One New Year's Resolution for Each NBA Team in 2016
Most NBA teams are pretty good about hitting the gym regularly, and resolving to travel more isn't really viable for guys who spend six months crisscrossing the country on planes.
For some (James Harden), traveling more is almost literally impossible anyway.
So we've had to get creative in assigning each NBA team a specific pledge for self-improvement in 2016. Some involve suggestions that could help salvage this season. Others take a longer view. A few present difficult paths that, we hope, will lead to success eventually.
And don't worry, we didn't tell Stephen Curry he needs to resolve to shoot more. Not because we don't want to see it, but because we'd never find time to cover anything else in the NBA if he did.
Resolution: Figure out this Dennis Schroder character.
The Atlanta Hawks aren't going to win another 60 games this year, but they've also shown enough through the first third of the season to alleviate any real worries about backsliding into the lottery after a franchise-best effort a year ago.
We think, anyway. The East is such a mosh pit of pretty good teams that almost anything seems possible.
Assuming the question of playoff contention isn't pressing, it'd be nice if the Hawks could settle on a defined role and future for backup guard Dennis Schroder.
Lightning quick, prone to breaking off plays in the interest of freelancing and possessed of a confidence that is as disruptive as it is valuable, Schroder remains a pivotal figure in Atlanta's plans. The Hawks have played much better with him on the floor than they have with starter Jeff Teague this season, per NBA.com, but Schroder's penchant for one-on-one attacks (often of the wild variety) sometimes derails Atlanta's precious system ball.
The numbers show playing him alongside Teague is a disaster.
So, what do the Hawks do with this guy? At 22, is he going to mature enough to take on starting duties when Teague's deal is up in 2017? Will he even wait that long? Unlikely. Might he eventually accept the bench-spark-plug role his game seems perfectly suited for?
More immediately: Can Atlanta trust him not to slip in the playoffs again?
The Hawks must resolve to find answers.
Resolution: Make all those picks count.
It almost happened over the summer, when the Boston Celtics cracked open their war chest of assets to offer a bunch of picks for a shot to draft Justise Winslow. But the deal wasn't to be, and the C's went into another year with more unspent ammo in the trade clip than anybody else.
Boston needs to make 2016 the year it fires away.
That should be easy, as the Celtics will add the Brooklyn Nets' unprotected first-rounder (and probably the Dallas Mavericks' top-seven-protected pick) to their own selection this year. There's a real scenario in which the Celtics wind up with the top overall pick in the draft and have two more first-rounders to offer in trades.
That might mean Ben Simmons joins the C's. It might mean the Celtics trade away all of their draft assets for a star or two.
Whatever winds up happening, 2016 will see Boston add supreme talent to its stable core of role-players, coaching and great defense. This group has the foundation to be the East's most dominant team for years to come. All it needs is a transcendent player to put everything in order.
Knowing that, I guess maybe the better resolution would be: Don't screw this up.
Resolution: Have a good cry.
You just can't bottle up those emotions without consequences. They bust out at inopportune times.
So unless you'd like to see Lionel Hollins break down in a heap or Thaddeus Young get a DNP-Super Sad, you'll get on board with encouraging the Brooklyn Nets—top to bottom, ball boy to Mikhail Prokhorov—to remember to have a good cry every few days.
It's the best way to deal with the crushing weight of having no first-round picks for, roughly, the next 50 years and no cornerstone stars in place. Brooklyn's long-term prospects are as hopeless as you'd ever want to find, and it needs to come to terms with that—if only for the sake of emotional health.
Just let that grief wash over you, Nets. Sink beneath the roiling waves of panic to the soothing stillness of despondency below. Acceptance lives down there, and it's waiting to hug you close.
Cry it out, Nets. Nobody'll judge you.
Resolution: Make the most of this year.
Few teams have been more surprisingly competitive than the Charlotte Hornets this season, and it's vital that they stay competitive as the calendar flips.
Because the Hornets sacrificed a little piece of their future for short-term success, and there's no guarantee they'll have much to show for it beyond this season. Trading away Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson for Nicolas Batum looks brilliant right now. But it won't look quite so smart if Batum leaves as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
He's played well enough to demand a max contract, and we should expect him to get multiple such offers. He'll get to choose his destination.
Mainstay Al Jefferson and the resurgent Marvin Williams will also hit the unrestricted market.
