Beef is the true currency of the NBA.

OK, that’s not true. It’s money, like it is everywhere else. But when you read that didn’t it feel right? Everyone involved wants you to think this, to believe that the NBA is a gigantic arena for settling grievances. Stephen A. Smith gets on TV every morning looking to start shit, guys post shady little comments on their Twitter accounts all the time. Public dialogue about the league is nearly always filtered through endless jabbering of players’ relative qualities to each other, gossip about petty interpersonal disagreements, and trade conjecture. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s both easy and emotionally fulfilling.  

And so, with the new NBA season finally upon us, here is a preview of the lowest common denominator beefs that will be sure to dominate coverage this year. Tattoo them on your torso to stay up to date on America’s favorite sports league.

Damian Lillard vs. Jrue Holiday 
In September, after a summer full of drama, the Portland Trail Blazers finally flipped the switch and shipped longtime superstar point guard Damian Lillard out of town. Lillard had been nakedly agitating for a trade to the Miami Heat, but his second-tier agent wasn’t good enough at threatening people to make Portland think paying Tyler Herro was a good idea. Instead, he was sent to Milwaukee to play with Giannis, where he could compete for a title while enduring the freezing Midwest winter. 

Then the Blazers, pissed off about how all this went down, really twisted the knife.

Lillard’s Blazers teams were mostly not very good. One time, though, they were good. They won 53 games, got the No. 3 seed, and seemed poised to make a little noise in the Playoffs. Unfortunately, they were matched up against the New Orleans Pelicans. Lillard, the team’s offensive engineer, spent the series getting clamped by Jrue Holiday, a defensive specialist. The Blazers got swept. It was embarrassing. 

The Blazers, in trading for Lillard, received Jrue’s contract from Milwaukee. Jrue has been a staple on the Bucks for the last few years, running point and locking guys down. He won a title with the team and everything! A coveted player for any contender who wasn’t looking to be in the Damian Lillard business. Not needing the services of a different thirtysomething guard, they traded Jrue to… the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee’s biggest rival in the Eastern Conference. Jrue, shipped off for a guy he has embarrassed on the league’s biggest stage. Lillard, sent to a city that is unequipped to fulfill his new divorced-guy needs, immediately set back a step in his quest for title gold by the same team he forced his way off. Honor is at stake. The rancher is counting his money. Because he just sold… beef.

The Warriors vs. Chris Paul 
Chris Paul wants a title before his time in the NBA comes to an end. So, he has opted to sign up with the team that has won the most titles of late, the Golden State Warriors. The problem with this plan is that everyone on the team is old now, so they probably won’t win the title. It’s possible that, at some point midseason, they will look really, really bad. Then, because they’re a bunch of men in their 30s, they’ll start fighting about little petty shit. Why can’t you set a screen? Why do you keep yelling at me for no reason? Who buys the snacks for this team and why are they always fucking garbage? Why are you re-racking the weights wrong?

It will keep evolving, once Chris Paul remembers that almost every team of consequence he was ever on was unceremoniously stripped of hope by the Warriors at some point in the Western Conference Playoffs. Sure, he will think, but that doesn’t matter anymore now that we’re on the same team! Then he’ll forget all about that and everyone on the team will have a gigantic fight that ends with them saying things they can never take back. Paul gets waived, everyone remaining devotes themselves to the grim work of finishing out the year and then, boom, weird surprise: the Warriors somehow win the title and everyone forgives each other. Everyone except Chris, now playing on the Celtics, who just lost in the Finals.

Draymond Green vs. Jordan Poole 
A few years back, reeling from a series of injuries that sidelined their unstoppable title machine, the Golden State Warriors hatched a diabolical plan: the “Two Timelines” team-building approach. It went like this: when Steph Curry and Klay Thompson return from injury, we will be continuing on our previous timeline, the one where Draymond Green and the boys would deliver big wins in the short-term, while James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, Jordan Poole, and the team’s other young talents would evolve and grow into the near-term future, making Golden State into the NBA Imperium that could never be stopped. After winning the title in 2022, the team extended Poole, left Draymond’s contract up in the air for the moment, and marched on into the New Year, sure that nothing would go wrong.

Then, someone leaked footage of Draymond punching Poole in the face. Green, it seemed, was less into the second timeline than ownership.

Draymond Green and Jordan Poole

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The year went on. Wiseman continued to not play well and got traded to Detroit. Kuminga was erratic. Poole alternated between playing out of pocket and disappearing into the morass. The second timeline was collapsing. Draymond, on the other hand, remained essential. The team underperformed, weighed down by their young non-talents, limped into the playoffs, beat the Kings and lost to the Lakers. When the offseason hit, the first timeline was declared holy and true, and the organization decided to prioritize squeezing as much out of their greatest players of all time instead of building a dynasty that would last forever. Poole was traded to the Wizards for Chris Paul. 

It sizzles on the grill. Draymond will laugh to the high heavens at his triumph. Poole, seething in a little Wizards uniform, will try to convince himself that Golden State made a grave mistake. He will play like a lunatic this year so that he can kill Draymond in his head, forever. And he will fail. 

Rudy Gobert vs. Karl-Anthony Towns vs. Their Haters
Timberwolves centers Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns are both overpaid players who play for a mediocre team. Gobert is a Joe Rogan fan-kind of annoying guy, a bit of a troll, French and rich and over it all. KAT is a “playing COD until two in the morning even though you have work tomorrow.” They’re both good at basketball, I suppose. Gobert is a great defender with a role player’s offensive skill set, while Towns is a nearly historic offensive player who cannot defend. They shouldn’t play on the same team, but they do, because the Wolves decided they needed an injection of talent and Gobert was the most talented player who had exhausted his organization and teammates to the point of madness. 

