is guarded.
5. Washington Wizards
Franchise Win Percentage: .448
Low Point: Choosing a low point for the Wizards franchise is no easy task and I suspect my choice here will reveal a bit of a bias towards more recently occurring events. The Chris Webber experiment would be worthy of consideration here if it wasn't also worth thinking about as a franchise high point. If I think about this from the perspective of actual basketball accomplishments I find it hard to look beyond the 2010/11 season in which then Coach Flip Saunders finessed the team to a mere 23 wins. The thing that sets this particular season apart is the comical roster construction that included Javale McGee, Andray Blatche, Nick Young, Jordan Crawford, post gun suspension Gilbert Arenas, and the criminally overpaid Rashard Lewis. The fact that John Wall survived this as a rookie will only add to the legacy he is currently building.
Any discussion of Wizard/Bullet franchise low points would be incomplete without mentioning that Gilbert Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton apparently pulled guns on each other in the locker room over a gambling dispute. Also worth noting as a possible low point is the fact that having Michael Jordan play for the team was not a high point.
High Point: The obvious choice here is the 1977/78 Championship season led by the big three of Elvin Hayes, Bob Dandridge and Wes Unseld. This team, interestingly enough, also included Mitch Kupchack who I'd always assumed had been simply molded out of plastic to play the part of Laker supervillain on TV. I guess you do indeed learn something new every once and a while. Other noteworthy high points include Chris Webber's lone playoff season as a Bullet and, I'd argue, last season in which the team improbably returned to relevancy with an exciting brand of basketball and a playoff series win against the Chicago Bulls.
Future Outlook: It's always difficult to envision too rosy of a future outlook when we are talking about one of the NBA's perpetual bottom feeding franchises. However the current state of the Wizards is pretty good as they are clinging to the third seed in the Eastern Conference. The now veteran John Wall is having his finest season as a pro- although it's hard to decide if he has emerged as a true superstar or if he is simply having a plus season against a still undermanned Eastern Conference. Either way, Wizard fans have cause to celebrate. The team is on a roll and has a roster that is not only a fun mixture of youth and vets, but that actually makes a lot of sense as well. Still, this is the franchise that replaced head coach Flip Saunders with Randy Wittman so it may be too early to start renaming major Washington monuments after this current collection of players. Prognosis is hopeful.
4. Toronto Raptors
Franchise Win Percentage: .421
Low Point: It seems kind of pointless to work too hard to hard to identify the low point of the Raptors franchise- at least basketball wise. They have made the playoffs just six times in 20 years and have advanced out of the first round only once. If I had to choose I guess I could pick their third season, 1997/98, in which they won only 16 games and Basketball Reference identified Doug Christie as their best statistical player. Go ahead- try to imagine a team in which Doug Christie is the best player. I don't even know where to start with such a horrifying task. I once told one of my very best friends that his game reminded me of the Doug Christie role on the above mentioned Sacramento teams and he almost punched me in the face and, you know, the more I think about it the more I think I may have deserved it.
However, I do not think this one terrible season was the franchise low point. That honor probably goes to the day they decided to name Barney the Dinosaur as their team mascot or, similarly, the decision to include a three dimensional illusional trick on their home court floor design. Seriously, I can hardly stand to watch Raptor home games. Also, there is the time that Jeremy Lin hit a game winner for the Knicks in Toronto against the home team Raptors and the crowd erupted with a jubilance that should be reserved for when Ed McMahon shows up at your front door with a million dollars.
High Point: From a purely team success standpoint the Raptors most successful season came in 2000/01 when the team managed to win a first round playoff season against the New York Knicks and then take the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Sixers to an exciting game seven. Also note worthy is last season when, despite the atrocious home floor design, the Raptors posted their best single season and boasted two All-Star players in the back court (although actual history does not reflect this given that Kyle Lowry was left off the team for reasons known only to God and Joe Johnson). Also worth considering as a high point was last season's trade of Rudy Gay which in hindsight looks like the kind of trade that would be vetoed by even the most stringent of fantasy commissioners (basketball reasons).
