We saw LaMarcus Aldridge become the biggest free agent to change teams and Kevin McHale became the first coach to get fired in Houston. Will Kevin Durant leave the Thunder this summer? Will Jeff Hornacek become the first coach fired in 2016?
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
A new calendar year will bring more coaching changes, fired general managers, trades and free agents changing locations.
On January 15, trade restrictions are lifted on intriguing players such as Boston’s Jae Crowder, Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez, Chicago’s Mike Dunleavy and Houston’s Corey Brewer and Patrick Beverley.
With that in mind, here are New Year’s resolutions for all 30 NBA teams:
With Atlanta currently second in the East, retaining these two starters is imperative if the Hawks want to challenge the Cavaliers for supremacy in the conference going forward.
I ranked Horford as a top 10 free agent heading into the season. Bazemore has improved his free agency stock the most of any player in the league, as I noted in a previous column, and is looking at an eight-figure annual salary if he continues to shoot a career-best from the field (.470), 3-point range (.414) and the line (.864).
The Celtics have coveted DeMarcus Cousins for years and have already let the Sacramento Kings know they’re interested in trading for the league’s best center. Celtics GM Danny Ainge has a plethora of draft picks – including Brooklyn’s unprotected 2016 and 2018 first-round picks – plus young assets such as Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger and David Lee’s expiring contract to make a deal happen.
While Sacramento is not willing to deal Cousins yet, nor does the big man want to be moved at this time, that stance could change with the organization headed for another season in the lottery.
Ainge used a similar formula to acquire Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and hopes to repeat history again in 2016.
Nets GM Billy King mortgaged the future when he acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Boston owns Brooklyn’s 2016 and 2018 first-round picks outright, with the right to swap first-round picks in 2017 too.
With Brooklyn ahead of only Philadelphia in the East, changes are needed. Lionel Hollins’ job security was questioned earlier this season. King is also in the final year of his contract. If owner Mikhail Prokhorov sells the team, new ownership won’t retain King. If Prokhorov hangs onto the team, he will have a tough time selling the fan base on bringing King back if Brooklyn’s remains one of the league’s worst teams. King worst fear would be Boston landing the No. 1 pick via the Nets in the lottery with the chance to draft Ben Simmons.
Al Jefferson was ranked No. 14 in my top 25 free agents heading into the season. However, Jefferson’s numbers are down for a second consecutive season after posting his lowest averages since becoming a full-time starter in minutes (25.2), points (12.5), rebounds (6.1) and free throw percentage (.571).
With the league utilizing small ball more than ever and emphasizing faster pacing, Jefferson, 31, isn’t as valuable. Jefferson is a plodding big man who prefers to post up on the block instead of stretching the floor in pick-and-pop sets. And now he is hurt again.
The Bulls showed significant interest in trading for DeMarcus Cousins, as I previously reported earlier this season. However, another superstar who could push the needle for Chicago towards championship contention would be Carmelo Anthony.
To be clear, the New York Knicks have not put Anthony on the block. However, that shouldn’t prevent the Bulls from making an exploratory call.
Chicago is at a crossroads with Pau Gasol in a contract season, Jimmy Butler a proven All-Star and Derrick Rose healthy – even though he’s no longer the MVP he once was. Chicago is looking to get Bobby Portis more playing time and stalwarts such as Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah’s $13.4 million expiring contract are available for the right price.
This resolution will be easier said than done with the Golden State Warriors playing at a historic pace.
That said, LeBron James isn’t getting any younger and key starters such as Timofey Mozgov and J.R. Smith are in contract seasons. The sense of urgency to win a title is now.
The Cavaliers remain the class of the East and a Finals rematch with the Warriors is a strong possibility. A healthy Kyrie Irving would truly make that potential Finals matchup one for the ages.
After losing out on DeAndre Jordan in free agency, filling the center position for Dallas seemed daunting – especially considering the team let Tyson Chandler walk. However, Pachulia ranks fifth in the league in double-doubles (16). In addition, Pachulia is averaging a career-high 10.4 rebounds.
Pachulia will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and has proven to be a perfect rugged complement to Dirk Nowitzki in the frontcourt. Retaining Pachulia should be a priority heading into this summer.
In November, Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd was asked if Mudiay compares favorably to him. “He’ll be better,” Kidd replied. Both Kidd and Mudiay struggled as shooters entering the league but also showed the ability to run a team and get into the lane off the dribble.
Cuurently injured, Mudiay is shooting 31 percent overall, 25 percent from downtown and 68 percent at the line. If Mudiay is going to fully realize his potential and become a franchise point guard, he has to become a respectable shooter. Doing so would make it easier for him to get into the lane off the dribble and create for teammates.
