Missing Rings: 2000s Edition (Part II)

Today we’re going to continue our series on the best teams of the 2000s to not win a championship. Sometimes these teams ran into bad luck or bad calls, while some just had the misfortune of coming along at the same time as an even better team, but the common thread they all share is that they were truly championship-caliber squads that just happened to fall short in the playoffs. But before we reveal the decade’s Top 10 in the next post, here are some honorable mention “missing rings” teams, ones which barely missed the countdown…

  • 2001 and 2003 Sacramento Kings. Not the best of the great early-decade Kings teams, but still a formidable roster. You wouldn’t know it from their fast pace, but Sacto owned the league’s 7th-best defense in ’01, and the 2nd-best D in ’03.
  • 2000 and 2002 San Antonio Spurs. You can practically pick every Spurs team this decade, and they either won a title or they’re on this “missing rings” list. The title defense team in 2K had 58 pythagorean wins and were 3rd in SRS, but they were ousted by the Suns in a 4-game 1st-round upset. In ’02, Manu Ginobili hadn’t arrived on the scene yet and they were breaking in a 19-year-old starting PG named Tony Parker, but they still managed to finish 3rd in SRS and advance to the 2nd round of the playoffs.
  • 2008 Los Angeles Lakers. File this under the “ran into a better team” category… L.A. was the league’s 2nd-best team last year, but unfortunately for them, the best team happened to be one of the decade’s strongest squads.
  • 2004 Minnesota T-Wolves. Prior to ’08, this was KG‘s best supporting cast by far, but the Lakers kicked them to the curb in a tough 6-game WCF series.
  • 2006 Phoenix Suns and 2007 Dallas Mavericks. Without Amare Stoudemire, the ’06 Suns weren’t expected to go anywhere, but led by MVP Steve Nash (and one of Tim Thomas’ vintage contract-year playoff performances), they went all the way to the WCF. Meanwhile, Dallas had won 67 games and were expected to make it back to the Finals with their own MVP, Dirk Nowitzki… Instead, they were unceremoniously bounced in the 1st round by 8th-seeded Golden State.
  • 2004 Indiana Pacers. Before Ron Artest threw the NBA’s most infamous punch since Kermit Washington, the Pacers were an up-and-coming team that won 61 games and came within a few key plays of giving Detroit all they could handle in the East Finals.
  • 2005 Miami Heat. Did you know that the Heat actually had a better overall season in 2004-05, from November to June, than they did in ’06? The ’06 version won 52 games, was 7th in offense, 9th in defense, and 6th in SRS; by contrast, the 2005 Heat won 59 games, had the league’s 5th-best offense, the 6th-best D, and were 4th in SRS.

In the next post, we’ll finally get to #1-5 in the missing rings countdown.

About Neil Paine

I work for Sports-Reference.com. I've been a freelance writer for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, and Basketball Prospectus.

Posted on January 14, 2009, in History. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. The 2007 Suns and the 2004 Spurs are notable omissions.

  2. great list, just some thoughts:

    as we all know, a big reason some teams win a ring is due to injuries. the 03 sacramento kings had no chance the moment webber went down with the knee injury during the 03 playoffs. the 04 indiana pacers were playing game 5 in a 2-2 series against detroit when jermaine o’neal hurt his knee. they lost game 5 and soon the series. had o’neal stayed healthy would the pacers have won? possibly, but we’ll never know.

    the 04 lakers played the bulk of the nba finals with their third string power forward and backup small forward (karl malone aggravated his knee injury in the last game of the conference finals and was a shell of himself in the finals; backup horace grant was still hurt, and small forward rick fox never recovered from his foot injury the previous year). the 04 lakers were billed as 4 hall of famers but malone and gary payton were not close to the level they played during their peak, and the lakers were playing a team with 4 all-stars (only recognized after they won the title) and a fifth who played on the 08 redeem team (prince). not exactly a big upset when looking back, considering the lakers’ injuries and then-unrecognized talent on detroit.

