December 24, 2016, 5:28 pm
One Big Thing: The Wish List
It’s just about Christmas time, and with that comes the hope of getting exactly what you want. Once you pass age 13 it’s pretty rare that that happens, but it doesn’t hurt to dream. Every team wants something this year, whether it’s a certified Thing or an abstract idea that will help them out going forward.
I’ve been fiddling with various questions whenever I flip on a game with the end goal of making that team better. Of course, that’s a relative construct- a bad team is made better by being made more enjoyable to watch whereas a good team is made better by jumping into the next tier of contenders. With that in mind, here are 10 things I’d ask for if I were running the team in question.
Houston, one of the surprise teams of the season, was dealt a pretty hefty blow when Clint Capela went down with a leg fracture. The Rockets may have banked enough wins to this point to weather the storm but it shouldn’t be understated how much Capela covers up for them on defense and what he allows them to do on offense. The Rockets have to have put rim protection on their wish list but odds are they won’t find it waiting on Christmas morning. That’s a tremendously difficult thing to find on the market, particularly in-season, so they’ll probably just fight through Capela’s absence. Philadelphia just so happens to have a center that’s been miscast as a power forward who is a terrific defender and shot blocker. It’s not like he wants out of Philly or anything…
Boston would love a sustained run of health. Many pegged them as Cleveland’s challenger this season but they’ve failed to live up to expectations. You can’t pin all of that on health (in fact most of it falls on the overeager pundits trying to manufacture a rival for the Cavs that just doesn’t exist), but it’d certainly be nice for Boston to get all of their guys rocking and rolling at once. Injuries to Jae Crowder, Al Horford, Isaiah Thomas and to a lesser extent Kelly Olynyk have kept a full rotation out of Brad Stevens’ disposal for anything beyond a few games at a time. While that has allowed Avery Bradley to totally break out, it’s probably not what Danny Ainge and company envisioned for the start of the year. An extended stretch where they can really get in rhythm would have to top the wish list for the C’s. They have the pieces to trade for another star that they allegedly covet, but that might be a hard sell when we haven’t gotten a really good look at the Horford Era.
Sacramento needs more than I feel comfortable discussing here, if we’re being honest. Aside from the perpetual media/ownership/off-court/amateur psychology-driven turmoil (select whatever the flavor of the month is), they’ve compiled a nice little streak lately and seem to be genuinely playing better, so we’ll see where they’re headed. A lot of the things plaguing Sacramento early on were fairly simple fixes so perhaps they can gear up and distance themselves from the other eight seed competitors. I’m sure the Kings will get some good team bonding by laughing at George Karl’s book around a campfire, which can only be a positive.
Toronto would love a clear-headed day around the trade deadline. The Raptors are clearly the second best team in the East and are near the top of the league’s second tier. For as great as they’ve been, anything short of a LeBron James injury probably keeps them from toppling Cleveland in the playoffs. They need an impact third wheel; someone who can consistently produce on either end of the floor (Sorry Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll) that can play against a wide variety of small lineups (Sorry Jonas Valanciunas). They continually pop up in Boogie Cousins trade rumors and have been connected to Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka in the past. I personally feel the latter two are better fits for the roster, but the Raptors might need a third star to make headway regardless of potential fit. The issues arises in that acquiring any difference maker likely means Toronto guts its terrific bench. The Raptors’ depth is near the top of the charts, and losing a variety of successful lineups for one player would certainly sting. Masai Ujiri risks cutting off the nose to spite the face and until he decides one way or the other, the Raptors will only go as far as Kyle Lowry takes them. Considering he single handedly torched the Jazz last night, there are worse spots to be in.
Speaking of the Jazz, Utah needs George Hill back in a major way. Dante Exum is clearly Utah’s long term future at the point, but George Hill is a fantastic fit on a team that’s good enough to win in the present. An Exum/Shelvin Mack/Raul Neto monster won’t cut it out west right now, regardless of how good the defense is (and it’s phenomenal). Trading for Hill was one of the best moves of the offseason, and here’s hoping that he gets right soon. Gordon Hayward keeps getting better, Trey Lyles is ascending and Rudy Gobert is proving to be elite all while Derrick Favors shakes off rust. The Jazz are not going to be a fun draw for anyone in the playoffs.
Denver might have already gotten their gift, and that’s Maximum Jokic. The Joker is a world class passer and it’s nice to see the chains are finally off. The clunky Jokic-Nurkic lineups that Mike Malone featured in the early going are a thing of the past, with Nurkic now falling completely out of the rotation. He and Kenneth Faried make for intriguing names to watch on the trade market, but that’s another story for another time. Denver has lost a lot of winnable games early on and might wind up kicking themselves for it at season’s end but can make up ground by feeding their best player. His skillset presents all kinds of matchup issues for defenses and the only thing holding him back right now is foul trouble. He needs as many touches as possible.
Similarly, New York needs to run through Kristaps Porzingis more often. He’s a matchup nightmare and can do just about anything you could dream of. Zinger was made in a lab out of lesser freakishly talented players and the Knicks would benefit from handing him the reigns more often. Jeff Hornacek has already spoken about his desire to involve KP more, so things could get really fun in New York. They might also like if Phil Jackson stopped talking, though it’s obviously not the first thing one would ask for. It’d be like getting a gift card from a distant family member for a store you hardly visit- useful enough to take and be thankful for, but not something that’ll make your holiday.
The Lakers have to be thrilled with how things are looking. Luke Walton seems like the real deal and they’re an undeniably fun watch. They still aren’t good but this feels light years ahead of where they were 12 months ago. If anything, they would probably like a time machine to take another stab at the Kobe Victory Lap Season. Essentially losing a year of development for Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell seems like such a shame considering it was mere acquiescence to LA’s deep reverence of Kobe. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating Bryant, but I have to imagine they’d do things a little bit differently. If Randle and Russell that extra season of real growth, they might be a legitimate threat for a low seed. Maybe next year.
Portland desperately needs a third option, and ideally it’d be a big man. They were rumored to be in on Dwight Howard and are a natural fit for anyone who can own the paint. The Blazers’ plan of leaning on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum while the rest of the team sorts itself out worked last year when the suspected lottery team snuck up on the rest of the conference, but there’s been no such luck this year. Much like Houston, it’s doubtful that Portland will get exactly what they need on the in-season market. Free agency is a whole separate story, though it means conceding that this year probably won’t bear any fruit in the Pacific Northwest.
And last but not least, we all need more of Joel Embiid. Down with minutes restrictions.