NBA's Biggest Single-Season Declines
After losing LeBron James from the team with the NBA's best record, the '10-11 Cavaliers neared the All-Star break on pace for the worst single-season decline in league history, both in terms of number of victories and winning percentage. Here are the hapless teams that Cleveland is poised to join, listed in order of biggest drop-offs in winning percentage.
Based on winning percentage, the Bulls of the lockout-shortened '99 season produced the NBA's greatest single-season decline. And the free fall was hardly surprising, given that Michael Jordan (retired), Scottie Pippen (traded) and Phil Jackson (took the year off from coaching) departed after the Bulls completed their second three-peat in '98. What followed was a six-year record of 119-341 (.259), much of it with Tim Floyd as coach.
San Antonio Spurs
The NBA's biggest win decline for an 82-game season and No. 2 all-time dip in winning percentage -- a 39-game drop sparked by injuries to David Robinson and other key players, and notable for GM Gregg Popovich's replacing Bob Hill as coach in December 1996 -- had its benefits. San Antonio won the 1997 draft lottery -- much to the chagrin of Rick Pitino and the Celtics -- and the right to select Tim Duncan, who has led the Spurs to four titles and helped them become the model franchise in pro sports.
Moses Malone's MVP season of '81-82 with the Rockets prompted the Sixers to offer the free agent a six-year, $13.2 million contract -- a massive deal at the time. Houston matched the offer but quickly traded Malone to Philadelphia anyway, for Caldwell Jones and a No. 1 pick. The Rockets took their lumps but rebuilt through the draft, getting Ralph Sampson and Akeem (now Hakeem) Olajuwon in back-to-back years. That paved the way for a Finals appearance in '86 (and two Olajuwon-led titles in the mid-`90s).
San Francisco Warriors
The Warriors reached the '64 Finals behind Wilt Chamberlain (36.9 ppg, 22.3 rpg), but, after a poor start in '64-65, they traded the dominant (but expensive) big man to Philadelphia. Nate Thurmond and Co. went 6-41 in the last 47 games without Wilt, finishing with a then-record 31 fewer victories than they did the previous season.
The Heat won the 2006 title behind Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal, were swept out of the first round of the playoffs the following year and bottomed out in '07-08. Wade was hurt for a good part of that terrible season and Miami dealt Shaq to Phoenix (for Shawn Marion) in February '08. Pat Riley resigned as coach after the season and turned to one of his assistants, Erik Spoelstra, to replace him.
Pau Gasol and the Grizzlies made the last of three consecutive playoff appearances (and three straight first-round exits without a victory) in 2006. Memphis began the '06-07 season without Gasol, who broke his foot at the FIBA World Championship during the summer. That helped lead to a 6-24 start and Jerry West's decision to fire coach Mike Fratello. The Grizzlies have not returned to the playoffs since '06.
Philadelphia star Paul Arizin was the NBA's leading scorer in '51-52. But he missed the next season (and the one after that) while serving in the Korean War, and in his absence the Warriors had three double-digit losing streaks in their 12-win season. In '55-56, his second year back in the league, Arizin lifted the Warriors to the championship.
A so-so regular season one year after a league-best 51-13 didn't keep Dolph Schayes and Co. from beating the top-seeded Philadelphia Warriors in the first round of the playoffs and nearly upending the New York Knicks in the Eastern Division finals.
Golden State Warriors
What looked like a promising future for Golden State quickly fizzled: Chris Webber held out after his Rookie of the Year season in '93-94, and that contract dispute coupled with his feud with coach Don Nelson led the Warriors to trade him to Washington in November '94. Not that Nelson outlasted Webber by too long. Nellie was out and Bob Lanier was in midway through '94-95, the first of 12 consecutive playoff-less seasons for the Bay Area team.
Behind Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, the Wizards overcame Gilbert Arenas' near season-long absence to make the playoffs in '08 -- their fourth postseason appearance in a row. But Washington wasn't nearly as resourceful the following season in dealing with extended absences for Arenas (who missed 80 games) and starting center Brendan Haywood (76 games). Eddie Jordan was fired after a 1-10 start and replaced by Ed Tapscott, who finished Washington's East-worst season.