The Phoenix Suns ended the NBA’s second-longest active playoff drought when they defeated the LA Clippers 109-101 on Wednesday. Chris Paul and company broke the franchise’s 10-year postseason absence when they clinched a playoff berth with their victory against the Clippers.
Now that the Suns are back in the playoffs, it’s a good time to look back at the teams in NBA history who have had the longest postseason droughts.
Five teams with the longest playoff drought in NBA history
These days, it seems as if the likes of the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets miss the postseason year in, year out. Despite their recent lack of success, these teams are nowhere near the years of ineptitude that some other franchises have endured.
On that note, let’s take a look at the five longest playoff droughts in NBA history: Interestingly, one of these teams could add to that tally, which would tie the record for most seasons without a postseason appearance.
#T5 Dallas Mavericks - 10 seasons (1990-91 to 1999-2000)
The Dallas Mavericks were one of the best teams in the NBA during the 80s before their core got dismantled.
By the beginning of the 90s, Mark Aguirre and Sam Perkins were no longer with the team. Although Derek Harper and Rolando Blackman remained, Roy Tarpley tore his ACL five games into the 1990-91 season.
All four players were gone by the mid-90s. Things changed by the 1998-99 season as the team acquired the greatest player in franchise history in Dirk Nowitzki via a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks.
By the time the 2000-01 season arrived, the trio of Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Michael Finley became the new core of a perennial playoff contender. By the 2010-11 season, the Mavericks celebrated their first-ever NBA championship under Nowitzki’s leadership.
#T5 Phoenix Suns - 10 seasons (2010–11 to 2019–20)
For a period during the 2000s, Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion dominated the regular season, only to fall short in the NBA playoffs. At least they were in the postseason, right? By the 2010-11 season, only Nash remained from that trio, and the Suns soon found themselves out of the playoffs.
There was some hope to end their postseason drought when they selected Devin Booker with the 13th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Little did he know that he would become the cornerstone of the Phoenix Suns’ rebuilding efforts. By the time Chris Paul arrived at the start of the 2020-21 season, the Suns were ready to contend, not just for the playoffs but possibly for the championship as well.
#4 Golden State Warriors - 12 seasons (1994–95 to 2005–06)
The Golden State Warriors of the early 90s were popular during the Run TMC era, featuring the talented trio of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin. As good as they were, though, the rest of the team was mediocre. They couldn’t get over the hump in the NBA playoffs and got disbanded.
By the mid-90s, the Golden State Warriors were lottery bound and going nowhere. Year after year, the Warriors fell short of the postseason.
That was before Baron Davis, Monta Ellis, Jason Richardson, Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington came together and led the Warriors back to the NBA Playoffs in 2007. The team became reonowned for beating the No. 1 seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs as the No. 8 seed.
The Warriors were the first No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in a seven-game playoff series. However, the 1993-94 Denver Nuggets were the first-ever No. 8 seed in NBA history to beat a No. 1 seed (Seattle Supersonics), that happened in a five-game series.
#3 Minnesota Timberwolves - 13 seasons (2004–05 to 2016–17)
Kevin Garnett was the face of the Minnesota Timberwolves for many years, but the lack of talent around him kept the franchise from experiencing success in the playoffs. Before he got traded to the Boston Celtics, where he would become an NBA champion, Garnett endured many seasons of failures.
By the time he was traded in the summer of 2007, the Timberwolves were already spiraling downwards. More than a decade would pass before they would have a sniff of the playoffs once more.
It wasn’t until the 2017-18 NBA season that the core of Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, together with head coach Tom Thibodeau, would band together to bring the Timberwolves back to the NBA playoffs.
They have since returned to the lottery, but at least they had broken out of the infamous streak they were in.
#2 Sacramento Kings - 14 seasons (2006–07 to 2019–20)
The Sacramento Kings own the longest active playoff drought in the NBA. They could tie for the longest ever if they miss the postseason this year. No matter how often they have ended up in the lottery, they seem to go back there every year.
The last time the Kings were in the NBA Playoffs, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic, Brad Miller and Shareef Abdur Rahim were already far from being the team that challenged the LA Lakers for Western Conference supremacy.
There is plenty of young talent now, with the likes of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and rookie Tyrese Haliburton forming a dangerous perimeter trio. But only time will tell when the Kings will be able to break their playoff-drought streak and if this trio will still be on the team when it does that.
#1 LA Clippers - 15 seasons (1976–77 to 1990–91)
For many years during the mid-70s to the beginning of the 90s, the LA Clippers were synonymous with the words mediocrity, misfortune and mismanagement.
No matter which players they acquired in the NBA draft or through trades, they simply couldn’t put together a team that was good enough to make the playoffs.
But during the 1990-91 season, a group of players led by the multi-talented Danny Manning took the LA Clippers to the NBA Playoffs for the first time in 15 years. Along with Ron Harper, Ken Norman and Loy Vaught, the LA Clippers ended a decade and a half of misery. This core made the NBA playoffs for two straight seasons before the bottom fell out again.
It wouldn’t be until head coach Doc Rivers came along with players like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in the 2010s that the team started to become NBA playoff contenders. Even now, with all three players in different teams, the LA Clippers have enjoyed several successful seasons, with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George leading the charge under coach Tyronn Lue.