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NBA teams that never won a championship

Vincent Frank

There are 12 NBA teams that never won a championship. If that seems like a high number, it’s important to realize that they primarily consist of expansion squads from the modern era.

Teams like the New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzlies are relatively new in the grand scheme of things.

Below, we look at these three teams and nine others who have never hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

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Oklahoma City Thunder

Technically, this organization did win an NBA title when they were the Seattle SuperSonics all the way back in 1978-79. But for the purposes of this article, a rebranded team must be included. Since moving to Oklahoma City and becoming the Thunder back in 2008, this team has had its chances.

Notably, Oklahoma City held a 3-1 series lead against the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. With MVPs Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the choke job, OKC lost the final three games of the series. It ended the Durant tenure in Oklahoma City with the star forward shockingly opting to join the aforementioned Warriors.

Immediately after that decision, the Thunder suffered four consecutive first-round exits in the NBA Playoffs and have since decided to go into full-scale rebuild mode. It really is shocking that an era which included Durant, Westbrook and James Harden all playing together for three seasons didn’t net the Thunder a title. Let that sink in.

Indiana Pacers

Reggie Miller’s 18-year run with the Pacers included some epic playoff moments. Just ask Spike Lee and the New York Knicks. Unfortunately, it also coincided with Michael Jordan and the Bulls initiating and continuing their dynasty in the Eastern Conference. In fact, Miller entered the NBA just a few years after MJ.

What followed was playoff struggles and a loss to a new dynasty in that of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000. All said, Indiana earned 16 playoff appearances in a 17-season span from 1989-2006. It made the Eastern Conference Finals six times during that span, losing five of those matchups. Since Miller’s retirement following the 2004-05 campaign, these Pacers have made it to the playoffs another 10 times — consisting of seven first-round exits. Ouch!

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New Orleans Pelicans

nba teams that never won a championship: new orleans pelicans
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An NBA expansion team back in 2002-03, the then-New Orleans Hornets joined the Association when the New Orleans Hornets opted to rebrand as the Charlotte Bobcats. It’s a thing that actually happened for you youngsters out there.

Either way, the NBA’s second iteration of a team in the Bayou has not gone swimmingly. In their first 20 seasons in existence, the Pelicans have made the playoffs just eight times. They have not advanced past the conference semifinals in any of those eight appearances.

Then front office head Dell Demps attempted to rectify this by pulling off a blockbuster trade for DeMarcus Cousins during the 2016-17 season. The idea was for him to team up with franchise stalwart Anthony Davis. It was an unmitigated disaster with Cousins playing all of 65 games with the Pelicans before suffering a career-altering injury.

Brooklyn Nets

nba teams that have never won a championship
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When it comes to NBA teams without a championship, these Nets are the perfect mix of embarrassing themselves both on the court and in the front office. Winners of two championships in the old American Basketball Association under the leadership of the great Julius Erving, these Nets have not been relevant for the vast majority of their 45-plus year run in the NBA.

From 1976-2001, this organization earned a mere 11 playoff appearances with nine first-round playoff exits. That changed back in 2001-02 with Jason Kidd bringing some success to the Big Apple. He led the then-New Jersey Nets to two consecutive NBA Finals. Unfortunately, those seasons ended with losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, respectively.

Even before their recently-failed attempt to claim a title with the trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, these Nets attempted to buy one. That included bringing in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, among others, for a one-year run in 2013-14. Said season also ended in disappointment with Brooklyn falling to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

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Orlando Magic

nba teams without a championship
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Orlando joined the NBA as a hot expansion team back in 1989. Within the matters of just three years, former LSU star Shaquille O’Neal made his way to the Sunshine State as the first pick in the 1992 NBA Draft. This lofted the Magic to relevency on the broader NBA stage almost immediately. The Magic made their first NBA Finals appearance back in 1995 with O’Neal and Penny Hardaway (remember little Penny?) leading the charge. Unfortunately, it came to an end in a sweep at the hands of the Houston Rockets.

Despite the presence of Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard in Orlando in the years following, this organization has never reached the pinnacle of the NBA. The closest Orlando came was another NBA Finals appearance in 2009. That season also came to an end without a title. This time, the Magic fell to Kobe Bryant and a vastly superior Lakers squad.

Los Angeles Clippers

nba teams that never won a championship: los angeles clippers
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Futility That’s been the case for this Clippers organization since they entered the NBA as the Buffalo Braves all the way back in 1970. Over the course of the franchise’s first 23 years in the Association, they earned all of three playoff appearances. We’re talking about an organization that posted a 122-299 record from 1986-1991.

After earning three playoff appearances during a six-year span (1991-1997), the Clippers fell on hard times again. That included just one playoff appearance from 1997-2012. Since then, Los Angeles has been a fixture in the playoffs. One era that consisted of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin came to an end in 2017 with the current iteration of the Clippers, led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, remaining relevent. However, the Clips still have not made it as far as the Western Conference Finals in their 54 years of existence. That didn’t change given the injury issues this past season.

