Biggest 1-Season Team Turnarounds Ever

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2015

Biggest 1-Season Team Turnarounds Ever

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    DONNA MCWILLIAM/Associated Press

    Unless you're an Oakland Raiders fan—I kid, I kid—there's a strong possibility that you've witnessed your team having a one-year turnaround that turns your frowns upside down.

    Or, maybe it takes those good times and makes you remember that nothing lasts forever.

    Sports has a funny way of reminding us fans that, with just a little bit of good or bad luck and some unforeseen circumstances, a team can end up on the other side of the spectrum fast, either going from worst to first or vice versa.

    In all of the years it has occurred, though, there have been some that are better than others—and these are those teams, as they're the biggest one-season turnarounds ever.

2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes

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    ANN HEISENFELT/Associated Press

    I know there was an NHL lockout between the end of the 2003-04 season and the 2005-06 Stanley Cup Final, but that doesn't mean that what the Carolina Hurricanes accomplished that 2005-06 season is any less impressive.

    After going just 28-34-14 in 2003-04 and firing their head coach, the Canes really took advantage of that extra year to help rebuild by upgrading their roster to finish 52-22 in 2005-06 and win a Stanley Cup.

    Led by veteran Rod Brind'Amour and young gun Eric Staal, Carolina was able to close out its first Cup title in epic fashion, winning both the Eastern Conference and Stanley Cup finals in seven games.

    It may lose a little luster because it didn't directly follow the Canes' awful season, but because it was the next NHL season played, you've got to give this team some cred.

2001-02 New Jersey Nets

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    GERRY BROOME/Associated Press

    They may not have completed their mission of capturing an NBA championship, but the 2001-02 New Jersey Nets did become one of the biggest one-season turnarounds in the history of the NBA.

    Following a dismal 2000-01 season where they finished 26-56 and 12th in the Eastern Conference, the Nets were able to pull off a franchise-changing trade that saw them become the top team in the East for two straight seasons.

    Adding point guard Jason Kidd through a blockbuster trade and getting Kerry Kittles back after a knee injury improved the roster tremendously, as did key contributions from young guys like Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin.

    Improving by 26 wins to finish 52-30 in 2001-02, the Nets reached the NBA Finals—where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers—and showed that a deep and talented roster could do special things.

1998-99 Ohio State Buckeyes Men's Basketball

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    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Growing up an Ohio State Buckeyes football fan, when the men's basketball program found itself in the Final Four unexpectedly during the 1998-99 season, I remember how fun it was to follow along with players like Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd.

    Of course, years later, it turned out the team had to vacate the run because of NCAA infractions, but if you saw the Bucks' run through the NCAA tourney, you know it really happened, so the results were real.

    And the team had a remarkable turn of events from the 1997-98 season.

    Winning just eight of their 30 games under first-year head coach Jim O'Brien, the Buckeyes looked like they had no long-term plan in building the men's team.

    That is, of course, until Penn was eligible to play and the roster got some new talent to help guide the team to a 27-9 finish and that Final Four appearance.

    It didn't end in a championship, but the 1998-99 Ohio State Buckeyes men's hoops team had a one-season turnaround that was one of the most memorable in college basketball history.

1997-98 San Antonio Spurs

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    DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/Associated Press

    Who knew that when former NBA MVP David Robinson went down with various injuries during the 1996-97 season, the fate of the San Antonio Spurs would be forever changed?

    That may seem dramatic to say, but thanks to The Admiral's playing in only six games that season, the team was able to lose enough to land some guy named Tim Duncan, winning the NBA draft lottery in 1997 following a lost season where they went an ugly 20-62.

    The sad times in San Antonio didn't last long, though, as Robinson recovered from his bruises and teamed up with Duncan to dominate teams, finishing the 1997-98 campaign with a 56-26 record—with the 36-game win improvement holding the record for the biggest regular-season turnaround in league history.

    Of course, this Spurs team didn't finish with an NBA title, but over the next 18 years, the organization has gone on to win five championships, all thanks to a bad-luck injury that ended up being really, really good.

2012 Indianapolis Colts

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Much like the aforementioned San Antonio Spurs, all it took for the Indianapolis Colts to improve after one awful season was a little bit of luck—and in the Colts' case, in the most literal sense.

    Following 14 seasons with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning leading them to greatness, the Colts had to suffer through a 2-14 season in 2011 while Manning was forced to the sidelines following neck surgery.

    While that season weighed on fans who were used to Manning's spoils, it wasn't long until the team found a new signal-caller who might end up being just as good one day—and his name is Andrew Luck.

    With the rookie Luck at the helm, the Colts won nine of their final 11 games in 2012, earning an 11-5 record and a spot in the playoffs, all while head coach Chuck Pagano battled cancer, leaving assistant Bruce Arians to lead the team.

    Battling adversity and unknown expectations, the 2012 Colts shocked the league by winning nine more games than the previous year, setting a foundation for their future in the process.

2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    All it took was a certain King to return home in order for the Cleveland Cavs' fortunes to change.