Detroit has its point guard of the future locked up in Reggie Jackson, and center Andre Drummond will return as a restricted free agent. With that in mind, the development of wings Stanley Johnson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could expedite the rebuilding process. Johnson is a defender in the mold of Ron Artest due to his physical stature and Caldwell-Pope has gone toe-to-toe with Stephen Curry on defense this season.
Golden State is on pace to break the record 72 wins of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Stephen Curry is on track for back-to-back MVP awards. The key for Golden State is to remain healthy and play their best basketball heading into the postseason. Yes, there could even be a higher level of play for this group once the intensity picks up as the playoffs draw near.
As colleague Chris Sheridan reported, Dwight Howard is not pleased in Houston thanks to a lack of touches. Howard is averaging 8.3 shots per game, which is tied for the lowest of his career dating to his rookie season with the Orlando Magic. Howard’s 13.3 points are also his second-lowest average his rookie campaign.
Therefore, if Houston feels like Howard will leave as he did in Los Angeles with the Lakers, it doesn’t want him to leave without any compensation. This will be worth monitoring, to say the least.
The return of Paul George has been astonishing, especially considering his hesitation toward a full-time power forward role. However, George has carried the scoring burden too often for Indiana. Ellis was brought in to provide scoring punch and is averaging just 13 points, his lowest since his rookie season. Indiana must get Ellis going before George burns out prematurely from having to carry Indiana’s offense by himself.
On paper, the Clippers are arguably the most talented and deepest team. With Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan all in their primes, the Clippers must capitalize on their championship window this season.
The bench play of Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson has been underwhelming after being considered a significant upgrade this summer.
Doc Rivers has the Clippers trending in the right direction as winners of four straight and 7-3 in their last 10 games. Rivers will have to juggle his rotation with Griffin out a minimum of two weeks with a torn left quad tendon.
While the Kobe Bryant farewell tour has grabbed the headlines – and rightfully so – the development of Russell, Randle and Clarkson will be what defines this season as a success or failure for the Lakers.
Russell and coach Byron Scott have butted heads at times. Randle has emerged as a double-double threat who can occasionally knock down a 3-pointer if needed. Clarkson has become a better scorer off the ball with Russell becoming the primary ballhandler.
Memphis has failed to take the next step as a contender over the years. At 18-16, there’s no indication that will change this season. However, losing Conley would leave no hope of that happening going forward. In a point guard league, Conley is the top playmaker on the market and must be retained to keep the Grizzlies competitive in the West.
On the other hand, Keeping coach David Joerger is up for debate since it appears he’s lost the huddle at times this season.
Miami has the talent and veteran experience to compete with Cleveland for ownership of the East once the playoffs roll around. Hassan Whiteside is giving Miami his best effort in a contract year and Dwyane Wade remains a top shooting guard when healthy. The key for Miami will be managing the minutes of Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng to keep them all healthy for the playoffs and help Goran Dragic find his niche in the offense. Dragic is averaging only 11.6 points and shooting an underwhelming 28 percent from downtown.
The Bucks have underachieved mightily at 12-21. The trades of Zaza Pachulia, Ersan Ilyasova and Jared Dudley left the locker room void of a true veteran presence. In addition, the Michael Carter-Williams trade that sent Brandon Knight packing has also backfired to this point.
The core of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Greg Monroe, Khris Middleton and Carter-Williams has the talent to turn things around. But the group needs some veteran guidance, especially with coach Jason Kidd sidelined after hip surgery.
Martin has a $7.3 million player option this summer and has been placed on the trading block by Minnesota. Martin’s presence takes away valuable playing time for Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, etc. Shooters are always in demand around the league, and turning Martin into a future draft pick or younger player is appealing to Minnesota.
The injury bug has bitten the Pelicans harder than any team in the league and it’s shown in the current 10-21 record. As a result, the Pelicans are keeping their options open regarding upcoming free agents – and trade chips – Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon.
While colleague Chris Bernucca argues the rough start means Davis shouldn’t be considered a top-five player just yet, I tend to think his individual talent should keep him in the conversation. The problem is Davis doesn’t have enough help around him.
Landing a stud in the draft such as Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram would give Davis a frontcourt building block for the future. Remember when Tim Duncan joined David Robinson in the frontcourt for the Spurs? Imagine a frontcourt of Simmons and Davis terrorizing opponents for the next decade in New Orleans and the future seems a lot brighter. Ingram has also been compared to a young Kevin Durant at times.
It’s a point guard league, and the Knicks lack an elite floor general. While the triangle offense doesn’t call for an elite playmaker, Jose Calderon is in the latter stages of his career and rookie Jerian Grant has not shown consistency to be considered the point guard of the future.
