Sunday, May 1, 2011

The 12 Most Memorable Non-Title Winning NBA Teams Since Jordan Started Winning Everything - Part Two

6. The Mid-‘90s Sonics

Peak years: 1992-97.
Best result: NBA Finals ’96.
Key players: Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Detlef Schrempf, Hersey Hawkins, Nate McMillan, Sam Perkins.

Kemp and Payton just edge out Shaq and Penny because they hung around for longer and they avoided getting swept in the finals. They were also arguably even brasher, what with Kemp’s spectacular dunking and Payton’s non-stop mouth. They first rose to prominence in ’93 when they stretched Barkley’s Suns to seven games in the West Finals, then had two embarrassing first round exits (including becoming the first No.1 seed to lose in the first round in ’94), and then finally broke into the NBA Finals in ’96, knocking off the two-time champion Rockets before becoming fodder for the rampaging Bulls. After that they kind of faded away, so much so that I had to look up when their era actually ended – it was when Kemp got annoyed about the Sonics giving too much money to Jim McIlvane and was traded to Cleveland in ’97. Payton then soldiered on with Vin Baker for a few years, and then he was gone, and then a few years later the Sonics were gone also.

5. The Late-‘90s Jazz

Peak years: 1994-2000.
Best result: NBA Finals ’97, ’98.
Key players: Karl Malone, John Stockton, Jeff Hornacek, Bryon Russell, Greg Ostertag, Howard Eisley.

Though the Stockton-to-Malone era lasted for what seemed like an eternity, they reached their peak when Jeff Hornacek joined the line-up. The Jazz are memorable for how uncool they were, with Stockton and Hornacek forming the dorkiest backcourt of the ‘90s, and Malone standing as an imposing pillar of blandness. But they faced Jordan’s Bulls for two years in the Finals, and gave a decent showing both times, adding some more memorable moments to Jordan’s highlight reel in the process. Malone even stole two MVPs in the process, one which should have belonged to Jordan (though most people were happy to see Malone win one) and one which should have gone to Tim Duncan. They were a great team no doubt, but I can’t put them any higher than fifth.

4. The Early-‘00s Kings

Peak years: 2001-03.
Best result: Western Conference Finals ’02.
Key players: Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic, Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Bobby Jackson, Hedo Turkoglu.

Oh, the agony… the Kings surely deserved to beat the Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference Finals, but were stopped first in Game 4 by a Robert Horry buzzer beater and then in Game 6 by (allegedly) the referees, and then they lost Game 7 in overtime. Had they won that series, they no doubt would have destroyed the Nets in the Finals (which, admittedly, would have been watched by about five people). This team also probably went up a couple of notches because of Doug Christie’s wife, who brought a whole new level of crazy to the WAGs club.

3. The Seven Seconds Or Less Suns
Peak years: 2004-08.
Best result: Western Conference Finals ’05, ’06.
Key players: Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa, Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw, Raja Bell.

When Steve Nash re-joined the Suns in 2004, they quickly became the most popular team going around, with their “run and gun” or “seven seconds or less” offence seen as a welcome antidote to the defensively-orientated Pistons and Spurs. That popularity gained Nash two MVP awards, and the Suns made two straight trips to the Conference Finals, making the world a better place in which to be a skinny white basketballer with bad hair. Joe Johnson’s departure hurt their chances to win it all, as did Stoudemire’s microfracture surgery in ’05-06 (though it did help Nash win his second MVP award). Then, inexplicably, Marion was traded for an aging Shaquille O’Neal and his massive contract in ’08, effectively killing off the SSOL era, though the Suns would again reach the Conference Finals in 2010. Coach Mike D’Antoni and Stoudemire’s ego are now using a “run and gun” style in New York, but it isn’t quite the same without Nash on board.

2. The Riley Era Knicks

Peak years: 1991-95.
Best result: NBA Finals ‘94
Key players: Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Charles Oakley, Charles Smith, Anthony Mason, Doc Rivers, Derek Harper.

Say what you want about Pat Riley’s Knicks teams, but they were memorable (though not always for the right reasons). Ewing’s jumpshot and battles against Hakeem, the thuggish frontline of Oakley and Mason, Starks’ dunk on the Bulls and his epic fail in Game 7 of the ’94 Finals, Charles Smith getting blocked 47 times by the Bulls’ defence, and so on … This team also spawned a memorable rivalry when Riley jumped ship to the Miami Heat and the Heat and Knicks proceeded to pound on each other for the next few seasons. It’s a shame they never went up against the Pistons’ “Bad Boys” more often, maybe then we would have seen if Riley’s hair could ever be ruffled.

1. The Mid-to-Late ‘90s Pacers

Peak years: 1993-2000.
Best result: NBA Finals ‘00
Key players: Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Dale Davis, Antonio Davis, Mark Jackson, Jalen Rose, Derrick McKey.

You wouldn’t think a team from Indiana could stand out as the most memorable non-title winning team of the past couple of decades, but there’s a number of factors that earned them the top spot on this list. First, their long run of success: they made the Eastern Conference Finals in ’94, ’95, ’98, ’99 and 2000. Second, their depth: Miller, Smits, the Davises, Jackson and Rose were all All-Stars at some point in their careers. Third, their memorable rivalries with the Knicks and the Bulls: who can forget Miller’s mouthing off at Spike Lee, or his eight points in 8.9 seconds? Between Miller’s shooting and the Davises toughness on the boards they could do it all: except win the title that is. So they will have to settle for being No.1 of the non-winners instead.

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