The upcoming season of the NBA will feature at least eight to 10 championship contenders. This is the first time in a while that the league has looked extremely competitive. Gone are the days of super teams, as we welcome the time for superstar duos and rising young cores.
Unfortunately, as good as the league looks on paper, we all know that only one team will hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. A lot of fans will end up heartbroken as their teams fall short of winning the title.
But this isn’t new. There have been a lot of great teams in the history of the NBA that never won a championship. Franchises that end up on the losing end of a grueling playoff or Finals series despite all their efforts to build a talent-laden team.
So, let’s take a look at some of the best NBA teams that never won a championship.
5. The 1997-2004 Indiana Pacers
The Pacers were one of the teams that gave Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls a run for their money in the late 90s. Both teams faced each other in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, a series that reached seven games. Reggie Miller gave everything he could against MJ. Unfortunately, the Bulls were just too much for them to handle.
Still, the Pacers remained one of the most competitive teams in the East. Their fans thought they would finally get their chance after MJ retired, but a new dynasty was built two years later. They would face a Los Angeles Lakers team that was led by prime Shaquille O’Neal and a young Kobe Bryant in the 2000 NBA Finals, and the duo was just too much for Miller and company to handle.
Ultimately, the end of Miller’s time with the Pacers came at the hands of the Detroit Pistons, who took them out in the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals.
Indiana had multiple chances to win a championship during this period, but each time they would emerge as a legitimate title contender, a better team would show up to take them down.
4. The 2017-19 Houston Rockets
The Rockets are one of the most underachieving teams in the league over the past couple of years. Houston has yet to win a championship with James Harden as the face of the franchise. They had a legitimate shot against the Golden State Warriors during the 2017 Western Conference Finals, but an injury to Chris Paul and a horrendous shooting from beyond the arc eventually led to their downfall.
They decided to keep the core intact for another year, and once again, they met the Warriors in the conference semi-finals last season. However, they weren’t able to capitalize on the injury suffered by Kevin Durant in Game 5 of the series, and the Dubs finally took them out in Game 6.
The Warriors seem to be the Rockets’ kryptonite, as they have faced each other in the playoffs four times out of the last five years. Houston lost all of them.
3. 2016 Golden State Warriors
As good as the Warriors have been over the past couple of years, they also had their fair share of disappointments. In 2016, finished the regular season with a 73-9 record, breaking the 72-10 record set by the Bulls during the 1995-96 season. They steamrolled into the playoffs and even built a commanding 3-1 series lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals.
At that point, it felt like a championship celebration was inevitable.
But the Cavs stormed back. Led by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Cleveland took the fight to Golden State. It didn’t help that Warriors forward Draymond Green got suspended in Game 5 and a couple of their players were hurt in Game 6. Still, the Dubs were the overwhelming favorites to win Game 7, but that was until LeBron’s historic block against Andre Iguodala.
The Warriors won two straight titles at the expense of the Cavs after that, but they will still be remembered as one of the most disappointing teams in the history of the NBA.
The late 1990s Utah Jazz
If you ask a lot of fans, they will tell you that the John Stockton and Karl Malone-led Utah Jazz were one of the best teams in the league during the 90s. However, as phenomenal as they were, they were unable to win a championship.
The Jazz made it to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, but they lost to the Bulls in both. Not only did they fail to win a championship, but they also helped solidify Jordan’s status as the greatest basketball player of all-time, as each and every time Utah seemed like they were going to win both series, MJ broke their hearts by hitting one clutch basket after another.
Stockton and Malone are etched into the NBA record books and their names will always be remembered, but their legacies will forever be blemished by not winning a title, as well as falling victims to what is known up to this point as “The Shot.”
2001-2002 Sacramento Kings
The Kings probably should’ve won the 2002 NBA championship, and that remains the case up to this point in the eyes of a lot of NBA fans.
The 2002 Western Conference Finals between Sacramento and the Los Angeles Lakers was a war. Shaq and Kobe were gunning for their third straight title, but they faced a Kings team that had the best record in the league and were ready to stand toe-to-toe against them. Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac, and Peja Stojakovic felt that their time finally came and that it would only be a matter of time before they hoist that NBA trophy.
The series went to full seven games and the momentum see-sawed back and forth. The Kings had a counter for every haymaker that the Lakers threw at them. It was one of the best playoff series you’ll ever watch.
Except for Games 4 and 6.
It has been implied that the Lakers were being favored by the referees in both games. A lot of questionable calls were made, which makes this series one of the most controversial in the history of the NBA.
Be that as it may, it is unfortunate that the Kings never raised a championship banner. That team had the talent at every position and their die-hard fans just made every game in ARCO Arena more fun to watch.
They will forever top every list like this, simply because in 2002, they had everything.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.