It’s the New Year’s Resolution season.
While most are making promises to themselves that they almost never plan to keep, like going to the gym or starting a new diet, NBA teams are taking stock of themselves. Competitive teams are looking for that move that propels them into the postseason. Meanwhile, some less-competitive teams find themselves looking for anything to give their season a lift.
Teams at the bottom of the standings, though? They need big changes.
The New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans all sit at the bottom of their respective divisions and conferences. While each team may be on a different timeline, they, more than any others, need to make some resolutions and see them through.
So, with 2019 only days away, what can these teams do to boost their prospects in the New Year?
New York Knicks — Figure Out Frank Ntilikina
Frank Ntilikina hasn’t had the best start to his career.
Through two seasons, Ntilikina has seen his playing time, and performance, fluctuate wildly. One would think that, after the Knicks made him their top selection in 2017, they would utilize him as such, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case; journeymen Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke continue to see time over the young guard. Ntilikina has been forced into a nearly impossible situation, one where there is little chance of success.
That has to change.
The Knicks will not be competitive in their immediate future. Their best player, Kristaps Porzingis, may not even see the floor this season. They need to use this time to take stock of their roster, find out which players are in it for the long haul and which players are short-term fill-ins. Mudiay and Burke are known commodities but, with only a season plus under his belt, Ntilikina is still a question mark.
If the Knicks can put Ntilikina in a position to succeed it could prove beneficial for both parties. Either Ntilikina builds on the skills that made him the 8th overall pick in 2017 or he shows the team that he may be too raw for the NBA and both the team and player can move on.
Cleveland Cavaliers — Move the Remaining LeBron James Holdovers
The Cavaliers are bad. In their second stint sans LeBron James, Cleveland has found itself at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and have all but assured a lottery finish just 35 games into the season.
It may be time to tear things down.
While James is gone, there are plenty of holdovers from the rosters he brought to the NBA Finals over the last four seasons; Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and others. Veterans, the type of player contenders add at the trade deadline and the type of player the 8-27 Cavaliers don’t really need right now. Love and Thomspon combined are set to make more than $40 million next season, funds that could be better allocated elsewhere on a non-competitive team.
Management has done a good job thus far moving things in the right direction. After an early-season dip, 19-year-old rookie Collin Sexton has seen an increased workload in recent games. 23-year-old Larry Nance Jr. was given an extension in the offseason and has seen his minutes increase from a season ago. George Hill and Kyle Korver have already been moved to other teams. All the team has left to do is finish the job, stockpile for the future and let the kids play.
That can all be easier said than done. But the Cavaliers have quality pieces that could return quality assets in almost any trade. And what better time than the New Year to start fresh?
Atlanta Hawks — Trade Kent Bazemore
Kent Bazemore was a feel-good story for Atlanta. An undrafted free agent out of Old Dominion University, Bazemore latched onto the Hawks in 2014 after pitstops with the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers. From there, Bazemore worked himself into a prominent role and, eventually, earned a lucrative extension from the team in 2016.
But now? Bazemore doesn’t exactly fit on the timeline back to competitive basketball in Atlanta.
Bazemore is set to collect more than $18 million this season and is due more than $19 million next season via a player option, and with the Hawks playing some less than competitive basketball at times, it may be time to move on from the seventh-year shooting guard. His play has been inconsistent at best this season, Atlanta has a slew of young players who could stand to see more time on the floor — first and second-year players Kevin Huerter and Tyler Dorsey chief among them — and any assets acquired could be used to push the rebuild even further along. Plus, for a team at the bottom of the NBA standings, it just doesn’t make much sense to pay any one player near $20 million in salary.
There has already been some reported interest in Bazemore and, despite the hefty contract, that interest is sure to pick up as teams move into the New Year and toward the Trade Deadline. Even if they decide not to move him right away, the Hawks would be wise to remain vigilant of any and all interest from other teams.
Minnesota Timberwolves — Finally Pull the Plug on Tom Thibodeau
Last offseason, with the Jimmy Butler trade saga in full swing, may have been the best time for Minnesota to give Tom Thibodeau the boot.
But better late than never.
Under Thibodeau’s watch, things haven’t been great for the Timberwolves. Yes, the team ended a nearly two-decade-long postseason drought, but the negatives still manage to outweigh that one massive positive. Butler demanded and was granted his trade. Andrew Wiggins was given a five-year $146 million extension that he may never live up to. The franchise has seen inconsistent play from Karl-Anthony Towns and others at crucial times.
And now, just as the old streak ended, a new one may have begun; the Timberwolves look poised to miss the postseason once again and, in an ever-stronger Western Conference, may continue to do so for quite some time.
A change needs to be made, that much is evident. But what can the team do? Moving Towns, a budding superstar, should be avoided at all costs. If Wiggins doesn’t turn a corner soon, his contract could become a near-immovable albatross (if it hasn’t already). A Thibodeau related move may be the easiest move to make and perhaps the most effective. Not only would it signal a much-needed shift in the Timberwolves laid-back attitude and locker room, but it would prevent Thibodeau from further running the players into the ground.
Phoenix Suns — Do the Homework and Draft a Future Stud
The Suns have moved into good future standing. They have two franchise cornerstones in Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, and a bevy of other young, talented players on the roster.
But they need more.
Phoenix has sat at or near the top of the draft lottery for quite some time and, while the draft can be an inexact science, they haven’t hit often; Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and others all look like wasted assets (Bender has averaged eight minutes per game this season and Chriss isn’t even with the team anymore). They have a nice team in place, but they seem like they are still one or two pieces away, which is why they must make use of their next top selection.
If they don’t do their draft homework and miss out on another potential star, the Suns may never drag themselves out of the Western Conference cellar.
New Orleans Pelicans — Right the Ship… Or Else
It seems as if trade rumors have swirled around Anthony Davis since he entered the NBA. But, this time around, things just seem a bit different.
With Davis set for a new contract after next season, the Pelicans will have some decisions to make. Anybody in their right mind would want to retain Davis — at just 26-years-old, Davis is already one of the most dominant players in the NBA — but, if things don’t change (and change quickly), the Pelicans may not be able to do so. After a postseason run last season and a conference semi-finals defeat at the hands of the Warriors, the world has completely turned upside down in New Orleans; the team sits at just 15-20, 14th in the uber-competitive Western Conference and far from the postseason picture. Davis, as per usual, has posted monster numbers, but he can’t carry the load alone.
The Pelicans need to make some serious moves if they want to turn things around and, if they don’t, expect the rumors to get even worse. While Davis has remained steadfast in his love for the city and people of New Orleans, his view of the organization may change if they can’t boost his future prospects; in the end, winning is the most important thing, and if New Orleans can’t win, or, at the very least, stay competitive, they may as well say goodbye to Davis now.
These teams need to see some big changes in 2019. It may not be these resolutions, but if they can’t commit to some goal and see it through, they may find themselves in big trouble in the New Year and beyond.