Mired In Monotony: Seven Teams In A Rut

The Raptors have struggled to succeed.

Over the last five seasons, the Raptors have struggled to succeed.

By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com

There are very few ways to build a championship contender in the NBA and they’re all centered around obtaining a superstar.

Option 1: Sign an already established superstar through free agency (the Miami Heat model)

Option 2: Use young talent and Draft picks to trade for a superstar (the Boston Celtics model)

Option 3: Draft well and stockpile young talent in hopes they develop into superstars (the San Antonio Spurs model)

The first option is usually only available to organizations in major markets that have the appeal to attract superstars. So for non-major market teams, the more feasible option is to acquire young talent and high Draft picks and hope one of those players turns into a star. But this route requires a lot of luck and usually a lot of losing for cities that usually can’t afford such a steep decline. It’s a tough but necessary route.

Organizations find themselves stagnated in obscurity when they fail to get lucky in the lottery or they spend their money unwisely. It’s an unfortunate place to be and it’s where seven teams find themselves going into this season. They’re not bad enough to get better and not good enough to matter.

Let’s breakdown how each of these teams got here and what their plans seem to be moving forward.

Toronto Raptors


Winning percentages, last five seasons (2008-13): .402, .488, .268, .348, .415

Biggest mistake, last five seasons: Signing Hedo Turkoglu to a 5-year/$53 million contract in 2009.

Past: The Raptors have experienced some of the NBA’s longest stagnation this century as they have not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2000-01 and they’ve only been over .500 once in the past ten seasons. They botched their chance to obtain relevancy when they drafted Andrea Bargnani No. 1 overall in the 2007 NBA Draft. Bargnani never developed into the elite offensive center the team imagined and Toronto recently unloaded Bargnani on the New York Knicks for a package centered around sharp-shooter Steve Novak. Last season, the team dug their heels deeper into the middle of the road when they acquired Rudy Gay. This move made the team better, but nowhere near championship caliber and Toronto found itself again on the playoff fringe.

Future: The Raptors are now under the control of former Denver Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri and some of his moves this summer signal a new direction for the organization. This must be a welcome sign for Toronto fans who haven’t had much to cheer for in a while. But it most likely won’t be a quick turnaround with the amount of bad contracts the team still has on the books.

Detroit Pistons


Winning percentages, last five seasons (2008-13): .476, .329, .366, .379, .354

Biggest mistake, last five seasons: The summer signings of 2009 (Ben Gordon – 5-years/$55 million — and Charlie Villanueva – 5-years/$35 million).

Past: The Pistons were one of the best teams in the NBA for most of the 2000s and ranked No. 1 in attendance as recently as the 2008-09 season. But as the core which won them the 2004 NBA title began to age, general manager Joe Dumars spent ludicrous amounts of money on average players like Gordon and Villanueva. These signings, along with a controversial Chauncey Billups-for-Allen Iverson trade, sank the Pistons. By the 2011-12 season, they ranked 28th in league attendance. However, they’ve had some luck in the Draft recently with the picks of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.

Future: This summer, the Pistons once again decided to spend big money in free agency. They signed Josh Smith, brought back Billups and traded for Brandon Jennings to create one of the most explosive (and inefficient) starting lineups in the league. If everything goes right, this team could get past the first round of the playoffs in a season or two. But this team will never contend for a championship and Detroit will most likely find themselves in the same stagnated position in four years — unless Drummond develops into a superstar.

Milwaukee Bucks


Winning percentages, last five seasons (2008-13): .415, .561, .427, .470, .463

Biggest mistake, last five seasons: Trading Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb for J.J. Redick, Ish Smith, and Gustavo Ayon.

Past: The Bucks have been the definition of average over the past five seasons as GM John Hammond has consistently acquired flawed, high-volume scorers since he was hired in 2008. First he tried Richard Jefferson, then Corey Maggette, then John Salmons, then Stephen Jackson and, finally, Monta Ellis for the last two seasons. None of these players brought the team remotely close to championship caliber, but they made the Bucks good enough to not be able to improve through the Draft. The goal of just making it to the playoffs hit a low point last season when the Bucks traded talented first-round pick Harris to Orlando for a two-month rental of Redick. Milwaukee is in no position to make trades like that one just to squeak into the playoffs.

Future: The Brandon Jennings era in Milwaukee is over and the Bucks seem headed in a new direction. Youngsters Larry Sanders and John Henson are proof the Bucks have drafted well recently despite the team not being bad enough to receive high picks. Sanders, Henson and Ersan Ilyasova seem positioned to become the team’s building blocks and the Bucks’ moves this offseason make it seem like they’re finally embracing a youth movement. It will still take a superstar for this team to become a championship contender, but as it stands, they have assembled a potentially strong, young core.

