Saturday, December 18, 2010

Top 10 Current NBA Player Rivalries

NBA Player Rivalries have Cooled Down over the Past Two Decades, but Intriguing Match Ups still Exist

When most players match up against each other, they are more concerned about their team winning the game than upstaging the other player. There are the rare cases, however, where NBA players still do hate each other and will do anything to get the better of the other in a match-up.

NBA player rivalries have cooled down considerably since their heyday in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, where players like Isiah Thomas, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Bill Laimbeer and Kurt Rambis truly hated each other. Punches were thrown and brawls were had, especially when the Bad Boy Pistons were involved.

For the most part, that is not the case nowadays because fluid movement between teams and growing camaraderie among players is created due to greater contact playing in A.A.U. as youngsters, lots of cross-over in summer training sessions and contact during international ball play in both the Olympics and FIBA.

The following list is not a debate of who is the best in the NBA or who is the best at certain positions, as these “rivalries” have been increasingly fabricated by the media over the past decade and a half due to the lack of personal rivalries.

Many players in these “rivalries” could care less about what the other player does, particularly evident in the “Lebron James versus Kobe Bryant rivalry.”

Current NBA Player Rivalries

10. Kendrick Perkins versus Dwight Howard

The hatred in this rivalry seems to be one way, as Dwight Howard seems like a person incapable of hatred because of the huge grin plastered on his face at all times.

Perkins? He definitely is, evidenced by his rattling scowls (Ramiro the Freakin’ Puerto Rican of Boston’s JAMN 94.5 was shocked when he met Perk and found out that he could actually smile) that should earn him at least a top 10 place in the technical fouls race this year, despite the fact that he will be limited to just over half the games this season.

Howard, however, at least sees this match up as a personal challenge because Perkins is one of only a handful of players that can single cover Howard effectively. No doubt Howard had Perkins specifically in mind when he worked with Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwan because Perkins can prevent Howard dominating the inside like he does against 25 of the NBA’s 30 teams.

This rivalry has not spilled over into trash talking or outright flagrant play yet, but it is the most physical match up in the NBA right now. With all the banging, expect Perkins at some point to lose his cool and put this rivalry on the fast track.

9. KG versus Charlie Villanueva

This is certainly the most recent of all the rivalries, started because KG said Villanueva “looked like a cancer patient.” The rivalry heated up even further when Villanueva took to Twitter to publicize KG’s remarks, breaking an unwritten rule that some NBA analysts and former players found more egregious than KG’s comments. Villanueva even went so far as to say he would “expose him” by challenging him to a fight. KG’s reaction to the comments, “I said he was cancerous to his team and to our league.” Ummmm…..yeah, sure.

8. KG versus Joakim Noah

First of all, because of their appearance, neither of these players deserves the right to call the other ugly.

Last night, another chapter in the Noah-KG saga was written as they were called with a double technical in the second quarter.

Noah is quickly getting the reputation KG has as a trash talker. While Noah’s comments in the media, such as KG “is ugly,” seem to be more jest than serious, his antics on the court are not. Noah’s “trash talk” and emotional exuberance appear to be more how he plays the game, directed outward rather than at any particularly player.

No one in the league celebrates a good play, by a teammate or by themselves, like KG and Noah. And KG might be only short of Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as the biggest trash talkers in NBA history.

7. Delonte West versus Lebron James

The rumors of Delonte West banging Lebron James’s mom are probably just that: rumors, but what is more revealing was their refusal to downplay a rift during last year playoffs, suggesting that maybe one did exist, even if it had nothing to do with Lebron’s mom.

Both players seemed to take plays off last year in the playoff series in the games after the rumor became widespread. Add to that the fact that Delonte is buddy-buddy with Shaq, another former teammate of Lebron’s, and is now on the Celtics, where bad blood boils between the team and Lebron (even more so than the general venom NBA players feel toward the league’s biggest trash talking team) and Miami-Boston should be an interesting match up for as long as the Big Three are in Boston.

6. Kobe Bryant versus Tony Allen

While there has been no off court chatter by the two players, the intensity at which they play and approach each other make it clear that these two do not get along.

