2016 Ultimate Standings: Spurs, Cavaliers lead NBA teams

Spurs own top NBA spot in 2016 Ultimate Standings (0:42)

ESPN The Magazine's Peter Keating spotlights why the San Antonio Spurs are considered the top NBA franchise in the 2016 Ultimate Standings while the Suns finished last in the league. (0:42)

In 2016, the NBA rankings show just how important winning is to a fanbase. The Cavs, up 97 spots from two years ago, come in at second to the list -- behind only those perennial winners in San Antonio. The Raptors, Pistons and Hornets, too, made some of 2016's biggest jumps after unexpected success this season. Meanwhile, on the other end, there's, well...the Knicks. The Suns. The Kings. Fanbases who are tired of paying a lot to win a little. A Cavs-esque jump might be impossible for those teams (unless LeBron James is looking to move?), but who knows what can happen with a title?

1. San Antonio Spurs (2 overall)

The San Antonio Spurs inched down a spot to No. 2 in the Ultimate Standings after capturing a franchise-record 67 victories, which included an impressive 40-1 record at home. Not much kept them from a third-straight standings win -- after all, they're the best in sports in ownership, coaching and players -- but perhaps a disappointing Western Conference defeat to the Thunder had something to do with it. -- Michael C. Wright READ MORE

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (13 overall)

The Cavaliers broke their city's 50-plus year championship curse to rise in the rankings to ... No. 13?! There always has to be something unlucky about Cleveland, doesn't there? Triskaidekaphobia aside, LeBron James & Co.'s epic comeback against the Golden State Warriors to capture the Larry O'Brien Trophy rightfully has this group up 31 spots in our standings, knocking on the door for consideration as a top-10 franchise in sports. -- Dave McMenamin READ MORE

3. Memphis Grizzlies (14 overall)

Let Memphis-born legend Ric Flair sum up this past season for Grizz fans: "WOOOOO!!!" Despite a deluge of trades and injuries, Memphis, against all odds, still managed to snag their sixth straight playoff appearance. That same charmed existence continued in our standings. The Grizzlies once again stayed close to the top by tag-teaming an affordable product with a roster that just refuses to quit. -- Morty Ain READ MORE

4. Dallas Mavericks (24 overall)

The Mavericks haven't managed to get out of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs since they won the 2011 NBA title, but Mark Cuban's franchise continues to fare well in these standings. Only the Spurs, Cavaliers and Grizzlies rank higher among NBA teams. -- Tim MacMahon READ MORE

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (25 overall)

The Thunder have spent the past eight years in Oklahoma City establishing themselves as a model small market operation and building a consistent winner that has competed for championships for the past half-decade. Then everything blew up on July 4, and that left the Thunder to face a future without their biggest star. -- Royce Young READ MORE

6. Charlotte Hornets (27 overall)

The buzz is officially back. In the second season since they reclaimed their bug-eyed identity from New Orleans, the Hornets finished with the highest win total (48) since pro basketball returned to Charlotte more than a decade ago. Their playoff run lasted but one round, but the future remains bright, and the team's jump of 56 spots from last year was the second-largest in sports. -- Justin Verrier READ MORE

7. Boston Celtics (28 overall)

Under the guidance of coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics continue to trend upward, both on the court and in the Ultimate Standings. On the strength of their roster and fan relations showings, Boston leaped 29 spots in this year's poll. -- Chris Forsberg READ MORE

8. Atlanta Hawks (30 overall)

Coach Mike Budenholzer, a Gregg Popovich disciple, has remade Atlanta on the court. Now the Hawks' new ownership group, led by Anthony Ressler and including Grant Hill, is attempting to rebrand the franchise off the floor. Poor attendance and organizational unrest have been staples, but with an arena renovation set in the center of the city's downtown renaissance, the Hawks are hoping to maintain all-around excellence. You know, just like the Spurs. -- Anthony Olivieri READ MORE

9. Detroit Pistons (31 overall)

It took a while (try seven years,) but Detroit finally revved up its engines in the playoffs. If you want to know what a "hungry fan base" looks like, just take a gander at the Pistons' 53-spot pole vault from last year. This team is armed with the NBA's "Next Big Thing" and one of the league's youngest nuclei, and you get the sense that fans know their journey is just getting started. -- Morty Ain READ MORE

10. Golden State Warriors (33 overall)

The Golden State Warriors lost a 3-1 lead in the Finals and have fallen down in our rankings. How, oh how, will they ever console themselves? Something tells us they'll find a way. -- Ethan Sherwood Strauss READ MORE

