Kevin Durant, LeBron James

Winderman: The NBA is too nice. We need some real rivalries.


Dwight Howard somehow now is friends with Stan Van Gundy and hopes to eventually be remembered fondly in Orlando.

LeBron James returned to Cleveland last season saying he would not rule out perhaps one day again playing for the Cavaliers.

Ray Allen took out a full-page ad in Boston to remind Celtics fans how much he cherishes their time together.

Grant Hill is back in Phoenix speaking fondly about his time with the Suns, even after moving to a division rival, with the Suns talking about Hill one day moving into their front office.

Know what the NBA needs just about now? Something along the lines of bounty-gate.

Because leagues are at their best when rivalries are pure, lines are drawn, when you’re either with us or against us.

Oh, there’s still some of that in today’s NBA, including the surliness of Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins toward anyone not in their team’s colors, and the one-upmanship between the front offices of the Nets and Knicks, but at a time when Kevin Durant is working out alongside LeBron, it does tend to take the edge of what the NBA once was, the pulsating chants of “Beat L.A.!” even when you weren’t actually playing L.A.

During a recent community even in Boston, Celtics coach Doc Rivers urged a singular approach for the coming season for his players: “I bring up Miami every single day to them. I want them to hate them. I want them to beat them. That’s gotta be our focus.”

Instead, we’re getting Hornets players working out alongside Spurs players in San Antonio, open gyms around the NBA featuring visits by opposing players, including one just the other day from Derek Fisher at the Lakers’ facility.

To a degree, this is a global community the NBA has forged, a shared bond of furthering the game, if not necessarily furthering rivalries.

It is why Mark Cuban remains somewhat refreshing with his Mavs-vs.-the-world approach, why we now, more than ever, can appreciate how Pat Riley had so fervently preached against fraternization.

The Heat were fun last season because they were compelling. They might have been more fun the season before, when they were loathed.

You may not condone what Greg Schiano pulled this week against the Giants, but he made it clear this was not about winning friends. It was about competition, a line that sometimes gets blurred in today’s NBA.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.