MIAMI, FL - JUNE 12: (L-R) Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks and LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat stand for the performance of the National Anthem in Game Six of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 12, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Who were the most influential people in an NBA season for the ages? Here are the 25 that we believe mattered most in 2010-11.
The 2010-11 NBA season is now over, and what a season it was. It began with so much anticipation over what LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would do with the Miami Heat, and it concluded with a shocking ending with the Dallas Mavericks winning the NBA title. In between, reputations were altered, major stars changed locations, a new breed of NBA teams and stars emerged and the beginning of the changing of the guard was underway.
We may look back at the 2010-11 season as the most significant one of the modern era. So to commemorate this, we're going to rip off TIME Magazine and list the most influential people of the year. We could only list 25, but we're confident that these 25 were the ones that made the most news and shifted the very framework of the league the most. Read on for SB Nation's NBA's Most Influential of 2010-11.
Editor's Note: Tom Ziller and Andrew Sharp helped with this list.
25. Kevin Durant: Surprisingly non-important after dominating the 2010 World Championships. Most expected him to emerge as an MVP candidate, especially after showing a mean streak in leading a depleted Team USA to victory. Instead, he was essentially the same player as last year, if not worse. He still scored plenty, but he surrendered shots and usage to Russell Westbrook to let his star grown. In the playoffs, he had his signature moments, but also was stifled far too often by the Grizzlies and Mavericks. Honestly, he'd be off this list if not for his new signature swag (his backpack) and the fact that, despite all of this, he still led the league in scoring as a 22-year old.
24. Danny Ainge: The world doesn't center around Boston, contrary to popular belief, so Ainge will go no higher for his shocking decision to swap Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green at the NBA Trade Deadline. It was one of the weirdest in-season trades in NBA history, and it certainly played some role in the way the playoffs played out. I have to put Ainge on the list, for fear of retribution from the WELKAH Army. But Perkins himself was pretty bad in Oklahoma City during the playoffs, and all the ubuntu in the world wasn't going to stop the Dwyane Wade/LeBron James onslaught in Boston's second-round series with Miami.
23. Mark Cuban: In another year, the most outspoken owner in the league would be much more influential after his team won the NBA title. This year's Mark Cuban, though, was quiet throughout the playoffs, which was so strange that the "Mark Cuban is Quiet" meme began to take off. It's as if we all forgot that Cuban made headlines over the Hornets taking on what amounts to pennies in salary at the trade deadline and over the audacity of bloggers to question his team.
Ultimately, Cuban returned to his typical progressive/insane self by proclaiming he wanted to give his players something other than rings and doing a whole host of other things we all imagined Cuban doing if he won an NBA title. Welcome back to this list, Mark.
22. Rick Welts: The Phoenix Suns' president came out in May and announced that he was gay, a move that was met with little initial fanfare, but could prove to be incredibly important down the road. The very fact that the news was met with a collective shrug (well, except for Charles Barkley's needed, bold statement) is certainly a sign of major progress. It also led to the NBA's first anti-gay slur advertisement, featuring Suns players Grant Hill and Jared Dudley. Alas, the reception to that PSA shows we still have a long way to go.
21. Amar'e Stoudemire: He arrived as the man who would help save New York after the Suns deemed he wasn't worth the money required to save their franchise. Ultimately, he brought the Knicks back to respectability, showing he could be the big name he wanted to be without Steve Nash. In the process, he transfixed the New York media into forgetting that he can't play defense and doesn't contribute much when playing hurt. But whatever, Stoudemire proved his goal. He got to be his own superstar, at least for four months until Carmelo Anthony showed up.
20. Zach Randolph: Went from talented malcontent who could score and rebound to snarly team leader who guided his band of cast-offs and tough SOBs to one game from the conference finals. He made Michael Heisley and Chris Wallace look sane and made Memphis into a pro basketball town. He was arguably the best post scorer in the playoffs, unless you count Dirk. If you laid odds on all of this happening, would you mind predicting the rest of my life?
19. Chris Bosh: The anti-Randolph. Took a mostly sparkling reputation and destroyed it, one passive-aggressive tweet, quote and rebound at a time. It's hard to call Bosh a failure, because he still had a good year and had to make an unbelievably difficult adjustment from being the man in Toronto to being the Alfred to Batman and Robin (LeBron/Wade, take your pick), but his inability to handle it all was a big reason the Heat had their issues all year. Then again, it should be noted that he had a pretty good NBA Finals.
