Franchises spend time and money rebuilding their teams, hoping to win a title or establish a dynasty. Players and coaches are hired to complete the missing pieces of the puzzle.
But, the dream becomes a nightmare when opportunities and timing are not on your side. Generational players who step up during critical moments complete the ingredients for success. In the just concluded 2022-23 season, Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray were sensational, while Jaylen Brown, James Harden, and Kevin Durant were disappointments.
The league has many stories about NBA dynasties that never were, let us look at 10 of them.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC tasted the championship in 1978-79 as the Seattle Supersonics. The franchise would relive the success of its predecessor with the acquisition of rookie James Harden in 2009. Kevin Durant was the face of the Thunder, Russel Westbrook provided the choking job, and James Harden contributed the needed support off the bench.
The deadly trio brought the OKC Thunder trips to the Western Conference Finals in 2011 and the NBA Finals in 2012. After 2012, James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets.
After the trade, OKC had three Western Conference Finals appearances in 2013, 2014, and 2016 but was unsuccessful. Durant opted to join the Warriors in 2017, and Westbrook was traded to the Rockets in 2019.
If Durant, Westbrook, and Harden had more time playing together, OKC could have won championships and established one of the dynasties in the NBA.
Two seasons later, the triumvirate was seen playing for different teams in season 2022-23. Kevin Durant donned the Suns’ jersey, Kyrie Irving was playing for the Mavericks, and Harden was with the 76ers.
2. Phoenix Suns
The Suns made their first Finals appearance in 1976 by upsetting last year’s title holder, the Golden State Warriors, in seven games for the Western Conference Title. It was the Celtics and the Suns for the championship. The turning point was Game 5, with Boston winning in triple-overtime (128-126), dubbed the greatest game ever. The Suns were defiant in Game 6, but the Celtics’ firepower from Dave Cowens, John Havlicek, and Jojo White was too much for an 87-80 win.
It was back to the NBA Finals in 2021. However, Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, and Devin Booker were no match to the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Milwaukee Bucks losing 4-2.
The franchise signed Kevin Durant in 2023, hoping to end their title drought. Still, the Suns lost in the semis.
3. Utah Jazz
For eighteen years (1985-2003), you heard broadcasters coin the phrase “Stockton to Malone” many times. The dynamic duo was good at pick-and-roll plays and brought the franchise to the playoffs every year during their tenure. Although the franchise hasn’t won any NBA championship, Stockton and Malone helped the team reach the Western Conference Finals three times in 1992, 1994, and 1996, and two NBA Final appearances in 1997 and 1998. The Michael Jordan-led Bulls blocked the Jazz’s aspirations of winning a championship on both occasions.
The Jazz went on a slide after the Stockton and Malone tandem hung their jerseys in 2003. Their most notable performance was a 2007 Western Conference Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs (4-1). The franchise acquired rookie Donovan Mitchell in 2017, and the team made regular appearances in the playoffs. In 2022, the Jazz went on a rebuilding binge and traded Gobert and Mitchell. The Jazz was a no-show in the 2022-23 season playoffs.
4. Orlando Magic
Shaquille O’Neal’s entry into the Orlando Magic’s roster in the 1992-93 season transformed a doormat team into a serious contender. In his rookie year, the team reached a winning percentage of 0.500, and in the second year, the Magic was in the playoffs, a first for the franchise. In Shaq’s third year, the Magic was in the 1995 NBA Finals but was swept by the Houston Rockets. Internal bickering within the team resulted in Shaq’s trade to the Lakers in 1996.
Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard joined the team in the following years, all for naught. The best performance of the Magic was one more trip to the Finals in 2009.
5. Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets was formerly known as the New York Nets in the ABA and had two championships under the leadership of Julius “Dr. J” Erving in 1974 and 1976.
The franchise changed its name to the New Jersey Nets from 1977 to 2012 and was known as the Brooklyn Nets in season 2012-13 onwards.
From 1977 to 2001, the team had ten playoff appearances, nine were early exits in the first round and a semi-final loss was their best achievement. When Jason Kidd was acquired in 2001, things changed; Kidd led them to two NBA final appearances in 2002 and 2003 but fell short of winning a championship.