At times, Charlotte has looked like the second-best team in the East. And it wouldn't be crazy if it wound up in the conference finals—that's how wide open the East is these days.
Going from an abject disaster a year ago to legitimate competitiveness now is no small feat. But because the Hornets' future is so uncertain, it's important for them to make the most of what they've got in 2016.
Resolution: Apologize to Tom Thibodeau.
It sure felt like Tom Thibodeau was wearing the Chicago Bulls down for most of his highly successful tenure. But based on how things have gone since his firing, it seems like he might have been propping them up all the while.
Chicago's offense has cratered under Fred Hoiberg, and some pretty overt discord has replaced the outward harmony Thibodeau's teams generally exuded (even if there was often discontent beneath the surface).
There's this from ESPN.com's Zach Lowe:
There is a sense that Butler relishes the trappings of stardom a bit too much, and that he doesn't do enough to support his teammates, as a playmaker or a cheerleader. The Bulls have been unusually vulnerable to infighting when things go bad during a game. They are not a team that socializes together off the floor.
And this from ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell on Tim Bontemps' podcast for the Washington Post:
He’s really rubbed some people the wrong way with how he’s going about things. So, it’s something to watch for, and it’s something that I know is on the minds of the front office in that, 'Can we trust this guy to go out and to be who we need him to be every night, and can he lead us the way that a championship-caliber team needs to be led?' And early on, the returns have been no.
The Bulls remain a competitive team in the East, and there's no way to know if Butler's shaky leadership would be any different under Thibs. But at least we can move away from the idea that Thibodeau was ever the main problem.
Thanks to a relationship fractured by years of disagreement and personal sniping, Chicago's front office won't ever give him one. But Thibs deserves an apology.
Resolution: More team meetings!
It may just be that the Cleveland Cavaliers are more closely scrutinized than most other NBA teams, and that's why we hear so much about their day-to-day activities. But it sure seems like these guys huddle up for a disproportionate number of all-hands-on-deck meetings.
Their third such powwow took place before beating the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 28, and it led to a narrow win the unfocused Cavs desperately needed. The other two took place at the end of October and November, and they were of the players-only variety.
Head coach David Blatt took the lead in this latest instance.
"In tough times you've got to show a little bit of leadership and lift your troops," Blatt told Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com. "That was the whole purpose of it, to fire them up a little bit and lift them a little bit. They certainly this year have been doing their part, and I had to step in and do something myself."
In each case, Cleveland emerged from the talks a more dialed-in outfit. So maybe the best way to keep the East's most dangerous contender engaged in 2016 is to double down on the get-togethers.
Little about Cleveland's need to refocus every few weeks is surprising. It breezed to the Finals last year and it's got the talent to do the same thing again this time around. A team in that position probably needs regular reminders to keep its attention.
So, 2016 should be the year of the bi-weekly conference in Cleveland. That ought to help lock down the 58 wins necessary to secure that No. 1 seed.
Resolution: Get started on that Dirk Nowitzki statue.
I mean, first of all, Nowitzki's a legitimate 7-footer, so you're going to need more bronze or granite or marble or whatever they make statutes out of than normal—assuming we're talking about a to-scale replication of the greatest Dallas Mavericks player ever.
And then there's the question of the statue's pose.
Will it be the one-legged fallaway? The triumphant fist pump from Dallas' title-clinching win in 2011?
There's just so much to think about.
It's a luxury, I suppose, that the Mavs don't have to worry about whether Nowitzki, the league's sixth all-time leading scorer, actually deserves a statue. Clearly, he does.
And it's also a plus that commissioning a giant idol of the best big-man shooter ever could have the effect of guilting Dirk into picking up his player option for the 2016-17 season. But it might not shake out that way, and if this is the final season of Nowitzki's phenomenal career, the Mavericks had better be ready to whip the canvas shroud off of a kick-ass statue out in front of the American Airlines Center the second he announces he's retiring.
There are logistics to consider here, people! This is a big deal.
Dallas must focus on subcontractors and schematics as much as a playoff run in 2016. It's only right.
Resolution: Get healthy?
Short of looking into building their next arena on stilts to further take advantage of the altitude, it's hard to gauge the needs of a team like the Denver Nuggets. They're so clearly mired in a transitional phase that any suggestion beyond "hope the young guys get better" isn't helpful.
