Ahead of what promises to be an intriguing 2021, we look at New Year’s resolutions for NBA teams.
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At the 2019 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors suffered injuries to Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney, then lost the series in six games. Last season, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green missed huge chunks of time. And just as they were gearing up to return to contention this season, Thompson suffered another setback and Green was hit with a nagging injury.
If fully healthy, this roster could perhaps achieve a top-four seed, but the cost of winning three championships in five years means you sacrifice long-term depth for a win-now supporting cast. But now, the supporting cast has moved on to other teams and the ageing superstars are struggling to avoid injuries.
One benefit of struggling to contend means you get to replenish some of that depth with young prospects. The team performed so badly that they qualified for the number one pick in the draft and selected James Wiseman to fill a much-needed hole in the roster.
With perhaps the best rookie in the league, the Warriors will be battling to reach the playoffs, and if they intend to do any damage there, the New Year’s resolution for this team should be to get healthy. Don’t overwork Curry, develop the youngsters, bring Green back to the court slowly, and get periphery players like Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre up to speed to the point where you can trust them, or build up their value to trade them for someone who can deliver. Health is everything in basketball, and if Golden State can get everyone back to full strength, they might have one more championship run in the next few seasons.
Spend less money
The NBA’s struggles started right at the start of last season, when the league’s relationship with China took a hit after then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of Hong Kong during a dispute between the two countries, ultimately damaging a large revenue stream.
A few months later, the Coronavirus pandemic interrupted the season. While it returned, no fans meant a further impact on income. This season, some teams are allowing partial fans, but with nearly 40 per cent of the league’s annual income derived from tickets and sales at games, it’s going to affect how much money will come into the league and what players can earn.
The NBA is reportedly going to artificially inflate the cap for a few seasons, meaning they will keep money high to avoid some players being unfairly hit – if someone is set to sign a new contract next year rather than last, it would be a tough pill to swallow if they could only do it for half the money they thought they were going to get under earlier caps.
Despite this, it’s difficult to see the cap increasing, so the franchises that have been preparing to offer future free agents big money might find that more teams are in the running. Or those players might just opt to stay with their current team for a bigger payday.
Chase your dream job
This year, it is unlikely we will see too many head coaches let go. There are some potential candidates who might have underperformed in the eyes of their ownership group or fanbase, or it might be that new owners or general managers want to put their stamp on the franchise.
If this season doesn’t go well for the likes of Luke Walton and Ryan Saunders, they might find themselves in the hot seat. But it’s not just the lower-seeded teams; sometimes a change at the top can turn a good team into a great one – when Steve Kerr took over the reins from Mark Jackson, the Golden State Warriors won a championship that season. People have expected a championship for the Milwaukee Bucks in recent years and Mike Budenholzer hasn’t even reached the Finals. The same could be said for Mike Malone with the Denver Nuggets, who has been in post since 2015 and done great things, but they haven’t reached the promised land.
Mike D’Antoni will be among the first choices. He is arguably a top-five head coach in the league and is serving as an assistant with the Brooklyn Nets.
Becky Hammon is the long-serving assistant coach to Gregg Popovich on the San Antonio Spurs. It might be the case that Popovich retires in the not-too-distant future, and the keys will be handed over to Hammon, but she was a stand-out WNBA player and has more experience than a number of other coaches that have recently walked into positions, so she is a candidate to watch.
Jeff Van Gundy is another who might be interested if a team came calling. He is, however, loyal to the coaching fraternity to a fault, and it’s unlikely he would take over mid-season should a job come up – he has said he would not enter talks with a team when another coach is in place. But if there is a spot open by the time the summer rolls around, especially after reminding the world what he is capable of on Gregg Popovich’s Team USA staff, his phone might start ringing.
Spend more time with family
It seems there are more family ties in the NBA than ever before. Not only are Lonzo and LaMelo Ball hoping their middle brother LiAngelo can earn an NBA or G League spot, there is already a trio of Antetokounmpo brothers – Kostas, Thanasis and, of course, Giannis.
Milwaukee is a bit of a home of people who have NBA brothers, including Jrue Holiday – who has siblings Aaron and Justin playing for the Indiana Pacers. And Brook Lopez played alongside his twin Robin on the Bucks last year.
Meanwhile, the Morris twins – Marikeff and Marcus – still have NBA jobs with the Lakers and the Clippers, respectively. Tre Jones will suit up for the San Antonio Spurs this year, to join his brother Tyus in the big leagues. Spaniards Juan and Willy Hernangomez will be back in action this season, with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the New Orleans Pelicans, respectively. And there were even rumours we might see two other Spanish brothers join forces, as Pau Gasol was spotted in training to potentially return to play alongside Marc on the Lakers – but unless a New Year’s Resolution is to spend more time together, Pau is likely to remain retired.
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