Ranking the NBA's Best Current Feuds
Don't get this twisted; there are plenty of good beefs to go around.
Durant forged another one with the Oklahoma City Thunder by leaving for the Golden State Warriors, and that's just the beginning. But today's discords aren't as deep-seated as they used to be. Most of the Association's best tumults are new and fluid, without the potential to endure the battleground of time.
Our ranking of the latest spats will give special consideration to situations that have the best chance of bucking this trend. We want teams, players, executives and circumstances that are gearing up for rivalries over the longest possible haul.
Further dap will be given to altercations with the most meaning; the higher the stakes, the better the feud. Additional imaginary points will be awarded for randomness—scenarios and run-ins we couldn't possibly have seen coming but are noteworthy all the same.
10. Mark Cuban vs. Referees
Mark Cuban is notorious for colorful and candid displays of emotion. His mood rises and plummets depending on the state of his Dallas Mavericks.
This has not been good for the NBA's referees.
Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical obtained a "series of memorandums distributed recently among the league’s 64 referees" that detailed ongoing conflict between the National Basketball Referees Association and Cuban. These memos included documented communication that took place between the league and NBRA.
Among the most pressing issues is Cuban's in-game commentary. One report, per Wojnarowski, claims he called an official "chickens--t" during Dallas' Jan. 17 loss to the San Antonio Spurs last season. The NBRA is also concerned with the "influence" Cuban may have over the job security of certain referees. Cuban, for his part, denied this allegation in an email to Wojnarowski:
To suggest I have influence is to suggest that the NBA officials can be influenced. If an official can be influenced by pressure from anyone, they should not be in the NBA. I don’t believe they can be influenced. As far as my influence on employment, several years ago I sent a list to the NBA of officials who had been NBA officials for more than a decade and never made the playoffs.
I asked why we weren’t bringing in better officials than those who weren’t able to crack the top half of officials. [I think it’s 37 who get selected as playoff refs.] I also asked if being an NBA official was a lifetime job and at what point do we recognize that there is someone else out there who can do a better job? I did this knowing that any terminated refs could receive substantial pensions. As far as anything else, I’ve been the same way since I bought the team and have no reason to change.
In other words, this isn't the last we've heard of the growing tension between Cuban and the NBRA. It's a bizarre feud, to be sure, but the two sides have legitimate beef.
9. Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Physics
If you don't believe Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. the Rules of Physics is a viable feud, you're not watching enough of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Or you hail from Mars, where the gravity is roughly 37.6 percent of Earth's standard, and are not impressed.
Either way, relative to us normal humans, Antetokounmpo is waging war against proven science: It takes him around two dribbles to get across the length of the court. Legend has it Antetokounmpo once grabbed a defensive rebound, turned around and found himself eye level with the opposite rim.
"He’s not [traveling]," Washington Wizards head coach Scott Brooks told Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins. "It’s just that we’ve never seen somebody with a stride like this."
We have also never seen someone with Antetokounmpo's reach. His 7'3" wingspan isn't unprecedented, but his arms go on forever in real time. He routinely takes off for dunks from just inside the free-throw line, and his air time on uncontested slams is so extensive, it looks to be unfolding in slow motion.
As for why Antetokounmpo's spat with mortal boundaries isn't higher, well, we have to face facts: This isn't a very competitive dispute.
The Rules of Physics don't stand a chance.
8. Jae Crowder/Celtics vs. John Wall('s Nose)
Jae Crowder and John Wall engaged in some extracurricular activities following the Boston Celtics' Jan. 11 victory over the Washington Wizards.
Just like that, a feud was born.
Both teams lingered on the floor after the final buzzer. Crowder and Wall were exchanging words, contentiously but casually. Crowder then poked Wall in the nose, because he is a grown-up. Wall responded by trying to smack Crowder's face, at which point the two were separated—though not before Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart got involved.
Police officers were stationed outside both locker rooms afterward as a precautionary measure.
"It started during the game, a lot of disrespectful talk from [Wall's] side that led to that," Crowder said, per ESPN.com's Chris Forsberg. "I think it's been like that a few games since last year."
Wall indeed has some outstanding beef with the Celtics. He was ejected midway through the fourth quarter of Washington's Nov. 9 win over Boston after sending Smart to the floor—an incident building through the entire game.
"I had my fingers bleeding," Wall said, per Mass Live's Jay King. "They got stepped on on purpose. I drove to the basket a couple of times and didn't get calls. The play before that, I was dribbling and got smacked right across the face to my ear. I just let the frustration get the best of me."
These two teams play twice more this season—Jan. 24 and March 20—and Wall, per King, has been vocal about how physical Boston gets when facing Washington. Get your popcorn.
7. Patrick Beverley vs. Damian Lillard (and Every Other Point Guard)
Patrick Beverley isn't making headlines for any vendettas at the moment, but that's because feuding with everyone outside the Houston Rockets' locker room is his status quo.