So let's go even broader: Denver must get healthy in 2016.
You can't figure out who needs to be part of the future and who doesn't unless you see everyone play. And the Nuggets have incomplete dossiers on virtually all of their young players this year because of injuries.
If Jusuf Nurkic, Emmanuel Mudiay and Joffrey Lauvergne can get (and stay) on the floor for a good stretch in 2016, it'll help the Nuggets answer some questions. All have missed significant time so far—with Nurkic still yet to play this season.
Denver is competitive on most nights, and it appears Mike Malone is the right guy to lead the next era. But the Nuggets need to know who else deserves to be a part of it.
Resolution: Find a shooter.
The Detroit Pistons have had a lot of the right ideas this year. Unfortunately, many have been foiled by the wrong execution.
Take the team's three-point shooting as an example. Detroit attempts triples at a top-10 rate, but converts them at a bottom-10 clip. Luck has something to do with that, as Jodie Meeks' injury robbed the second unit of a reliable marksman. Meeks is making progress, but he's still not expected back until February.
In the interim, the Pistons need to find shooting somewhere. And with Brandon Jennings having officially returned, perhaps they'll have something to bargain with on the trade market. With Reggie Jackson clearly entrenched as the starter, Jennings, coming off an Achilles' tear, isn't worth a whole lot to Detroit.
Maybe some other team would part with a one-dimensional gunner for a shot to buy low on a banged-up point guard.
Either way, the Pistons should keep chucking. Their second unit, in particular, needs to heave up treys as much as possible—if only because it can't score any other way.
If Detroit lucks into the right acquisition and bolsters its woeful perimeter accuracy, 2016 could be a big year for this resurgent franchise.
Golden State Warriors
Resolution: Finish the drill.
It was tempting to give the Golden State Warriors a touchier, feelier resolution. Something like "slow down and appreciate things more" was an option—and a good one, as the Warriors are in a position deserving of appreciation.
Stepping back to bask in the significance of the best start in league history seems like a reasonable idea, as does pausing to take in the import of Stephen Curry's ongoing redefinition of optimal offensive basketball.
Screw perspective, though. This team needs to zero in on making all this historical stuff count. It needs to secure a second straight championship after winning more than 72 games in the regular season. It needs to stay focused on a bigger goal: removing any doubt that it is the best team anyone's ever seen.
The Warriors will have time to reflect later. For now, they've got to resist any temptation to contextualize what's happening in the moment. Getting better, optimizing their potential and closing out a historic run with another ring must be the goal.
Don't expect this team to lose that focus.
After the end of the record-setting win streak to open the season, Draymond Green told Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com: "I think probably the last seven or eight games, I think we’ve stopped getting better. We just know how to win, and so our playing and knowing how to win has just gotten us through. But our playing and knowing how to win won’t get us another NBA championship."
Coasting won't get the Warriors where they need to be, and they know it. Resolving to finish the drill will.
Resolution: Remember November.
Even if it's only as a cautionary, "remember everything you did in November...and then do the exact opposite" reminder, it's vital for the gradually improving Houston Rockets to keep that dreadful first month of the season in mind as they head into 2016.
Houston has been much better in December, though still not quite as good as it was in reaching the conference finals in 2015.
To get back there, the Rockets will probably need a miracle. Golden State, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs are all in a separate class out West. But it certainly won't hurt Houston's chances if it remembers the things that destroyed it at the beginning of the year: lazy defense, poor conditioning and a lack of leadership from James Harden.
Embracing those failures and doing everything possible to avoid backsliding toward them could help the Rockets remember how fragile things can be.
Resolution: Trust your teammates.
This is really a Paul George-specific suggestion, as the Indiana Pacers' best player is searching for ways to correct a shooting slump that has overtaxed the rest of the roster.
So far, Indy's reserves and role-players have done well to pick up the slack. Monta Ellis is scoring more efficiently, Solomon Hill is working his way back into the rotation and Ian Mahinmi keeps doing all the interior work on defense.
Meanwhile, George has followed up a sterling start with some disappointing efforts to close out 2015. He's taking (and missing) too many difficult shots—off-the-dribble, contested pull-ups that defenses practically beg opponents to try. Part of this is a result of George hitting those shots earlier in the year. And that's actually a positive, as there's an easy fix: Stop taking bad shots.
