Ranking the Ugliest New Rivalries in the NBA Entering 2012-13
As the NBA regular season gets underway, new rivalries are blossoming while some rivalries of the past have become relevant once again.
Due to free agency and other forms of player movement, the NBA landscape is always changing. The constant change rewards the majority of markets with optimism at this time of the year, while setting up potential rivalries as we move into the regular season schedule.
The rivalries that endure the natural cycles of the sport are those that produce tough and ugly basketball at times. Physicality and hard play define ugly rivalries, as sometimes the play on the court looks more like a game of pick-up street ball than an NBA contest.
The fun thing about rivalries is that they can emerge between any two teams for virtually any reason. For example, match-ups between the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers will be considered a rivalry until LeBron James retires or moves on to a different team.
Prior to LeBron's decision, the Heat and the Cavs were not considered rivals in any sense of the word.
An example of a long time rivalry can be found between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, as the two franchises have faced off with the NBA title on the line 12 times.
Rivalries are great for the NBA, as they tend to lead to higher ratings and a higher level of play.
7. Orlando Magic vs. Charlotte Bobcats
You may be surprised to see this matchup on this list, but both teams will be playing at similar levels this season and are in the same division.
What many have forgotten is that the Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic faced off in the first round of the 2010 NBA playoffs. While the Magic had little problem sweeping the Bobcats out of the postseason, the playoff appearance represents the pinnacle of the Bobcats' success as a franchise.
After that series, the Bobcats underwent a major upheaval and haven't sniffed the playoffs since. Owner Michael Jordan attempted to revitalize the roster, but he failed.
During the lockout-shortened 2012 season, the Bobcats fielded the worst team in NBA history.
While the Magic have been much more successful than the Bobcats over the past two seasons, that is certain to change this season due to the trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers and left the Magic without a star.
As the regular seasons tips off, the majority of power rankings across the web have the Magic and Bobcats occupying the bottom two spots. ESPN.com's Marc Stein has the Magic 29th and the Bobcats 30th, while Mark Heisler of SheridanHoops.com has the Bobcats 29th and the Magic in the last position.
The fact that the Magic aren't thought of as the consensus worst team in the league speaks volumes about how terrible the Bobcats will be this season.
The Bobcats and the Magic will face off four times this season as they are both members of the Southeast division.
I am not advocating that it is in your best interest to watch these two teams face off this season, as the quality of the basketball played will be painful to watch.
If a matchup between these two bottom dwellers does happen to find its way onto your television set, watch it knowing that one of the two teams will likely own the number one pick come the 2013 NBA Draft.
6. Brooklyn Nets vs. Dallas Mavericks
This rivalry is about two people, Brooklyn Nets starting point guard Deron Williams and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
It is not news that Williams strongly considered signing with the Mavericks before re-signing with the Nets. At the time, it appeared as if the Mavs had a real chance of signing Williams, which would have drastically changed the direction of the franchise.
William's decision to re-sign with the Nets undoubtedly hurt the Mavs, as Dirk Nowitzki is entering the twilight of his career and doesn't have many years of star production left in him.
If Williams had decided to take his talents to the Lone Star state, then the Mavs would be viewed as a team with an outside chance of winning this season's NBA title.
Since Cuban was unable to sign Williams, he added O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Darren Collison and Elton Brand to the roster to keep the team relevant.
The Mavs and Nets enter the season facing questions about their respective potentials, but neither is expected to contend for the NBA title this season.
While Williams spurning an opportunity to sign with his home town team certainly didn't sit well with the Mavericks fan base, his comments about Cuban's lack of involvement in his recruitment process stirred things up even more.
According to Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com, Williams said the following about Cuban not being present at one of his meetings with the Mavericks:
I think (Cuban) would have been able to answer a lot of the questions me and my agent have for him that really didn't get answered that day pertaining to the future. And I think if he was there he would have been able to answer those questions a little bit better. It maybe would have helped me.
According to the same MacMahon article, Cuban fired back the following:
I'm a big D-Will fan, but I'm kind of surprised that he would throw his front office under the bus like that by saying that I would make a difference. I would have expected him to say -- like I'd expect one of our guys to say -- 'Hey I'm so thrilled with the front office and the moves we made and our team that it wouldn't have mattered what he did.'
Nowitzki is a cool and composed player, but he will likely play with more fire when the Mavs face off against the Nets this season. In that matchup, Nowitzki and the Mavs will have a chance to prove to Williams directly that he made the wrong decision by re-signing with the Nets.
At the very least, I am looking forward to Cuban's comments leading up to and after the teams' first matchup on March 1st 2013.
5. Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
This rivalry is brand new, as it began once the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and draft picks.
While the Thunder trading Harden was always viewed as a distinct possibility, very few experts predicted that OKC GM Sam Presti would move the reigning Sixth Man of the Year prior to the start of the season.
According to NewsOk.com, Presti gave Harden one hour to make a decision regarding what would be the final extension offer that he would receive from the Thunder.
The contract that Harden was offered was $53 million over four years. He asked for three days to review the trade but was denied by Presti, who kept him on a one hour deadline. As reported by Adrian Wojnarowski, Harden turned down the extension and was traded soon after.
According to the NewsOk.com article, Harden was devastated by the trade. Apparently, Harden didn't think that Presti would pull the trigger and move him with the Thunder having such a strong chance at competing for this season's NBA title with him on the roster.
Presti is focused on more than this season and the punitive luxury tax that only gets stronger over the next few years. He must have decided that a season from Martin and acquiring Lamb in the first season of his rookie contract was good enough for this season.
