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Michael Jordan & Kobe Bryant Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images

In his 20 NBA seasons, Kobe Bryant has faced a number of brilliant players: vets near the end of their careers, such as Karl Malone and John Stockton; fellow stars who entered the league around his time, such as Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett; newer standouts such as Dwyane Wade and Stephen Curry.

None of those made his top five "toughest players to face" list. As relayed by our own Baxter Holmes, here it is:

Michael Jordan? No surprise. LeBron James? Not really either. Kevin Durant? When he's healthy, he's electric. And Hakeem Olajuwon? There's a reason they call him The Dream. The biggest surprise, perhaps, is Clyde Drexler -- but no one is about to claim he wasn't great.

The key point is the second thing Bryant told Holmes: It is hard to choose a top five from 1996 to 2015.

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Lebron James & Carmelo AnthonyDavid Richard/USA TODAY Sports

Carmelo Anthony started to get a little wistful Wednesday morning while talking about ex-teammates Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.

"It seems like LeBron [James] took all my family from me," he said hours before the Knicks-Cavs game.

It was a funny line in a light-hearted moment from Anthony.

But he has a genuine bond with Shumpert and Smith, who were traded to James' Cavaliers last January.

Anthony watched both players -- and his buddy LeBron -- with the pride of an older brother during the NBA Finals last season.

"It was more kind of [like] seeing your family out there than anything," he said. "I didn't watch it kind of from a competitive standpoint. I watched two guys -- J.R., I've known him, I've been with him for almost 10 years; Shump is a guy who came in and was kind of a little brother to me; and of course LeBron, who I've been with, kind of connected to since high school. So to see all three of those guys competing at that level, it was more watching my family out there."

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Rejoice, the return of the NBA is upon us! It seems like only yesterday the Golden State Warriors captured their first NBA title in 40 years.

Scenes of Stephen Curry jubilantly hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy after a dejected LeBron James left the court are still ingrained in the minds of hoops fans everywhere.

While that might have been the end of the on-court action, it was just the beginning of a long summer of off-the-court entertainment courtesy of our favorite NBA stars.

These antics are worth revisiting:

1. Emoji Wars

The battle to keep/acquire DeAndre Jordan escalated quickly. In one of the stranger stories of the offseason, the involved parties turned to emojis to convey their opposing messages. But the real kicker was when Paul Pierce chimed in ... by tweeting a picture of a rocket emoji, because The Truth does what he wants -- or still has a flip-phone.

2. LeBron, Melo, DWade and CP3's bromantic vacation

The banana boat picture seen 'round the world. While no picture can quite compare to the one snapped of some of The Association's biggest names aboard a banana boat while on vacation, this one of them sipping some vino shouldn't be overlooked:


A photo posted by dwyanewade (@dwyanewade) on

3. The Currys

Steph who? Yeah, this family gets its own section. The MVP was outshined by his daughter at every turn. Which says a lot considering Steph hit the golf course with President Obama. From gracing us with her rendition of the "Whip/Nae Nae" on her third birthday, to teaching Jeremy Lin how to break it down, Riley Curry's offseason was as strong as her postgame news conferences.

4. James Harden celebrates his birthday with the Kardashians

The Beard, rumored to be dating Khloe Kardashian at the time, spent his 26th birthday aboard a yacht flanked by members of the Kardashian clan, complete with fireworks. Why does this matter? Because of this picture of the Houston Rockets star photobombing Kanye West, who doesn't exactly appear to be bringing the energy:

5. Taylor Swiftmania

Oh, she's not an NBA player? Irrelevant. Tay Tay got support from some of the biggest names in the game this summer, showing that tough and "Swiftie" aren't mutually exclusive. Not only did Kobe Bryant present her with her own banner at the Staples Center ...