Atlanta Hawks


Winning percentages, last five seasons (2008-13): .573, .646, .537, .606, .537

Biggest mistake, last five seasons: Signing Joe Johnson to a 6-year/$119 million contract in 2010.

Past: Unlike all of the other teams on this list, the Hawks have experienced a decent amount of success over the last five seasons. But this success was never enough to make them championship contenders as the potential of Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford plateaued at a non-championship level. They spent big money to re-sign Johnson and were never able to acquire any above-average young talent besides Jeff Teague.

Future: The Hawks were an active team this summer as they signed two of the most reasonable contracts of the free-agency period: Paul Millsap (2 years at $19 million) and Elton Brand (1 year at $4 million). They also re-signed back Teague to a bargain 4-year/$32 million contract. They drafted well, too, selecting foreign prospects Dennis Schroeder and Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira. However, all of these moves keep the Hawks in the awkward position of being simply good. Not great enough to contend for a championship and not bad enough to rebuild through the Draft. It’s a difficult position to be in and they need one of their young prospects to become a superstar soon.

Minnesota Timberwolves


Winning percentages, last five seasons (2008-13): .293, .183, .207, .395, .378

Biggest mistake, last five seasons: Traded Ty Lawson instead of Jonny Flynn after the 2009 NBA Draft.

Past: The Timberwolves have the worst winning percentage in the NBA over the last five seasons, an incredible feat considering All-Star Kevin Love has been on the roster during this span. Injuries have been the problem lately as a healthy Wolves team most likely would have made the playoffs last season. Botched drafts doomed them for a few seasons, but things are looking up.  

Future: Ricky Rubio makes any future look bright. The flashy point guard has brought excitement back to Minnesota and the free agent acquisitions of Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin give the Wolves a high-powered offense. They’re in the same boat as the Hawks, though, as this squad will most likely never contend for a championship. The Wolves are in a better position than the Hawks, however, as they already have their superstar in Love. This should be a playoff team if Love can avoid knuckle push-ups.

Sacramento Kings


Winning percentages, last five seasons (2008-13): .207, .305, .293, .333, .341

Biggest mistake, last five seasons: Dropped three spots in the 2011 NBA Draft to acquire John Salmons.

Past: The Kings have been hurt over the past five seasons by a complete disregard for defense. They’ve averaged a defensive rating of 110.96 since 2008-09 and ranked last or second-to-last in the NBA in defensive rating three of the last five seasons. They’ve been unable to land a superstar in the Draft, despite selecting Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans in 2009. DeMarcus Cousins has all of the talent to be a main piece on a championship team. But his maturity and poor defense have held him back.

Future: Michael Malone will be the fifth different coach for the Kings since 2008-09 and his success will be determined by his ability to develop Cousins. New ownership and a forthcoming new arena will allow passionate Kings fans to be able to keep their team for the foreseeable future. These fans may lose interest soon, though, if Cousins and rookie Ben McLemore are not capable of developing into superstars and the organization can’t figure out a way to achieve relevancy.

Washington Wizards


Winning percentages, last five seasons (2008-13): .232, .317, .280, .303, .354s

Biggest mistake, last five seasons: Traded Nick Young, JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf for Nene and Brian Cook in 2012.

Past: The Wizards saw sustained success from 2004-08 with a roster led by Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. But Arenas’ quick downfall and a tumultuous locker room quickly turned Washington from a perennial playoff team to one of the league’s worst. They were able to nab potential superstar John Wall during the 2010 Draft and they recently signed him to a max contract extension. Wall’s development was unfortunately derailed by injuries last season.

Future: The core of Wall, Bradley Beal and rookie Otto Porter is a strong foundation for the Wizards. They’re young, talented and will have considerable cap room next offseason. Washington can be a playoff team this season if Wall continues to improve and they stay healthy. Of all the teams on this list, they seem most likely to become a championship contender within the next few seasons.


  1. AJC says:

    Drummond, as always is being underrated. With Smith and Monroe, expect Detroit to trade one for a superstar scorer that will put them over the top.

  2. asdf says:

    Pistons should trade stuckey,villanueva and some picks to philly, to get som cap space.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think the Charlotte Bobcats should definitely be on this list. They have clearly been the worst team in the NBA for the last three to four years and I don’t see them going anywhere anytime soon. I am a Jazz fan and I am sad to see Jefferson go, but he is not good enough to be the cornerstone of a franchise. We tried it and it didn’t work out. He needs another good player to work with. Don’t get me wrong, he is a good player, but not a franchise type player. The Jazz will be in the lottery for a few more years, at least until Favors, Hayward, Kanter, Burkes, and Burke mature. I don’t know. We will see how it goes.