"I’m the best guard in this league, defensively, man, hands down," Beverley said in December, per ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins. "You can ask any team; ask any coach; ask any player. They will tell you the truth. This year, I’m the best defender in the league."
Statements like this are part of Beverley's irreverent charm. He's confident and aggressive, excessively so, and that bothers pretty much whoever he defends.
"I think he's just a pest," Damian Lillard, who gets into scuffles with Beverley roughly a billion times a season, said last February, per the Oregonian's Joe Freeman. "And when you're a pest, you've got to embrace not being liked."
Beverley has an extensive history with Russell Westbrook as well. It dates back to the first round of the 2013 playoffs, when Westbrook suffered a torn meniscus after Beverley dove into his knee. Westbrook has since forgiven Beverley, but there has long been an extra cheekiness during matchups between the two. Beverley, per Watkins, gloated about the defensive job he did against Westbrook in the Rockets' Dec. 9 win over the Thunder.
Houston's pesky bulldog has even tussled with Stephen Curry, inciting a less-than-warm reaction from the two-time MVP during the first round of last year's playoffs.
Pick a guard. Any guard. Unless they are or have ever been his teammate, Beverley is bound to have pissed them off at one time.
6. Draymond Green vs. Steve Adams/Groins Everywhere/Himself
That's the number of times Draymond Green has struck Steven Adams in the groin. He kneed him in the crotch during Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. And then, because once wasn't enough, Green kicked Adams in the family jewels midway through Game 3.
With history like this, the Adams-Green rivalry should be the epicenter of NBA conflict. Instead, it's gone the other way.
Adams and Green exchanged some thinly veiled, not-at-all-meaningful barbs throughout last May's epic seven-game set between the Thunder and Warriors, and that was it. The two actually hashed out their half-tiff immediately after Game 3.
Still, any time you accidentally try to injure someone's nether region on purpose, you create a persisting potential for conflict—even if subconsciously. Besides, this feud is about so much more than Adam's privates. Green whacked LeBron James where some tanning beds don't even shine in Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals—a moment of hostility that earned him a suspension for Game 5.
Jump ahead to this season, and Green has already booted Harden in the face, kicked Marquese Chriss' butt (literally), flipped Smart onto his back and, most recently, clotheslined Academy Award nominee LeBron James.
You know Green's feud with other players/himself is genuine when we're left to wonder whether his knack for contact will cost Golden State yet another championship.
5. Dennis Schroder vs. Isaiah Thomas
It turns out the Dennis Schroder-Isaiah Thomas rivalry is a real thing.
Things got spicy between the two when Boston and Atlanta met in the first round of the playoffs last year. Schroder (sort of) bounced Thomas to the ground early during Game 3; Thomas returned serve with a nonchalant—yet totally deliberate—karate chop to Schroder's neck.
Fast-forward to Jan. 13, and the two were at it again.
After the Celtics pulled out a 103-101 victory over the Hawks, Schroder accused Thomas of cursing at his mom and trash-talking his family, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore. Thomas, naturally, took exception, per ESPN.com's Chris Forsberg:
I don't talk about nobody's moms. I don't cuss at nobody's moms. And I don't talk about people's families. So whatever he said, that's a 100 percent lie. And he knows that. Because I always say keep it hoop. When it comes to basketball I talk about basketball. And I'm going to trash talk, and I'm going to compete. I'm going to do whatever I can to make my team win a game. But I don't bring parents in it. I don't bring family. I don't even know his mom to curse at her like he said I did, or whatever he's lying about.
From this point on I don't even want to talk about Dennis Schroder because he's not even on the level that I'm trying to be on. And I'm not even focused on him anymore.
There's no word yet on whether Schroder's pants caught fire following Thomas' sermon. But a few Hawks players, per Vivlamore, did say they're looking forward to the next game against the Celtics on Jan. 24.
On a totally unrelated note: I'm definitely tattooing "Keep it hoop" in bold caps across my throat.
4. Carmelo Anthony vs. Phil Jackson
But then Charley Rosen, a Jackson confidant, penned a column for FanRag Sports in which he concluded: "The only sure thing is that Carmelo Anthony has outlived his usefulness in New York."
Knowing Rosen has access to Jackson—he authored "The Phil Files" series for ESPN.com—many consider his words an extension of the Zen Master's feelings. And that includes Anthony.
"If that’s the case, then that’s what’s coming from that side, I guess it’s a conversation we should have," he said, per the New York Daily News' Frank Isola. "If they feel like my time in New York is over, I guess that’s a conversation we should have."
Although Rosen eventually denied he speaks on behalf of Jackson, Anthony twice asked for a sitdown with the New York Knicks team president, according to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne. His request was granted, but sources told Shelburne the meeting didn't go well.
Anthony has a no-trade clause, so Jackson cannot just move him and be done with this saga. But the Knicks have lost 11 of their last 13 games and are on the fast track to nowhere. Assuming Jackson has no inclination to re-sign Derrick Rose and can find a taker for Joakim Noah's, four-year, $72.6 million contract, it's in the best interests of Anthony and the Knicks to part ways. They aren't on the same timeline and haven't been for a while.
