NBA's most surprising things in 2011

5-on-5 roundtable: Debating the five biggest shockers on the NBA hardwood this year

Originally Published: October 25, 2011
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network

Deron WilliamsJulian Finney/Getty ImagesRaise your hand if you thought Deron would be packing his bags and going from Utah to New Jersey.

Some surprises are good. Some surprises are bad. In 2011, we had our share of both.

This week we've already given you our best, worst and strangest moments from last season. Today, we present our biggest surprises.


1. What was the fifth-most surprising thing in the NBA in 2011?


Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: An extraordinary number of NBA types had their Twitter accounts hacked. Someone ought to look into that.

Spencer Ryan Hall, Salt City Hoops: The Denver Nuggets signing international contracts. Perhaps today's NBA players have a broader worldview than their counterparts during the 1999 lockout, but few expected the general exodus of the Denver Nuggets. No surprise to see international players Timofey Mozgov (Russia) and Danilo Gallinari (Italy) return home, but Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin to China with no opt-out clauses? And the Ty Lawson-in-Lithuania-era is full of surprises.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: The Magic failing to make it out of the first round. This was a team that gave the Lakers a tough run in the NBA Finals in 2009, their franchise player had the best season of his career, and they simply aren't title contenders anymore because whatever Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu had in 2009 seems to be gone for no discernible reason. (Trading Turkoglu for Vince Carter before getting Hedo back didn't help matters much, and neither did trading Lewis for Gilbert Arenas, of course.)

Daniel Nowell, Magic Basketball: It's not a total surprise, since I'm sure the specter of the lockout had a lot to do with it, but I can't remember this much league-ready talent deciding to wait on the draft. Between the woulda-been lottery picks (Black Falcon!) and talented midround upperclassmen, more pros than I can remember will be balling "amateur" style for another year.

Jonathan Santiago, Cowbell Kingdom: The Grizzlies' playoff run. They managed to upset the veteran-laden San Antonio Spurs, only the second time in NBA history that a No. 8 seed knocked off a No. 1 seed since the NBA made the first round a best-of-seven. Then the Grizzlies took the heir-apparent Oklahoma City Thunder to the limit in seven games. They did all this with Rudy Gay injured and a surprisingly mature Zach Randolph leading the way.


2. What was the fourth-most surprising thing in the NBA in 2011?


Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Yao Ming and Phil Jackson really retired. Never thought either one would leave so soon.

Spencer Ryan Hall, Salt City Hoops: The Deron Williams saga. After D-Will played some role in the retirement of Jerry Sloan, Utah seemed braced to repeat the Carmelo Anthony-to-New York circus. Just when we thought Williams won the power struggle, the Jazz surprised with a quick trade, picking up the pieces the Nets had assembled for a potential Melo trade. The surprising year continues with D-Will's lockout jaunt in Turkey.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: LeBron James' postseason. James followed up a season full of shaky crunch-time performances with some absolutely sublime clutch performances to get past the Celtics and the Bulls, then followed that up with a historically terrible and completely inexcusable meltdown against the Mavericks. LeBron managed to surprise just about everybody over the course of the playoffs.

Daniel Nowell, Magic Basketball: No list of surprises would be complete without a paean to the cagey (read: old) veterans of Dallas. Nobody ever questioned the group's credentials, but with their age and the presence of so many ruthless squads out West, the Mavs sure were not the safest money at the start of the playoffs.

Jonathan Santiago, Cowbell Kingdom: The Lakers hiring Mike Brown to replace Phil Jackson. Most signs pointed to the Lakers staying in-house with Brian Shaw. Even Rick Adelman, whose offensive system possesses similarities to the triangle, seemed like a better bet. Considering the Lakers' makeup, it was definitely a shocker when Brown emerged out of the pack to take this job.


3. What was the third-most surprising thing in the NBA in 2011?


Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Derrick Rose winning MVP. Not that he's not a superstar, but at age 22 last season he's just so young, in a league with bigger names floating around. Who predicted that in 2010?

Spencer Ryan Hall, Salt City Hoops: The Dallas Mavericks taking the title. Every narrative for a prematurely anointed champion needs a pesky also-ran, a team that will provide some drama but ultimately fold. The Lakers, Heat and Bulls seemed to fit the championship storyline, but the Mavs flipped the script thanks to rare chemistry and a superstar who refused to play the role of "soft Euro who can't carry a team to a title."

