Any time that the best player in the game changes teams, that’s usually going to be the top story of the year on Hoops Rumors. That’s even more true when that player turns the heartbreak of four years prior into a heartwarming return home. The choice LeBron James made to leave the Heat and go back to the Cavaliers, his original NBA team, had wide-reaching consequences that changed the balance of power in the league. The Heat, finalists all four years that James was there, have only the eighth-best record in the Eastern Conference this season even though Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are still in Miami. The Cavs became title favorites in their stead, and the arrival of James helped spur their acquisition of Kevin Love, whom Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders insists would still be in Minnesota had it not been for Cleveland’s offer.
The 2014/15 season hasn’t gone as planned for James and his new team, however. The Cavs are just 18-13, and rumors have begun to dog coach David Blatt just six months after Cleveland made the unprecedented hiring of a coach tested only in overseas competition. James figures to be at the center of some of 2015’s top stories, too.
Still, there were several other attention-grabbing headlines on Hoops Rumors this past year, and while a few, like the Love trade, were somehow tied to LeBron, most of them stand on their own. Here’s a look at some of the most noteworthy events of 2014:
- The Clippers and the Donald Sterling saga: Accusations of racism had swirled around Clippers owner Donald Sterling for decades, but none of them stuck until an audio recording became public in the midst of the team’s playoff run this spring. New commissioner Adam Silver acted swiftly, banning the league’s longest-tenured owner for life, even as he still legally clung to the team. Wife Shelley Sterling helped cut the final tie between her husband and the Clippers, agreeing to a record $2 billion sale to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and a judge later cleared the way for the transfer to become official.
- The Hawks, Bruce Levenson, and Danny Ferry: Racism again became an issue later in the year when Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson announced he would sell his stake in the team amid regret over a racially charged email that he sent in 2012. Soon, racially insensitive remarks from GM Danny Ferry became public, and for the first time, someone from the basketball operations side of a team was swept up in the controversy. Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence, which he still remains on as the team’s sale process forges ahead slowly.
- Carmelo Anthony re-signs with the Knicks: Had it not been for LeBron, Carmelo Anthony would have had the spotlight of free agency mostly to himself. Just one year removed from a scoring title, the star of the Knicks visited with the Bulls, the Mavs, the Rockets and the Lakers before finally inking a massive deal worth more than $124MM with the Knicks and new team president Phil Jackson. As large as the deal is, it’s still over $5MM less valuable than it could have been if he’d signed for the max.
- The NBA’s new TV deal: Soon, more players will be cashing in like Anthony did. The NBA and its television partners agreed to new contracts that will give the league $24 billion over nine years. It’s a nearly three-fold increase on the TV revenues from the last arrangement, and the players are entitled to roughly half of that money. It’ll come by way of a profoundly higher salary cap, though just how swiftly the cap will escalate is still a matter of negotiation between Silver and new union executive director Michele Roberts.
- The Kevin Love trade: It’s true that this move is intricately connected to LeBron, since the conditions that set it in motion wouldn’t have been in place if LeBron hadn’t returned to Cleveland. Yet the deal is still a massive story on its own, given that nearly half the league was trying to acquire Love, who’d made it clear he wasn’t long for Minnesota. The Cavs gave up quite a package in the three-team deal that also involved the Sixers, relinquishing 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins as well as 2013 top draft choice Anthony Bennett.
- The Rajon Rondo trade: The Celtics were one of the teams that tried and failed to deal for Love, and that shortcoming helped lead to another star changing hands. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge dodged Rajon Rondo rumors for more than a year before finally sending the point guard to the Mavericks. The Celtics came away with a return that little resembles the kind of haul that Minnesota received for Love, aside from the $12,909,090 trade exception that the move allowed Boston to create.
- Paul George‘s injury and the implosion of the Pacers: The sudden decline of the Pacers is even more profound than that of the Heat, who beat them in the last two Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana’s core first started to crumble when the Pacers played hardball with Lance Stephenson, failing to make him an offer to his liking before watching him sign with the Hornets for salaries similar to what they had put on the table. Indiana’s season then came crashing apart when Paul George broke his leg in gruesome fashion during a Team USA exhibition game that was promptly stopped. The injury is likely to keep him out all season. The Pacers, last year’s No. 1 seed in the East, are 11-21.
- Pistons waive Josh Smith: A late entry to the conversation, the Pistons pulled a stunner last week when they released Josh Smith rather than accept trade offers that weren’t to their liking or continue to allow him to take up space on the roster. Detroit coach/executive Stan Van Gundy used the stretch provision to take the $13.5MM that Smith was set to receive in each of the next two seasons and spread it over the next five years instead, and set-off rights will likely allow the Pistons further financial cushion. Still, it’s a stunning move for the team’s prize free agent acquisition of 2013.
So, which non-LeBron story was the most compelling of the year? Let us know, and feel free to mention any write-in candidates you might support in the comments.