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NBA PM: The NBA’s Best Villains

Joel Brigham looks back at some of the best villains in NBA history and why they were hated.

Joel Brigham



Derrick Rose will make his return to Chicago on Friday night, and he seems pretty aware of the fact that the fans there aren’t going to be all that happy to see him.

“I know I’m going to get some boos here and there,” Rose told Ian Begley of “It’s all part of the game, all a part of the sport.”

While it’s hard to predict exactly how Rose will be received when he finds his way back to the United Center, there’s no question that he left the team on terms that weren’t necessarily 100 percent amiable. At Chicago’s media day a year ago, he talked about preserving his body for free agency in 2017 and then clearly spent a good chunk of his last season with the Bulls on cruise control. Between that and all of his injury drama over the course of the last four years, Rose hasn’t necessarily endeared him to fans in Chicago. Some booing is not only possible, it’s likely.

Despite all of that, Rose isn’t a villain in the minds of most Bulls fans, especially with him being so connected to the city off the court. He won an MVP trophy as a Bull and helped return the organization to a respectability unheard of since Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson left the team in 1998. He’ll get booed, but he’s nowhere near the top of the city’s list of most detested visiting players.

There have been plenty of truly great NBA villains over the years. These are guys who annoyed opposing players at the very least, and often injured them physically at worst. They are guys who pestered the hell out of fans and reveled in boos the way most players respond to cheers. In today’s AAU culture, there really aren’t a whole lot of true modern-day NBA villains, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some true, antagonistic gems in the recent past. Here’s a look at the dastardliest of them:

Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers – Just about everybody who knows Reggie Miller loves the guy, and it’s easy to see why. He’s funny and insightful as an analyst, and nobody questions that he was one of the biggest personalities of his era. In New York, though, Miller remains arguably the most hated opposing NBA player of all-time, and with good cause. It would be enough to hate the guy for always playing so well against them (remember eight points in nine seconds?), but the fact that Miller jawed at fans at Madison Square Garden mercilessly only made it worse. In the 1990s, there was no bigger sports heel in New York than Miller, whose choking gesture toward Spike Lee during the 1994 playoffs remains one of the decade’s more entertaining moments.

Rick Barry, Golden State Warriors – Barry was one of his era’s greatest scorers, but he was also, as Dave Hollander of Slate once put it, “the most arrogant, impossible son of a bitch ever to play the game of basketball.” He drove his teammates crazy by hogging the ball and belittling them throughout the course of his career. Robert Parish once said, “[Barry] was always looking down at you.” Former Warriors exec Ken Macker added, “You’ll never find a bunch of players sitting around talking about the good old days with Rick. His teammates and opponents genuinely and thoroughly detested him.” At age 27, Barry wrote his autobiography, and in it he included a quote from his own mother in which she calls him “greedy,” as well as anecdote about him punching a nun. The fact that he left the NBA for more money in the ABA didn’t endear him to fans, either, and of course to this day he’ll apologize for none of this. The guy was great at basketball, but he apparently was so detestable his own teammates couldn’t stand him.

Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics – Maybe the best way to describe Ainge early in his career in Boston was as an “agitator.” He pushed buttons all the time, and it often got him into quite a bit of trouble with the opposing players who felt his play was particularly dirty. He once annoyed seven-foot center Tree Rollins so much in the 1983 playoffs that Rollins threw an elbow at Ainge, which followed with Ainge tackling the gigantic man and instigating a brawl that would result in a frustrated Rollins chomping Ainge’s finger down to the tendon. It was gross, but a perfect illustration of how much this guy got under people’s skin. Ainge got socked a time or two over the course of his career, but he was a good sport about being so abhorred. At the 1987 NBA Finals, he bought an “I Hate Danny Ainge” shirt from opposing fans and wore it for warmups. He was a king among agitators in the 1980s, and he’s still got the scar from that finger nibble to show for it.

Ron Artest, Indiana Pacers – As a person, Metta World Peace really is the best. He’s a goofy, enigmatic dude who speaks his mind and is actually great with the media. People like the guy now that he’s older and has cooled off a bit competitively. But in his prime, Artest did some things that made him one of the most dangerous and hated players in league history, including the “Malice at the Palace” debacle that cost him a full season of peak basketball for a Pacers team that had title aspirations that year. Not only did he leap into the stands to sock a fan he thought threw a beer at him, but the fact that he was laying on the scorers’ table to taunt Ben Wallace and Pistons fans in the first place was the detestable act that led to the tossed booze. Other stories, like the one about how he applied to work at a Circuit City his rookie season in Chicago to get a discount on electronics, are more a testament to what an odd duck Artest can be, but he was a legitimate stinker in the mid-aughts. It was no coincidence, after all, that he was wearing Dennis Rodman’s #91 when he got into the fight that cost him 77 games.