18. Tim Duncan: The ageless one showed his age this year. Gregg Popovich somehow managed the double whammy of guiding his team to 61 wins while giving Duncan all the rest he needed, and Duncan still couldn't reward Popovich's wizardry in the playoffs. Duncan had no chance against the physical front line of Randolph and Marc Gasol, and his inability to get it done was a huge reason the Grizzlies won the series. An injury hurt, but regardless, 2011 may have finally been the year where the Duncan we once knew is a thing of the past.
17. Tyson Chandler: The man the Mavericks credit for turning around their "culture" and the guy most responsible for LeBron James' poor finals, besides James himself of course. Every time James had a driving lane, Chandler was there to hold him off. At least Michael Jordan and the Bobcats can take solace in their only tangible return from last summer's trade: Matt Carroll's contract.
14. Kevin Johnson: There were all sorts of candidates to put here for the Sacramento Kings' relocation drama, but we'll go with KJ for his a) dedication to the cause of keeping the Kings in Sacramento, b) his status as a former NBA all-star, c) his phenomenal work turning rhetoric into action, and d) because Ziller told me to put KJ here instead of him.
13. Russell Westbrook: The exaggeration of the modern NBA star, in that his fall was as quick as his rise. During the regular season, he was the engine that drove the Thunder, taking on more playmaking responsibility as his more highly-touted teammate was in the background. Few noticed this phenomenon happening, and instead rushed to anoint him in the Derrick Rose category.
Then, in the playoffs, everyone noticed, and suddenly Westbrook was being killed for cramping Durant's style. Some of this was a change -- after all, Westbrook's usage went up to a level unseen even with the biggest NBA stars -- but most of it was just a logical extension of what we saw all season. But with every additional game the Thunder played into May, the scrutiny grew louder. Now, Westbrook's Stephon Marbury complex, which probably only exists in the great imaginations of NBA fans still mad that they were robbed of a Marbury-KG pairing, is threatening to bring the Thunder down.
Westbrook has many more positive qualities than Marbury. Here's hoping they show themselves next season so we can stop this charade.
12. Dwight Howard: Had his best season ever, but was overshadowed by his declining teammates, his general manager paying his tribute to Steve Kerr in a staggeringly huge blockbuster trade and the surge of electricity generated by the Derrick Rose Clutch Bot. In a perfect world, Howard's improved offensive game and typical defensive brilliance should have been enough to thwart the center-less Heatles. Instead, Joel Anthony became competent and all those forces worked against Howard.
Sadly, Howard did little to silence his detractors, submitting a bunch of great statistical, but unfulfilling games in the Magic's six-game series loss to the Hawks. We're forced to again ponder whether Howard is overrated (his stats are empty, he smiles too much, his post game isn't great, he can be shut down by the Jason Collins-types of the world and he takes possessions off) or underrated (he puts up huge numbers, he makes a major impact as a screener, his post game is underrated, he covers so much ground defensively and his team sucks). That is, unless we want to ponder him on the Lakers.
11. Pau Gasol: When Phil Jackson of all peopl feels the need to strike you in the chest to inspire you to play better, it means you failed in a profoundly significant way. So much for Gasol being the toughest matchup in the league.
10. Dwyane Wade: I was tempted to not put Wade on this list at all, because so little of his reputation was altered, but decided against it and figured I had to put him in the top 10. Wade obviously did a lot to affect the narrative of the season, whether on the court or off it. His play carried the Heat over the Celtics, and he was the better player against Dallas in the Finals. Still, he had his bad moments, which were quickly swept away or redirected in LeBron's direction by people who still believe Wade has a halo over his head from winning the 2006 Finals. In this way, Wade got the perfect situation. He got the help he hadn't had since winning the title, and he doesn't have to deal with a lot of criticism when things go bad. If only he actually won the title.
9. Kobe Bryant/Phil Jackson: I had a lot of trouble separating these two, so we'll cheat a little bit. Bryant's typical King of the Castle act was more interesting than usual thanks to all the post-Decision backlash, which was best summed up by his trash-talking text to LeBron. Alas, Bryant couldn't back up his bold talk, as the Mavericks kept him out of the paint and made him look old. Afterwards, Jackson retired, Mike Brown was hired and Bryant was whining again about how he wasn't consulted.
