The Los Angeles Clippers have made the playoffs five years in a row. Each year, they fell short of the Conference Finals.
Over the next few weeks, ClipperBlog will feature the other 17 teams to make at least five consecutive postseason appearances without reaching the Conference Finals during the streak. Eight of those 17 teams broke through and eventually made the Conference Finals before the end of the postseason streak, and two made it all the way to the NBA Finals.
But none of the previous 17 teams to make at least five consecutive postseason appearances without reaching the Conference Finals won a title before missing the playoffs first.
All of these roundups will feature the players who played at least 10,000 regular season minutes, the head coaches, and what happened to each team at the end of their run of Playoff Purgatory. We’ll circle back and relate it to the Clippers’ current situation.
New Jersey Nets 1981-1986 Summary
-1981-1982: 44-38 (4th seed), swept (2-0) by Washington Bullets in 1st round
-1982-1983: 49-33 (4th seed), swept (2-0) by New York Knicks in 1st round
-1983-1984: 45-37 (6th seed), defeated Philadelphia 76ers in 5, lost to Milwaukee Bucks in 6
-1984-1985: 42-40 (5th seed), swept (3-0) by Detroit Pistons in 1st round
-1985-1986: 39-43 (7th seed), swept (3-0) by Bucks in 1st round
10K minutes: PF Buck Williams
Head Coaches: Larry Brown (1981-1983), Bill Blair (1983), Stan Albeck (1983-1985), Dave Wohl (1985-1986)
When the Nets hired Larry Brown away from UCLA in 1981, they were terrible, finishing up 1980-1981 with a 24-58 record. However, that awful record meant that they had the 3rd overall pick in the 1981 NBA Draft, and they hit on Maryland PF Buck Williams, who was selected behind Mark Aguirre and Isiah Thomas.
”I wanted no part of Isiah,” Brown told the New York Times in 1981. ”I figured Buck was the class of the draft.”
Williams made an impact right away, as he was named to the NBA All-Star Game as a rookie, which was played at New Jersey’s Brendan Byrne Arena. (If you recall, Blake Griffin’s first All-Star game was in his first year of play in 2011, at the Staples Center!) Williams averaged 15.5 points per game (58.2 percent from the field) and 12.3 rebounds per game, which earned him the 1981-1982 Rookie of the Year Award. Even better, the Nets finally made the playoffs in New Jersey, improving 20 games from the previous season.
The Nets were swept by the Washington Bullets, and it would be Brown’s only postseason appearance with New Jersey. Brown went 47-29 to start the 1982-1983 season with the Nets, another All-Star campaign for Williams, before bizarrely quitting the team six games before the end of the season to coach the University of Kansas. Assistant coach Bill Blair finished the season out for the Nets; they finished 2-4 before getting swept out of the playoffs again, this time against the hated New York Knicks.
New Jersey paid the San Antonio Spurs $300,000, the 46th pick in the 1983 NBA Draft, and the draft rights to forward Fred Roberts for the right to name Stan Albeck head coach. Albeck had just taken another former ABA franchise, the San Antonio Spurs, to the 1983 Western Conference Finals. ”For us, this eradicates all the remnants of the damage that Larry Brown created,” said Alan Cohen, the Nets’ chairman.
The Nets had another winning season in 1983-1984, going 45-37. Williams averaged another double-double (15.7 points per game, 12.3 rebounds per game) to go with 125 blocked shots, but the team’s All-Star was SG Otis Birdsong, who averaged a team-leading 19.8 points per game. The Nets had to face the defending 1983 champion Philadelphia 76ers in Round 1, a team that featured former ABA Nets legend Julius Erving. The Nets won the first two games of the series, which would have been a sweep before 1983-1984, but the NBA changed the 1st round to a best-of-five format. The Nets returned home and lost Games 3 and 4 to the 76ers, setting up a deciding Game 5 in Philadelphia. But the Nets pulled off the upset and dethroned the 76ers.
That would be as good as it got for the Nets for a very long time. New Jersey would lose in the Semis to the Milwaukee Bucks in 6. The following season, the Nets went 42-40 and were swept by the Pistons in the first round. Albeck left the Nets a day before the 1985 NBA Draft to become the head coach of the Chicago Bulls.
The Nets would have to wait until August 1985 to hire yet another head coach. This time, they chose Dave Wohl, a 35-year-old former Nets player and assistant who was an assistant coach for the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. (Wohl is currently the general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers.) Wohl got the Nets off to a 23-14 start in 1985-1986, and Williams was on his way to his third All-Star appearance in five years, averaging 15.9 points and 12.0 rebounds per game.
But the team’s 1985 All-Star, PG Micheal Ray Richardson, became the first active NBA player to be banned from the league in February 1986. Richardson had tested positive for cocaine multiple times. The Nets would finish the season 16-29 from early January on out, and they were swept for the fourth time in five years in the 1st round, this time to the Bucks.
The New Jersey Nets became the first team in NBA history to make the playoffs five seasons in a row without reaching the Conference Finals during the streak. The Nets went straight to hell after 1986, missing the playoffs for the next five seasons, tying a franchise-long drought. The team went 24-58 in 1986-1987, and Wohl would be fired after the Nets lost 13 of their first 15 games of the 1987-1988 season. The Nets would trade Williams away after the 1988-1989 season to Portland for C Sam Bowie and the 12th pick in the 1989 NBA Draft (a pick used on PG Mookie Blaylock). Williams is still the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, total points, and total rebounds. The only team to lose more than the 298 games the Nets lost from 1986-1991 were the Clippers, who lost 299 games in that span.
The current Clippers can’t really compare to the Nets, although the Nets failed to take advantage of the Knicks being terrible in the mid-1980s, much like the Lakers are down in the mid-2010s currently. Williams and Griffin are eerily close in value, but Griffin has a way more stable support system around him in Los Angeles than Williams ever had in New Jersey. That said, Williams was the last link to the Nets’ playoff teams of the 1980s when he was finally traded after eight seasons. Williams never made another All-Star team after 1986.