Best and Worst of the NBA in 2013

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2013

Best and Worst of the NBA in 2013

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    LeBron James and Tim Duncan waged war in an epic 2013 NBA Finals.
    LeBron James and Tim Duncan waged war in an epic 2013 NBA Finals.Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

    For the NBA, the year 2013 can best be described as the epitome of Newton's Third Law.

    For every (positive) action in the league, there was an equal and opposite reaction. We witnessed one of the best Finals series in NBA history, but also suffered through a wave of major lower-body injuries to superstar guards.

    We were treated to vicious, rim-rattling dunks (#RIPBrandonKnight), but couldn't escape the miserable sagas of Dwight Howard's free agency and Andrew Bynum's...well, everything.

    Before the calendar flips to 2014, enjoy this look back on some of the best and worst things to happen in the NBA this year. Both the best and worst moments are ranked based upon their overall memorability and lasting impact on the league.

     

    Note: All statistics are current through games played on Dec. 29; all records are current through games played on Dec. 30.

No. 5 Worst: All Andrew Bynum Everything

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    David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    Andrew Bynum leads off the list of the NBA's worst in 2013, as he's managed to infuriate two separate fanbases in a 12-month span.

    When the Philadelphia 76ers traded away Andre Iguodala, Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic and a future first-round pick for Bynum in August 2012, his potential made the move defensible at the time. The Sixers paid a steep price, but Bynum, when healthy, looked to be evolving into one of the league's top centers.

    Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the "when healthy" part proved to be an insurmountable caveat. Bynum never played a single minute in a Sixers uniform, as ongoing knee troubles prevented him from suiting up during the entire 2012-13 season.

    The Sixers made no effort to re-sign Bynum during 2013 free agency, allowing the Cleveland Cavaliers to swoop in with a two-year, $24 million offer, only $6 million of which was guaranteed. That partially-guaranteed deal appears to be a godsend for the Cavs, who suspended him indefinitely on Dec. 28 for "conduct detrimental to the team," per NBA.com.

    His unpaid suspension lasted only one game, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst, but he will "remain exiled from [the team] while getting paid." Given the current state of things in Cleveland, it's hard to say which franchise had it worse with Bynum in 2013.

No. 5 Best: DeAndre Jordan's Dunk over Brandon Knight

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    On March 10, DeAndre Jordan made the hashtag #RIPBrandonKnight trend on Twitter.

    Midway through the second quarter of a game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Detroit Pistons, Clippers point guard Chris Paul ran up the right side of the court as Jordan and Lamar Odom walked side-by-side. Jordan quickly cut to the rim, taking advantage of the three Pistons defenders focused on Paul, and only had Brandon Knight standing between himself and the basket.

    When Paul lobbed the ball up to Jordan, Knight never had a chance. The Clippers big man towered over the smaller Detroit guard, cocked his arm back and threw home the dunk of the year.

    As Jordan trotted toward the baseline to celebrate, Knight stayed down on the ground for a few seconds to regain his composure. The look on Jordan's face after the vicious throwdown inspired t-shirts, memes and GIFs galore.

    "Knight may as well have been trying to kill Dumbo with a flyswatter," wrote The Big Lead's Stephen Douglas. That just about sums it up.

     

No. 4 Worst: Cleveland Drafting Anthony Bennett First Overall

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    It's still too early to slap the "bust" label on Anthony Bennett permanently, but the early returns haven't been positive for the Cleveland Cavaliers rookie.

    The Cavs shocked the NBA world by drafting Bennett first overall in June. ESPN announcer Bill Simmons couldn't help but shout "Whoa!" when commissioner David Stern announced the pick, as most draft experts had Nerlens Noel pegged as the prohibitive favorite for the No. 1 spot. (Noel slipped to sixth overall.)

    So far, Cleveland may be having buyer's remorse when it comes to Bennett. He got off to a historically awful start, shooting 0-of-15 in his first four games, and only knocked down 23 of his first 83 field-goal attempts (27.7 percent) through Dec. 29.

    The No. 1 pick is averaging a miserable 2.4 points, 2.0 rebounds and 0.3 assists in only 10.5 minutes per game. To his credit, he's quick to admit that things haven't quite clicked.

    "I'm still clueless about this whole thing,” Bennett said in late December, per the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd. "I'm still trying to learn a lot. I can still learn from my teammates, from the coaching staff, watching film. I just feel like this whole league is all about learning, just going out and playing."

    It's still too early to write Bennett off for good. He could simply be an NBA late-bloomer. At the moment, though, he's looking like one of the worst No. 1 picks in recent memory.

No. 4 Best: The Sacramento Kings Stay Put

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    Throughout the first few months of 2013, Sacramento Kings fans feared the possibility of losing their beloved team to Seattle.

    On Jan. 9, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Kings' owners, the Maloof family, were finalizing an agreement to sell the team to a Seattle-based ownership group. Had the sale gone through, the group aimed to move the Kings to Seattle for the 2013-14 season.

