HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:
Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.
Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.
Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.
Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.
Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.
Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.
Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.
Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.
Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.
Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.
Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.
Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.
L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”
L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.
Memphis Grizzlies — Play the Numbers: OK, analytics bunch. You traded Rudy Gay, ran off Lionel Hollins and have a team that’s going nowhere with Marc Gasol on the sidelines. So you might as well unload Zach Randolph before the trade deadline to save money and start all over again to show everybody how smart you really are. Good luck getting anybody in Memphis to come out and watch.
Miami Heat — Stay Healthy: With all of the supposed contenders out there in Indianapolis and San Antonio and Oklahoma City and Portland, if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all healthy when the playoffs start, they are still the prohibitive favorites and will likely be celebrating championship No. 3 in South Beach next June. The only question will be whether everybody wants to come back to try for 4, 5 and 6.
Milwaukee Bucks — Make Up Your Mind: For the past handful of years, the Bucks have been unable to decide if they are trying to win now or plan for the future. Time to make a choice. Bucks have twice won the lottery and their No. 1 picks were Glenn Robinson and Andrew Bogut. Nice players, but hardly franchise changers who set up your future for a solid decade or more. Now they’re sitting down there at the bottom of the standings in a season when the draft pool is said to be deeper than the ocean. From Andrew Wiggins to Marcus Smart to Julius Randle and all the rest, there has to be help coming to Milwaukee finally. That is, if they find investors to keep the team in town first.
Minnesota Timberwolves — Grow Some Fangs: How can a team named after wolves expect to make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference while living on a vegetarian diet? While Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and their buddies can dazzle as at times with their offensive skills, there are welcome mats that don’t get walked on as much as the Minnesota defense. How is this possible with Nikola Pekovic standing the middle?
New Orleans Pelicans — More Milk, Stronger Bones: While there is plenty to pick at with the Pelicans’ inability to play a solid and consistent brand of defense while coach Monty Williams talks about it constantly, the Pelicans have had more than their share of injuries this season. Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans, Jason Smith and now Eric Gordon have all been sidelined through the first two months of the season.
New York Knicks — Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: It’s way past time for team owner James Dolan to admit that his team is nowhere close to being a real contender, even in the dreadful Eastern Conference. The trouble always has been that the Knicks don’t want to go through a rebuilding period and don’t ever have a long-term plan to build a real foundation. So the Knicks do silly things like trade for Andrea Bargnani, talk about dealing for Kyle Lowry and tie themselves into knots by giving insane contracts to Amar’e Stoudemire and things never get better.
Oklahoma City Thunder — Jerk Perk: Sure, it’s fun watching the Thunder toss the ball into Kendrick Perkins on the first one or two possessions of every game and then watch him crawl back into his cave. And it’s fun to watch him scowl and even toss Joakim Noah out of the OKC locker room. But is there anybody left in the league who fears him as a part of that old Boston defensive front? It goes without saying that the Thunder need a healthy Russell Westbrook to make a run deep into June, but getting a bit more out of the middle wouldn’t hurt either.
Orlando Magic — Kiddie City: Was it just two years ago when everybody seemed to think Rob Hennigan could have gotten more out of the Howard trade? Ask the folks in L.A., Denver and Philly how that worked out. Now that they’re loaded with young talent, still near the bottom of the East standings, likely headed to the lottery and another gem in the draft, it’s time to send the veteran Glen Davis packing since he’s no longer a Big Baby and keep stockpiling assets for the future.
Philadelphia 76ers — Silent Night: In other words, no Nerlens Noel this season. Let the skinny big man continue to add pounds and muscle while rebuilding his torn ACL and rebuilding his shot entirely and get him ready to make an impact next season. While keeping Noel on the shelf, Sixers GM Sam Hinkie should — and likely will — unload Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner ahead of the trade deadline for more young talent and assets as he rebuilds the entire basketball operation from the ground up.
Phoenix Suns — Play for Keeps, Reap the Reward: No coach in the league has done a better job so far than Jeff Hornacek in his first year running the show in the desert. His Suns are close already to exceeding the 21.5 win total predicted by the Las Vegas wise guys and currently sitting in the No. 6 seed in the West playoffs. In a perfectly just world, the Suns would keep on playing hard and tough right down to the last few weeks of the season, then fade and finish one game out of the playoffs. In the interest of justice and integrity for not tanking, the Suns would then beat the longest lottery odds, get the No. 1 pick and have Andrew Wiggins fall into Hornacek’s lap.
Portland Trail Blazers — Fete L.A.: There have been so many seasons when, and so many reasons why, LaMarcus Aldridge could have thrown up his long arms in frustration and told the Blazers to get him out of town. But he’s kept his head and his heart in the franchise and now Portland is reaping the benefits of a wondrously entertaining season. The Blazers are probably still a year and a piece or two — can you say defense? — away from being real championship contenders. But No. 1 on the to-do list next summer has to be locking in Aldridge to a contract extension that assures he remains the key cog in the machine.
Sacramento Kings — Stability: The Kings finally have it in ownership and a long-term future in Sacramento. Now they need to let first-year coach Michael Malone have a chance to let things settle in with his players. The core trio of the roster — DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas — has played just 10 games together and needs to learn trust and cohesion. Maybe if they learn each other’s names, the Kings will eventually learn how to go out and guard the perimeter. They are the worst in the league at defending against 3-pointers.
San Antonio Spurs — Turn Back the Clock: A year ago in their march to The Finals, the Spurs were up to the challenge against all of the best teams in the league. So far this season, even though the core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili has been very healthy and always available, the Spurs are 0-6 in games against the top opponents — Pacers, Thunder, Blazers, Clippers, Rockets (2) — they’ve faced. Much of the problem has been a lack of energy at the start of games, especially at the defensive end. The old veterans have been piling up wins against the weak sisters, but also piling up plenty of complaints and worries from cranky coach Gregg Popovich.
Toronto Raptors — Let’s Make Another Deal: GM Masai Ujiri has turned into the Canadian version of the Rockets’ Daryl Morey in his first season with the club, unloading anybody on the roster who might sit still for a minute. He’s sitting there with a solid young core of DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas and an impressive win over the Thunder in Oklahoma City, so things might finally be turning around for what might be the NBA’s most loyal fan base. There’s no reason to stop the housecleaning and payroll paring at this point, so look for more activity before the trade deadline.
Utah Jazz — Youth Should Be Served: Quite frankly, with where the Jazz are in the standings and where they’re headed the rest of the season, there is no reason short of a pandemic that Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams should ever get off the bench and onto the court. This is supposed to be a youth movement of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, Trey Burke and Rudy Gobert, so let the kids play and fall and skin their knees and get back up again. Somebody needs to let coach Ty Corbin in on the plan or let him go.
Washington Wizards — Up Against the Wall: All the questions have been answered. A healthy John Wall has established himself as one of the league’s elite point guards and it’s time that he takes full control of late-game situations in which the Wizards have been dreadful. Everyone should follow or hit the door. Coach Randy Wittman and his perennially underachieving team have no excuses left in an Eastern Conference that is weaker than ever.