Five strangest things in the NBA in 2011
5-on-5 roundtable: Debating the weird, wild and wacky to hit the hardwood this year
People are strange. Especially NBA people.
And in 2011, we've seen our share of moments that are a tad ... askew.
1. What was the fifth-strangest thing in the NBA in 2011?
Patrick Hayes, Piston Powered: Kevin Durant, pro-am hustler. Pro-am leagues have been around forever, and the best in the country always attract the occasional star for a game or two. But Kevin Durant owned the summer. He was a fixture, showing up at pro-am and charity games all over the country. All you needed was a court and some guys who don't mind getting 3s rained on them and there was a chance KD would play in your game.
Rahat Huq, Red94: Jerry Sloan steps down. One of basketball's most feared men, Jerry Sloan allegedly lost a power struggle and was forced down from his perch. His counterpart, the apparent victor, guard Deron Williams, was soon afterward shipped out of town. Go figure.
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball: The Denver Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony on Feb. 23, 2011, and spent the rest of the regular season reminding us NBA teams can be a lot more fun when they don't have a dark cloud hanging over them. After parting ways with Anthony, the fast and loose Nuggets got faster and looser and finished the season on an 18-7 run.
David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: The final months of the Melo Watch. I know, we've seen trade stories year after year, but this one was just weird. Melo had lots of options, though they seemed to be moving by the day. The Nuggets had options, too. That led to so many questions and far too much speculation.
Perhaps the strangest part is: How good is he anyway? This was not the Kobe Watch from 10 years ago, or the LeBron Watch in the summer of 2010. Even his old teammates were affected by the disturbance, which was one reason they played so well after he left.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Denver's resurgence post-Melo. It wasn't like the Nuggets came out completely empty-handed from the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York. Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov -- all the players sent to Denver were good. But nobody -- probably including coach George Karl and even GM Masai Ujiri -- expected the Nuggets to be better without Carmelo.
2. What was the fourth-strangest thing in the NBA in 2011?
Patrick Hayes, Piston Powered: The Kendrick Perkins trade. The Celtics 'shook things up' by trading their starting center for the positionless Jeff Green. Boston clearly needed to think about getting younger at some point, but I'm not sure 'some point' was when the C's were first in the Eastern Conference standings and already thin in the middle. It was a momentum-killing trade that clearly affected the team down the stretch.
Rahat Huq, Red94: The Perkins trade and subsequent revelations. Team president Danny Ainge shipped out the heart and soul of a championship team. Speculation abounded that Perk's injury was worse than previously thought. It wasn't. The Thunder quickly renewed him, forming the most enviable young nucleus in the league.
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball: Ron Artest, who once ignited a brawl that caused nine players to be suspended for a combined 146 games, appeared on "Dancing With the Stars," won the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award and changed his name to Metta World Peace this year. It's nice to see his strange is moving in a productive direction.
David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: Cavs owner Dan Gilbert asking players' association executive director Billy Hunter to "trust his gut." What? How obtuse can a man be? If he hadn't acted the way he did after LeBron left, perhaps Hunter could have found a way to trust him. But in light of the past year, the idea that Gilbert could even think anyone on the players' side would trust him borders on the absurd, and that he would vocalize it sends it right to the pages of "Saturday Night Live" or maybe "Funny or Die." I can't wait to see the skit and who plays Hunter opposite Will Ferrell's Gilbert.
3. What was the third-strangest thing in the NBA in 2011?
Patrick Hayes, Piston Powered: JaVale McGee. Whether he was planking in freezers, coming up a bit short on overly spectacular dunk attempts, explaining his alter ego "Pierre," getting into fashion feuds with Michael Wilbon or seeing his mom get a little fresh with Dr. J on live TV during the dunk contest, McGee undoubtedly asserted himself as one of the league's most eccentric assets this season.
Rahat Huq, Red94: Mavericks owner Mark Cuban behaved. If you had asked me before this June how I envisioned the events of a Mavs title, my depiction would have undoubtedly involved theatrics from Mr. Cuban never before seen at center court. Instead, he graciously accepted his trophy and refrained from memorable comment.
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball: Dirk Nowitzki began the season four years removed from his bittersweet MVP season. While the Dallas Mavericks were still a threat in the Western Conference, their title window looked closed. But Nowitzki's off-balance game aged well and a team full of title-less veterans pulled together and upended Miami's Big Three in a finals upset few saw coming.