Jackson, on the other hand, isn't influential this year really, seeing as everyone knew he was retiring. The only real surprises was that his team didn't win and that he was out of character in trying to fire up his team in Game 3 vs. Dallas. Otherwise, everything went as expected. Putting him here is like giving him a Lifetime Achievement Award, kind of like Bryant's 2008 MVP. Yeah, I went there.
8. Blake Griffin: I could write about his impact, or I could show this video. I'll choose Option B.
7. Carmelo Anthony: Did his best to hijack our enjoyment of the first half of the season with all the constant trade rumors, and almost succeeded. He was forced to act like he wanted to be with the Nuggets all along, which was hilarious because everyone knew he didn't and because he had to answer the same questions in every city. This is the only possible scenario that could lead to Anthony saying "I take my hat off to myself" for dealing with a distraction he created.
Truthfully, the Melo saga (or Melodrama, if you prefer) revealed more about everyone else involved than Anthony himself. It provided the chance for Isiah Thomas to reemerge as a player in NBA circles, no matter how much everyone wants to deny it. It proved that Knicks owner James Dolan really is insane, listening to Thomas over the advice of Donnie Walsh, who didn't want to part with so much. It proved that the Nuggets were right to be incredibly overbearing with their negotiating, since they got a great package in return. It cemented George Karl's legacy forever for dealing with Melodrama all season.
As for Anthony? He got to New York and was the same tremendous, but flawed player. He gave us one iconic memory with a brilliant performance in Game 2 against the Celtics, but otherwise, he was a bit underwhelming.
6. Derrick Rose: The NBA's MVP and brightest young star (arguably) inadvertently unleashed a holy war between statheads and traditionalists over whether he was truly deserving of that honor. Well, at least it was a holy war until the actual voting results were compiled and Rose was the runaway winner. Ultimately, he won the MVP because we all needed an anti-LeBron to anoint, and Rose was the most anti-LeBron player in the league.
Of course, LeBron rejected this notion by shutting down Rose in the Eastern Conference Finals, but that's neither here nor there. Here's hoping that Rose still does have room to improve and that we can view him as a player instead of as a symbol.
5. William Wesley/ Leon Rose: It's hard to identify which man belongs here, and you could even make an argument for Maverick Carter to take their place. Regardless, thanks to the efforts of these men, we moved closer and closer to an NBA civil war between the superstars represented by Creative Arts Agency (LeBron, Chris Paul, Wade, Anthony, Deron Williams, Bosh) and the superstars who aren't. Worth noting: Team CAA has only two all-stars who are also champions: Wade and Tony Parker. So far, I think it's safe to say Team Everyone Else is still winning.
4. Pat Riley: He only pulled off arguably the biggest free agent coup in the history of the game. Don't think he got lucky either, because it takes years of planning to be able to put your team in position to do what he did, and you still have to sell your team over all others. Now, about that Mike Miller signing...
3. David Stern and Billy Hunter: Figure this CBA out, please.
2. Dirk Nowitzki: I wrote about Dirk at length a month and a half ago, when it became clear the Mavericks would take out the Lakers. Most of what I wrote in there still stands. Nowitzki's career is so remarkable that it really defies the classic athlete tale, and any attempt to shoehorn him into one of those narratives is incomplete.
The symbolism arguments never stopped, of course. To many, Nowitzki represented loyalty, staying in Dallas while those mercenaries like LeBron teamed up. The irony, of course, is that while his teams never won the title, there was never a question that his GM and owner weren't trying to unearth every stone to try. The Mavericks gave Nowitzki reasons to stay, so he did. It was a faulty premise to compare Nowitzki to James.
But then again, Nowitzki has been unfairly scrutinized throughout his career, so it's nice to see him emerge as the heroic figure instead of the bad guy.
1. LeBron James: Admit it, everyone: the NBA is a better place when LeBron is struggling. The amount of attention the 2010-11 season generated is tied directly to James taking his talents to South Beach. That he ultimately suffered a crisis of confidence with his team on the doorstep of the title is about the most interesting way the story of his first year in Miami should end. Maybe it's not the most fulfilling ending for James himself, but we now have a built-in story to track for whenever the NBA resumes.
As an NBA fan, isn't this far more intriguing than the Heat just rolling over everyone? Sure, there's a dark side to James' failures, because it inspires a level of hatred no person should have towards an athlete. But the NBA is much more fun when we don't have all the answers. What happened to James in the 2011 Finals is so puzzling that it can only be solved by him winning the title emphatically. Will he end up doing that? Who knows. But either way, James' plight turns us all into fans and gives us reason to keep watching.