Basketball is (maybe, hopefully) on the horizon. To help reintegrate us to a life of Giannis hammer dunks, James Harden dribbling for 24 seconds, and 76ers fans yelling at you for some reason, we’re rolling out top-five rankings in 20 different categories. All rankings were voted on by The Ringer staff unless noted. For this list, each franchise could be chosen only once.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers, 2010-11
Net rating: -9.5
As Leo Tolstoy wrote in the little-read sports-focused sequel to Anna Karenina, “Good teams are all alike; every bad team is bad in its own way.” On Thursday, we covered the best teams of the decade, and frankly, they were all kind of similar: a roster stocked with multiple future Hall of Famers, an MVP or two leading the way, a deep playoff run capped by—in all cases but one—a championship.
Every team on this list is distinctly terrible. Their one commonality? Losses; lots of them. But each found their way to the dumpster in a particular way. For Cleveland, that way was simple: Lose the best player in the world. Before Cleveland in 2010-11, the worst single-season dropoff in NBA history came when the Bulls lost Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen; Cleveland’s decline when LeBron James left after a 61-win season was slightly worse.
In fact, only seven teams in NBA history have declined by at least 30 wins from one season to the next (or the winning-percentage equivalent of 30 wins in a shortened season), and the 2010-11 Cavaliers top the list.
Biggest Single-Season Dropoffs in NBA History
|Team||Previous Record||New Record||Dropoff (Adj. to 82 Games)||Reason|
|Team||Previous Record||New Record||Dropoff (Adj. to 82 Games)||Reason|
|2011 Cavaliers||61-21||19-63||42||Lost LeBron James|
|1999 Bulls||62-20||13-37||40.7||Lost Michael Jordan + Scottie Pippen|
|1997 Spurs||59-23||20-62||39||David Robinson injured, tanked for Tim Duncan|
|2020 Warriors||57-25||15-50||38.1||Lost Kevin Durant, Steph Curry + Klay Thompson injured|
|1983 Rockets||46-36||14-68||32||Traded Moses Malone|
|1965 Warriors||48-32||17-63||31.8||Traded Wilt Chamberlain at midseason|
|2019 Cavaliers||50-32||19-63||31||Lost LeBron James again|
At one point, the 2010-11 Cavaliers lost 10 games in a row, then beat the Knicks in overtime, then lost 26 more games in a row. Their win-shares leader was Ramon Sessions. J.J. Hickson tallied the most total points. And as LeBron defined the 2010s for the NBA, it’s a fitting start for the worst-teams list to examine the first hole he left behind.
4. New Jersey Nets, 2009-10
Net rating: -9.6
After trading Vince Carter the previous summer, the Nets began their 2009-10 season with a bummer: They blew a 19-point lead in Minnesota, losing on a Damien Wilkins buzzer-beater. Their season didn’t get any better from there.
Coach Lawrence Frank was fired after 16 games. Interim coach Tom Barrise lost both games he led the bench, as the Nets set a record (since tied by another team on this list) for the most consecutive losses to start a season. General manager Kiki Vandeweghe took over on the sidelines from there, and the Nets finished 12-70. At the time, they were just the fifth team in league history to lose so many games.
At least Yi Jianlian turned in a career year, averaging 12 points per game in 52 games (51 starts). What a silver lining.
3. New York Knicks, 2014-15
Net rating: -10.1
According to Basketball-Reference’s records, the Knicks’ preseason over/under in 2014-15 was 40 wins. They went 17-65, meaning they underperformed expectation by 23 games—by far the worst for any team in the decade.
Greatest Underachievers in the 2010s
Several key factors poisoned the ostensibly promising season. One was a vicious spate of injuries: Carmelo Anthony played just 40 games, Amar’e Stoudemire 36 in his last season with the Knicks, and Andrea Bargnani—the team’s second-leading scorer when he was healthy—29. The Knicks fell out of the playoff race early, with a 5-36 start, and traded contributors J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. They eventually employed 19 different starters—none of whom started more than 42 games.
And behind the scenes, disaster was brewing. Derek Fisher was out of his depth in his first season as a head coach, and Phil Jackson was even worse in the top spot in the front office. Both former champions signed five-year deals with the Knicks before 2014-15, Jackson for a whopping $60 million; neither would make it even halfway through that planned duration.
2. Philadelphia 76ers, 2015-16
Net rating: -10.2
The 2015-16 season represented the nadir of the Sixers’ Process, both on and off the court. To the former, Philadelphia finished 10-72, the second-worst record over a full 82-game season in NBA history. (Congratulations to the 76ers, who also hold the worst such record, with the 1972-73 roster winning nine games.) The 76ers’ leading scorer was rookie Jahlil Okafor; second was Ish Smith, who came to Philadelphia in a December trade. They finished 29th in field goal percentage and 29th in turnover rate, unsurprisingly forming the worst offense in the league.
But the greater insult came in the executive suite. The 76ers lost 18 consecutive games to start the season, and soon after—on a night they lost to a Spurs team resting Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard by 51 points to fall to 1-21—hired Jerry Colangelo as the new chairman of basketball operations. The 76ers would eventually fall to 1-30, and Process architect Sam Hinkie would eventually forfeit his job when Colangelo hired his son to oversee the front office.
Although the Process continued for at least another year, with the 76ers drafting Ben Simmons no. 1 overall in 2016 and trading up to draft Markelle Fultz in the same spot in 2017, it never quite felt the same after 2015-16. Hinkie’s last first-round pick was the busted Okafor, who was chosen one spot ahead of Kristaps Porzingis; his previous high first-rounder was Joel Embiid, who never played a single game with Hinkie in the organization. (The 2015-16 season was the second in a row that the Kansas big man missed due to injury.) A hero’s journey is supposed to involve an ultimate triumph after travails; the 76ers felt the latter in full but are still waiting on the grand reward.
1. Charlotte Bobcats, 2011-12
Net rating: -15.0
Seven and 59. Seven wins and 59 losses. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 wins, and 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19-20-21-22-23-24-25-26-27-28-29-30-31-32-33-34-35-36-37-38-39-40-41-42-43-44-45-46-47-48-49-50-51-52-53-54-55-56-57-58-59 losses.
What more needs to be said? The only mercy of the Bobcats’ 2011-12 campaign is that it was only 66 games, not the full 82, because of the lockout. The team posted the worst winning percentage in NBA history. It also posted the worst Pythagorean winning percentage (also 7-59), which measures a team’s expected record by point differential. It had both the worst offense (by far) and the worst defense that season. And it ended the season on a suitably dismal note, with 23 losses in a row. There’s no other choice for the worst team of the decade—and maybe the worst the league has ever seen.
Others receiving multiple votes: 2018-19 Knicks, 2009-10 Timberwolves, 2018-19 Lakers