Outlook: The future outlook of this franchise took a serious upswing when the team managed to hire Masai Ujiri away from the Denver Nuggets in 2013. Inexplicably Ujiri not only managed the aforementioned Rudy Gay trade, he also ws able to trade Andrea Bargnani to a division rival. Nonetheless, this team has too much failure and too horrible of team branding (mascot, uniforms, floor) for me to feel really good about their future. They also play in Canada, which some observers feel gives them a distinct disadvantage in free agency due to tax concerns. There are currently some things to really like about the Toronto Raptors so it will be interesting to see how things play out over the next few years. Prognosis is skeptical.
3. Charlotte Hornets
Franchise Win Percentage: .433
Low Point: The then named Charlotte Bobcats managed only seven wins during the lock out shortened 2011/12 NBA season. Fans of ineptitude everywhere were cheated from a truly horrific season because, despite posting an NBA worst ever .106 winning percentage, this historic non-effort will always have an asterisks next to it. Also notable to this discussion is the 18 win 2004/05 season which featured a roster noteworthy only for having no noteworthy players on board- save perhaps Gerald Wallace who, despite managing to appear in 70 games, displayed a poor overall statistical profile compared to his next few seasons. Also, in 2006 the team drafted Adam Morrison with the third overall pick. Ouch.
High Point: The Basketball reference website is a little wonky here in that they are including the entirety of the Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats history on the team page despite the fact that this actually represents two separate franchises. If we are wiling to look at the franchise that is now the New Orleans Pelicans in this history we would have choose the 10 season run from 1992-2002 in which the Hornets played some pretty good basketball including multiple trips beyond the first round of the playoffs. In fact, has I known that both histories would factor into this I would have left the Hornets out of this article entirely which would have given me one less team to write about- something that I think would have been beneficial to both myself and anyone taking the time to read this article.
Anyway, considering that I have already come this far I might as well take the time to identify a high point for the franchise that still exists in Charlotte. This decision comes down to two very similar seasons and I am going to once again show my recency bias and choose last season in which, despite having Ben Gordon on the roster, the still named Bobcats posted a 43 win season and a playoff berth. These 2013/14 Bobcats were indeed a fun team to watch and root for alike. In fact, truth told, I kind of miss the Bobcats already.
Future Outlook: This seems to be a good time to point out something amazing which is this: I am writing an article on the worst franchises in NBA history and this will be the second time I have to bring up Michael Jordan. Now we all know there is no denying MJ's accomplishment as a player with the Chicago Bulls but his roster management skills have twice proven suspect and he has the blood of both the Kwame Brown and the Adam Morrison drafts on his hands. Keep this in mind next time you are day dreaming about your favorite team's once great player returning in a front office role to restore your team to greatness, or at least semi-releance. I'm also not yet sure of what to make of the name change back to Hornets and, like a lot of people, I wonder if an NBA franchise can ever really compete against the Duke/UNC rivalry in this market. Prognosis is confused.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves
Franchise Win Percentage: .399
Low Point: Do I really need to do this. Ugh. Ok, It's going to be ok. Besides, I did this to myself. The easy answer is of course the Kurt Rambis experiment which produced just 32 wins over the course of two full 82 game seasons. Lowlights of this era include Kevin Love being benched for Ryan Hollins, David Kahn pressers, Johnny Flynn trying to operate a weird version of the triangle offense, and game plans that purposely tried to run the ball through Darko Milicic. Just looking back at these rosters makes my stomach churn.
Sadly, there are other low points in the history of this franchise that can compete with this, although probably none having to do specifically with the team's on the court product. Perhaps it will be cathartic for me to list a few in no particular order: the NBA draft in general, Joe Smith's illegal contract, J.R. Rider smoking weed from a pop can*, anything having to do with Christian Laettner, Derrick Williams missing like thirty dunks in a row in round three of the dunk contest, Stephon Marbury hurting our feelings, the stadium fire in Mexico City, Flip Saunders holding a press conference to announce that he had hired himself, back to back seasons with scheduled "home games" in Mexico City, trading Kevin Garnett, losing at home to a Sixers team that is openly trying to not be a real NBA team, and Ricky Rubio's devastating knee injury at the hands of Darth Kobe. I'm sure I'm forgetting some but for the sake of my soul I'm just going to stop there. Feel free to jump in with your own favorite low points in the comment section.