  4. Ryan says:

    Trail Blazers???!!

  5. GritWallOfChina says:

    Isnt new orleans close to making this list?

  6. UNCGrad13 says:

    I don’t see how some of you didn’t see the talent in John Wall last season. He will be 23 by the end of the year, and is the modern day “do it all” PG that so many teams desire to have. With a improved jumper, he will be unguardable. Dude is so fast, no one can stay in front of him. Last season when he played the Wiz were one of the top teams in the East, with one a great home record. They are in a great position with him. They are a legitimate big man away from doing some serious damage.

  7. Gaurav says:

    For all of those saying that the Suns, Blazers, Cavs, Magic, Lakers should be here, you have to realize those teams weren;t mediocre for the last 5 years. The Suns and Blazers had playoff runs and were a great team up until 2 years ago, the Lakers won 2 titles, and the Cavs and Magic were the near of their conference. These teams in the article have been stuck in mediocrity for a while now. However, I do disagree with some of the worst moves, as the Wizards’ worst move was drafting Vesely that high, and the Wolves screwed up by picking Flynn over Curry.

  8. Andre says:

    Whoever wrote this piece is an idiot.

  9. Chris says:

    Get really lucky: Bulls model

  10. nonstop says:

    I’m surprised the suns aren’t on this list.

  11. darryl says:

    I think Hawks should not be in the list. they are not the worst or somehow can say mediocre. they made the playoffs 6 straight times 2007-2013, get past first round 3 times. They are not that strong like miami but you can pick more mediocre teams than them like the bobcats. given the fact that only one will win the championship small achievements like this still matter.
    I think mediocre teams are Bobcats, timberwolves, new orleans, wizards, kings, raptors, sixers.
    if hawks is in the list then Utah and portland should be in the list too..

    Looking to the future. wolves may breakout again and rebuild given love may leave.
    raptors will be a playoff contender next season.

  12. Alex says:

    Really looking forward to next season with Raptors… Rudy Gay could pull through having his own environment and seems to be handling the move well. Derozen needs a bit more consistency but he is a brilliant player. Ross needs to settle in still, maybe add a bit of weight so he doesn’t get pushed around. Jonas proved what he can do at the summer league so this should be a positive season this year as they grow into their roles and build chemistry.

  13. Carvin says:

    It amaze me for teams to draft teenagers then expect them come into the NBA as mature productive players. There are only a few exception to this rule and you can count them on 1 hand and have fingers left. Teams compound the mistake by not having a mentor for these players and before you know they’re calling them a bust. Javalle McGee who call brainless is a rare gifted player that plays bigger than his 7 foot frame, call him names if you want but he will be in the NBA for years and will only get better and teams that wrote him off will be sorry. The Bulls wrote off Tyson Chandler years ago because they were too stupid to bring in a big man coach to work with him, The problem with some coaches is they expect instant results from high school players, 1 and done. That’s why 2 years in school would help the NBA, players and the college game.

  14. Aaron says:

    wizards were fine to get rid of javale and nick young, the problem is paying nene and okafor too much, once they run out of contract, I do hope the team signs some good bigs and they will be interseting to watch

  15. sternh8r says:

    What….the Lakers aren’t in a rut???

  16. J says:

    I have the pistons, t-wolves and wizards making the playoffs and the raptors just missing.
    these teams have bright futures

  17. J says:

    great article!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. Martin says:

    This is a pretty poor article, there are probably roughly 18-20 teams that are stuck in mediocrity

  19. Kamote says:

    For the Wiz, trading Young and JaVale was more of a necessity. Maturity wasn’t really coming in for the young core of the Wiz, which was still then in the shadows of the Arenas incident. I’d say that was a necessary move. Though Nene isn’t one of the top big men (though he was good with the Nuggets), bringing him, Okafor and Ariza definitely helped them in restructuring the team, and focusing on Wall. They would be in a more f*cked-up situation if that didn’t happen, as eventually that talented core would’ve left anyways (including Wall).