Bill Laimbeer, Detroit Pistons – Laimbeer was the baddest of the “Bad Boy” Pistons, not only because he attempted to decapitate Karl Malone with his forearm and happily got into drag-out fights with everyone from Alonzo Mourning to Charles Barkley, but also because he’d lay some of the league’s hardest fouls and then act surprised when the ref blew the whistle. It was like the Tim Duncan face, except after having criminally assaulted another human being. Laimbeer was such a pest that he even got Larry Bird to lose his cool in an incident that involved Bird launching a basketball at Laimbeer while the Pistons and Celtics were separated in the midst of a particularly chippy game. Laimbeer was actually a pretty great player, averaging a double-double for seven straight seasons and making four All-Star teams, but he’s best remembered for being a massive pain in the rear end. Or, in Malone’s case, a massive pain in the face.

Dennis Rodman, Chicago Bulls – The best way to personify what Rodman was in the 1980s and 1990s is to view the tape of him flopping all over Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone in the 1998 NBA Finals, making it impossible for him to run down the court because of Rodman’s non-stop flailing elbows and legs:

Keep in mind that Malone was also one of the dirtiest players of his era, but even he couldn’t out-Rodman a guy who made a career of pestering bigger, stronger players throughout his time in Detroit, San Antonio and Chicago. As part of those “Bad Boy” Pistons early in his career, he certainly made his mark as a tough guy playing alongside Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn, doing everything he could to lay the hammer on opposing players. He famously shoved future teammate Scottie Pippen about fifteen feet into a row of chairs during the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals in what was then labeled a “flagrant foul” and what today would likely get him suspended for 20 games. He also once tackled Alonzo Mourning to the ground, kicked a cameraman in the groin and smiled annoyingly through every incident. The guy was a legend as far as villains go. We may never again see his equal.


Rose might be viewed as something of a minor villain upon his return to Chicago on Friday night, but whatever boos he may get are nothing compared to the vitriol these other guys inspired in fans and opponents during their heydays. The league is a different place now, and modern rules about violence in basketball make it almost impossible for villains like these to emerge today. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, though, there were some bad, bad dudes wreaking havoc on the National Basketball Association.


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NBA Daily: The Cleveland Cavaliers Need Tyronn Lue

The Cleveland Cavaliers have faced injury adversity and a roster shakeup, and now face uncertainty regarding coach Tyronn Lue’s health.

Buddy Grizzard



The most enduring image of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue came moments after his team sealed the 2016 NBA Finals with a third consecutive win after trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1. As the team celebrated its historic comeback and readied to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, one camera focused on Lue, who sat on the bench with his face buried in his hands.

The image tells a thousand words about the pressure Lue was under as Cleveland teetered on the brink of elimination for three games. Rather than sharing the euphoria of his players, it seemed that Lue’s emotions centered around the massive weight that had been lifted from his shoulders. Almost two years later, it appears that burden has caught back up with Lue, whose leave of absence for health reasons complicates things for Cleveland with the playoffs just around the corner.

“It’s like losing one of your best players,” said Cavaliers forward LeBron James after Cleveland’s 124-117 win at home over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.

Kevin Love returned from a six-week injury absence to post 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Bucks. James likened Lue’s absence to the burden of trying to replace Love’s output while he was unavailable.

“We’ve got to have guys step up, just like guys trying to step up in Kev’s absence,” said James. “We have to do the same as a collective group as long as Ty needs to get himself back healthy.”

There’s optimism that Lue could return before the playoffs, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty given the seriousness of his symptoms, which reportedly included coughing up blood. Lead assistant Larry Drew, a former head coach with the Bucks and Hawks, will handle head coaching responsibilities until Lue is ready to return.

Kyle Korver played under Drew in Atlanta and said he’s confident in his ability to fill in.

“We’d love to have Ty here and healthy,” said Korver after the Bucks win. “Coach Drew has done this for a long time as well. He coached me for a full year in Atlanta. We know he’s fully capable.”

Korver also doubted Drew would introduce any major stylistic changes.

“I think LD’s been Ty’s top assistant for a reason,” said Korver. “They really think a lot alike. They coach very similarly. We miss Ty, but I think the style of what we do is going to be very similar.”

