Which NBA teams, players are volatile mix?
From left: Kevin Love (Cavs), LeBron James (Lakers) and Russell Westbrook  (Rockets).  USA TODAY Sports: Bob DeChiara | Jerome Miron | Alonzo Adams

NBA Chemistry 101: Which teams, players are volatile mix?

Yardbarker NBA writers Pat Heery and Sean Keane address the hottest issues in the NBA. This week's topic: feuds, team chemistry and tension! 

Keane: The NBA has entered the doldrums of the season, with the trade deadline (February 6) and All-Star Game (February 16) weeks away. Now you can feel the tension building among players, most of whom have spent months together. Sometimes feuds bubble to the surface. It's a beautiful thing, actually.

J.J. Redick, who recently deleted his social media, used his podcast to complain that some of his Pelicans teammates care more about "their pregame fit on Instagram" than winning games. The Rockets lost three of four and promptly had a 20-minute, closed-door meeting where they aired grievances like it was a Festivus party. The short version? Russell Westbrook told everyone to play harder. 

Kyrie Irving wrote off the Nets' season, saying they need more pieces. He also listed the players whom the pieces should go around –- himself, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan, Caris Levert and Spencer Dinwiddie -– which must make Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris feel like their new teammate just put them on the trading block. Kyle Kuzma's trainer tried to throw a wrench in the Lakers by saying LeBron was out of shape, and the Cavs' Kevin Love punched a chair and threw Cedi Osman the angriest pass in NBA history. 

Do these teams need to worry about their chemistry? Why is Kyrie always like this? 


Nets guard Kyrie Irving  Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Heery: You mean it only took three games for Kyrie to come back from his mysterious shoulder injury and start pissing off his organization? If only someone had recently written a column calling him Stephon Marbury with a ring ...

It seems that every season organizations question team chemistry. Do these guys really dislike each other or are they simply sick of spending long road trips with each other away from their families? Professional sports seasons are unlike any other work setting in the world (at least to my knowledge). While the total hours might be comparable to other professions, the day-to-day intensity/pressure, combined with the snow-globe effect of the entire world analyzing your every move on and off the court, is unrivaled.

Regarding the chemistry of the teams you referenced above, the Nets should be very worried about Kyrie-related issues. They're in a difficult position where, in a vacuum, they should absolutely think about trading Irving before he poisons the team. However, they must worry about how Kevin Durant would handle them trading the player he chose to hitch his wagon to for this contract. Same goes for Jordan. Trade him, too? He's no longer a plus-player (and hasn't been since leaving the Clippers), and he's damaging the development of Jarrett Allen, a young big man with an All-Star ceiling.

Redick's comments wouldn't bother me if I'm the Pelicans. That seemed more like an "old man yells at cloud" Simpsons meme than an actual shot at his teammates. 

As for the Rockets, I wonder what would happen if Westbrook dialed back his intensity and played less hard? Do you think that would help him shoot better than 24 percent from three? Or be less prone to defensive lapses so that he wouldn't have a minus-4.0 net rating per 100 possessions? 

Finally, the Lakers have nothing to be worried about with the Kuzma incident. Most people had/have no idea that Kuzma's trainer used to, or still does, work out Kawhi Leonard as well (and the trainer's social media post was complimenting Kawhi). Kuzma might have something to be worried about, being that he is the Lakers' only trade asset.

But the Lakers don't have to worry about chemistry. LeBron walks around calling Alex Caruso "GOAT." Dwight Howard celebrates big plays by teammates with the spiritual enthusiasm. And even the inactive/injured Boogie Cousins plays his part in sarcastically trolling teammates from the bench.


Pelicans guard JJ Redick Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Keane: I don’t think Redick is a problem either. For one, it’s a time-honored tradition for many older players to complain about those darn kids doing TikToks on their lawns. For another, Redick is probably moving on at the trade deadline. He'll soon gain a whole new group of young whippersnappers to grumble about.

The Nets' situation is troubling. I wouldn’t let Kyrie manage a Starbucks, and he’s talking like he’s the general manager of the team. If Kyrie wants to follow in Marbury’s footsteps, he better stop hassling owner Joe Tsai, because if he crosses Alibaba, no one will produce a Chinese musical about his life and China like they did for Stephon.