  20. Kimmy says:

    I agree with this article with the exception of the Wizards. I believe they will make the playoffs this year. They are better than all teams in the article, especially if John Wall is healthy. He is a future superstar. As far as the Hawks go, I’m still very disappointed in the decisions the Hawks have made. I’m uneasy about a new coach, although I think it was time, the verdict is oot for Horford, Lou Williams- can they elevate their games? They are both very hard workers. I’m not sure about the team chemistry, will it be good? I hope the new vets can infuse positivity. I just think it was time for Teague to move on. But now that he is back, he also needs to elevate. Getting rid of JSmoove was a good move, for Teauge’s sake. The Hawks have a long way to go and that makes me sad because I am a fan. I hated watching them lose because JSmoove hogged the ball and took all those bad shots.

    • WOLFRAM says:

      You have to be joking! Several of these teams may make it past the first round of the playoffs, the Wizards will be lucky to finish 10th in the East.

  21. T M says:

    What no Bobcats/Hornets? Are they not good enough for this list?

  22. MB says:

    Minny’s worst move was trading Lawson instead of Flynn? How about picking Flynn over Stepehn Curry. I would say that was a much bigger mistake.

  23. Austyn says:

    Where’s Charlotte..?

  24. Xavier Q says:

    Being bad is not a recipe for becoming good. Writers need to stop pushing nonsense like that. The only team of the lottery era to win a championship with a #1 pick they drafted is the Spurs (Duncan, Robinson). Unless you can buy a ready-made contender, you need to build a playoff team FIRST, and then make trades or sign free agents to put you over the top. Post Robinson, the other key pieces of the Duncan era are Tony Parker (29th pick), and Manu Ginobili (2nd round pick). You might also include Bruce Bowen (undrafted). These players were not acquired with lottery picks, they were acquired through smart scouting.

  25. Joe says:

    I have 5 players on my local LA Fitness Gym that could do 100% better than what the wizards have done in the last 5 years. And we don’t want any money.. We’ll do it for DC pride.

  26. Joe says:

    McGee a mistake???? He was and still is the joke of the NBA league.

  27. Roy says:

    I’m stoked for my Raptors this season (Ontario pride!). With Calderon and Barngani gone our defence is only going to improve. We have plently of young talent and a STACKED guard line-up with a ton of potential (Lowry, Gay, Derozan, Fields, Ross). Jonas looks like he’s coming into his skin as time goes on. And Dwayne Casey is a decent coach who preaches good defense. The new GM from Denver should provide some solid decision making with the franchise as you can see how well he handled the departure of Carmelo Anthony.

    I think if the Raptors start developing while keeping a solid commitment to defense we could grab the 7-8th seed. It’s going to be a struggle though, the Cavs and Pistons have made some HUGE improvements this off season as well.

    • Unkle Daddy says:

      I put them at the 9th in the east, but with the talent they have they might pull off a playoff spot. Good luck Canada

  28. What?? says:

    Bargnani was selected number 1 in the 2006 draft not 2007.

  29. Billy says:

    The NBA writers need to give some more love to the Portland Trail Blazers, they are rarely even discussed. They should be discussed on this list

    • broyroy says:

      this is not a list you want your team to make. If your team is not on this list you should be happy!

    • John says:

      This isn’t a list you want to be a part of the Blazers are a much better team and franchise than to be considered mediocre. This isn’t a faltering list of potential good teams. This is a list of no matter what the do they are stuck in Nuetral going no where.

  30. CCarr says:

    Where are the cavs on this list?

    • John says:

      Going back 5 years like the list, the .08 Cavs were 66-16 .805 followed by 61-21 .744. The next three years were .232, .318 and .293. Long way from being stuck in a rut. This is a list of teams no matter the move that are stuck in mediocrity.

  31. Rosesrred says:

    you forgot the Orlando Magic!@#$%

    • John says:

      Starting in 08 the magic finished 59-23 .720 and made it to the NBA finals losing to the Lakers the next year same record losing in the conference Finals followed by .634, .561, .234. Long way from Mired in Montonomy.

  32. Akeem says:

    The Hawks were improving every year, except for the Horford injury year, Yeah JJ’s contract was a mistake, but now Ferry has made bigger mistakes. It will be a long time before they get back to where they were before Ferry (6 games in the 2nd round against the #1 seed, WITHOUT their starting pt. guard)

  33. Unkle Daddy says:

    The Timberwolves are gonna surprise a lot of people this year, you watch. They’ll be in the playoffs (never should have signed Martin though, should have kept Ridnour). The main problem with the NBA is the GM’s. Most of them either know basketball or business, but never both. Look at all the good former players who can’t coach or recognize talent as a GM or president. If all GM’s decide to start paying guys what they are actually worth it might be ok.