*this did not actually happen while Rider was a member of the Timberwolves but somehow it has always felt like a reflection on our franchise and community.
High Point: Choosing a high point for the Timberwolves franchise is painfully simple. In the summer of 2003 someone in the Wolves front office had the bright idea that it would be nice to see Kevin Garnnett play beyond the first round of the playoffs. Inexplicably, Glen Taylor agreed and the team signed Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, and Michael Olowokandi during free agency. The plan worked like a dream come true for Wolves fans who cheered in delight as KG won the league MVP while the team won 58 games and advanced to the Western Conference finals. That seven game series against Sacramento may have been my personal pinnacle as a sports fan. At this time there is little point in reliving the conference finals against the Lakers because that season was glorious and nothing anyone says can take it away from me.
Other franchise highlights include Malik Sealy's game winner against Indiana, Kevin Love's 31/31 game against the Knicks, the original team logo, Love's game winner against the Clippers, hiring Rick Adelman, Firing Kurt Rambis, and anything having to do with Ricky Rubio.
Future Outlook: This is the tough part. We all know that teams ebb and flow (although some flow more than others) but it's difficult to see this team moving into a long stable period of ongoing success without a major culture change. Owner Glen Taylor seems like a decent fellow, all things considered, and he certainly has a bunch of money, but something in his leadership style, at least as it relates to the Timberwolves, just screams complacency and status quo. The team is in the process of renovating the stadium which, I guess, is kind of cool and probably better than building a new one entirely, but I'm not sure how helpful it will be in any meaningful way other than delaying the threat of relocation another handful of seasons. Until the team finds a new committed and energized ownership group I personally imagine more of the same- so enjoy those high points when you can people. Prognosis is Timberwolves.
1. Los Angelas Clippers
Franchise Win Percentage: .384
Low Point: This section should probably just be a few paragraphs about Donald Sterling but I'm pretty sure we all got our fill of that last spring when his overt racism was captured on audio tape leading to his eventually selling the team to a different billionaire. Also, frankly, it's difficult to determine if this whole series of events should be considered a low point or a high point. No matter, there are plenty of basketball related low points to choose from for this particular franchise. The one that stands out to me here is the 1999/00 15 win season. Now this season came on the heels of a nine win campaign which is remarkable in it's ineptitude even if it was a lock out shortened season. Think about it this way, anytime proper writing guidelines require the writer to spell out the number of wins a basketball team records over the entirety of any NBA season things have gotten pretty bad. Anyway, take a look at the Clippers 1999/00 roster. Seriously, look at it. I dare you not to laugh out loud. The only thing keeping this thing from being the worst thing imaginable is the rookie Lamar Odom. Now, I'll confess that the pervious year's roster might actually be worse but I'm trying to be light here and don't want to force any readers to cry out loud. Click that particular link at your own risk.
High Point: The truth of the matter is that the Los Angeles Clippers are probably enjoying their franchise high point right now. Last season was their most successful from a wins and losses standpoint and so far this season the team has been winning at an even higher rate. Taken along with the fact the their key players are healthy, and it's too early in the season to start worrying about yet another disappointingly early playoff exit, Clippers fans have every reason to feel good about the team right now at this exact moment. Doc Rivers is a proven coach and both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are extremely effective at winning NBA basketball games. Hell, even the bench players on this team make a shocking amount of sense given what they try to do on the court (although I'd feel a little better if Glen Davis were still an actual NBA player). Enjoy it while you can Clippers nation because history often informs the future and your team's history is well documented.
Future Outlook: Despite what I just wrote about the Clippers I think that long term fans of this team can and should feel pretty good about the team's future outlook. New ownership can be a breath of fresh air for any franchise and Steve Ballmer seems like the kind of guy who may have the energy and a willingness to spend the money necessary to compete for years to come. Add to this the fact that the Lakers are struggling like never before, and the glamour of Hollywood can be seen from Clipper player parking spots just as easily, and it's easy to imagine that the #futurelaker hashtag could one day become #futureclipper. Don't forget that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a Super Bowl proving, once and for all, that in sports anything can happen. Prognosis is hopeful.