I hope your Thanksgiving break was filled with family and fun and togetherness. The NBA’s was filled with … not that. Over the holiday, NBA figures doled out diss after diss after diss, and The Ringer would hate for you to miss that disrespect because you chose family time over Mavericks-Celtics. Here are the week’s sick burns, bro, ranked.
Gregg Popovich Dissing Kawhi Leonard
What if I told you that the Spurs-Leonard drama wasn’t over? Or, better yet, what if Popovich told you himself?
Last season’s uncharacteristic tension between San Antonio and Leonard dissipated when Pop spoke well of Leonard this summer. “Kawhi conducted himself wonderfully while he was here,” he said after trading Leonard to Toronto. Pop called Leonard a hard worker, mentioned the championship, and said it was time to move on.
Enter Popovich on Saturday, praising Patty Mills’s leadership before San Antonio faced Milwaukee. One reporter wanted to know how important that leadership was this season, without Leonard and Manu Ginobili. “Well,” Popovich said, “Kawhi was a great player, but he wasn’t a leader or anything. [...] Kawhi’s talent will always be missed, but that leadership wasn’t his deal at that time.”
With context, it sounds like Popovich is speaking specifically about Leonard’s leadership last season. “That may come as [Leonard] progresses, but Patty and Manu filled that role for us last year, and LaMarcus [Aldridge] came a long way in that regard also,” he added. Pop has a right to say it: Leonard didn’t travel with the team many times and refused to play even after being medically cleared.
“It’s just funny to me,” Leonard told reporters the following day. “I don’t know if he’s talking about last year or not. I guess when you stop playing they forget how you lead.” Yes—when you actively decide to not play with your teammates, it does seem to erase a past image of leadership. (However, there are two sides to every story, and Leonard’s very well may be that the Spurs fumbled the handling of his quad injury.)
Of course, this isn’t Pop’s first ride on the petty train. Remember this is the man who gives one- to four-word answers to sideline reporters between quarters just because he resents in-game interviews. (That’s a 2.3 diss per game average.)
Luka Doncic Dissing DeAndre Jordan
It didn’t matter who took Dallas’s final technical free throw against Boston over the weekend. The Mavericks were ahead nine with 12.7 seconds left when Marcus Smart was T’d up for shoving Maxi Kleber. Rookie Luka Doncic stepped to the line only for his coach, Rick Carlisle, to seem to present another idea from the sidelines; it’s speculatory, but it’s what I gathered from Carlisle’s erratic finger pointing that led Doncic to leave the stripe and motion to his teammate DeAndre Jordan to shoot instead.
Jordan, a career 45.3 percent free throw shooter, looked surprisingly unsurprised to be usurping Doncic and strolled to the line. Despite his reputation, DAJ does have the right to be the designated shooter this season for the Mavs, at least for right now. The big man with big hands and a notorious knack for overshooting, air-balling, erring right and choking left at the line was making 80.3 percent of his free throws this season entering the contest. His rookie point guard companion—a 39.6 percent 3-point shooter—was converting 77.5 percent. The marks among Mavs are close, but before Saturday, Jordan’s 80.3 percent was the highest among all teammates.
A technical free throw is the highest honor for any proud free throw shooter, a job reserved for only the best shooters—or LeBron James. Carlisle giving DAJ the nod was the ultimate you go, buddy, which has to feel pretty good after a decade holding the Hack-a-Shaq title. But when it came time to accepting the rose, DAJ’s technical free throw shot rimmed out. It was, by all means, a good shot taken with good form. That didn’t stop rookie and equally average-if-not-worse free throw shooter Doncic from laughing at (with?—I’m going with at) Jordan afterward.
Perhaps the true diss is to Boston. Imagine telling Smart and Co. last season that, in the closing seconds of a game against Dallas, Carlisle would choose someone to close the game that Boston has regularly and purposefully fouled. Hack-a-Jordan still exists, but as a Dallas lifehack.
Kevin Durant Dissing a Fan Courtside
The KD bad-boy emergence that began last year with his sudden affinity for getting T’d up and/or ejected continues! In the first quarter against Dallas two Saturdays ago, Durant calmly walked toward a fan and leaned down like he was hard of hearing or about to fist-bump him or give that lucky guy the answer to the eternal (and timely) question: brine or dry-rub? (Brine.)
Instead, KD told the heckling fan to “watch the fucking game and shut the fuck up”—which, to be fair, is exactly what my mom tells me on Thanksgiving when I suggest brining.
According to a fan nearby whom TMZ spoke with, the hecklers weren’t saying anything “that crossed a line.” However, I’d imagine that if Durant showed up to that fan’s investment firm screaming “YOU SUCK AND YOUR FIRM SUCKS AND YOUR TURKEY’S DRY” while the fan is trying to land a big presentation, it’d be considered crossing a line. Especially, in KD’s case, because the Warriors are stuck between a rock and a hope-our-dynasty-isn’t-on-the-brink-of-collapse place. Durant was later fined $25,000 by the league for the incident, marking the second Warriors fine in four games.
Marcus Smart Dissing Boston
Following Saturday’s loss against Dallas, Smart told reporters that the Celtics showed a “lack of effort” and a “lack of fear, like, we don’t impose our fear and will on other teams.” Smart’s long represented the Celtics’ toughness. Even at 6-foot-4, he’s a hounding defender on the ball and of his teammates’ honor. Note the speed in which he makes this confrontation started by Aron Baynes and J.R. Smith about himself fighting Smith, nobly taking all heat off Baynes:
So when Smart is saying the team has toughness issues, it’s safe to assume that he’s setting a high bar. Still, it’s impossible to counter his point; Boston’s lost eight of its past 12 games, looking fireless and ununified throughout.
“Last year, teams when they came in and played the Celtics, they knew they were in for a fight,” Smart said. “This year, teams can’t wait to play us. And that’s a problem. When guys aren’t scared of you no more, there’s nothing you can do about that. We gotta change it. We gotta come out and be the first one to hit guys in the mouth.”
Because it’s Smart and because he’s been quite blunt about everything else, I’m not convinced that hitting guys in the mouth is a metaphor.