While style and approach should remain unchanged, what could an extended absence for Lue mean for the Cavaliers? Lue cemented his legacy as a leader by keeping the Cavaliers together as they fought back from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors, but Drew hasn’t had that kind of success as a head coach.

In 2012, the Hawks had a real opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in Atlanta history. The Hawks faced an aging Boston Celtics squad in the first round. The eighth-seed Philadelphia 76ers awaited in the second round after defeating the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.

After splitting the first two games in Atlanta, the Hawks faced a pivotal Game 3 in Boston with the opportunity to retake home court advantage. Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Michael Cunningham used Synergy Sports to break down every offensive possession for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. His conclusion? For three quarters, Rondo did not score a single basket while guarded by Hawks combo guard Kirk Hinrich.

The Hawks traded a package that included a former and a future first-round pick to obtain Hinrich from the Wizards in 2011. But in Game 3, Hinrich failed to score a point despite his effective defense. Apparently feeling the need for an offensive spark, Drew left Hinrich on the bench in the fourth quarter and turned to career journeyman Jannero Pargo.

With Hinrich out of the game, Rondo’s offense came to life as he slashed to the basket at will. Boston opened the fourth with a 13-7 run before Pargo went to the bench and Atlanta closed on a 15-7 run to force overtime. The NBA did not publish net rating data at the time, but we can now see via historical data that the Hawks were outscored by nearly 52 points per 100 possessions in Pargo’s minutes in Game 3. Rather than entrust Atlanta’s season and his own legacy to a player the Hawks traded two first-round picks to obtain, Drew went with Pargo, a career end-of-bench player.

What does this mean for the Cavaliers? It means the team needs to get Lue back. Drew and Lue are both former NBA players who have received mixed reviews as head coaches. But when his legacy was on the line, Lue pushed the right buttons.

For Drew’s part, in his first postgame press conference since Lue’s absence was announced, he remained publicly deferential.

“Coach Lue is the one who makes that decision,” said Drew when asked about lineup combinations. “That’s not my call. We look at a lot of different combinations — whether guys are starting or whether they are coming off the bench — and we assess everything.”

On the critical question of how lineups will be fine-tuned as the Cavaliers prepare for the playoffs, Drew once again emphasized Lue’s active role even as he steps away from the bench.

“I’ll talk to Ty,” said Drew. “He’s got the final say-so. Whatever he wants, then that’s what we’re going to go with. But if he tells me to make a decision, then I’ll have to make the decision.”

With Lue suffering acute symptoms, there’s no way of knowing when he will be ready to step back into the pressure cooker of a leading role for a team with championship aspirations. But the Cavaliers need him and need his steadying influence and instincts. Cleveland is a team that has battled through injuries and a major roster overhaul at the trade deadline. It also faces the pressure of James’ impending free agency decision this summer.

Now, with the playoffs just around the corner, the Cavaliers must endure uncertainty about Lue’s ability to return and lead the team. James has emphasized that Lue’s health overshadows any basketball concerns, but gave his most terse remark when asked about learning that Lue would step away on the same day Cleveland finally got Love back.

“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” said James. “That was my reaction.”

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A Breakout Season for Joe Harris

Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.

David Yapkowitz



The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.

Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.

During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.

After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.

“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”

Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.

In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.

“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”

Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.

He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.

“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”

When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.

However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.

“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 3/20/18

With most of the major NBA draft prospects eliminated from March Madness, things in the mock draft world are starting to get interesting.

Steve Kyler



A Lot of Mock Movement

With the race to the bottom in full swing in the NBA and the field of 64 in college basketball whittled down to a very sweet sixteen, there has been considerable talk in NBA circles about the impending 2018 NBA Draft class. There seems to be a more consistent view of the top 15 to 20 prospects, but there still seems to be a lack of a firm pecking order. Arizona’s Deandre Ayton seems like to the prohibitive favorite to go number one overall, but its far from a lock.

It’s important to note that these weekly Mock Draft will start to take on more of a “team driven” shape as we get closer to the mid-May NBA Combine in Chicago and more importantly once the draft order gets set. Until then, we’ll continue to drop our views of the draft class each Tuesday, until we reach May when we’ll drop the weekly Consensus Mock drafts, giving you four different views of the draft all the way to the final decisions in late June.

Here is this week’s Mock Draft:

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections and based on the standings today would convey to Philadelphia.

The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade. The pick is top four protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick is top-five protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects –

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