"I'm seeing more double teams, more helps, bigs are coming out higher," George told Mark Montieth of Pacers.com. "They're not letting me get comfortable in my spots. It's something I've got to work through. Hopefully January I'll come up with Plan B."
Indiana is quietly deep, and it has other scoring options if George would just make the easy pass when he doesn't have a quality look.
Plan B is obvious: Trust the abilities of the solid team around you in 2016.
Los Angeles Clippers
Resolution: Find the silver lining.
Last time Blake Griffin missed a significant chunk of the season, the Los Angeles Clippers pulled together, shelved much of the nonsense that always seems to plague them and ultimately went on a monstrous 14-2 run when the superstar forward returned.
That was in 2015, when Griffin's elbow surgery forced L.A. to face opponents on more equal terms for 15 straight games. Stripped of a clear talent advantage, the Clips rallied behind Chris Paul and acted like a team confronting the truth: that it was not special and couldn't keep acting like it.
Flash forward to now, and the Clippers are in a similar position. Griffin is out with a torn quadriceps, and they're again a team struggling with persistent extracurricular complaining and inconsistent defensive effort.
Maybe Griffin's absence will have the same impact in 2016.
The Clips had better hope so.
Los Angeles Lakers
Resolution: Quit smoking.
This isn't a cigarette thing. The Los Angeles Lakers have embraced high-fat diets, but they haven't (so far as we know) gone full contrarian and picked up smoking as a recovery aid.
This is a pile of rubble thing.
The Lakers are a smoldering heap, reduced to glowing ash and debris by three years of servicing Kobe Bryant, mismanagement and nonsensical coaching. In 2016, they need to commit to dousing the embers for good, bulldozing the disaster site and building something new.
Hopefully, something different, too.
They've got a good chunk of season left to play out, but by summertime, things have to change. Bryant will be gone, and unless the Lakers are true masochists, so will Byron Scott. Then, and only then, can L.A. get down to the business of picking in the high lottery (assuming its top-three-protected pick doesn't go to the Philadelphia 76ers), developing guys like D'Angelo Russell and moving on.
That's a big task, especially considering the Lakers' uniquely stubborn worship of the past.
Resolution: Embrace change.
It's already happening, the long-awaited overhaul of the Memphis Grizzlies' makeup.
When head coach Dave Joerger sent Zach Randolph to the bench on Dec. 13, it signaled that those in control of the Grizzlies understood there were things grit and grind couldn't overcome. Age and the inability to defend in space against opponents increasingly dangerous from the perimeter were two of those things.
The upcoming year will be a big one for Memphis. Randolph and Tony Allen are under contract through 2017 at cheap rates, but Mike Conley will be a free agent. So will Courtney Lee and Jeff Green.
The Grizzlies are approaching a transitional phase, and if they're ready to embrace it, all those complaints about plodding pace and inept shooting could disappear.
Marc Gasol will anchor the team for another half decade, but the rest of the roster's identity can change. And it probably should.
Memphis must lean into its own remaking. It must be honest with itself about the obvious limitations of its offensive philosophy (and personnel). Adding shooters, finding ways to pick up the pace and generally accepting the trends defining the league as a whole will be important.
A willingness to change will be critical.
Resolution: Solve the Hassan Whiteside riddle.
Sorry, what's that?
You thought the Hassan Whiteside riddle had to do with the Miami Heat finding the bucks to keep him in free agency this summer?
Wrong. And forget it. Whiteside is going to command max money, and thanks to a quirk in the financial strictures controlling NBA free agency, the Heat can only use open cap space to pay him. Barring a massive set of cash-freeing maneuvers, they won't have enough.
So Whiteside's almost definitely a goner. No riddle there.
Explaining how the league's best shot-blocker effectively makes his team's defense fall apart is trickier, and that's the real riddle.
The Heat are worlds better on D when Whiteside sits, per NBA.com, jumping from a figure that would rank second best in the league to one that would reside in the middle of the pack, depending on his absence or presence on the floor.
Part of the answer may lie in Whiteside's sell-out efforts to block shots, which take him out of position and make him a suspect team defender. And there's always lineup noise to contend with in individual on-off splits.