While dealing the two years and $54.2 million remaining on Anthony's deal after this one (early termination option for 2018-19) will be hard, it's not impossible. But Anthony remains loyal to the organization and reiterated as much in his meeting with Jackson, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Buckle up, y'all. New York's latest melodrama (sorry) isn't close to over.
3. DeMarcus Cousins vs. Meyers Leonard
DeMarcus Cousins and Meyers Leonard's feud has more background than you think.
Kristian Winfield of SB Nation did a terrific job outlining a mutual dislike that began in October 2015, with Cousins undercutting Leonard's shot attempt during a preseason matchup. Cousins reignited the flames following the Sacramento Kings' loss to the Portland Trail Blazers last January by pretending he didn't know how to pronounce Meyers Leonard's full name.
Time has not healed the ill will between these two. In their first meeting of this season, on Nov. 11, Cousins and Leonard were assessed technicals for superfluous contact when battling for position under the basket.
Then, during their next showdown on Dec. 20, Cousins was ejected (after scoring 54 points) for spitting his mouthpiece in the direction of Leonard, who was seated on the Blazers bench. Or so we thought.
Cousins ran off the court to prevent himself from pulling another DeMarcus, but the referees decided to un-eject him upon further discussion. He returned to the game, made a free throw to give himself 55 points, and the Kings won.
Leonard said Cousins' "antics are over the top" afterward, per CSN Northwest. Cousins took the parallel road and referred to his technical foul as "ridiculous" about a quadrillion times while giving an interview with CSN California (via SI.com's Ben Golliver).
Nothing else transpired during the next Blazers-Kings game on Dec. 28, the last between these teams—which is bad news for soap opera junkies hoping to see more from the NBA's most random feud.
2. Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook/Thunder
Kevin Durant spent nine seasons in Oklahoma City. Eight of those came beside Russell Westbrook. Of course there is unresolved contention between all parties. Durant's history with Westbrook and the Thunder drums up the rivalry's curb appeal by default, and it's living off that inherent edge.
Enes Kanter did his part to boost animosity in Oklahoma City's loss to Golden State on Nov. 3. He was caught on television jawing with Durant from the Thunder bench, showing no love to his teammate of 1.25 seasons.
Westbrook remains the source of this beef's most combative moment. Durant waxed infatuation for the Warriors Way back in October, which turned into him throwing shade at the Thunder, which was then relayed to Westbrook, which then prompted him to say this, per Erik Horne of the Oklahoman:
That's cute. My job is to worry about what's going on here. We're gonna worry about all the selfish guys we've got over here, apparently. We gonna figure that out.
To me it doesn't matter. My job is to worry about here. Honestly, I'm really tired of talking about it, so any time anybody asks me another question, I'm just not gonna answer. Just FYI. I'm not talking about it no more.
Durant has since referred to himself and Westbrook as brothers in an interview with Anthony Slater of the Mercury News, a sentiment Westbrook hasn't reciprocated. There was an obvious distance, if iciness, between the two when Golden State and Oklahoma City last played. Knowing Westbrook views the world through Kobe Bryant's goggles, we shouldn't expect that rift to dissipate soon.
No, this feud hasn't lived up to the hype—the two have never come to real blows on the court or in the press—but there's not a lot of legit bad blood throughout the NBA anymore. This qualifies.
1. Cavaliers vs. Warriors
Golden State beat an injury-depleted Cleveland team on its own turf during the 2015 NBA Finals. The Warriors then partied so hard, Curry wondered whether the visitors' locker room still smelled of champagne seven months after the fact.
Cleveland returned the favor in 2016, erasing a 3-1 series deficit to win its first-ever NBA title on Golden State's home court. And then the Cavaliers trolled the Warriors with crudely phrased cookies at a Halloween shindig more than three months later.
Sprinkle in some fractious moments during their 2016-17 regular-season series—Cleveland won the first meeting on a Kyrie Irving buzzer-beater, 109-108, in Ohio; Golden State tromped on the Cavs in the second game, 126-91, at home—and you have a full-blown, unmatched NBA beef.
"We don't look at it as a rival," James said of Golden State, per Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon. "They're a great team. They've been the best team the last couple years, last three years."
Oh, really? Well, Green made it clear he disagreed in an interview with TNT that was aired during the Warriors' Jan. 16 win over the Cavaliers (via CBS Sports' James Herbert):
I don't have much love for the Cleveland Cavaliers at all, nor do I think they have much love for us. And that's what makes it fun to play against each other. That's the true meaning of building a rivalry, which I think this has become a rivalry. And I think they'll say the same thing, and if they don't, they're blowing smoke and they're lying.
If Draymond says it on national television, it must be true. (Also: This is just plain true.)
Too much has happened between these two teams on the Association's biggest stages for them to like each other. The Warriors only poured more gasoline on the fire by signing Durant. And with the competitive landscape being what it is now, this feud is (thankfully) set to last for a long, long time.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danfavale.