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Derrick Rose winning the MVP award. Before the season, nobody thought Rose would be in the MVP discussion, and a lot of people didn't even consider him one of the NBA's truly elite point guards. But 62 wins, a revamped 3-point shot and a 4.2-point scoring increase later, Rose became the youngest player ever to win the MVP award. Whether you're surprised that Rose was given the award over LeBron or Dwight Howard or simply amazed at the leap Rose and his teammates made in 2011, you've got to admit that Rose winning the MVP award was a whopper.

Daniel Nowell, Magic Basketball: The ascendance of the Grizzlies, still owned by Michael Heisley, and rejuvenated in large part by Tony Allen, a player so inconsistent that his last town knew him as "Trick or Treat Tony." Once it became clear that their run in the playoffs was more earned than lucky, and done without their best wing scorer, I'd say the Griz were a massive, awesome, surprise.

Jonathan Santiago, Cowbell Kingdom: Deron Williams signing in Turkey. Williams' decision to go overseas not only seemingly came out of the blue, it came very early in the lockout, paving the way for many other NBA players who followed him abroad.


4. What was the second-most surprising thing in the NBA in 2011?


Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Grizzlies over Spurs in Round 1. The little team that (historically) couldn't over the best-run team of the decade in a thriller.

Spencer Ryan Hall, Salt City Hoops: Blazers owner Paul Allen becoming the voice of the hardline owners, sabotaging the lockout negotiations. The list of villains among NBA owners never includes the big-spending Microsoft co-founder. When the hard-line owners needed a spokesman to deliver negotiation-halting bad news to the players union, no one expected to see Paul Allen leading the fight. The erstwhile philanthropist and yacht owner emerges from the shadows as the surprise kingpin controlling the lockout.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Deron Williams being traded to the Nets shortly after he allegedly played a key role in forcing Jerry Sloan out of town. After months and months of Carmelo-to-the-Knicks talk, the team that's about to call Brooklyn its home got a player most consider better than Carmelo, and there was nothing approximating a pre-trade soap opera.

Daniel Nowell, Magic Basketball: Jerry Sloan's departure was not just strange, but -- at least at this distance -- a huge surprise. Seemingly a geographical fixture in Salt Lake City, installed back when the sand was rocks, Sloan was a fixture whose departure was in some ways a sad index of the league climate.

Jonathan Santiago, Cowbell Kingdom: The Timberwolves' championship offseason. Team president David Kahn managed to sign Ricky Rubio right before the lockout, and then he pulled off the improbable hiring of Rick Adelman as Minnesota's new head coach. This all happened after a 17-win season. Need I say more?


5. What was the most surprising thing in the NBA in 2011?


Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: A big ol' mess of a lockout. With the league at something of a magical point, with likable young stars and high TV ratings, and the players opening negotiations with a big concession, it just didn't make sense.

Spencer Ryan Hall, Salt City Hoops: Jerry Sloan's retirement. The circumstances surrounding the departure of the iconic head coach were among the worst and strangest moments of 2011, but also a complete surprise. Standing outside the Jazz locker room waiting for Sloan to emerge after a tough loss to the Bulls in February, none of us could have imagined we'd be covering his retirement press conference the next morning.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Former Suns and current Warriors executive Rick Welts coming out as a homosexual. Welts isn't an active player or coach, but his coming out was still a huge step forward for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community in the world of sports, and it came completely out of left field. A very pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless.

Daniel Nowell, Magic Basketball: Listen, my bile duct protests mentioning it as much as yours does, but the nature of the lockout talks has been a shock to me. We anticipated the dispute between the players and owners, but the unforeseen class divisions among players and owners themselves has made this process even more like getting a root canal.

Jonathan Santiago, Cowbell Kingdom: The Kings staying in Sacramento. Say what you will about the Kings writer naming this his most surprising event of 2011, but I was there to witness this relocation saga turn a complete 180. After that final home game against the Lakers, they were gone. But thanks to the actions of Mayor Kevin Johnson and, most importantly, the community's show of support, they stayed.