    In April, billionaire Chris Hansen announced on SonicsArena.com that the Seattle group had upped its bid for the Kings by $25 million, raising the enterprise value to $550 million. However, a committee of NBA owners voted against the relocation of the team to Seattle on April 29, per Wojnarowski.

    Hansen's group fired a final salvo on May 10 by once again voluntarily raising their purchase price, this time by $75 million. It wasn't enough to sway the NBA's Board of Governors, though, as 22 of the league's 30 owners voted against relocation on May 15, putting an end to the saga for now.

    On the opening night of the 2013-14 season, Kings fans demonstrated their appreciation for the owners' decision by going absolutely buck wild. After all they went through during the first few months of 2013, who could blame them?

No. 3 Worst: The Dwightmare, Part 2

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Just when we thought Dwight Howard's nightmare of a free-agency process had finally, mercifully ended, it reared its ugly head once more.

    When the Orlando Magic traded Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2012, the big man's future appeared to be set in stone. He'd follow in the footsteps of legendary bigs like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal, eventually taking over the Lakers' leadership mantle as Kobe Bryant's majestic career wound down.

    Instead, the Los Angeles superteam crumbled due to injuries and poor chemistry, leading to a whole new round of rumors about Howard's 2013 free-agency decision. His re-signing with the Lakers, which was once considered a lock, suddenly appeared to be a long shot.

    Los Angeles had the upper hand financially, as the team could offer an extra year and roughly $30 million more on Howard's contract than any other suitor. In terms of proximity to winning a championship, however, the Houston Rockets appeared to present the most appealing case.

    To Howard's credit, he put winning a championship ahead of earning the most money possible, choosing to leave Hollywood for Houston. Before announcing his final destination, however, ESPN's Chris Broussard reported that Howard was having second thoughts about leaving that much money on the table.

    In a preseason interview with USA Today's Sam Amick, Howard quashed those rumors, saying, "There was no (thought of), 'Oh man, hold up, let me think about this again.' " Still, the unceasing indecisiveness throughout Howard's free agency made the entire process a true nightmare for NBA fans.

No. 3 Best: Stephen Curry Breaks Ray Allen's Three-Point Record

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    In 2013, Stephen Curry established himself as the league's most dangerous weapon from behind the three-point line.

    Few things can inspire fear like the sight of Curry spotting up 25 feet from the hoop. Between his lightning-quick release and apparently limitless range, the Golden State Warriors point guard is singlehandedly redefining the concept of "good" and "bad" three-point shots.

    Heading into the Warriors' final game of the 2012-13 regular season, Curry had drained 268 threes, one shy of Ray Allen's single-season record set back in 2005-06. He tied the record with 6:54 left in the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers, then hit three more during the game for good measure, setting a new single-season high of 272. (It takes more than 10 minutes to watch all 272 strung back-to-back.)

    Know what's even scarier? He's already threatening to surpass his new record. Through 29 games in 2012-13, Curry knocked down 85 shots from downtown; in the first 29 games of the 2013-14 season, he has 95 threes.    

    He's shooting a career-low 41.3 percent from three-point range this season, but when 41.3 percent is your career low from downtown, that says something. The Warriors point guard has drilled 44.2 percent of his long-range shots over the course of his four-and-a-half-year career, which ranks second in NBA history behind only Steve Kerr, per Basketball Reference.

    Curry breaking Allen's single-season record for made three-pointers won't soon be forgotten, but given its limited impact on the NBA today, it can't be considered the top moment of 2013.

No. 2 Worst: Jason Kidd as a Head Coach

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Ever wonder why it's so difficult for newcomers to break into the NBA coaching ranks? Look no further than Jason Kidd, who is quickly becoming a cautionary tale with the Brooklyn Nets.

    The Nets hired Kidd as head coach only 10 days after he retired as a player, giving him very little time to become acclimated with the ways of NBA coaching. Given the way the 2013-14 season has unfolded for Brooklyn, that appears to have been a grave mistake.

    Soon after taking the Nets job, Kidd hired one of his own former head coaches, Lawrence Frank, as a lead assistant. The former point guard openly discussed how he wanted someone with NBA head coaching experience on the bench to guide him through the day-to-day aspects of his new job, per ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo.

    That harmonious relationship didn't last long, however. Kidd demoted Frank on Dec. 3, per  Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, kicking him off the Nets' bench and reassigning him to writing daily reports instead. A conflict between Kidd and Frank during an early-season staff meeting "irreparably damaged" their relationship, Wojnarowski reported.

    According to  a Dec. 27 report from Wojnarowski, Kidd is now losing support within Brooklyn's locker room. More than once this season, players have reportedly told the coach that they don't understand their roles, yet little appears to have changed for the 10-20 Nets.

    Given the Nets' $80 million luxury-tax bill this season, being 10 games under .500 on New Year's Eve wasn't exactly what owner Mikhail Prokhorov had in mind. Unless the NBA suddenly starts allowing Kidd's vaunted drink-spilling timeout as a legitimate end-of-game strategy, no coach will enter 2014 on a hotter seat than Brooklyn's.