What an amazing night. Can't wait for the next 4 shows! #1989TourLA

A photo posted by STAPLES Center (@staplescenterla) on

But Russell Westbrook posted videos of himself vibing to two of her hit songs:

T SWIFT ...WAS ROCKINNNN LAST NIGHT!! .... @taylorswift

A video posted by Russell Westbrook (@russwest44) on

BAD BLOOD!!!! @taylorswift .. Banger!!!!!

A video posted by Russell Westbrook (@russwest44) on

6. Shaquille O'Neal and Scottie Pippen Instagram feud

What happens when NBA greats start dabbling in hypotheticals on Instagram? A full-fledged social media beef, that's what. Scottie Pippen and Shaq didn't hold back in their attack on one another. Complete with Photoshop edits like this one:


A photo posted by DR. SHAQUILLE O'NEAL Ed.D. (@shaq) on

7. The player formerly known as Swaggy P

We don't know what to make of it. Is Nick Young abandoning the rules of "swagdom" for good? First, he caught our attention by getting Tupac Shakur's face tattooed on his arm that he had previously proclaimed was "strictly for buckets" ... and then this happened:

8. Michael Jordan gets trolled by camper with "What are those?!" Internet meme

If you are going to step to the GOAT -- why would one ever venture to do such a foolish thing? -- prepare to get served. That's exactly what happened when a young, exuberant camper decided to come at Jordan by inquiring: "What are thossssseeee?" The question, meant to humiliate someone for their ugly footwear, left MJ confused at first. Hey, he's 52 years old and probably doesn't spend a lot of time with childish Internet memes. But then he responded with a cool and collected rebuttal: "These are Jordan XX9 lows." Next ...

9. New York Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis sings some Chamillionaire

Oh Kristaps, what a guy. We don't care that Porzingis hasn't played a minute in the NBA yet, we are inclined to say he is clearly the answer to all the New York Knicks' problems.

Vlreiz saku LIELU paldies @baltielv par Audi! =% #Ridin

A video posted by Kristaps Porzingis (@kporzee) on

10. @BDotAdot5 does spot-on NBA star impersonations

With the offseason came former Reno Bighorns (NBA D-League) player Brandon Armstrong's impersonations. Even players he mocked couldn't deny how accurate they were.

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After a lengthy negotiation, on Wednesday the Cleveland Cavaliers and big man Tristan Thompson agreed to a five-year, $82 million deal.

Shortly after the news broke, Sacramento Kings All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins tweeted:

Now, we can't be certain Cousins was responding to Thompson's deal; perhaps he's a frugal eater and rightfully subtweeted a friend who blindsided him with an invite to an unexpectedly expensive restaurant.

But it's highly likely Cousins was reacting to the big money given, and one can see why: Cousins by virtually every metric is better than Thompson -- many consider him to be the best center in the league -- and yet in 2013 he signed for four years, $62 million.

Then again, this is the world of the new salary cap, which has contracts skyrocketing (see: Reggie Jackson getting five years, $80 million and Enes Kanter getting four years, $70 million).

In other words: Don't worry, Boogie. You'll get a whole lot, very soon.

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Anthony Davis AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman

In case you hadn't noticed, the Anthony Davis era is here.

Sure, the 22-year-old New Orleans Pelicans big man already has made an All-NBA first team and two All-Star rosters. But 2015-16 likely will be the season Davis becomes widely considered one of the best, if not the best, player in the league.

Just ask general managers. The annual NBA survey did, and the results speak for themselves.

Q: If you were starting a franchise today and could sign any player in the NBA, who would it be?

A: Anthony Davis (86.2%), LeBron James (6.9%), Kevin Durant (6.9%)

Before last season, LeBron received 50 percent of the vote, with Davis and Durant sitting at 25 percent apiece. The year before? LeBron got 89.7 percent, Durant 6.9 and James' now-Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving 3.4.

Now, this doesn't mean GMs would pick Davis over everyone to win a game tomorrow; Davis' age (eight years younger than LeBron, five years younger than Durant) makes a big difference. But it says a lot about how people around the league view Davis, and what he might become -- very soon.

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