David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: The rapid decline of Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio. Rubio had no bigger fan than I when he first entered the NBA draft. I saw the out-of-this-world vision and feel, and his uncanny ability to lead his teammates to easy buckets. But 2011 has been a nightmare for him. His offensive game has sunk to incredible depths because passing is tough to do when no one needs to guard you.
He now reminds me of a major league second baseman who suddenly can't make routine throws to first base. His shot and his scoring feel are gone. And that has brought his confidence down severely in all areas. I never would have predicted it, but it has happened.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: The Mavericks' sweep of the Lakers. It wasn't just that the defending champs were swept. It was how it happened. The Mavericks completely dismantled the champs in Game 4, hitting 20 3-pointers in the process. Lakers center Andrew Bynum ended his season by trying to decapitate Mavs guard J.J. Barea, a player a full foot shorter than him, and coach Phil Jackson's historic NBA coaching career closed on a pretty ugly note.
4. What was the second-strangest thing in the NBA in 2011?
Patrick Hayes, Piston Powered: Kahn's coaching search. There was so much to be captivated by here. David Kahn reportedly talking to candidates even though Kurt Rambis was still technically the team's coach. Kahn reportedly assigning Rambis a report on what he would do differently if he came back as coach. Rick Adelman taking the job despite reports that he was not a big fan of Kahn. Kevin Love breaking the news on Twitter. Never change, T-Wolves.
Rahat Huq, Red94: LeBron James' NBA Finals performance. The last flop this colossal was Howard Dean's bid for the presidency. The King wasn't just bad. "Bad" would have meant he was even a factor. LeBron ran from the ball on the grandest stage in what was one of the most confounding displays in sports history.
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball: Up 2-1 in the NBA Finals, a win in Dallas would have all but locked up a title for LeBron James. But he managed just eight points in 45 of the most passive minutes of his career in Game 4. A bad game isn't strange. But the league's most talented player appearing indifferent in the NBA Finals is as strange as it gets.
David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: LeBron James disappears in the Finals. I know he has "haters" out there, but I've seen the guy put together one amazing playoff game after another against incredible defenses. He destroyed Boston and Chicago on both ends of the floor, and he cooked the Mavs in Game 1. Then, he just stopped. The world's best player could not finish at the rim and often didn't even try to get there. Twelve made free throws in the whole series!
If we blocked out his face and jersey while watching the game tape we'd think we were watching a bulked up Travis Outlaw, or worse, a stronger DerMarr Johnson -- tall, skilled and mostly clueless. Impossible to imagine or predict.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Jerry Sloan's resignation. The Jazz aren't the Jazz without Jerry Sloan. John Stockton, Karl Malone, Jeff Hornacek -- players come and players go. But Sloan was the constant over two decades. When he announced his retirement abruptly in February, amidst reports of a falling out with Williams, it was a complete shocker.
5. What was the strangest thing in the NBA in 2011?
Patrick Hayes, Piston Powered: The Pistons boycotting a shootaround. With constant media coverage and PR-mindful players and agents, I'm still dumbfounded that several Pistons allegedly thought boycotting a shootaround in Philly as a vote of no confidence in their overmatched coach was a good idea. It wasn't, of course, but it did result in Will Bynum playing all 48 minutes in a game, which is just good for the soul.
Rahat Huq, Red94: Zach Randolph became a role model.
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball: After one of its most successful seasons in years, the NBA and the Players Association failed to come to a new deal, causing the cancellation of the first four weeks of the NBA season with more cancellations looming. Maybe strange isn't the best word to describe something so foolish.
David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: Gilbert Arenas traded to Orlando. I had heard this might happen back in the fall and I just laughed it off. There was just no way anyone would acquire Arenas at almost any price. I don't care if he was in his last contract year, he was just too far gone as a player and too funky as a personality. The Wizards crowed as much as they could about how much of a leader he was, which was code for: "Somebody please get this guy away from our future superstar!"
Apparently, Orlando did not employ the right code breakers. Yes, Rashard Lewis was wildly overpaid, but he was a guy who did not cause problems and his deal ran out before Arenas' did. It is simply beyond belief that a team actually wanted a player with major injury concerns, major professionalism issues and rapidly dwindling skills, yet one with a huge fat contract in front of him. It's too strange for Hollywood. Perhaps it would make a good plot for Stephen King.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Gilbert Arenas' Twitter account. It was offensive, vulgar and even ended up getting him fined. It disappeared and reappeared a couple different times, and I still have no idea what he was going for with any of the stuff he tweeted.