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They say history is written by the victors â€“ usually as a reference to war. But in this 21st century, when ballgames capture our attention over battlefields, history is more often written by those who have the press passes to cover the victors. And too many times, our historians only remember the gladiators who walked away with the biggest trophies.
So with 13 years of ground to cover and 13 championship teams representing this era, it might seem odd that we’ve created a list of the 10 best NBA teams since 2000 that includes some teams that did not win a title.
But even though it goes against all we’ve been taught in this winning-is-everything society, we believe a team’s entire body of work has some weight in addition to the end result of their playoff run. We’re trying to consider the season â€“ not just the postseason. Because while championships undoubtedly help define a legacy, the truth is that a team can still be great without the gold.
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10. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES, 2003-04
Who would’ve guessed that a team based in Minneapolis that started a 34-year-old, ground-bound point guard would become this century’s most street credible NBA squad?
While Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell gave the Wolves more than enough authenticity with the asphalt and chain-net crowd, it was that cagey old point guard that took them from simply being a cool team to being a cool team that could win a championship.
Sam Cassell guided Minnesota to 58 regular-season wins and a trip to the Western Conference Finals, dropping 19 points, seven assists and 12 trash-talk victims per night with his Baltimore playground swagger and deadly pull-up jumper. But when Cassell was slowed by a hip injury in the conference finals against the Lakers, Minnesota’s run ended prematurely.
Could the Wolves have gone all the way with a healthy Cassell? That’s the lingering question for a city that hasn’t won a major sports championship since 1991, and whose NBA team has never come as close as it did in 2004.
Sprewell raised his game in the playoffs that year (19.8 points per game), while Garnett capped an MVP regular season with an even better postseason, averaging 24.3 points, 14.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.2 blocks in the playoffs. KG’s highlight reel from that season alone makes a convincing argument that he might be one of the five most gifted and talented all-around basketball players of all time, and at the height of his powers, he was the face of one of the most underrated teams of all time.