Every sport has a list of teams who have yet to win the big one. The NBA is no different.
In the 76-year history of the NBA, eleven teams have never hoisted the Larry O’Brien Championship trophy. Some due to their lack of time in the league, some due to unlucky circumstances, and some due to poor management.
Here are the eleven teams in the NBA who have never won a championship (so far).
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If any team is allowed to use the excuse of bad timing as a reason why they have never won an NBA championship, it’s the Indiana Pacers.
Founded in 1967, they were a member of the original American Basketball Association (ABA). They won three ABA championships from 1970 to 1976, when the ABA merged with the NBA.
Indiana had a miserable first thirteen seasons in the NBA; they only had two non-losing seasons and two playoff appearances.
In 1987 the Indiana Pacers drafted future hall-of-Famer, Reggie Miller and started to build a team that could win in the playoffs. However, they didn’t win their first playoff series until 1994.
In the 1990s, the Pacers tried to build a winning franchise through the additions of Larry Brown and Larry Bird. But the closest they came to winning the NBA finals came in 2000 when Brown and Bird had departed.
The 1999-2000 season saw the Pacers win the Eastern Conference with a 56-26 record, and they made the NBA finals for the first time.
However, the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neil-led LA Lakers were too much for the Pacers to handle, and they fell to LA 4-2 in the series.
The Pacers have since built teams around top stars Isiah Thomas, Danny Granger, and Paul George. However, they have yet to get past the conference finals, vastly due to having to deal with LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the early 2010s.
The Brooklyn Nets can blame their lack of NBA championships on many people. They have had embarrassing moments both on and off the court.
From 1976-2001 the Nets only had eleven playoff appearances with nine first-round exits.
In 2001 the Nets front office made a trade for future hall-of-Famer Jason Kidd. Kidd led the Nets to the NBA finals in 2002 and 2003. However, the team simply didn’t have enough talent to compete with the 2002 LA Lakers and the 2003 San Antonio Spurs.
After several years of up and down seasons and the departure of Jason Kidd, the Nets front office made a huge push to buy an NBA championship by bringing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Big Apple for the 2013-14 season.
This team was the best Nets team to date on paper. However, LeBron James and the Miami Heat were amid their dynasty and ruined the Nets’ plans in the Eastern Conference Semi-Final.
The Nets have recently made another huge push to claim their first NBA championship with the Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden “experiment”. But despite making the payoffs in the last four seasons, they have been unable to reach another NBA final.
The Nets are one of the most talked about teams in the NBA, not because of their ability to build a dynasty, but because drama constantly clouds this franchise.
The LA Clippers have always lived in the shadows of their older brother, the LA Lakers. When free agents think of heading to California to play in one of the country’s most luxurious destinations, they think of the Lakers, not the Clippers, due to the latter’s lack of championship success.
The Clippers organization landed in LA in 1984 after previously being the Buffalo Braves and San Diego Clippers. Since then, the Clippers have made 16 playoff appearances but have never reached the NBA finals.
The Clippers only made the playoffs once between 1997 and 2011. Since then, the Clippers have had a string of solid lineups which have become a staple in the playoffs.
After a good Clippers era led by Blake Griffin and Chris Paul ended, a new team consisting of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard took the Clippers to where they hadn’t gone before, the Western Conference Final.
However, they ran into a much more talented Pheonix Suns team and lost the series in six games.
The Utah Jazz is a victim of poor timing. In the late 90s, John Stockton and Karl Malone were one of the most feared duos in the NBA. But the greatest player of all time prevented them from securing a championship.
The Jazz originated in New Orleans in 1974 before moving to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1979. And the best team in franchise history came shortly after.
John Stockton and Karl Malone led the Jazz to two consecutive NBA finals in 1997 and 1998. Both years they came up against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty – they lost 4-2 in both years.
Since then, Utah has appeared in the playoffs in all but eight seasons. But they’ve never had a team that looked capable of going all the way. And with the recent departures of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert – a title doesn’t look imminent.
The Charlotte Hornets entered the NBA in 1988 and then moved to New Orleans in 2002. Charlotte was then granted a new franchise in 2004.
In their infancy, the Hornets were fun to watch. They reached the playoffs five times between 1996 and 2002 with help from Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, arguably the best players to wear the Hornets jersey.
Since 2002, the Charlotte Hornets have just “existed”. They made the playoffs three times since then, exited in the opening round each time, and were swept twice.
In 2010, Michael Jordan became a majority owner, but even the greatest player of all time has been unable to turn this franchise into a winning one.
Originally founded as the Denver Larks in 1967, they changed to the Denver Rockets before their first season, becoming the Nuggets in 1974.
