I made a list. You better believe I checked it twice. The objective: separate the NBA's naughty from the NBA's nice.
Santa Kleeman completed some late deliveries to players, coaches, GMs, and one group of rambunctious fans.
You must excuse my tardiness.
I'm out of shape, not nearly as deft at the crossover or running on the break as the real Santa. That guy may be plump, but he knows where to go and how to get there.
I fly coach and sometimes spend more time on the tarmac and in the airport waiting area than I do in the air.
Nonetheless, I found enough time in my holiday schedule for some hoops-style gift giving.
You may have read 20 of these pieces already, but hang with me. Santa Kleeman does not disappoint, and he always tells the truth.
Dwight Howard —A creative post game to match his physical brawn and imposing stature.
He made one basket against the Boston Celtics on Christmas Day! That lone bucket came against reserve Shelden Williams, not Kendrick Perkins or Rasheed Wallace.
He still can't make his free throws, a big reason the Magic rank as the worst foul shooting club in the league, and his defense is still flawed. Howard overpowers most opponents with his sheer size and strength, but he won't emerge victorious in a Finals series until he develops a game on offense that's, well, not offensive.
Stan Van Gundy —Anger management classes and a copy of "Scrooged" on DVD.
Just when you think there's nothing left to complain about, in swoops Van Gundy with his signature scowl. If everything came up roses tomorrow, the Magic coach would gripe that there were too many damn roses.
Vince Carter —The wherewithal and poise to shake his reputation as a choke artist and quitter.
The moment of truth for Carter will come when the postseason arrives. It is there that he must cement himself as a crunch-time hero. His Magic teammates will look to him as a leader and an endgame performer, and this writer hopes he delivers.
Marvelous talent is a terrible thing to waste.
The Boston Celtics —A clean bill of health in April and May.
Most in the Celtics organization believe the team would have reached the NBA Finals if not for Kevin Garnett's season-ending ankle injury. Doc Rivers knows he needs a full-strength rotation to topple the other East titans.
With Paul Pierce, Garnett, and Ray Allen on the wrong side of 30, injuries become an increasing risk.
However, a postseason without one of these Hall-of-Fame caliber performers would lose a lot of its luster.
Kevin Garnett —The chance to keep his promise to Wyc Grousbeck.
When an injury to Garnett destroyed Boston's chances at a title, the impassioned forward promised the Celtics co-owner his team would win the next two Larry O'Brien trophies.
If he remains healthy and productive, he will get the chance to deliver on his word, though several elite squadrons might stop him in his tracks.
LeBron James —A more professional attitude, less in-game dancing, a reliable jumpshot, and a diversified offensive repertoire.
He may have averaged 38 points in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, but James' game is far from perfect or complete. His primitive post game and erratic jumpshot will handicap the Cavs in the playoffs as much as the flatfooted bigs and lackluster team speed and athleticism.
If Kobe Bryant makes the extraordinary look easy, James makes the game look more difficult than shitting bricks.
If James used half the resourcefulness and ingenuity Bryant does in the post, he would be much tougher to defend. At present, he still relies too much on his physical advantages in big games.
James should have phoned Hakeem Olajuwon long before Bryant did.
Less goofiness and more diligence would serve this should-be transcendent superstar well.
Darko Milicic —Airfare and a gig overseas.
What I have learned since 2003: Joe Dumars did not misjudge this guy's talent. Milicic is just a loser.
He can block shots, score in the pivot, and rebound with the best of them. His NBA career flopped because he proved unwilling to work hard enough to live up to his star billing.
The only fire under his ass this year will be the one fueling the plane that flies him across the ocean, where he can become another coach's indolent headache.
The NBA says goodbye, Darko. Trust me, it won't miss you.
Pau Gasol —Continued recognition as one of the foremost forwards in the game.
Since his arrival in L.A., the Lakers have not lost three straight or failed to win the Western Conference. Enough said.
Kobe Bryant —A signature spot in the circle of all-time great winners.
Chris Cohan —A buyer for the Golden State Warriors.
Bay Area fans deserve better than the dreadful operation Cohan has overseen in his time as an NBA owner.