Utah Jazz

For a good 20-year span from 1985-2003, John Stockton and Karl Malone acted as one of the most-dominant tandems in the NBA. Unfortunately, one man blocked a championship from coming to Salt Lake City during this span. His name is Michael Jordan.

Jordan’s Bulls defeated Utah in two consecutive Finals (1997 and 1998), both by a margin of four games to two. It’s Jordan’s last shot in a Chicago uniform during Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals that remains in basketball lore and prevented the Jazz from ever winning a title. During that two-year span, Utah boasted a combined 126-33 record. It remains one of the best non-championship teams in Association history.

Despite making a playoff appearance all but eight times during a 40-year span from 1983-2022 the Jazz franchise still doesn’t have a title. It lost in the first rund of the 2022 NBA Playoffs, saw head coach Quin Snyder resign and will soon break up the star duo of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Yeah, don’t expect a title in Salt Lake any time soon.

Charlotte Hornets

nba teams without championship: charlotte hornets
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Youngsters really have no idea how much of a brand the Hornets were in their infancy. An expansion team back in 1988, Charlotte took the NBA by storm a few years later with Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning leading the charge. They were fun at basketball. They also won somewhat consistently, earning six playoff appearances from 1996-2002.

Things have gone completely downhill since with Charlotte earning just three postseason spots since 2004. All said, the Hornets have never made it past the Eastern Conference Finals with six of their 10 postseason appearances resulting in a first-round exit. Not even the great Michael Jordan (Charlotte’s current owner) has been able to change that. The good news? There’s renewed hope with LaMelo Ball acting the part of a franchise cornerstone right now.

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Denver Nuggets

Since these Nuggets entered the NBA as the Denver Rockets back in 1967, they’ve made the playoffs all but 18 times. That’s some long-term success. It also included a 57-win team back in 2012-13 with Denver earning the third seed in the Western Conference. In one of the biggest upsets in modern playoff history, these Nuggets fell to Stephen Curry and the upstart Golden State Warrors.

In terms of modern franchise history, this squad might have been the Nuggets’ most-talented. However, it’s not the closest they have come to winning a title. As a member of the American Basketball Association back in 1975-76, Denver won 60 of 84 games under the legendary Larry Brown. David Thompson, Ralph Simpson and Bobby Jones led a team that averaged 121.9 points per game. Said season came to a conclusion with a loss to the New York Knicks in the ABA Finals. This past season saw Denver lose to the aforementioned Warriors in five games in the first round.

Phoenix Suns

NBA: Finals-Phoenix Suns at Milwaukee Bucks
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From Larry Nance and Charles Barkley to Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash, these Suns have at times boasted some of the most-talented players in the NBA. Even right now, Devin Booker and Chris Paul has led this organization to title contention. Last season’s shocking run to the NBA Finals being the most-recent example.

It has not led to Phoenix hoisting the Larry O’Brien since the team entered the Association as an expansion team back in 1968. This run has included three trips to the NBA Finals. Back in 1975-76, Phoenix earned a surprising trip to the Finals after posting a 42-40 regular-season record. Said run came to an end against the dynastic Boston Celtics. The same thing rang true with Phoenix losing to the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals.

An unfortunate end to a historic 2021-22 season has us wondering whether a title will ever be brought to Phoenix. After 64 regular-season games, these Suns fell to the Mavericks in a seven-game conference semifinals series. They lost at home in that Game 7 by 33 points. Ouch!

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Memphis Grizzlies

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Memphis Grizzlies
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“Grind City,” baby! The likes of Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol represented Memphis well during separate and consecutive runs to the playoffs from 2010-17. Unfortunately, this brand of defensive-minded basketball did not result in postseason success in the modern NBA. Memphis earned just one trip to the Western Conference Finals during that span. It came by virtue of a series sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.

This era represented the best chance these Grizzlies had of earning a title since they entered the NBA as an expansion team in 1995. Pror to moving to Tennessee, the Grizzlies failed to earn a single playoff spot in their first six seasons playing in Vancouver. Perhaps, Ja Morant will be the one to change this franchise’s destiny for the good.

Minnesota Timberwolves

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves
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In terms of NBA teams without a championship, these Timberwolves are the ones who have not even come close. Around since 1989-90, Minnesota has earned all of nine playoff appearances. That includes one trip to the postseason since the end of the 2003-04 season.

Futility has defined this franchise throughout its history. That’s despite boasting elite-level talent such as Stephon Marbury, Kevin Garnett and Karl-Anthony Towns. The closest Minnesota came to earning even a trip to the NBA Finals was back in 2003-04 when the Garnett-led team fell to a vastly superior Los Angeles Lakers squad in the Western Conference Finals. Perhaps, one move defines this futility. That was the decision to select Jonny Flynn ahead of Stephen Curry in the 2009 NBA Draft. Yes, this Jonny Flynn.