After the Timberwolves snapped a 14-year playoff drought last spring, only seven NBA teams entered the 2018/19 season having not reached the postseason at all since 2015. Three of those teams – the Nets, Magic, and Nuggets – have secured playoff berths, meaning that 26 NBA clubs have now earned postseason berths at least once in the four-year period from 2016-19.
That leaves the following four teams with the NBA’s longest playoff droughts:
- Sacramento Kings (last playoff appearance in 2006)
- Phoenix Suns (2010)
- Los Angeles Lakers (2013)
- New York Knicks (2013)
None of those teams ultimately came very close to reaching the postseason this season, but the Kings will finish the closest. After holding onto one of the top eight spots in the Western Conference for much of 2018/19, Sacramento has struggled down the stretch — the team is just 9-15 since the All-Star break. Still, the Kings will end up ninth in the West and feature an impressive collection of young talent, led by De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Marvin Bagley. There’s plenty of reason for optimism going forward.
The Lakers will finish right behind Sacramento in the West, though L.A.’s young core wasn’t nearly as impressive in 2018/19 as the Kings’ group. Armed with cap room and trade chips this offseason, the Lakers will make every effort to add a second star to complement LeBron James, which would put them in a good position to return to the playoffs next season. Of course, there’s no guarantee the club will land that kind of star, and if James’ health issues in ’18/19 are a harbinger of things to come, the Lakers are no lock to rebound next year.
Further down the Western Conference standings, the Suns will win fewer than 25 games for the fourth straight season. The team is starting to put together a nice group of long-term building blocks, led by Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges. However, the Suns have yet to experience a Kings-like breakout season. Phoenix will add another top prospect in June’s draft and is expected to have some flexibility in free agency, so perhaps that will happen in 2019/20.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks are perhaps the NBA’s biggest wild card heading into the 2019 offseason. The club has the cap room necessary to sign, say, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and doing so would make New York a near-lock to return to the playoffs a year from now. On the other hand, if the Knicks strike out in free agency, or end up with a couple second- or third-tier stars, their position will be far more tenuous.
What do you think? Which of these four perennial lottery teams do you expect to return to the postseason first? Is there a team that will have to wait another two or three years (or more) to end its drought?
Head below to the comment section to weigh in with your thoughts!