The Warriors made the playoffs once in a 14-year span, and Oracle Arena rocked. If fans made that much noise for a postseason cameo, imagine what they would do for a consistent winner.
The mechanics are in place for such an organization. For that dream to become a reality, though, the Warriors need a better owner, a coach with a system equipped for playoff success, and a roster overhaul.
If Santa Kleeman was not close to broke, he would make an offer to Cohan.
Don Nelson —The guts to call it quits.
Nelson has a gut, alright, but not the kind he will need to make the decision that could help save the Warriors.
Most think he will leave once he passes Lenny Wilkens on the all-time wins list. Here's hoping he exits sooner. That distinction and milestone will be meaningless for anyone not named Don Nelson, anyway.
Dirk Nowitzki —One more chance to right the wrong of 2006 and indisputable evidence that this guy performs when it counts.
Mark Cuban —Antacids and the biggest All-Star weekend in any sport, ever.
Mike Woodson —The contract extension he deserves after a job well done in Atlanta.
Woodson stuck with his 15-win Hawks, and management stuck with Woodson. The results after several years of necessary growth are undeniable. Now, management needs to do what it should have last year: keep the coach in town long term.
Josh Smith —The motivation to use his stunning athleticism to help the Atlanta Hawks on both ends of the floor every night.
Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith —Ditto.
Richard Jefferson —The "Better Basketball" DVD collection.
The Spurs ownership group agreed to pay RJ $29 million over two years in hopes his high-flying game could lift San Antonio back into the championship stratosphere.
So far, he has dunked and scored aplenty against sub-.500 doormats and done little against the big boys.
Popovich, in a simple command, needs Jefferson to play better basketball.
Tim Duncan —The shot at a fifth title he has earned.
No player worked harder in the last decade, and no one offered greater leadership than Duncan. The only fitting end to his brilliant career would be one more title, if not two.
Yao Ming and Greg Oden —A full season and playoff run without injury.
These good guys do not deserve any of the hurt that has marred their NBA tenures.
Kevin Durant —An All-Star selection and the opportunity to make the playoffs ahead of schedule.
Scott Brooks —A nod for a fine coaching job in Oklahoma City.
Nate Robinson —A starring role in the next Rob Zombie horror flick.
He's not Satan, but if you sign him and want to win, he's close.
Pat Riley —A bar of soap to wash out his hypocritical mouth.
The game's ultimate frontrunner had no business questioning Dwyane Wade's conditioning. He should leave questions about the intestinal fortitude of his players to coach Erik Spoelstra.
Or, if the Heat makes off like bandits this summer, he can just appoint himself back to the bench.
Erik Spoelstra —If the Heat front office convinces Wade to stay and stashes some 2010 loot, job security.
The Heat have played hard for Spoelstra and committed to defense. I want to see what he can do with a roster deemed capable of title contention.
He should stay even if Wade leaves.
Dwyane Wade —The best opportunity to win more rings, wherever that may be.
He told management in Miami that he welcomes the pressure of leading a team back to contention.
He will face no shortage of suitors. May the best one win his services.
Cleveland fans —The return of LeBron.
First, a joke courtesy of Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnanski .
What are two things you will never see in Cleveland?
A victory parade and the sky .
Kidding aside, Ohio is an often miserable place, and nothing would cheer up residents in the "Mistake by the Lake" quite like LeBron saying, "I'll stay."
He belongs in Cleveland like Cajun food does in Louisiana. A LeBron departure would wreck the Cavalier franchise for years and send a self-esteem challenged city into suicidal mode.
For the NBA and one its best fanbases, that would not be a healthy thing.
Kurt Rambis —Patience on the part of fans and ownership and more capable players willing to master the triangle offense.
Deron Williams and Chris Paul —An assist from better teammates.
The Maloofs —A box of Mistake Be Gone and a new arena in Sac Town.
The Kings have not qualified for the playoffs since Joe and Gavin Maloof fired Rick Adelman. To call that decision a mistake would be an understatement.
The co-owners' track record, however, says they will spend whatever it takes to win (Remember the Chris Webber contract?).
First, the team needs a new facility to replace the deteriorating Arco Arena.