Harden will certainly remain close friends Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but he will also have a strong desire to prove that the OKC front office made the wrong decision to trade him.
This rivalry will be ugly because the Rockets won't have the team cohesion or talent to compete with the Thunder this season. Even if Harden has a huge night against the Thunder when the two teams meet on November 28th, it likely wouldn't be enough to upset his old team.
4. Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets
The Philadelphia 76ers and Nets franchises have had no shortage of bruising contests as Atlantic division rivals, but their rivalry underwent a makeover in the offseason. The Nets moved to Brooklyn, and Philly acquired Andrew Bynum in the Dwight Howard trade, giving them the best center in the Eastern Conference.
It will be very interesting to watch how Bynum and Brook Lopez match up against each other in the paint, as both of them are among the most talented offensive big men in the NBA.
While the Nets core is stocked with veterans such as Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace, the 76ers will be counting on a much younger core of players.
For Philadelphia to contend in the Atlantic division, they will need youngsters Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner to progress into more consistent and complete players. However, if Bynum isn't able to stay healthy it will be a very long season for the 76ers.
Since they are divisional opponents, the Nets and 76ers will face off four times this season. Those matchups will go a long way in determining whether either team has a chance to capture their first Atlantic division title in years.
The rivalry between teams from Philadelphia and New York are always fierce, and the rivalry between the Nets and 76ers represents that perfectly.
The Nets appear to have the better team on paper, as they have the better starting point guard, shooting guard and small forward. That being said, if Lopez and Kris Humphries are unable to defend the paint, it may not matter how well the Nets backcourt plays.
The Nets and 76ers split the series 2-2 during the 2012 lockout shortened season, and I wouldn't be surprised if the teams split their four matchups again this season.
3. Philadelphia 76ers vs. Los Angeles Lakers
This rivalry is all about Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard, as they are widely viewed as the two best centers in the NBA.
The two faced off in the 2009 NBA Finals, with Bynum's old team—The Los Angeles Lakers—coming out on top. In Howard's defense, the Lakers triumph was fueled by the performances of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol rather than Bynum's production.
In the offseason, Howard and Bynum were a part of the same four-team trade and wound up flipping conferences. Howard was sent to the Lakers in the Western Conference, while Bynum was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference.
It's unfortunate that the two are still in different conferences, as it makes it less likely that the two will meet in an epic playoff encounter.
Howard and Bynum shouldn't be compared as equals at the center position because Howard is the far better player.
Howard is without a doubt a better defender, rebounder, leader and runs the floor much better than Bynum. While some argue that Bynum is the better offensive player, that claim isn't supported by statistics from their head-to-head matchups.
According to BasketballReference.com, Howard has averaged 20.5 points per game against Bynum, while Bynum has only managed to register an average of 8.9 points per game against Dwight.
The Lakers and 76ers meet twice this season, with the second of those matchups coming on New Year's Day.
While I don't expect Philadelphia to contend for the Eastern Conference Championship this season, if their young core remains intact and progresses, then the 76ers will be perennial contenders for years to come.
Hopefully NBA fans will be treated to a Howard versus Bynum Finals in the future, as they represent the league's premier talents at a position that has a lack of franchise-changing players.
2. Brooklyn Nets vs. New York Knicks
When the Nets moved to Brooklyn in the offseason, they officially raised the stakes in their rivalry with the New York Knicks. For the first time, the Nets have a legitimate chance to match the Knicks in terms of popularity and publicity.
Each team has star power, which is a prerequisite to being successful in the NBA. The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire and the Nets have Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.
The team that ends up outplaying the other this season will be hailed by the New York media as the superior organization.
While the tension has been building since the Nets announced that they were moving to Brooklyn, it is at an all-time high as the two teams are set to meet four times this season in is what now a crosstown rivalry.
As if the Nets moving in on the Knicks territory wasn't enough, Mikhail Prokhorov made the situation even more volatile when, according to NYMag.com, he called James Dolan "that little man."
It shouldn't come as a surprise that each roster thinks that they are better than the other, but when Joe Johnson told the reporters of the New York Daily News that the Nets are the best team in New York, it intensified the rivalry even more.
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat
What else were you expecting?
As soon as the Los Angeles Lakers added Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, they were instantly labeled as co-favorites in the Western Conference with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
When the Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets, the Lakers moved ahead of the Thunder as the conference favorite.
With a frontcourt of Howard and Pau Gasol and a backcourt of Nash and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have four future Hall of Famers in their starting lineup.
While the Lakers still have to prove it on the court, it is hard to dispute that they have the most top-end talent in the Western Conference.
Pat Riley and the Heat front office improved the team during the offseason, as he added Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to the roster. In Allen and Lewis, the Heat have two more sharpshooters from behind the arc.
When LeBron decides to post up, he will have no shortage of long range options to dish the ball to if opposing teams decide to double team him.
Entering the season, the Heat are the overwhelming favorites to win the Eastern Conference and to appear in their third straight NBA Finals.
There was a portion of time in which Bryant was the best basketball player in the world, but that title now rests comfortably with LeBron. Having the best player on the court goes a long way, so James will give the Heat an advantage over the Lakers if they were to meet in the Finals.
Looking into my crystal ball, I see the Lakers and Heat meeting in the 2013 NBA Finals.
If these two star studded teams do meet in the Finals, the matchup will be determined on Miami's ability to defend the interior while taking full advantage of the matchup problems that LeBron will cause.