Are the Cleveland Cavs the Worst NBA Team of All-Time? From WhatIfSports.com image

Cleveland Rock(s) Bottom: Cavs vs NBA Losers

2010-11 Cavs struggle against nine of the NBA's worst

By Ryan Fowler - Whatifsports.com
Feb. 13, 2011

"Maybe next year" is Cleveland's battle cry.

Growing up 30 minutes south of the city referred to as the "Mistake by the Lake," I can remember listening to the late-great Herb Score calling Indians' games on the radio. His aural account of the game replaced stories read by my parents as the last voice I heard before bed. The 1991 season was tough to stomach with Score ending each broadcast with something to the effect of "the Cleveland Indians lose 7-2 to the Baltimore Orioles," in his unique drawl. Cleveland lost 105 games that season.

Eight years later, the Cleveland Browns finished 2-14 in their first season back in the NFL. Thanks to Art Modell moving the Brownies to Baltimore under cover of darkness in 1995, "maybe next year" was four times as excruciating for the Dawg Pound.

Three years would pass before it was the Cavs' turn to preach "maybe next year," following a 17-65 NBA campaign. But their decision to tank, improve a roster that consisted of Ricky Davis, Smush Parker and Bimbo Coles and acquire the number one pick, was warranted with LeBron James set to join the NBA the following season.

LeBron's arrival in Cleveland (because he's made it clear he's from Akron, not Cleveland) magnified "maybe next year" with the Cavs advancing to at least the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in five of his first seven seasons. Following the Cavs Game 6 loss to the Boston Celtics and exit from the 2010 NBA Playoffs, "maybe next year" was a nice thought, but not guaranteed.

The Cleveland sports scene was dealt a heavy blow following LeBron's decision to take his talents to South Beach. The Cavs 26-game losing streak in 2010-11 forced fans to refine their "maybe next year" into "maybe next game."

The losing streak may have ended at 26 games, but the 2010-11 Cavs nosedive into futility got Whatifsports.com to thinking. Where do they rank among the NBA's all-time worst teams? Using our NBA simulation engine, we created a round-robin tournament where they played nine of the NBA's least impressive squads 51 times.

NBA's All-Time Worst - Round Robin - 51 Simulations
TeamWin%Points Per Game
1970-71 Cavs 72.9106.6
2009-10 Nets 63.6104.1
1995-96 Grizzlies 62.4103.4
1986-87 Clippers 59.7105.1
1992-93 Mavericks 46.3103.9
1972-73 76ers 45.4100.6
1982-83 Rockets 45.3102.0
2010-11 Cavs 41.895.9
1997-98 Nuggets 33.2101.4
2004-05 Hawks 29.4102.5
Brett Favre
Brett Favre
Aaron Rodgers

Hanging high above the court at Quicken Loans Arena is a multi-million dollar scoreboard tagged "Arenavision." Nestled between the high-definition scores of the Cavs and their opponent is an infobox for the mathematically challenged. "The Diff" informs the crowd as to how many points the Cavs are leading or, if you are referencing the 2010-11 season, Cleveland's fourth quarter deficit.

To illustrate how the Cavs have derailed in a post-LeBron world, here are the Cavs' average "diffs" while he was in Cleveland:

  • 2009-10 - (+6.5) - 2nd highest in NBA
  • 2008-09 - (+8.9) - NBA best
  • 2007-08 - (-0.4)
  • 2006-07 - (+3.8)
  • 2005-06 - (+2.2)
  • 2004-05 - (+0.8)
  • 2003-04 - (-2.6)

Then there is the "diff" new additions Manny Harris, Christina Eyenga, Alonzo Gee, and Ramon Sessions provide:

  • 2010-11 - (-11.3) - NBA worst

On average the Cavs are scoring 94.3, but allowing 105.5 points per game. This is nearly the reciprocal of the team's output a season ago when they averaged 102.1 and allowed 95.6 ppg.

It's Cleveland's offensive ineptitude that forces the Cavs to the bottom of our round-robin results. Their 95.9 points per game were 4.7 fewer than the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers who many consider the worst NBA team of all-time. Despite Fred Carter's best effort, the Sixers could only muster nine wins that season thanks to a defense that surrendered 116.2 points per game. With eight wins and a "diff" comparable to that Sixers squad (-11.5) the 2010-11 Cavs have joined the conversation as one of the NBA's worst teams of all-time.

The good news is there is always next year.

Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at rfowler@whatifsports.com.

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