NBA in 2010: Year of LeBron

LeBron James(notes) didn’t win a championship, but that didn’t stop him from being crowned the NBA’s biggest newsmaker in 2010. From his televised decision to join the Miami Heat – which sparked Yahoo! Sports' story of the year – to his one-night return to Cleveland, James dominated this year’s headlines. And that doesn’t even include his Christmas Day meeting with Kobe Bryant(notes) and the Los Angeles Lakers, which James turned into a runaway victory with another dominating performance.

But while James hogged the spotlight in 2010, Bryant, Gilbert Arenas(notes), Carmelo Anthony(notes) and Yao Ming(notes) managed to grab a sliver of attention, too – and not all for positive reasons.

Top stories of 2010

10. The NBA Hornets

With George Shinn unable to find a viable buyer for his New Orleans Hornets, the NBA stepped in and became the franchise’s new owners. For now, at least.

The NBA still has hopes of locating a new owner who will keep the team in Louisiana, but New Orleans still has a lot of work to do to prove itself a viable market for the league. Though the Hornets have played better than expected this season, the team has struggled to sell tickets. If an attendance minimum isn’t met, the franchise could break its lease with the state and conceivably move. That isn’t as likely with the NBA running the franchise, but if a local ownership group isn’t located, potential buyers in Seattle; Anaheim, Calif.; Louisville, Ky.; Kansas City and other cities could step in.

9. Durant leads Team USA to gold

With Bryant, James, Dwyane Wade(notes) and every other member of the 2008 Olympic team sitting out this summer to rest, Kevin Durant(notes) took Team USA to its first gold medal in the world championships since 1994.

Durant and a supposed “B” list of NBA stars had little trouble handling the competition in Turkey. Along the way, Durant elevated himself as one of the sport’s brightest stars and gave his Oklahoma City Thunder another reason to dream of their own championship someday.

8. Labor battle heats up

The ongoing labor negotiations could become the top NBA story of 2011, especially if the league enters a lockout as many people expect.

Talks between the NBA and the Players Association have so far generated little progress and a lot of rhetoric. The league is seeking to slash player salaries and perhaps implement a hard cap for its teams. The players, to no surprise, don’t agree with the NBA’s accounting.

Already, the specter of a lockout has impacted some contract negotiations by players, who have pressed for extensions this season rather than risk becoming a free agent under a reduced salary scale in a new collective bargaining agreement.

7. Yao’s uncertain future

The Houston Rockets announced on Dec. 17 that Yao will miss the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his left ankle. Could this also be the end of Yao’s career? The 30-year-old center hasn’t made an official decision on his playing future, but has previously said he would retire if he continued to have injury problems.

Yao also is in the final season of his contract with the Rockets. Given his injury history, teams will be hesitant to sign him to a long-term contract without assurances he can stay healthy.

Yao missed all of last season after undergoing surgery on the same foot. Additional surgery for his latest injury is projected to sideline him for up to 10 months.

The NBA’s popularity has boomed in China thanks to Yao’s star power. That growth figures to slow if his career has ended.

6. Renovations to the Magic Kingdom

The Orlando Magic felt disrespected entering the season when all the talk in the Eastern Conference centered on the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. But as the middle of December arrived, the Magic had done little to show they deserved to be considered a legit championship contender.

After the Magic returned from a disappointing trip to the West Coast, general manager Otis Smith had seen enough. Hoping to boost the team’s title hopes – and give All-Star center Dwight Howard(notes) a reason to stay with the franchise – the Magic overhauled their roster by acquiring Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu(notes), Jason Richardson(notes) and Earl Clark(notes) through trades with the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns. In return, the Magic gave up Rashard Lewis(notes), Vince Carter(notes), Marcin Gortat(notes) and Mickael Pietrus(notes).

Such a gutsy move also could end up becoming a referendum on Smith’s tenure.

5. Anthony wants out of Denver

The Denver Nuggets were surprised when Anthony’s representatives informed them the All-Star forward was seeking a trade and would not sign the team’s three-year, $64 million contract extension offer.

Skeptics wonder if Anthony’s wife, aspiring actress LaLa, is pushing for the couple to live in a bigger market. But the Nuggets are also a franchise in transition. They’ve cleaned out their front office and have the potential to be without Chauncey Billups(notes), Nene, Kenyon Martin(notes), J.R. Smith(notes) and Arron Afflalo(notes) – not to mention Anthony – by the start of next season.

The Nuggets have tried to persuade Anthony to sign the extension, but his stance hasn’t changed. While he’s privately expressed a preference to go to the New York Knicks or Chicago Bulls, the New Jersey Nets have more assets to offer the Nuggets with rookie forward Derrick Favors(notes) and several draft picks.

4. Arenas’ legal problems

Arenas received a 50-game suspension from the NBA and a felony firearms conviction after he and Wizards teammate Javaris Crittenton(notes) brandished guns in the team’s locker room during an argument over a gambling debt. The incident further stained Arenas’ once-promising career, which had already been slowed by knee problems.

It also led to the dismantling of the Wizards, who traded both of their other stars – Antawn Jamison(notes) and Caron Butler(notes) – midway through last season. After landing No. 1 pick John Wall(notes) in the draft, Washington had a new franchise cornerstone. Arenas wanted a fresh start, and he received it when the Magic traded Lewis for him.

3. LeBron’s homecoming

They came, they booed, and they left only with a reminder of what made James so great during his seven seasons in Cleveland. Cavs fans got their chance on Dec. 2 to vent their anger at James for leaving them. In the end, they only served to motivate him to further greatness.

James scored 38 points, including a stunning 24 in the third quarter, as the Heat routed the Cavs 118-90 in one of the most-anticipated regular season games in NBA history.

Fans chanted insults at James and held up signs to express their hatred: “Lyin’ King” was a popular one. But all the venom in Quicken Loans Arena didn’t bother James, who left with the last laugh.

2. Lakers beat Celtics for NBA title

The Lakers won their second straight NBA championship and 16th overall by knocking off their bitter rival, the Celtics, in a memorable series that was decided in the final minutes of Game 7. While Bryant won Most Valuable Player honors for the Finals, teammate Ron Artest(notes) stole the spotlight by having a big Game 7 and thanking his psychiatrist afterward.

Adding fuel to the rivalry was the Celtics’ belief that if center Kendrick Perkins(notes) didn’t get knocked out of the series with a knee injury in Game 6 they would have been champions. The Lakers are one title away from tying the Celtics and it wouldn’t be a stretch to envision the teams meeting in the Finals for the third time in four years.

1. “The Decision”

James shocked the NBA world – at least Ohio – when he made the decision to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh(notes) in Miami. Some people thought he was smart to join a super team. Others thought he was taking the easy route to a title.

What most agree on is that James shouldn't have used live TV to break the hearts of Cleveland, his nearby hometown of Akron and Cavs fans everywhere. James’ decision was instantly added to the long list of disappointments in Cleveland’s tortured sports history and caused a major hit to his image.

Player of the year: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Team of the year: Los Angeles Lakers

Game of the year: Lakers 83, Celtics 79; Game 7, NBA Finals