But the Heat need to figure this out in a hurry, because while they can't expect Whiteside to be a part of their long-term plans, they need to know whether he's worth keeping at all this year. If he makes them worse on defense (and overall, by the way), shouldn't the Heat look to move him now for something instead of losing him for nothing in 2016?
Get to solvin', Pat Riley.
Resolution: Stay positive.
It's understandable if the Milwaukee Bucks are feeling a little down these days. The 2015-16 season has been a profoundly disappointing step backward after an encouraging playoff berth a year ago.
The defense, among the best in the league last season, has disappeared. The Michael Carter-Williams trade was a flop. The excitement surrounding the construction of a new arena feels artificial, which happens when the team set to inhabit the new building doesn't look nearly as promising as it once did.
But the Bucks have to stay positive.
The only two players who truly matter in their rebuilding effort, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, are still ridiculously young—21 and 20, respectively. As long as they're still developing (and they are), this season can count as a success.
Nobody who figures into the team's long-term plans is older than 25, and there's not a single cap-crippling deal on the books. Greg Monroe makes plenty of cash, but he's at the start of his prime with a contract that will look perfectly reasonable when the cap goes up.
There's still lots of hope for Milwaukee, even if it's hard to see and not of the immediately realized variety.
Resolution: Find a coach.
It never feels good to angle for a firing, but Sam Mitchell was never supposed to be in charge of the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first place.
Flip Saunders' tragic death cast the franchise he built into turmoil, and Mitchell fell into a position his track record suggested he wasn't fit for. And he hasn't done anything to force reconsideration since.
The Wolves don't shoot threes, play offense like they're mired in the late '80s and continually give minutes to ineffective veterans at the expense of promising youth. There's probably a case to be made that the talent on hand is so young and so unaccustomed to playing quality NBA basketball that it is somehow partially at fault.
But young talent is malleable, and even if the Wolves were failing spectacularly by shooting tons of three-point shots and coughing up games because of inexperience, at least they'd be failing the right way.
Minnesota needs to seek out a forward-thinking coach to lead this wildly talented roster into the first successful era the franchise has seen in what seems like forever. If nothing else, it's critical for somebody (anybody!) to make sure Karl-Anthony Towns' incalculable potential and versatility aren't squandered.
Mitchell isn't that somebody.
New Orleans Pelicans
Resolution: Let go and stop trying.
There's something liberating about just letting go, and the New Orleans Pelicans should be eager to find out how good that freedom feels.
Yes, I'm banging this drum again.
The Pellies aren't all that far out of the eighth playoff spot, even after a disastrous, injury-plagued start to the year. But what's that No. 8 seed really worth? The privilege of getting smashed by the Warriors or Spurs?
How is that better than looking toward the lottery and a chance to find a superstar running mate for Anthony Davis?
New Orleans needs a talent infusion of the highest order, and the only way that's happening for a franchise that doesn't attract huge names in free agency is through the draft.
So, let go, Pellies. Trade away Tyreke Evans. Let Jrue Holiday rest. Give in.
It'll be worth it down the line.
New York Knicks
Resolution: Find a new shape.
Abandoning the triangle offense won't magically transform the New York Knicks into scoring juggernaut, but it's pretty clear the outdated philosophy is due for retirement.
Stretches of ineffectiveness, late-game sequences where Kristaps Porzingis can't get a touch and an offensive rating that ranks in the bottom ten are all good reasons to ditch Phil Jackson's preferred system. But more broadly, so is the fact that few old-school methodologies like the triangle are effective in the "what's next?" NBA.
I mean, if the triangle really worked, why wouldn't a handful of other teams be committed to it like the Knicks are?
"It doesn’t matter what you’re running, you have to do it together," head coach Derek Fisher told Al Iannazzone of Newsday. "Right now we’re doing it at times, there are times where we’re getting willful; we’re trying to manufacture offense as opposed to really allowing the offense to flow."
Maybe there'd be more flow if the offense allowed for more threes and layup opportunities instead of mid-range jumpers.
In 2016, the Knicks need to get with the times and move away from an old offense that has never been proven to work without prime superstars like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant running it.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Resolution: Prove me right.
I doubt the Thunder care about vindicating my consistent placement of them at No. 3 in B/R's weekly power rankings (a decision that incurs no end of indignance from the rankled Cleveland fanbase). But maybe somebody (Nick Collison?) will read this and pass on the message.