Tony Allen lead the league in steals per minute last year, and is absolutely one of the best in the NBA when it comes to being an on-ball defender against athletic swingmen, covering Kobe, Wade and Lebron in last year’s playoffs to great affect, and being instrumental in the 2008 NBA Finals, where this rivalry began.

Kobe, obviously, would not guard a player as offensively challenged as Tony Allen no matter who else is on the court, but he will come over on help defense and they get their licks on each other on the other side of the court to more than make up for this. Allen is a physical defender, and this clearly bothers Kobe.

5. Goran Dragic versus Sasha Vujacic

What makes this battle particularly interesting is neither player is known for trash talking or getting too emotional, although Vujacic was crying like a little girl when the Lakers blew their 24 point second game lead in the NBA Finals game 2 and for the final few minutes of game 6.

Neither player is known for causing too much trouble on the court, with their play or with their words, although they are both solid players.

They are both from Slovenia, but that does not seem to be helping things out.

The rivalry became media fodder when the Suns-Lakers played each other in last year’s playoffs, apparently starting when Dragic said something about Vujacic's family ( Dragic denies this happened, although it is clear from replays he was saying something.) Though each player denies it, seem to go back to before last year’s playoff series.

4. Kobe Bryant versus Raja Bell

With Bell on the Jazz, a very good team who you can expect make the Western Conference finals unless they meet the Lakers earlier, expect this rivalry to continue.

When this rivalry began, Kobe Bryant claimed not to even know who Raja Bell was. Since then, Bell has improved considerably as a player, and while he is no all star, he plays Kobe tougher than any player on the defensive end sans Tony Allen, and remains effective on the offensive end despite Kobe’s stellar defense.

The players put their differences aside after the 2010 season because Kobe was attempting to recruit Bell to the Lakers after Bell entered free agency. Kobe is no dummy, and he knows a passionate player like Bell would bring out the best in his team as well as his first team counterpart in practice.

3. Chris Paul versus Rajon Rondo

This match up has the most potential out of any to become explosive in the future because of the players’ past history and Rondo gaining ground on Paul in terms of skill. What prevents this rivalry from becoming the NBA’s best is that New Orleans and Boston seldom meet during the regular season and have not yet met in the NBA Finals.

Playoffs are the best time for rivalries to heat up because the stakes are higher and teams get to know each other a little too personally during a 7 game series.

The rivalry started in early 2009 when Paul suggested Rondo's play derived from playing with three future Hall-of-Famers, although he still insisted Rondo was a great point guard.

The two noticeably bark at each other during games, and after one game Paul attempted to follow Rondo into the tunnel to confront him.

This match up will not live up to its potential unless Paul switches teams into the Eastern Conference, or Kobe Bryant and Deron Williams go to live at their grandparents' house, chasing bunnies and running in endless green fields, because these two are not likely to face each other in the playoffs otherwise.

2. Kobe versus Shaq

Probably the most chronicled rivalry in NBA history short of Bird-Johnson and Wilt-Russell, Shaq playing with the Celtics this year adds a new wrinkle to the NBA’s greatest team rivalry.Shaq and Kobe do not share the same amount of respect those four players had for each other.

This rivalry slowly quieted down in the media over recent years, but Kobe revived it after last year’s Finals when he gleefully exclaimed he had finally past Shaq in rings.   They were not able to put aside their egos to win more championships, and subsequently Shaq was traded from L.A. Had they been able to co-exist together, who knows how many more championships the Lakers would have? Rather than pondering that question, we will have to be satisfied with the rap disses the two have put out against each other over the years.

1. Pierce versus Lebron

Pierce seemed envious of the attention Lebron got since the second Lebron entered the league. He explained during the 2008 playoffs that he, and not Lebron, was the best player in the league. Although that is far from true, Pierce hangs with Lebron on both ends of the floor like no other player becuase of his physical toughness and basketball intelligence. The height of this rivalry was during game 7 of the divisional 2008 playoff series between the Celtics and Cavs, with Lebron edging Pierce in the individual battle 45 points to 41, while Pierce’s team edged Lebron’s largely due to the play of veteran P.J. Brown. No team has been more offended by the hype heaped on the Heat than the Celtics, and Pierce tweeted after Boston's latest victory over the Heat he had brought his "talents to South Beach."

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