The team sucks. OK, maybe they don’t suck, but they’re in that weird position where they are not equipped to do anything but disappoint. Sooner or later, Towns and Gobert will start publicly beefing. No one will take a side, but they will hoot and holler and point and laugh, because everyone loves a good old-fashioned Doc Ock vs. Green Goblin beef. Keep fighting so everyone can hear! It will be a cruel spectacle, but a truthful one. 

LeBron James vs. Dillon Brooks 
Dillon Brooks is a rude young man who used to play for the Grizzlies. This offseason, he took a bunch of money to go be a rude young man on the Rockets. LeBron James is a legendary NBA player who loves attention. Sometimes, they chirp at each other in public. These men were made for each other. Dillon can get in front of reporters and brag about how he will shut LeBron down. LeBron can post shady stuff on Instagram about Brooks and seem like a normal man subject to the slings and arrows of a jerk by comparison. I’m not even sure this is really beef, because everyone gets what they want from it. 

LeBron James vs. the Nuggets vs. His Own Mortality 
The Los Angeles Lakers’ season ended with them getting swept in the Conference Finals by the Denver Nuggets, who proceeded to stomp the shit out of Miami in the Finals and walk away with the NBA title. During media day, some members of the Lakers tried to act like they had some reason to be mad at the Nuggets beyond their getting rinsed. They didn’t, really. The Nuggets, Jokíc especially, are pretty sedate and non-confrontational. 

But being both on the Lakers and on a team with LeBron comes with certain responsibilities. You need to talk to the media all the time. You need to sell packaged narratives about respect. You need to do cryptic social media posting. You really need to love it when some shithead on ESPN talks about you. When media day comes along, you can’t admit that everyone on the squad is getting older, LeBron especially, and that your chances of winning the title are getting slimmer and slimmer every day. You need to let everyone know that you are a threat and that your feelings about disrspect are honing you into a deadly razorblade. 

But you’re not, they’re not, it’s not. You’re just a pack of dudes who were assembled to further the dreams of LeBron, and right now, the dream of LeBron is the dream of all men: immortality. Look, our guy is still amazing, considering his age, but he is looking less effective on the court, slipping into the next phase of his career and his life. It must be terrifying to have timebombs locked into all of your joints, ready to explode and strip you of everything you’ve ever known your entire life. So yeah, you lash out, play the big man, harp on about disrespect. You do it because you’re scared of declining and dying and you want to convince people that both are impossible even if you know and they know it’s balderdash. The Lakers have no real hope of winning the title, but they’ll be damned if they go out with people thinking that. 

Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving vs. Himself
Look, your team stalled out. It happens. Your superstar is mad, making noise about leaving. You have to do something, man. Who’s available at your price point? No one, because you did a shitty job building your roster. Are there any good trades to be made? No, not really, because you don’t have anyone or anything to trade. You are panicking, looking in every direction. You see him on the horizon. You see his sick hand, his three-point shooting skills. You see upside.

​This time it will be different, you say. He has to know that he can’t blow up every team he ends up on. He can’t keep saying wild shit to the media or posting conspiracy theories online. He can’t turn on every teammate he plays with. He won a title! In this moment, he speaks to you. He says, “Hey, why would I blow up the team? I also want to win. Seems like this is a match made in heaven. Let’s just do it and be legends.” 

Then, halfway across the river, he stings you and you both drown. You yell why, and he says, “The Scorpion knows the reason, but he keeps it inside. He does not owe an explanation to the drowning frog. If anything, the frog knows what he did. Open your third eye.”

Nikola Jokíc vs. Being a Horse Guy 
A few months ago, for this publication, I covered the Nike Hoop Summit, an international scouting event for the best basketball players in America and around the world. While I was there, I learned something that I already knew but didn’t know viscerally: being a professional athlete is incredibly difficult and tedious. You do drills all day long, are expected to learn a small encyclopedia of plays, need to be in perpetually great shape, and are subject to the concerns of sportswriters, who are the stupidest class of people on the planet. If it were me, I would make, like, $20 million then retire to the country.

But they’re not me. They’re built out of different stuff, brutally process-oriented guys who live to get better at basketball by small increments. The endless drills are tedious, sure, but they’re also formative, part of the bigger picture. They are the path to excellence.

But there’s one guy who just… makes me wonder: 

Nikola Jokíc is one of the two best players in the NBA. He won Finals MVP last year and League MVP the two years before that. He is an inside-out genius, a scoring threat from anywhere, the best passer in the league, an acceptable defender at an important position. But also, when a reporter asked him how he was feeling after winning the Finals, he said, “It’s good, we did a job,” and didn’t seem nearly as jazzed as you might expect the best player in the league winning his first title to seem.

He must like basketball, right? No one gets that good at basketball while regarding it as a second-degree interest that pays the bills, right? Is there going to come a day, sooner rather than later, when he looks around the locker room, sees everyone hustling and bustling, thinks, “I am not happy, but I am rich,” stands up, leaves the locker room, and is never seen again?

Wemby vs. Great Expectations 


He can’t keep getting away with this! At some point, superior NBA hand speed will blow up his handle, right!? It defies logic, reason, good sense! Someone has to step in and do something

The In-Season Tournament vs. Sports Gambling
Sports media is awash in gambling advertising now. It sucks because the gambling industry is a scheme to separate suckers from their money, but what are you gonna do? Riding this wave, the NBA is instituting an in-season single-elimination tournament. Some people are excited about this because it’s very easy to get people to gamble on something that’s easy to understand and randomly weighted. But if you don’t like gambling, you think this is a dumb, pointless exercise in randomness that proves nothing about who the best NBA team is. An insult to the NBA Playoffs.