11. Indiana Pacers (36 overall)

The Pacers enter their 50th anniversary season with a lot to celebrate. Paul George is back to staking his claim as one of the NBA's top five players, with his horrific injury now a distant memory. This offseason, team brass orchestrated one of the league's most impressive roster overhauls by snagging Jeff Teague, Al Jefferson and Thaddeus Young. But according to these rankings -- the Pacers are down 23 spots -- Indy backers weren't digging all of Larry Bird's moves. -- Morty Ain READ MORE

12. Utah Jazz (43 overall)

Utah must have liked improving by 28 spots from last year's franchise rankings. This year, however, was a reminder of how far the Jazz have to go: They finished third in the Northwest Division, missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year and fell three spots in these rankings. -- Sean Morrison READ MORE

13. Portland Trail Blazers (46 overall)

Portland's first year without LaMarcus Aldridge went better than expected. Led by the dynamic backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, the Blazers made the playoffs and even won a game against the Warriors in the conference semifinals (no easy feat!). They also landed in the NBA's top 10 in average attendance for the ninth straight season. The young Blazers are hoping for a fourth straight playoff appearance this season, but this one won't be a surprise. -- Anthony Olivieri READ MORE

14. Toronto Raptors (52 overall)

The Raptors are coming off their finest season in franchise history. They won a franchise-record 56 games during the regular season, advanced past the first round for the first time in 15 years and reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time ever. What do they do for an encore? Jump another 42 spots in these standings -- and reach the top half for the first time since 2008. -- Mike Mazzeo READ MORE

15. Miami Heat (53 overall)

This Heat season isn't just the official end of the short-lived, high-intensity Big Three era. It's a whole new world. Dwyane Wade, who immediately made Miami relevant again and won three titles in 13 years, is gone. He was Miami's Kobe Bryant (without the final "Kobe contract" that would've kept him in Miami). Now this team is in the dreaded "rebuilding mode," one of Riley's least favorite terms, but there's a lot of young potential on board. -- Israel Gutierrez READ MORE

16. New Orleans Pelicans (66 overall)

It was all good just a year ago. The Pelicans jumped 41 spots in these rankings after their first winning season in the Anthony Davis era, and that 45-win season seemed to foretell great things for the team and its leading man. Alas, an encore with more starting lineups (42) than wins (30) pushed the Pels back to the bottom half. -- Justin Verrier READ MORE

17. Orlando Magic (65 overall)

Oh, what a difference a half-decade makes. Way back in 2011, the Magic were perennial playoff-makers (six straight appearances in all, starting in the 2006-07 season), coached by Stan Van Gundy and ranked a lofty 16th overall in these very Ultimate Standings. Five years, four postseason-less campaigns and four head coaches later? They're mired in the muck of mediocrity, a disheartening 49 spots lower (No. 65 overall), with no top-50 rankings to their name, besides affordability and stadium experience. Where, oh where, has the magic gone? -- Hallie Grossman READ MORE

18. LA Clippers (69 overall)

Was it just a dream? The halo surrounding Steve Ballmer's acquisition in 2014 seems to have worn off. After the Clippers enjoyed an all-time high ranking last year (No. 42), L.A. has slid in almost every category, as an ill-conceived branding update foreshadowed a season of injury, disappointment and yet another early playoff exit. -- Andrew Han READ MORE

19. Milwaukee Bucks (72 overall)

Last year, it all seemed to be going well for the Bucks after an impressive, 55-spot jump in these standings. But just when we thought it was headed for the top half, the team slipped back into old habits and dropped seven spots from last year. Under head coach Jason Kidd, the team's future remains cloudy, but the leadership on the team will have to step up if the Bucks want to compete against the best NBA franchises. -- Charlotte Gibson READ MORE

20. Minnesota Timberwolves (79 overall)

It's hard to imagine a worse 27-year start for a franchise. Eight playoff appearances with seven first-round exits; 14 seasons with 30 or fewer wins; 11 coaches; 20 lottery picks, with 10 top-five picks; Kevin McHale and David Kahn; signing decent players to unwarranted, illegal, long-term deals on napkins ... and signing inept players to legal, long-term deals on regular paper. For the better part of the past three decades, to cheer for the Wolves has been to chuckle at -- or disregard -- top-to-bottom, franchise-wide dysfunction. Until now! For the first time in franchise history, there's a new, non-provincial country club in town -- and more young talent on this roster than at any time in the team's history. -- Ross Marrinson READ MORE