    We all know what happened in the summer of 2010 when LeBron James left the Cavs at the altar for the superteam in South Beach, eventually running off four straight NBA Finals appearances and capturing two rings with the Miami Heat.

    When he returned to Ohio in 2014, things looked mighty different, as the team had a handful of young players, led by then-reigning All-Star Game MVP Kyrie Irving.

    Adding one of the most talented big men in the league (Kevin Love) through a blockbuster trade, the Cavs proved they were all-in for the 2014-15 season, sick and tired of the losing that came with the loss of James four years prior.

    Shipping off two former No. 1 overall picks in the deal to get Love, Cleveland went from 33 wins in 2013-14 to an impressive 53-29 overall record in 2014-15—which included a 29-7 stretch at one point from mid-January to the end of March—and reaching the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history.

2013 Atlanta Falcons

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    As I mentioned in the intro, not every one-year turnaround is a positive one. Unfortunately, the 2013 Atlanta Falcons learned that firsthand.

    Coming off an NFC Championship Game appearance in the 2012 season, narrowly missing out on a trip to the Super Bowl, the Falcons were actually picked by many to make it all the way to the Super Bowl in 2013 by important analysts who really know their football.

    Thanks to injuries to key players and a beat-up offensive line, though, that never even came close to fruition, as the team struggled and dropped from 13 wins and the No. 1 seed in the NFC, to 4-12 and the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.

    So much for that optimism, huh?

2013 Auburn Tigers Football

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    The difference between the 2012 Auburn Tigers football team and the 2013 version was really night and day—one shined bright, and the other was dark and cold.

    While the 2013 team appeared to be a squad of destiny with last-minute plays that are some of the best finishes ever seen in sports—see Georgia and Alabama games—the Tigers' luck ran out during the national title game against the Florida State Seminoles.

    Still, in terms of their improvement from the previous season, it was unmatched.

    Going from three wins in 2012 to 12 and a berth in that championship game is one of the most incredible turnarounds a program has ever seen—especially because doing so in college football usually takes more time because there isn't free-agent spending or major trades to overhaul a roster.

2001 New England Patriots

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    Like other teams mentioned on this list, the 2001 New England Patriots seemed to take a short-term injury and turn the result into long-term success.

    Following a severe blow to former quarterback Drew Bledsoe in the second game of the NFL season, an unknown kid in his second season named Tom Brady was forced into action. The rest, as they say, is history.

    Not only did Brady lead the Pats all the way to a Super Bowl victory that season over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams, but he has hoisted the Lombardi Trophy three more times since, playing in six Super Bowls in all.

    This all came following a 2000 season in which the Pats won just five games in head coach Bill Belichick's first season in Foxborough and lost a perennial Pro Bowl passer in Bledsoe.

    Hence, the whole "Tom Terrific" mantra was born for Brady.

2007-08 Boston Celtics

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    Indeed, Kevin Garnett, anything is impossible!

    Of course, it helps when a team is built around three future Hall of Famers who transform a team that wasn't too good into world champions—as was the case with the 2007-08 Boston Celtics.

    Following trades to acquire both Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Ray Allen from the Seattle Supersonics, Boston fans knew that anything less than a title with their new Big Three would be unacceptable.

    The players knew that, and they weren't going to leave the C's faithful empty-handed.

    After enduring a 24-win season in 2006-07, Boston fans were treated to 66 wins following the massive makeover, eventually beating the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

1999 St. Louis Rams

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    After a season-ending knee injury to starting quarterback Trent Green in the preseason, it appeared that any hope of making noise during the 1999 season was lost for the St. Louis Rams.

    Then came Green's replacement, Kurt Warner, who ripped apart the league on his way to MVP honors and distinguishing the offense as The Greatest Show on Turf.

    Winning just four games the previous year, to say that the Rams leaving with the Lombardi Trophy was surprising is an understatement—especially with a backup quarterback who used to stock grocery store shelves and came from the Arena Football League.

    But with additions like All-Pro runner Marshall Faulk and others, Warner and the Rams finished the regular season at 13-3 and ended up winning the whole damn thing.

2013 Boston Red Sox

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    Bonded together by the scruff on their faces, the 2013 Boston Red Sox discovered the magic that a little bit of facial hair can produce, as they rallied around one another to capture their third World Series in nine seasons.

    Oh, but that doesn't mean it was necessarily expected.

    From 1919 until 2003, the BoSox were always the lovable losers, the ones who choked in pressure moments and could never get over the hump.

    That all changed in 2004 when the Curse of the Bambino was forever broken, giving them a newfound swagger and aura that they weren't used to—winning.

    And while the 2012 Sawx were laughed at following a 69-93 campaign, proving that fans outside of Boston truly did lose the lovable-loser mentality for the team, the Red Sox bounced back in 2013 by winning 97 games and becoming World Series champs once again.

    The 28-game improvement in the win column also happens to be an MLB record, so that 2013 team proved to be resilient and special.


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