    • Brian says:

      I’m happy with what the wolves have done. They have always needed a shooting guard. Wesley Johnson didn’t cut it and then to see Ridnour play out of position every night was painful. Dwayne Wade and every other shooting guard torched us. We were last in 3 point shooting. Martin is coming from 42% on 3’s last year. Also, Martin played under Coach Adelman in Sacramento, and Houston-they were some of his best years. With Rubio, we simply didn’t need another starting PG especially with Barea and Shved too.

  34. KingKaash says:

    As a Kings fan, I would have to say our worst move was drafting T-Rob instead of Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, or Andre Drummond.

  35. Real says:

    Joe Dumars needs to sign a personal trainer before he makes the news in the worst way. Players stay in shape for the game but not their health/life.

  36. MoPete says:

    Raps will make the playoffs ahead of the Wizards. Sure, there was a while there that the draft was horrible for us, with Bargnani, Araujau, not to mention Turk’s signing. But the last few years have shows good development with players like Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross, Valenciunus. If Lowry can stay healthy and consistently good they have a great core to build around.

  37. Myself Me says:

    I’m curious, shouldn’t the suns be involved in this article? They really look down and looking to build back to the top.

  38. Lakers-Warriors-Suns. says:

    Javale McGee!!!!

  39. Sophie1150 says:

    As an Orlando Magic fan, I am very happy the Buck made a huge mistake giving us Harris. Thanks for the future Super Star. NBA fans often wonder, what was that GM thinking. Of course, Orlando is in the top 3 for stupid for signing Gilbert and the Turk.

  40. matthew mathis says:

    I personally think that the teams should blow up there rosters. Sign the young and big athletes. Drop who ever doesn’t work out until they have eight reliable players. No big contracts.

  41. james says:

    Biggest mistake, last five seasons: Traded Nick Young, JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf for Nene and Brian Cook in 2012

    Seriously? Wizards was 5th team in win/los when Nene has played.

    McGee and Young are brainless players.

  42. Heather Angel says:

    John Wall isn’t among the elite point guard in the league (Paul, Westbrook, Parker, Rose (?)), yet Washington gave him a max contract. This makes no sense and that’s how teams stay in a rut.

    • justsayin says:

      Wall has a mature attitude and strong work ethic. Not to mention athleticism to rival Rose and Westbrook. (crazy hops aside) Did you see the vid of his full-court lob to himself? Ridiculous. Also reminds me of J Kidd when he was young and a little raw. HIS jumper came along and I see no reason Wall’s can’t too.

      Don’t parrot what random knucklheads are saying just because you guys aren’t seeing him on TV. He’s a top ten player at the deepest, most crucial, position in the league and will likely move into the top five within the next couple of seasons. My only concern is that he has chosen to stay with the Wizards – who have long proven they are, at best, a mediocre organization. They could use rebranding as badly as the Bobcats to freshen people’s perception of them and to cut ties with a losing past. The Bullets uniforms should stay, though.

    • hgfhjg says:

      maybe its because when john wall plays the wizards win percentage is actually really good, especially last season down the stretch when they were all healthy

    • Dallasbaby says:

      Wall definitely has the potential to be a star. Any team would have given him the max next offseason and the wizards aren’t going to let him go away for nothing. He will be a star.

  43. Sid says:

    I think the pistons and timberwolves will make the playoffs

    • aaaaaa says:

      Pistons will if they can be consistent, but Jennings and Smith aren’t the most consistent players, and Wolves can if they can stay healthy.

  44. wizz says:

    letting go of nick yound and mcgee was the worst move? are you serious? I understand we let talent leave but they were knuckleheads and not good for the locker room! i would say picking jan vesely was a bigger mistake with better players on the board….that is unless he improves greatly this season but i don’t see that happening

    • Bigmatta23 says:

      Im with you on this one WIZZ…trading those guys was essential!!! Vesely is a waste and a bust

    • Kei says:

      Yes, they were kuckleheads but George Karl seems to control Mcgee pretty well. Same with Blatche at the net now. Basically your team had talent but chose a wrong coach. Just like the old days with Mitch, Howard and Cwebb. IMHO Wall is not a superstar and not going to be one.
      Jan is a Bust.

      • RunningRampant says:

        If the problem was the coach, then shouldn’t that be the ‘biggest mistake’?

        McGee was a high risk, high reward player. Nene was a quality established player. Thats a pretty reasonable trade.

        Young on the other hand is the very inefficient chucker this article doesn’t approve of.

        The Wiz have made alot of mistakes in the last 5 years, no one should question that. But trading McGee and Young is no where near the top of that list. If anything its one of their better moves.