21. Houston Rockets (80 overall)

At the beginning of last season, expectations were high for the Rockets players and fans, after the team made the Western Conference finals in 2015. But an 0-3 start and the firing of coach Kevin McHale 11 games into the season led to a downward spiral. In the end, the off-court drama between James Harden and Dwight Howard got more play than the on-court product. The Rockets were a mess the entire season, and they dropped 45 spots in these standings. -- Calvin Watkins READ MORE

22. Washington Wizards (93 overall)

A notable increase in prices, major drop-off in performance and lack of talent acquisition dropped the Wizards 30 spots in this year's rankings. Improvements might be on the way, but right now, the Wizards are trending downward -- even in their best areas. -- Sean Morrison READ MORE

23. Chicago Bulls (97 overall)

The Bulls were one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA last season, given the expectations they had coming into the year, so their slide in the overall standings (down 31 spots, near the triple digits) should come as no surprise. Bulls management believed this team could be a title contender, but a combination of injuries and disappointing play was too much for new coach Fred Hoiberg to overcome in a rocky first season. -- Nick Friedell READ MORE

24. Denver Nuggets (101 overall)

In 2013, George Karl was let go by the Nuggets after 57 wins and an NBA Coach of the Year award. Denver has not won more than 36 games in the three seasons since. Gone are Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala, staples under Karl. Long gone is Carmelo Anthony, who was traded during the 2010-11 campaign after six first-round playoff exits in seven full seasons in the Mile High City. Man, even the first round sounds pretty good right about now, doesn't it? -- Anthony Olivieri READ MORE

25. Philadelphia 76ers (102 overall)

HBut ... they trusted the process?! Third time wasn't the charm for Sam Hinkie, Philadelphia's ill-fated general manager, who, after three seasons spent hoarding draft assets (and losses), resigned from his post in a blaze of 13-page-memo glory in April. As it turns out, 15 wins a season does not a happy front office -- or fan base -- make. Oh, sure, 76ers fans sent their beleaguered GM off on a wave of "Thank you, Hinkie!" chants after the team landed the No. 1 overall draft pick. But even the glow of Ben Simmons wasn't enough to rescue the Sixers from the Ultimate Standings gutter, where they ranked sub-90 one, two, three, four, five, SIX times. Team of the year! --Hallie Grossman READ MORE

26. Los Angeles Lakers (109 overall)

Coming off their worst season in franchise history and after missing the playoffs three straight seasons, is it any wonder the rebuilding Lakers continue their Ultimate Standings slide? The (somewhat) bright side: Kobe Bryant and Byron Scott are out, which gives Luke Walton and the Lakers' kids a chance to start anew. -- Baxter Holmes READ MORE

27. Brooklyn Nets (110 overall)

Just how bad are things in Brooklyn? The Nets are preaching progress this season -- not wins. Hey, at least new GM Sean Marks and first-year coach Kenny Atkinson are being realistic about the uphill battle the franchise faces on the heels of a 21-61 finish in 2015-16. -- Mike Mazzeo READ MORE

28. Sacramento Kings (113 overall)

The Kings have not been to the playoffs since 2006, when now-VP of player personnel Peja Stojakovic was still a player. Since Rick Adelman was let go after a playoff loss that year, Sacramento has gone through eight head coaches; the ninth, Dave Joerger, will be on the sideline this season. The lack of stability has permeated the franchise, even more so since Vivek Ranadive bought a majority share in the club in 2013. The Kings have a lack of direction -- except, that is, in our rankings, in which they've headed to the bottom. -- Anthony Olivieri READ MORE

29. New York Knicks (114 overall)

Voters in the 2016 Ultimate Standings don't appear to have much faith in Phil Jackson, whose Knicks remain in the bottom 10 of all teams. New York did move up seven spots this year, after a 32-win campaign in 2015-16, Jackson's second full season as team president, but it'll take a lot more Ws than that to make up for those ticket prices. -- Ian Begley READ MORE

30. Phoenix Suns (120 overall)

The Suns fell 13 spots on our list and now are the lowest-ranked team in the NBA. This squad ranks 100th or worse in all but one category: affordability. In that, it is ranked No. 98. That's ... encouraging? The roster isn't good, and ownership is worse. Put it this way: The Suns haven't made the playoffs since a surprise trip to the conference finals in 2010, Alvin Gentry's first season. Gentry is gone, and Phoenix is on its third head coach since. Ouch. -- Anthony Olivieri READ MORE