I’m not at all worried about trash talk when it comes to these contending teams. The feud between Miami's Jimmy Butler and Indiana's T.J. Warren will only make the Heat and Pacers more united against a common enemy, like how this season's Celtics bonded over no longer having to deal with Kyrie. In fact, if I were Doc Rivers, I would try to engineer another locker room tunnel brawl for the Clippers, to bring them together and snap them out of their lackadaisical play.

The two things I would most worry about are conflicts over playing time, and incessant, frustrating losses. That’s why the Pistons are a potential powder keg. Blake Griffin might be out for the season. Andre Drummond may get traded before he can leave as a free agent this summer. And the mere presence of Reggie Jackson on an NBA roster guarantees at least three closed-door team meetings.

I am also curious about what happens when Mike Conley returns to the Jazz. He was supposed to be the piece that finally got Utah over the top. (Ahem, read my Yardbarker column on the Jazz!) The team has gone on an absolute tear with Joe Ingles in the starting lineup and Conley in the trainers' room. Conley might not react well to coming off the bench, but in the Year of Caruso, how can Utah resist starting a man with a receding hairline?


Whether he's feuding with referees or homophones, Cavaliers coach John Beilein keeps things interesting.  Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Keane: Do you see the potential for any other simmering feuds around the league? And Is there any star willing to go Full Jimmy Butler to provoke a trade next month?

Heery: A couple of other feuds that come to mind: John Beilein vs. homophones , Nikola Jokic vs. gravity (gravity is winning), Aaron Gordon vs. gravity ( Aaron Gordon is winning ) and Russell Westbrook vs. shooting efficiency.

As for players pulling a Jimmy Butler, if we're not counting the Kings' Dewayne Dedmon, then I'd say keep an eye on Jimmy's former teammate, Karl-Anthony Towns. He must be sick of losing every season (T'Wolves are 15-25, 3.5 games out of the eight seed) and Minnesota never being buyers at the trade deadline. It just traded Jeff Teague this week in a move that would indicate that more moves are to come over the next couple weeks. If the Wolves can't land D'Angelo Russell, like they've reportedly been trying to do, KAT might start to pout. While he won't be traded this season, another ugly finish could result in an early summer trade demand in Minnesota. 


LeBron makes a habit of making life miserable for the Celtics. Let's feud! Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Heery: Perhaps we'll see some feuds start to emerge with Monday's MLK Day slate. Is LeBron vs. the Celtics still a feud in your mind? And are you seeing any Jimmy Butler-type exits on the horizon?

Keane: Interestingly, my favorite to pull a Jimmy Butler would be Karl-Anthony Towns, but he may be too mild-mannered for that. His version of the Butler practice tirade would be showing up and politely requesting a trade, then gently roasting the GM and coaching staff on Instagram. Those trade talks with the Warriors have potential to turn into an O. Henry situation, with the Wolves wanting Russell to pair with Towns, and the Warriors only wanting Towns in return for Russell. And even in the modern, player-empowered NBA, Towns demanding a trade with more than four seasons left on his max contract would be unprecedented.

Houston's James Harden might do the reverse Jimmy and demand a teammate be traded, not him; he's already done that with Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Last month the Hawks promised to get Trae Young help and then turned around and traded for Teague, the NBA equivalent of coal in your stocking on Christmas morning. And while it seems impossible that he’d ever ask out of Portland, Damian Lillard can’t be thrilled that Portland reloaded a conference finalist team with misfit toys Mario Hezonja, Hassan Whiteside and Carmelo Anthony, though Dame will only express his frustration via mixtape.

LeBron breathes new life into the Lakers-Celtics rivalry -- a matchup that's a little sad in the post-Kobe era. Without any players on either side who’d played memorable games against each other, fans are left to argue about who won more titles in eight-team leagues populated by part-time plumbers, before the NBA legalized the three-point shot and vertical leap.

But LeBron and the Celtics will always have a feud, especially since he knocked them out of the playoffs in five of the past nine years. As for the other MLK Day games, Philly-Brooklyn is a playoff rematch from last season, but most of that Nets' roster is gone, including agent provocateur Jared Dudley, the overwhelming favorite to start fights. Meanwhile, Zion Williamson continues his feud with nationally-televised broadcasts by skipping a holiday showdown with Memphis Ja Morant on TNT. Can’t he come back two days earlier?

Give us something, Zion!

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