    the 05 miami heat may have been better than the 06 miami heat statistically, but dwyane wade suffered a rib cage injury at the worst possible time during the 05 playoffs — when the heat were up 3-2 on detroit in the conference finals. he sat out game 6 and was less than 100% for game 7. miami lost. had he been healthy would the heat have won that series? we’ll never know.

    look at the 99 spurs and the 00 spurs. the “defending nba champions” didn’t lose in the first round in 2000 — because duncan’s injury prevented him from playing. it wasn’t the same team. the 08 spurs lost to the lakers when ginobili had a foot injury that decreased his level of play considerably. would they have beaten the lakers with a healthy ginobili (or at least pushed it to 7)?

    injuries are ridiculed as just an excuse when a team loses, but the truth is any player who plays significant minutes and then can’t play or plays at a level significantly less than 100% causes a chain reaction that lowers a team’s quality of play, magnified during the playoffs when any one matchup can tip the balance of a game or series.

    a true measure of a playoff matchup is when both teams are at full strength.

    the biggest heartbreak of the decade was probably the fate of the 07 phoenix suns, who didn’t have their clutchest player, steve nash, down the stretch of game 1 when they had the ball and down two in the final minute — because nash’s nose didn’t stop bleeding and refs couldn’t let him back in the game. the suns lost that game. then after winning game 4 in san antonio to tie the series 2-2 (and regain home court advantage for what was now a best of three), the suns had to play game 5 without their leading scorer stoudemire due to a suspension for leaving the bench late in game 4. the suns lost game 5 at home on a late shot, then the series in 6. had the suns been at full strength for the entirety of games 1 and 5 would they have won the series?

    while i don’t believe in asterisks, it should be at least acknowledged/recognized when a team wins a playoff series/the finals against a team that isn’t at full strength, that the losing team was not the same team that it was at its best.

  3. just a correction, the first sentence in the above post was supposed to read:

    “as we all know, a big reason some teams DON’T win a ring is due to injuries.”

  4. The 2000 Spurs loss to the Suns wasn’t really an upset, Tim Duncan didn’t play due to injury he suffered very late in the season and Sean Elliot was out with his kidney transplant. Mario Eli started at Power Forward (way out of position.) The Spurs were lucky to get their one win in that series. Since you haven’t mentioned the 06 Spurs I’m assuming they’ll be in your top 5.

  5. Great comments, all. Key injuries are probably the single biggest reason any of these teams (here, in the previous post, and in the upcoming top 5) are “missing their rings”. Sometimes you run into a better team, like the ’08 Lakers did (and even they were missing Bynum), but a lot of times the reason a great regular-season team plays uncharacteristically in the playoffs an ill-timed injury or two. And I think that makes the ’07 Mavericks’ stunning 1st-round defeat even more improbable, because they didn’t have any injury-based excuses. Then again, Nellie knew their roster inside and out and badly outcoached Avery as a result, so that’s not really the players’ fault either.

    Oh, and the ’06 Spurs are in the Top 5.

  6. Great article! I would love to see this done for the 90’s. I felt like the 1990 Bulls, the 1991 & 1992 Blazers, 1993 & 1994 Knicks, 1993 Suns, the 1993, 1994 and 1996 Sonics were all exceptional teams that just came up a little short.

  7. No love for the Portland team who lost to the lakers in in the WCF’s. That team was stacked!

  8. my bad…They’re probably in the top 5

  9. The Portland team that lost was already mentioned in the previous post. I also made a comment about the 06 Spurs, and how they went down like a champ, even though they overcame so much adversity (injuries, refs, a 3-1 hole).

    As for the 90s, don’t forget the 05 Spurs. League’s best record, the MVP on their side. Just ran into an angry buzz saw named Hakeem.

  10. Just checking out the word on the Lakers. Come by sometime…for some Laker love!

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