Here's the thing: The Thunder have been better than the Cavs all year. Their net rating of plus-9.1 points per 100 possessions is almost twice as high as Cleveland's (through games played Dec. 29), per NBA.com. That's a significant number, and it doesn't even acknowledge the simpler anecdotal case for OKC's supremacy, which is this: The Thunder have two of the five or six best players in the league, and you could argue both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been better than LeBron James this season.
How? By pointing out both have markedly higher player efficiency ratings than James, to go along with more win shares and better box plus-minus figures, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
As a starting point for any argument favoring James and the Cavs over KD, Russ and the Thunder, you basically have to say you're not willing to accept the raw statistical data.
Which, you know, is always a terrific way to start a reasoned debate...
Prove me right in 2016, Thunder. Stay healthy, win 60-something games and keep that net rating waaaaaay higher than Cleveland's.
I'd really appreciate it.
Resolution: Keep the momentum going.
It's not that complicated for the Orlando Magic, who've risen to respectability (and probably more than that) after spending all of the post-Dwight Howard era mired in irrelevance.
Television ratings are booming, the team got to five games over .500 for the first time in three years on Dec. 28, per Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel, and the playoffs are more expectation than dream. This is as good as things have been in Orlando for a long time.
And the best part is that most of the team's top players are still young enough to improve. So while it's true that vets like Channing Frye and Jason Smith have played significant roles so far, we should absolutely expect the likes of Mario Hezonja, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton to keep getting better in 2016.
It's been a good year for the Magic. If they just keep riding the wave, the next one will be even better.
Resolution: Stay true to yourself.
This is really just a plea—a hope that the Philadelphia 76ers don't totally abandon the core tenets of their Process.
Purely as a thought experiment, we should all be interested in seeing how a years-long tank job works out in the long run. If Philly had kept losing on purpose—a goal made infinitely harder after the hire of Jerry Colangelo and the emphasis on finding veteran leaders—we might have gotten to find out if you could build a winner that way.
Wouldn't it be cool to know if the best way to dig out of a hole is continuing to go down until you come out the other side?
The league should want to know, too. If four or five years of the Sixers' plan would have yielded something less than a title-contender, the NBA could have celebrated the fairness of its current lottery system and tabled talk of change indefinitely.
Now, it looks like the Sixers are taking a more moderate path, foregoing the bold road they were on for a blander, more conventional rebuild.
Remember who you are, Sixers. Keep on tanking.
We want to see how this works out.
Resolution: Admit you have a problem.
It's the first step toward recovery, guys.
The Phoenix Suns have vanquished all challengers in pursuit of the NBA's Most Dysfunctional title. Assistant coaches have been fired, discontented starters have thrown towels and the general mood could charitably be described as tense.
Jeff Hornacek is mostly powerless, as he's coaching without the assurance of a job next year. And the team's best player, Eric Bledsoe, is done for the season with a torn meniscus.
There's no one-fell-swoop move to fix all of this, but it's time for the Suns to at least start the healing process by admitting they need to look long and hard, top to bottom, at a completely fresh start. They can't change ownership, but maybe if the front office opens itself up to a total rebuild, that'll help.
Admitting the plans of the past two or three years have failed should be the first step.
Portland Trail Blazers
Resolution: Seek out a safety net.
Any team built around the perimeter stopping power of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is going to score. But it's also going to have a hard time keeping any opponents out of the paint.
So the next step in the Portland Trail Blazers' rebuild is finding someone who'll cover up for the mistakes their best offensive players make on defense. They need a rim-protector.
Mason Plumlee has been mostly bad, but he's athletic and leads the team in blocks. At 25, he might be past the point of improving significantly, but perhaps there's hope he'll develop with more experience inside. Beyond him, Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh have shown potential. But neither profile as long-term answers.
In a perfect world, Meyers Leonard would develop as a shot-blocker and three-point shooter. But he's taken steps back in both areas this season.
Portland has been effective by committee, limiting opponents to a solid 57.8 percent in the restricted area, per NBA.com (while also, unfortunately, allowing the highest field-goal percentage in the non-restricted paint).
Plus, the Blazers have money to burn in free agency, an attractive star in Lillard and a history of smart schemes under head coach Terry Stotts. This is an issue we should be confident they'll address eventually.