The franchise hoped to end the drought by acquiring Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in 2019. However, even with the presence of the superstars, the Nets’ best performance was early exits in the first round of playoffs in seasons 2018-19 and 2019-20. The Nets acquired James Harden in season 2020-21 to complete the super team that would play in multiple championships. What looked good on paper did not come to fruition.
6. Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers were called the Buffalo Braves from 1970 to 1978 and the San Diego Clippers from 1979 to 1985.
For over five decades, the Clippers have never reached the Western Conference Finals, the longest drought in NBA history. The team had a less than .500 winning percentage, exceeding the median only 17 times.
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul helped the franchise win two successive Pacific Division Titles in seasons 2012-13 and 2013-14. But the duo was traded; Paul left in 2017, and Griffin in 2018. The Clippers rebuilt their team by acquiring two All-Stars in 2019: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. However, the Suns eliminated the Clippers in the first round of the 2022-23 season.
7. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have a storied career winning three ABA championships and 27 playoff appearances since joining the NBA in 1977. Indiana is home to nine Hall of Famers: Tim Hardaway, Reggie Miller, Adrian Dantley, Chris Mullin, Gus Johnson, Alex English, Mel Daniels, George McGinnis, and Roger Brown.
Reggie Miller played 18 seasons (1987-2005) for the Pacers, leading Indiana to the playoffs 15 times. In 2000, the Pacers were in the Finals but lost to the Shaq-Kobe-led Lakers team (4-2).
The Pacers suffered a playoff drought (2006-10) until Paul George was drafted by the franchise in 2010. Paul George led the Pacers to six playoffs during his seven-year tenure, including two Eastern Conference Final appearances in 2013 and 2014.
8. Sacramento Kings
The last time the Kings made a Finals appearance was for the 2002 Western Conference title. The team was composed of young players itching to establish their greatness. Chris Webber is a tenacious goliath, Peja Stojakovic is a scoring machine, Mike Bibby is a wizard on the court, and Jason Williams is a smooth operator.
Nevertheless, they bumped into the Lakers’ brick wall centred on Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The Lakers ended their hopes of advancing in seven games.
The Kings’ performance in 2022-23 was excellent. Although they lost to the Warriors (4-3) in the first round, you’ll notice they have great players who can cover all positions and a team with promise.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves
The franchise expected nothing but wins with the formidable lineup of Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, and Wally Szczerbiak. The foursome with a great supporting cast towed the Timberwolves to the 2004 Western Conference Finals facing off against the Lakers. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant pushed them off the mountain to reach the top with a 4-2 series win.
It was all downhill afterwards; Garnett got traded to the Celtics in 2007. The Timberwolves played in three playoffs (2018, 2022, 2023), all matches were first-round losses.
10. Memphis Grizzlies
The hard luck-stricken Memphis Grizzlies team had successive playoff runs from 2010 to 2017. Their highest achievement was a 2013 Western Conference Finals appearance losing to the San Antonio Spurs by a sweep. The team comprised defense specialists like Zach Randolph, Quincy Pondexter, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley, averaging 15 points or less. Their type of play had no room in the modern NBA; two-way players Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, and Manu Ginobili took advantage of the matchups.
With Ja Morant in the lineup in 2019, the Grizzlies became a championship-caliber team with playoff appearances from 2020 to 2023. However, the franchise player has off-court issues, which could determine the team’s direction.
Wrapping Things Up: 10 NBA Dynasties That Never Were
Dillon Brooks talks about his team becoming a dynasty and the reason why the Grizzlies are one of the NBA dynasties that never happened. The team should have won at least two titles to become a dynasty in the NBA, and the Grizzlies haven’t won one.
A team with the right players is no guarantee to win a championship. The game has intangibles or breaks that could spell the difference between victory and defeat. In the last 2023 Eastern Conference Finals, Jayson Tatum was injured, and Jaylen Brown had an off-night while the Heat’s undrafted players stepped up to win game 7.
Losing is disheartening, but the new season brings hope and opportunities to rise and progress.