The Knicks should strongly consider making a run at Mike Conley over the summer, the top point guard on the free agent market. As for an immediate upgrade, the Knicks have an open roster spot and former 76ers guard Tony Wroten has been discussed.
Durant is a generational talent gifted with the height of a center, dribbling ability of a point guard, range of a shooting guard and rebounding ability of a forward.
Currently third in the West at 22-10, the Thunder have two of the top five players in the game in Durant and Russell Westbrook. The X-factors that will determine Oklahoma City’s playoff fate – and ability to retain Durant – are Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter.
Anything less than a trip to the Western Conference finals could spell doom.
Scott Skiles has Orlando in fifth place in the East at 19-13. Who saw that coming heading into the season? Management has been pleased the young core has taken the necessary step towards playoff contention. Ideally, the team would like to add another veteran or two to help balance out the roster, league sources told SheridanHoops.
It will be interesting to see how the market for shooting guard Evan Fournier develops. The Magic have received numerous calls from teams interested in Fournier, who is a restricted free agent this summer.
Landing Ben Simmons after possibly the worst season in league history would go a long way to helping Philadelphia finally turn the corner. Another step would be going after veterans in free agency to help mentor the young core of Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid.
The additions of Jerry Colangelo in management and Mike D’Antoni on the bench have added needed credibility to the organization. Colangelo should be able to mend relationships with agents irked by GM Sam Hinkie’s methods. D’Antoni was the innovator of small ball during his days in Phoenix and could make Philadelphia a slightly more attractive free agent destination.
On a positive note, Richaun Holmes has been one of the better second-round picks in the draft, averaging six points on 58 percent shooting off the bench. Holmes has garnered consideration for the Rookie Game during All-Star Weekend.
The toxic situation between Morris and the Suns has been brewing since the summer when the team traded his brother, Marcus, to the Detroit Pistons. Morris has since been benched and suspended two games for throwing a towel at coach Jeff Hornacek.
Morris has an extremely cap friendly contract with three years and $24 million remaining starting next season. At 26, several teams, including the Houston Rockets, have actively tried to acquire Morris. As I previously reported, the Rockets previously discussed a deal of Terrence Jones and Corey Brewer in exchange for Morris.
Portland has an exciting young backcourt with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. In the frontcourt, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis and Meyers Leonard have all shown flashes of promise this season. Add veteran leadership to the locker room, and the Blazers will have a better chance of realizing their potential.
Portland is competing for the final playoff spot in the West, which was a surprise after the free agency losses of LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews. The rebuild is ahead of schedule, an encouraging sign for Portland fans.
All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins has received significant trade interest from the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, as I previously reported.
While the Kings are reluctant to deal the best center in the league – and Cousins is reluctant to leave at this time – a change of scenery may be best for both.
Sacramento appears headed for the lottery for the 10th consecutive season. For Cousins, it would be his sixth season since entering the league without a playoff berth. At 25 with two more seasons on his contract after this one, Cousins would command massive trade offers if he hits the market.
Ginobili postponed retirement for another shot at a title with the Spurs this season. Despite Golden State’s historic 29-2 start, the Spurs are only 2 1/2 games behind in the standings. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it is to never underestimate San Antonio.
Ginobili is fourth on the team in scoring at 10.1 points per game off the bench.
Kawhi Leonard has become a go-to scorer, averaging 21 points while shooting 51 percent from the field, 48 percent from 3-point range and 88 percent at the line to carry San Antonio.
That said, if the Spurs are going to make a Finals trip, count on a few clutch shots from Ginobili during one last playoff run.
It’s time for Toronto to advance past the first round for the first time since 2001. The Raptors have a potent backcourt with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, along with versatile swingman DeMarre Carroll. The question is whether Jonas Valanciunas will ever average more than 12 points and eight rebounds per game? Valanciunas got a four-year, $64 million extension with the expectation he would become an improved scorer and rebounder. Just back from a broken hand, that hasn’t happened yet.
The young core for the Jazz has emerged before our eyes. Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert form an athletic and improving frontcourt.
If the backcourt of Dante Exum, Trey Burke and Alec Burks can ever play a full season together, this team could fight for homecourt advantage in a year or two.
Making the playoffs for the first time since 2012 would be a big confidence booster for a group that is just scratching the surface of its full potential.
John Wall and Bradley Beal make for an exciting backcourt. Kelly Oubre Jr. and Otto Porter form a solid young tandem at small forward. With Marcin Gortat a serviceable center, the biggest hole is a power forward. Quantity is not better than quality in the form of Nene, Kris Humphries, Drew Gooden and DeJuan Blair.
Signing Kevin Durant in free agency and moving him to power forward in a small ball approach would be Washington’s ideal scenario this summer.