The worst teams in NBA history

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Ryan Murphy

December 3rd, 2021

No team has gotten off to a slower start this season than the Detroit Pistons, who are 4-18 and boast the NBA's second worst point differential. The Pistons' early struggles have resulted in plenty of hot takes from Detroit's notoriously impatient media, many of whom are calling for the head of longtime coach Dwane Casey.

Before we rush to anoint the Pistons as one the worst teams of all time, let’s examine 10 other historically awful cellar dwellers, whose feeble feats live on in infamy.

10. 1993-94 Dallas Mavericks (13-69)

For most teams, a 16-game losing streak would be the lowlight of their season, but not the Mavs. Dallas also cobbled together a 17-game losing streak and a 20-game losing streak to finish the 1993-94 season with a horrendous 13-69 record. The mood in Dallas was so bad that NBA veterans Fat Lever and Randy White both retired immediately following the season rather than face the shame of suiting up for the Mavericks again.

9. 2009-10 New Jersey Nets (12-70)

How do you win just 12 games in an 82-game season? In the case of the Nets, you start the campaign with an 18-game losing streak. New Jersey didn’t win its first contest until Dec. 4, and even that was against the equally horrid Charlotte Bobcats. The Nets posted the league’s worst offensive rating, and finished a painfully distant 38 games behind the Boston Celtics in the Atlantic Division.

8. 1986-87 Los Angeles Clippers (12-70)

Much like the Pistons, the 1986-87 Clippers also stumbled out of the gates with a 4-17 record. Unfortunately, things didn’t get much better from there. The club lost leading scorer Marques Johnson to a debilitating neck injury, and watched in frustration as super-sized center Benoit Benjamin dunked more donuts than basketballs. LA’s eventual .146 winning percentage remains the worst in franchise history, which is saying something for a team that was the laughingstock of the league for much of its early existence.

7. 1992-93 Dallas Mavericks (11-71)

Dallas’ 1992-93 season got off to an inauspicious start when the team’s top draft pick, Jim Jackson, refused to play due to a contract dispute. The former Ohio State star eventually suited up six months later on March 5, but by then it was far too late. The Mavs were already dead last in the Western Conference and were in the midst of an epic losing streak that would stretch to 19 games. Dallas won just 11 games all year, which is what happens when you post the league’s worst offensive rating, defensive rating, and net rating.

6. 1947-48 Providence Steamrollers (6-42)

You’re likely far too young to remember the Providence Steamrollers, and that’s a good thing, because the Rhode Island-based franchise stunk worse than a beer and bratwurst fart. Saddled with bad players and incompetent management, the ‘Rollers won just six games in the 1947-48 season to achieve an abysmal .125 "winning percentage". Shooting was part of the problem, as Providence connected on just 27.4% of its shots that season, but Nat Hickey’s sorry squad also couldn’t stop anyone on defense, and finished dead last in opponent points per game. The Steamrollers lasted one more season, before ownership mercifully pulled the plug.

5. 1998-99 Vancouver Grizzlies (8-42)

Other teams on our list lost more games, but few of them did it in more spectacular fashion than the 1998-99 Grizzlies, who scored 90 points or fewer 30 times, and were blown out by 15 points or more on 13 occasions. Fans stayed away from General Motors Place in record numbers, and the team relocated to Memphis after two more dreadful seasons.

4. 1997-98 Denver Nuggets (11-71)

The 1997-98 season marked the Nuggets’ 22nd year in the NBA, but you never would have known it from the way the team played. Bill Hanzlik’s motley crew stumbled out of the gate with a 2-38 record and cobbled together three losing streaks of 12 games or more. Denver's worst stretch of the season was from Dec. 9 to Jan. 23, when the Nuggets lost 23 straight games and were held to fewer than 80 points seven times.

3. 2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers (10-72)

Just how bad were the 76ers in 2015-16? Philadelphia lost 13 straight games from Feb. 8 to March 9, and it wasn’t even their worst losing streak of the season. That dubious achievement came during the opening month of the year, when the Sixers strung together 18 consecutive losses, including four by 20 points or more. It may not have been pretty (or even watchable at times), but it was all part of "The Process" that netted Philly the first pick in the draft and allowed the franchise to snag Ben Simmons.

2. 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers (9-73)

Basketball is not a complicated game. All you have to do is put the ball in the hoop on offense and prevent your opponent from doing the same on defense. Unfortunately that simple premise befuddled the 1972-73 76ers, who finished the season ranked last in both field goal percentage and opponent field goal percentage. That’s a losing formula if ever we’ve seen one, and it goes a long way in explaining how the Sixers managed to close out the campaign 59 games behind the division-leading Boston Celtics.

1. 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats (7-59)

You know you’re in for a long year when your leading scorer is Gerald Henderson. That was the gut-wrenching reality for the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats, whose bargain-basement lineup was littered with has-beens and never-weres. Charlotte’s rancid roster ranked 30th in offensive ranking and defensive ranking and finished the strike-shortened season with the worst winning percentage in NBA history.