No. 2 Best: The Indiana Pacers' Ascension

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    The Miami Heat earn the NBA's "Team of 2013" title for obvious reasons, but the Indiana Pacers should be considered a close second.

    Indiana stayed under the radar for much of the 2012-13 regular season, despite putting a scare into the eventual-champion Heat during the second round of the 2012 playoffs. The Pacers ended the year with a  49-32 record, but few gave them a chance to make it past the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

    One monstrous Roy Hibbert block against Carmelo Anthony later, Indiana cruised into the Eastern Conference Finals to meet Miami once more. The matchup quickly turned into "instant classic" material, as neither team managed to win more than one game in a row throughout the entire seven-game series.

    While Hibbert served as the Pacers' defensive backbone, Paul George took one large step toward superstardom during the 2013 playoffs. He managed to earn LeBron James' respect in Game 2, as Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski noted, by decimating Chris "Birdman" Andersen on a vicious slam dunk.

    Despite falling short against the Heat in the 2013 playoffs, the secret was out on the Pacers. They entered the 2013-14 season on the short list of contenders capable of knocking off the Heat, and their Eastern Conference-best 24-5 record should serve as a testament to their dominance.

    So long as George, Hibbert and the rest of the supporting cast stay injury-free, Indiana will remain a force with which to be reckoned. The Pacers' ascendance into legitimate championship contention will go down as one of the most memorable stories in 2013, trailing only one unforgettable series.

No. 1 Worst: Lower-Body Injuries to Superstar Guards

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    In the span of eight months, the NBA lost three of its best guards to knee or leg injuries.

    On April 12, Kobe Bryant was the first to go down when he tore his left Achilles tendon late in the fourth quarter of a 118-116 win over the Golden State Warriors. Months later, he said that he "was literally trying to pull the tendon up so hopefully [he] could walk and kind of hobble through the last two and a half minutes and try to play," per comments recorded by Nike PR director Heidi Burgett.

    Bryant returned to NBA action on Dec. 8, but lasted only six games before calamity struck again. During a 96-92 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Dec. 17, the Mamba suffered a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee, sidelining him for six weeks.

    Only two weeks after Kobe tore his Achilles, the Western Conference lost another one of its top guards to a freak leg injury. During the second game of the opening-round playoff series between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, Patrick Beverley crashed into Russell Westbrook's right knee when going for a steal and tore Westbrook's lateral meniscus.  

    The OKC point guard underwent an additional surgery on that same knee in early October and was projected to miss the first 4-6 weeks of the 2013-14 season as a result. He instead sat out only two games before returning, but experienced swelling in late December and had to go under the knife yet again. He's not expected back until after the All-Star break.

    When looking back on injuries in 2013, nothing will define this year more than the twists and turns in the Derrick Rose saga. We spent months speculating about when he'd return from ACL surgery, only to learn that he'd end up missing the entirety of the 2012-13 season.

    Rose finally made his long-awaited return against the Miami Heat on the opening night of the 2013-14 season, but things soon went awry once more. While making a routine play against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 22, Rose tore his right medial meniscus, knocking him out for the remainder of the year.

    Beyond Westbrook, Bryant and Rose, a few other superstar guards also battled their own injury problems this year. Rajon Rondo tore his ACL in late January and isn't expected to return until late January 2014 at the earliest, while Dwyane Wade's knees limited his effectiveness throughout the playoffs. 

    If there's one negative thing we'll remember from 2013, it's the plethora of superstar guards who sustained severe lower-body injuries. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery for all.

No. 1 Best: The 2013 NBA Finals

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    If we're going to remember one NBA-related thing from this year, it's going to be the epic war waged between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs in the 2013 Finals.

    The series had all the makings of a classic even before it tipped off. There was the Battle of the Big Threes angle, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh looking to defend their 2012 title against Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. LeBron had a chance to redeem himself after being swept by the Spurs in the 2007 Finals, too.

    Once the 2013 Finals got underway, an intricate chess match between Erik Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich began. Every time it appeared as though one of the two teams gained the upper hand in the series, the other delivered a momentum-shattering counterpunch.   

    Games 6 and 7 are what elevated the 2013 Finals from "great" to "legendary." With Miami only seconds away from elimination in Game 6, Bosh snared an offensive rebound off a missed three from James, fed Ray Allen in the right corner and let one of the greatest three-point shooters in NBA history do what he does best.

    Both teams appeared understandably drained in Game 7, but still managed to put on a show. Every time the Heat began to pull away, the Spurs battled right back, never allowing Miami to open greater than a six-point lead in the fourth quarter until the final buzzer.

    With San Antonio trailing by two in the final minute, Duncan couldn't get a lefty hook over Shane Battier to drop, grabbed his own offensive rebound, but missed a bunny of a tip shot. LeBron then drilled a 20-foot jumper in Kawhi Leonard's face with 30 seconds left, giving the Heat a four-point lead which they wouldn't relinquish.

    Before Game 7, CBSsports.com's Matt Moore called the 2013 Finals "the best NBA Finals in 20 years." It was basketball theater at its finest, and should go down in the annals of NBA history as one of the most unforgettable championship rounds ever.