Call me a pessimist, but when I think about the most unexpected developments in the NBA over the past year, I see mostly negatives. Maybe it’s because I’m a long-time Indiana Pacers fan with a mouth full of sour grapes, or maybe it’s a case of longing for the “good old days,” but this season was disappointing in many ways. With that bleak backdrop, here are my five biggest surprises of the 2013-2014 NBA season.
Indiana Pacers Swoon
No one really expected the Pacers to maintain the league’s best record throughout the entire season and then march to their first NBA title in June, but hopes in Indiana were sky high after the team sprinted to a 33-7 first-half record. They mailed it in from there, stumbling to 23-19 the rest of the season, and then struggling all throughout the playoffs. Whether or not the salacious rumors regarding the Pacers’ downfall are true, the negative buzz and spotty on-court results leave a lot of questions for the future.
Donald Sterling Nosedives, Then Cashes In
By all accounts, Donald Sterling has never been a lovable sort, but he reached new personal lows with his tape-recorded tirade early this spring. While he promises a lengthy court battle with the NBA, Sterling’s wife Shelly negotiated a $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer on May 29, as reported in The New York Times. No matter how you slice it, that’s a big pie for an already rich man, tarnished reputation or not.
Cleveland Cavaliers Win the Draft Lottery – Again
With the ninth worst record in the NBA this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers were bad but still nine games better than in 2012-13. That slotting left them in basketball no-man’s land, far out of the playoffs but with only a 1.7% chance of winning the top slot in the upcoming draft. Despite those steep odds, though, the Cavs’ number came up for the second year in a row and the third time in four years. Someone seems intent on bringing a winner back to Cleveland.
Number-One Pick Anthony Bennett Struggles
Or maybe someone just wants to compensate the Cavs for picking UNLV forward Anthony Bennett first overall in 2013. As Alex Schlinsky points out on FanSided.com, Cleveland’s move surprised most pundits at the time, and the team was rewarded with historically bad rookie production. In a 2014 draft rife with young, high-upside prospects, the Cavaliers will feel a lot of pressure to get this one right.
Atlanta Hawks Make a Statement
To end on a positive note, I give my nod for most surprising team success to the Atlanta Hawks. Maybe I’m biased because they hung with the Pacers all the way to the wire in the first round of the playoffs, but rookie coach Mike Budenholzer seems to have made a big difference for the Hawks. He has molded a superstar-less roster into an unselfish unit that finished second in the league in assists per game. Sure, they were outscored on the season, but the Hawks look to have the makings of a decent playoff team in the near future.
In many ways, this NBA season was a mirror of the 2013-14 Indiana Pacers: full of promise, but ultimately tragically flawed. For all its warts, though, this season held its own when it came to noteworthy surprises.