Winning the Larry O’Brien trophy is the ultimate goal that every NBA strives towards but only one team can claim it every season.
10 teams have won multiple championships. More than half of the 30 teams in the NBA have won at least one championship since the NBA-ABA merger. But we still have 11 teams looking to claim their first title.
Some of them have come closer than others over the years but just getting close doesn’t cut it. Here are, in alphabetical order, the 11 teams that are yet to win the coveted NBA title.
1. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets have made the NBA Finals multiple times but they were never able to seal the deal and fell to the Lakers and the Spurs in 2002 and 2003, respectively.
When Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov took ownership of the team, they tried going all-in by trading a treasure trove of picks for past-their-prime former Celtics stars. This ultimately became one of the worst and most lopsided trades in professional sports history.
Prokhorov ultimately gave up and the team has rebuilt nicely since then. With Durant and Irving, and an intriguing group of young players in the roster, they may be back to contending sooner rather than later.
2. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets are owned by a man who went 6-0 in his NBA Finals appearances, the legendary Michael Jordan.
His tenure as team owner couldn’t be more different from his playing days. The team has consistently underperformed for the last decade and their arguably best player ever, Kemba Walker, left as a free agent before the season even started.
They have a few interesting youngsters but this team is still several good drafts away from the playoffs, let alone contending for an NBA championship.
3. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets have been a formidable team at several points in time in NBA history but their biggest achievement thus far is reaching the Western Conference Finals.
Right now, they are definitely a contender in the West and the last couple of drafts have brought them absolute steals in Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol.
When you look at just how young their core is, this team’s window of contention will be open for quite a few seasons provided that the said core stays intact.
Even better, their case for contention will only grow as their blue-chip rookies develop and gain experiences. Out of all the teams on this list, the Nuggets are among the likeliest to get off of this list in the coming years.
4. Indiana Pacers
Here is a team with multiple ABA championships but the Pacers have never been able to replicate that success in the NBA.
They were contenders in the NBA in multiple eras but as strong as the Pacers were, there was always a team that was stronger.
During Reggie Miller’s days, they could not get over Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
During the Paul George era, there was no getting past LeBron and the Miami Heat.
The Pacers would always put up a hell of a fight though, and they were always very entertaining to watch in the playoffs. With Oladipo and Sabonis leading the way, they are once again on the rise but they are still a few pieces away from the upper echelons of the Eastern Conference.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
For as long as they have been around, the Clippers were always seen as “the other LA team” since the Lakers were always the LA team that everyone was looking at.
After Steve Balmer took over following the Donald Sterling scandal, the team has been on the rise and they were able to move on from the Lob City era which, let’s face it, was never going to end up in a championship.
With their surprising performance in the playoffs last year, they were able to sign the biggest name on the market in Kawhi Leonard and they traded for Paul George. This thrust them into instant contention and it made them a worthy rival to the Lakers.
Many people see already have them penciled in as the 2020 NBA champions and they are likely to win it all sooner rather than later.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies have had decent success since joining the NBA as an expansion team in 1995. However, they are yet to dangle a Championship Banner.The “grit and grind” Grizzlies (2010-2017) were one of the toughest and most respected teams in the NBA, and they were a tough matchup for just about anyone come playoff time.
However, there was not enough talent on there to go all the way. After blowing up the core of that team and going into a rebuild, Memphis spent a few years near the bottom of the NBA but they are slowly climbing up.
Seeing how they’re in the playoff hunt this year, one could even argue that they are ahead of schedule with their rebuild. This team is definitely going in the right direction but being satisfied with a playoff appearance this early would be a major mistake.
They aren’t anywhere near title contention and they need to continue developing their young core if they want to become a regular playoff participant.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves feel like one of those teams that have been stuck in mediocrity forever.
They’ve certainly had some great players on their roster over the years but they were never able to surround them with the right supporting cast to go all the way.
The 2004 Western Conference Finals was as far as they would ever get when Kevin Garnett, arguably their best player ever, was leading the team.
Right now, the Timberwolves are in an interesting spot. They have some great young players on their team but there are still too many questions surrounding the team. They have plenty of offensive firepower but their defense looks shaky. They can make the playoffs next year but they won’t be anywhere near contention until they fix their issues on the less glamorous end of the ball.
8. New Orleans Pelicans
Any team that has (or in this case, had) a generational talent like Anthony Davis and fails to become a contender will be seen as a failure.
Davis was the best player this team ever had but they weren’t even able to become a regular playoff team while he was in the squad.
It didn’t seem as if they had a plan and it showed every season. The Davis and Cousins pairing had a lot of promise but that experiment didn’t last because of injuries. One thing they did well was flipping Davis for a lot of great young talent that forms one of the most interesting young cores in basketball. Let’s hope they can do a better job with them than they did with Davis.
9. Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns made their first NBA finals back in 1976 where they lost to the Boston Celtics.
In the 1993 Playoffs, led by Charles Barkley, they cruised into the finals with comfortable wins over the Lakers, Spurs and Sonics. Despite having the homecourt advantage against Michael Jordan and the Bulls, Chicago won all the games in Phoenix and took the series in six games. The Steve Nash (2x MVP) and Amar’e Stoudemire pairing that the Suns had in the following years also made them one of the most exciting teams in basketball history.
They were lost for a long time after that but there is a lot to like about them right now. Not a contender by any means but a young, exciting, and hungry team that could become a regular playoff participant very soon.
They have been white-hot in the bubble so far and they could get back to the playoffs as soon as this year.
10. Orlando Magic
Both of Orland’s Finals appearances have been orchestrated by dominant centers but those centers couldn’t get them over the final hurdle.
They came close in the 1995 NBA finals with Shaquille O’Neal but couldn’t overcome a strong Houston Rockets. They had a strong regular season the following year but were stopped by a rejuvenated Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Dwight Howard era was another promising time for the team. But after he left, Orlando’s title contention window was slammed shut and they needed to rebuild. Unfortunately, the rebuilding process was plagued with poor team management and bad drafting decisions.
Despite improvements in recent years, they are still a mediocre team that can make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference but the first round is likely as far as they’ll go.
11. Utah Jazz
Back in the day, the Jazz were a perennial title contender on the backs of John Stockton and Karl Malone.
That team would probably have won a few rings had it not been for Jordan.
Unfortunately, Jordan was there, and the most that the Jazz can say is that they gave us some of the best Finals series of all times.
They have a nice roster at present and they are going to make the playoffs at will, even in the West, but they still need a few pieces if they want to go the whole hog.
Teams That Won Championships Under Old Names
A few people have commented that this list is missing certain teams. And yes, there are teams where it could be argued that they haven’t won a title.
Here are the most obvious teams in question:
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Sacramento Kings
Neither Oklahoma City Thunder nor Sacramento Kings have won a championship under their current team names or even cities. But these franchises have previously won championships, playing as the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979 and the Rochester Royals in 1951, respectively.
The Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards also each won one championship under different names, as the St. Louis Hawks and Washington Bullets respectively. In these cases, their old names have something in common with their current names, so fewer people argue whether or not they have won or not.
Cover photo: Achim Hepp, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons