These NBA teams are just like you and making New Year’s resolutions
As we turn toward a new calendar year, the NBA nears its halfway point, which means we’ve seen enough to know what teams do well, and what they don’t.
For fans and athletes, a new year usually means new year’s resolutions as well, so we figured some teams could use a bit of looking in the mirror as well. Here are a few contending teams with some quintessential self-improvement techniques they could use for the new year and last half of their season.
Chicago Bulls – Don’t work too hard. – After suffering through major injuries to Derrick Rose during the last couple years, just having him on the floor puts the Bulls in a better spot as this NBA season heads into January. Chicago’s good fortune, however, extends even beyond Rose, as the Bulls have their deepest–and perhaps best–team since the Jordan years, with Jimmy Butler breaking out into an MVP candidate next to a looking-like-his-old-self Rose, while Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic have seamlessly injected the Bulls’ frontcourt with the kind of offensive game it had been lacking.
Now, looking like the East’s most talented and well-organized team, the Bulls just need to keep it together. Coach Tom Thibodeau has Butler leading the league in minutes per game at nearly 40 a night, an outrageous number that doesn’t need to be that high. While the East doesn’t look like the Leastern Conference it did last year, the Bulls are in a secure space right now compared to many of the other teams’ issues, and they’d do well not to create any more for themselves by watching their bodies and their injuries. Just don’t hold your breath around Thibs, Bulls fans.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Communicate better. – Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Central Division, the Bulls’ rival and presumed conference challenger, the Cavs, are limping into the New Year, literally and figuratively.
LeBron James revealed that his sore left knee has actually been bothering him all season, while Kevin Love recently sat out with back spasms, not to mention losing Anderson Varejao for the year.
This all comes at a time when coach David Blatt’s job is in serious question, as reports are swirling about his ability to motivate this team under this kind of scrutiny. Players’ reactions to the rumors have been tepid, especially James’s, which is ultimately the opinion that really matters. Blatt was hired before James’ homecoming, so James has no stake in him being here, and his behavior hasn’t demonstrated anything stronger than ambivalence toward the coach so far this season.
James and owner Dan Gilbert need to fix this quickly. Gilbert messed up this hiring in the first place, so he needs to talk with James and decide whether to move on from Blatt to a coach who can coach LeBron better than Blatt can. Or, Gilbert needs to tell James to shut up and buy in, which, considering James’ impending free agency this summer and what the state of Cleveland would be if he left again, seems unlikely.
I discussed this in-depth Tuesday as well, but the point is, the Cavs need to talk this out as soon as possible, especially with today’s announcement that James will miss two weeks because of his knee pain. They’re staring down the season’s halfway point––potentially the halfway point in the LeBron homecoming––and the results have not been good so far.
San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder – Get healthy. – Two rivals that have had terrible injury lucky this season, both the Thunder and Spurs are fighting for their spots in the playoff picture, with San Antonio sitting in 7th at a cool 20-14, 2 games ahead of 8th-place Phoenix and 3.5 ahead of 10th-place Oklahoma City.
The Thunder actually downed Phoenix in overtime during Kevin Durant’s return Wednesday, but they’ve been without their star(s), both he and Russell Westbrook, for the better part of the season. That’s why they’re clawing to get back into the hunt, but the West has become deeper than ever this year, hence the Spurs’ fall to seventh place. They’ve had injuries of their own, to Tiago Splitter, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard, most notably. Splitter missed time early, and Parker is now working his rust off, but Leonard tore a ligament in his shooting hand, so his return––not to mention his utility––has yet to be determined.
Right now, both teams are racing against closing championship windows to keep themselves in the race for another shot in the Western Conference, but they need to be healthy to have a chance at a title.
Sacramento Kings – Figure out what you’re doing with your life! – Ever since DeMarcus Cousins picked up viral meningitis a month ago, Sacramento has been on a downward slide. First, the team struggled without Cousins, then the ownership fired coach Mike Malone, a move that was polarizing to say the least. Owner Vivek Ranadive talked about wanting a more progressive approach to the game, especially on offense, as opposed to Malone’s rough-and-tumble, slow-down style that focuses on defense.
Unfortunately, the move hasn’t worked out for the team, as their defense has slipped badly without Malone, and they’ve struggled to figure out the more up-tempo style that interim head coach Tyrone Corbin has been urged to play. Cousins finally lost his cool in a loss to Boston recently, and he has struggled in trying to change his style to suit the Kings’ direction.
Not unlike in Cleveland, the ownership has a tough choice to make in a situation that they’ve created for themselves. Do they want an up-tempo, experimental coach that fits the ideas of the franchise brass, or someone who’s capable of marrying the dreams of strategy with the reality of personnel? Malone might not have been that guy, but some of the team’s interviews––Vinny Del Negro, Chris Mullin––certainly are not either, so it remains to be seen just how the owners will figure this out.