During their time in the NBA, the Denver Nuggets have only missed the playoffs nineteen times. They have appeared in four conference finals but have yet to reach the NBA finals.
In three of the four conference championships they have played in, the Nuggets have run into LA Laker dynasties. In 1985 it was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson who stopped them. Then it was Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in 2009. And in 2020, it was Lebron James and Anthony Davis.
The Nuggets have had solid teams led by Carmelo Anthony, Alex English, Dikembe Mutombo, and even Allen Iverson for a short time. However, they have yet to come close to a team that can put it all together in the playoffs.
The Orlando Magic is one of the younger NBA franchises. Entering as a hot expansion team in 1989, they started building a legit roster by drafting Shaquille O’Neil in 1992.
They reached their first NBA finals in 1995, thanks to Shaq and Penny Hardaway. But they were swept by Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and the Houston Rockets.
When Shaq left Orlando in 1996, the Magic had a downfall, failing to get past the opening round in their few playoff appearances.
But the Magic made another run at the NBA finals in 2009 with Dwight Howard and Tracy McGrady leading the way. However, they again ended that season without a title as Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers continued their winning ways.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have never come close to winning an NBA championship.
The Timberwolves’ first season in the NBA was 1989-1990, and they had to wait eight seasons to see the playoffs. But they reached eight straight playoffs, with their best-ever season coming at the end of that streak.
Kevin Garnett led Minnesota to their first and only Conference finals against the LA Lakers. However, they were vastly outmatched and defeated by the superior Lakers team.
They then had thirteen playoffless seasons.
Karl-Anthony Towns gave the Timberwolves some hope as a rookie. He helped them to a playoff birth in 2018, but they couldn’t get past the first round again. This past season they reached the playoffs for just the 10th time in franchise history. Sadly yet again, they met their demise in the first round.
A general sum up of the Timberwolves franchise – in 2009, they passed up on Steph Curry for Jonny Flynn.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have only been around since 2002, managing eight playoff appearances.
The Pelicans franchise can be split into two main eras – the Anthony Davis era and the Zion Williamson era. Unfortunately, both have had the same outcome.
Davis was drafted first by New Orleans in 2012 and became the face of the franchise. However, the Pelicans never gave him the right recipe for success. A trade for Demarcus Cousins in 2017 was supposed to alter that, but the Pelicans couldn’t string together consecutive playoff seasons.
Davis led the Pelicans to the conference semi-finals, but the Warriors dominated them.
This lack of help from the front office pushed Anthony Davis to LA, and the Pelicans drafted Zion Williamson in 2019, hoping he could lift the franchise to winning ways.
But injuries have plagued these plans. The Pelicans did reach the playoffs this last season but again failed to get past the first series.
The Suns have boasted some of the most talented basketball teams never to win a championship.
After a 42-40 season in 1975, the Phonix Suns made a surprising run in the playoffs. A somewhat average team with no star players, their run ended in the NBA finals at the hands of the Boston Celtics.
It took almost two decades for the Suns to reach another NBA finals when Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, and Danny Ainge took the Suns to the NBA finals, only to be sent packing by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
The Suns had a lot of solid teams through the late 90s and early 2000s. But teams that included Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash couldn’t get past the Conference finals and make another NBA final.
After Nash and Stoudemire left the team, the Suns were left without much to cheer about, with only one winning season in ten.
But a surprising, fairytale season in 2021-22 gave the Suns fans hope again. Devin Booker and Chris Paul led the team to the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons – then they just kept winning.
Phoenix went all the way to the NBA finals that season but lost in six games to the Bucks. So, just like it did in the 90s, a championship looks imminent.
The Grizzlies were initially established in Vancouver in 1995. They never made the playoffs or had much success until they moved to Memphis in 2000.
They made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons in 2004, 2005, and 2006. But their real chance of winning it all came later on.
A team that boasted Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol led the Grizzlies to multiple playoff runs between 2010 and 2017. 2013 was their most successful season as they reached the Conference finals; however, they got swept by the Spurs in four games. The defensive-minded style of basketball was not enough to overcome scoring powerhouses in the modern era.
After a few bleak seasons, the Grizzlies drafted Ja Morant, who has rejuvenated the Grizzlies and looks poised to lead the team to success.
Despite their lack of success in terms of championships, many of these franchises remain competitive year after year due to solid management decisions and talented rosters.
While they may not be hoisting up a trophy anytime soon, all hope is not lost as they continue striving towards that elusive first title.
In my other post, I look at the “total opposite” and delve into the NBA teams with the most championship wins.