The Best Franchise in the NBA: San Antonio Spurs
- 4 NBA Championships (since 1999)
- 11 Division Titles (since 1999)
- 17 consecutive playoff appearances
- Above .500 in 24 of last 25 seasons.
The Spurs are always a factor deep into the playoffs, they consistently win 55+ games a season, and are led by one of the NBA’s all-time greatest coaches… but you’ll very rarely see them as someone’s preseason pick to win the title. The Spurs don’t have the pizzazz, the big-free agent signing, or the guy that will drop 35+ on any given night. San Antonio has made the most out of the draft, has kept its core intact, and has kept the same man in charge for the last 18 years. By comparison, the second-longest tenured coach in the NBA right now is Erik Speolstra, who was hired by the Heat 6 years ago.
The team’s general manager is R.C. Buford, who was hired as head scout for the team in 1994 by then-GM Greg Popovich. Two years later, Popovich fired Spurs head coach Bob Hill and named himself coach. Injuries decimated the Spurs roster that season and they won only 20 games. The silver lining of that situation was a #1 pick in the NBA draft, which they used on a lanky power forward out of Wake Forest – Tim Duncan. The only other time the Spurs had a #1 pick was in 1987, which was used to draft Hall of Famer David Robinson. Popovich also had hugely successful drafts after taking over as head coach, picking up Tony Parker with the 28th pick of the 2001 draft, as well as Manu Ginobili with the second-to-last pick in 1999. Buford became general manager in 2002, and continued the Spurs penchant for drafting foreign players. The best move thus far since Buford took over was likely the draft-day trade for Kawhi Leonard, who has become one of the up-and-coming stars in the NBA.
The Spurs were mere seconds away from a fifth NBA title last season, and they will go into the 2014 playoffs as the #1 seed in the Western Conference. Label the Spurs boring, call them old, say they won’t do it again – and then watch them win another 60+ games. Duncan will go down as one of the game’s greatest players, Popovich as one of the game’s greatest coaches, and the entire team as one of the NBA’s best dynasties, and it’s because the made the most out of every opportunity. The same can’t be said for the next ball club I’ll discuss.
The Worst Franchise in the NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves
- Losing record each of the last 8 seasons
- Averaged only 22 wins from 2007-2013
- Worst record in Western Conference in 2009-10 (15-67)
- Worst record in NBA in 2010-11 (17-65)
- Lost in first round of playoffs every year for 7 consecutive seasons (1997-2003)
The Timberwolves were once a solid team, reaching the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons culminating in a #1 seed in the 2004 playoffs. That season ended in a 4-2 loss in the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers, and Minnesota hasn’t been back to the playoffs since. A combination of terrible drafts, mismanagement of coaches, and a bevy of other bad choices by general manager David Kahn put the T’Wolves in the midst of a 10-year postseason dry spell – the fourth longest in NBA history and longest current active streak.
Minnesota’s best management move was in 1995, when they took high school big man Kevin Garnett with the #5 overall pick. Garnett went on to win an MVP in Minnesota, as well as countless of other accolades. The problem was that GM Kevin McHale couldn’t seem to find any pieces to put around him. McHale made a secret deal with free agent Joe Smith to circumvent salary cap rules, and the Wolves were subsequently stripped of their next five first-round draft picks (later reduced to three). While Minnesota found some success with Flip Saunders at the helm, McHale fired him during the 2005 season, which is the last time Minnesota had a winning record.
Garnett, who at the time had spent more seasons with one team than any other active player (12), was eventually traded to the Celtics for five players and two draft picks. Garnett went on to win a championship with the Celtics and the T’Wolves continued to fall down the standings in the years to come. The only player Minnesota got back that was of any use was Al Jefferson, who was eventually traded to the Jazz.
While the Garnett deal is the most high-profile trade Minnesota ever made , it’s the moves the Timberwolves front office has made over the last five years that were the most damaging. David Kahn was hired in 2009, and in his first draft used the first three of Minnesota’s four first-round picks on point guards. Ricky Rubio was picked #5 overall, but decided to continue playing in Spain for the next two years. Jonny Flynn was selected #6 overall and played in Minnesota for only two seasons before being traded to Houston, and now currently plays in Australia. The point guard that was picked immediately after Rubio and Flynn: Stephen Curry.
The bad draft picks continued with drafting Wesley Johnson #4 overall in 2010, who played for the Wolves for only two seasons before being traded to the Suns. The next year, Minnesota drafted Derrick Williams out of Arizona with the #2 overall pick. Williams was also traded after two seasons. With all the bad decisions on draft day, the worst move still might be refusing to offer Kevin Love a max-year deal. Love, one of Minnesota’s few success stories, has become one of the best players in the NBA. Kahn refused to extend Love’s deal to five years, instead giving the max deal to Rubio. Now Love will likely leave for greener pastures at the end of the 2014-15 season, likely leaving Minnesota to fall back down into the cellar of the Western Conference.
Today Minnesota sits one win away from its first .500 season since 2005. Rick Adelman has done a decent job as head coach, but with both he and Love likely departing soon, the Wolves might have missed their small window at a playoff run. If Love does head off to bigger and better things after next season, Minnesota might just break that 14-year postseason drought record after all.
Oh, and Darko Miličić.