The Whiteboard: Who actually wants the new NBA best regular-season trophy?

The NBA announced a new trophy to recognize the team with the best regular-season record. The question is who will actually want it?

Yesterday, the NBA announced it was going to begin recognizing the team with the best regular-season record each year with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. (This likely means the MVP trophy will be renamed since it’s currently the Maurice Podoloff MVP — Podoloff is the NBA’s first commissioner.)

This season, the Boston Celtics have a healthy lead for the best regular-season record but you can imagine that won’t matter to them too much with their ultimate goal of winning a championship still to come. And that highlights the underlying problem here. This makes sense as a retrospective award — when the playoffs are over it might be nice for a team who came up short to be recognized for an exceptional regular season but it’s hard to imagine this actually motivating teams to chase that regular-season excellence any more than they otherwise would.

However, I thought it would be fun to take a look back and see which teams would have won the Maurice Podoloff Trophy if it had existed in the modern era. Going back to the advent of the 3-point line, here are the teams who finished each regular season with the best record:

Who has finished with the best regular-season record each NBA season?

  • 2021-22: Phoenix Suns
  • 2020-21: Utah Jazz
  • 2019-20: Milwaukee Bucks
  • 2018-19: Milwaukee Bucks
  • 2017-18: Houston Rockets
  • 2016-17: Golden State Warriors
  • 2015-16: Golden State Warriors
  • 2014-15: Golden State Warriors
  • 2013-14: San Antonio Spurs
  • 2012-13: Miami Heat
  • 2011-12: Chicago Bulls/San Antonio Spurs
  • 2010-11: Chicago Bulls
  • 2009-10: Cleveland Cavaliers
  • 2008-09: Cleveland Cavaliers
  • 2007-08: Boston Celtics
  • 2006-07: Dallas Mavericks
  • 2005-06: Detroit Pistons
  • 2004-05: Phoenix Suns
  • 2003-04: Indiana Pacers
  • 2002-03: San Antonio Spurs/Dallas Mavericks

Just six times over the last two decades did the team with best regular-season record actually win the title (bolded above) and the current run we’re in of five-in-a-row falling short isn’t entirely unprecedented.

In here, you can also see the traces of a few players whose individual legacies might be elevated slightly. The Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah Bulls twice finished with the best regular season record without a title, as did the LeBron Cavs of the late 2000s. Steve Nash was point guard for two different teams that would have won a share of the trophy — the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns and the 2002-03 Mavericks. And then, there is Giannis Antetokounmpo who would have two Maurice Podoloff Trophies to go with the actual title the Bucks won in 2020-21.

In the end, this is, unfortunately, what this new NBA award is likely to mark — curiosities, trivia answers and great teams who weren’t quite great enough.

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