Finding that defensive anchor in 2016 would be nice, though.
Resolution: Grow up.
Too easy? Too obvious? Too naked in its paternalistic reference to DeMarcus Cousins?
The Sacramento Kings have a lot of talent, and even if it doesn't quite fit all that well, and even if the management group that put it together lacks experience or any apparent understanding of how smart teams build long-term winners, the real issue with this team is the behavior of its best players.
Stop me if you've heard this before.
Cousins got the boot from a Dec. 28 loss to the Warriors after protesting a foul called against him in the second half. It was an obvious violation, but that almost never matters for Cousins. It was his 10th ejection since the 2010-11 season, more than any player in the league.
Rajon Rondo earned a suspension for using a homophobic slur against referee Bill Kennedy earlier this year and has cultivated a difficult reputation at every stop in his career.
These are the Kings' two best players. These are their leaders.
Good luck with that.
San Antonio Spurs
Resolution: Remember to get regular oil changes and tuneups.
Sticking to a strict regimen of scheduled maintenance is the most important part of keeping any mechanical apparatus in top working order. You don't have to tell the Spurs that, of course. They've been properly calibrated, lubricated and programmed for almost 20 years.
If adhering to regular mechanical checkups were ever a problem for them, we wouldn't be talking about them as title contenders in perpetuity.
So, in 2016, San Antonio just has to keep doing what it's always done: get Tim Duncan in for knee rotations, check Tony Parker's alignment and flush Manu Ginobili's fuel system. If it can outfit Kawhi Leonard with an upgraded CPU or more internal memory, great. If not, he'll probably be fine.
This suggested resolution is absolutely not a metaphor for anything.
The Spurs are not humans. They are machines.
Resolution: Seize the day.
This resolution could apply to a handful of East teams that could potentially scare the Cavaliers and their seemingly sewn-up top-seed status, but there's just something about the Toronto Raptors that makes them feel different.
Somehow, they appear particularly capable of making a run.
Maybe it's Kyle Lowry's career-best season. Or perhaps it's the depth that lends itself to varied styles of play they can tailor to specific opponents.
It could be DeMarre Carroll's lockdown defense or Jonas Valanciunas' post scoring.
It might even be DeMar DeRozan's pump fakes.
Or maybe it's all of those things.
The Raps have tasted bitter playoff defeats and suffered major second-half collapses over the last two seasons, so it might seem crazy to single them out as a possible threat to Cleveland's conference crown. But the talent and versatility on this roster are unique.
Toronto just has to put those past failures behind it and seize the day. And the conference.
Resolution: Consider human sacrifice.
After losing Dante Exum for the year, the Utah Jazz were unlucky but probably still fine.
After losing Rudy Gobert for a protracted stretch because of a sprained MCL, they were in trouble.
After losing Alec Burks to a broken leg, they are clearly cursed.
Injuries to key rotation players have turned a once-promising step-forward season into a disappointing slog, and the Jazz need to figure out how to stop this rotten run of luck. And maybe the first step to doing that is acknowledging that luck hasn't had anything to do with it.
So, at the risk of being a little sensational, I think it's high time Utah considered appealing to whatever malevolent forces have conspired to ruin them in the only language those things understand. It's time for a human sacrifice...or at least some kind of seedy seance. The Jazz need answers, because what's happening to them is a real bummer, and it feels totally undeserved.
Resolution: Hide John Wall's calendar.
Or at least convince him it's December all the time.
Because something happened to Wall once he escaped November, and it's helped stabilize a Washington Wizards season that could easily have been completely toppled by injury. With Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, Nene, Gary Neal and Gilbert Arenas (just seeing if you were still paying attention) all missing time, Wall's averages spiked across the board in December.
He topped his November figures in points, rebounds, assists, field-goal percentage and three-point percentage, all while fighting through minor injuries of his own.
Let's hear him explain how it all happened.
"I played like horse[expletive] the first month and a half,” Wall told Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post. "And that’s why we didn’t play well."
A little overly technical for my tastes, but I think I follow.
The Wizards' travel secretary should call ahead to every road hotel and tell them to leave the Christmas decorations up throughout 2016. December clearly agrees with Wall, and by keeping his team afloat during that span, he may have kept the possibility of playing in April and May from disappearing.