2018 NBA Christmas wishes: Eastern Conference
Adrian Dy on Dec 22, 2018 08:16 AM
NBAE via Getty Images
Christmas is fast approaching, and most people are spending that time wishing for that perfect gift. NBA teams are no different - no matter where they currently find themselves in the standings, there's always a little something more they could use.
Here's what your favorite Eastern Conference NBA squads are probably hoping to find under their Christmas tree this year:
Atlanta Hawks - Their vision of "Warriors East" to come true
The Hawks' current general manager is Travis Schlenk, who was previously the assistant general manager of the Golden State Warriors. And like in most jobs, you go with what you know, and so during the 2018 NBA Draft, Schlenk picked up a point guard who can bomb from distance and dish fancy dimes (Trae Young), a knock-down gunner (Kevin Huerter) and a do-it-all forward (Omari Spellman). If that sounds like a certain championship core, well that's probably the point.
That said, the trio has a long way to go still. The passing is there for Young, but he's hitting just 25.0 percent from deep. Huerter's been solid, but is only getting 23.1 minutes a game. Spellman's had a bunch of double-doubles, but hasn't really contributed in a while, partly because of a hip injury. It's early, but if they get within sniffing range of their GSW inspirations, then coupled with guys like Taurean Prince and John Collins, and the Hawks should be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
Brooklyn Nets - A star player
In truth, the Nets probably got their gift early, when Caris LeVert's gruesome injury turned out be worse visually than it actually was. Back in November, the team revealed that LeVert had "just" a dislocation of his right foot, and would not need surgery. He might even return to the court this season, which is a good thing, considering he was posting strong averages of 19 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists.
Still, the Nets have been good, and if Santa agrees, they'd definitely like a bonafide star to banner their squad. The team is reportedly a buyer ahead of the trade deadline, but they could have the cap space too this offseason to make a run at a name.
Boston Celtics - A trade they can't refuse
For the longest time, the Celtics have cannily amassed their trade assets, and built up an impressive portfolio of things to throw at teams that might be forced to part ways with a star. It's an approach that just last season, got them Kyrie Irving.
The Celtics though know they still have one move to make, and in their wildest imagination, they'd love for it to be Anthony Davis. Should they be pitted in a bidding war against the, say, LA Lakers, Boston should win that one, not only getting the player they want, but also denying him to their arch-rival.
Charlotte Hornets - The resources to keep and build around Kemba Walker
Walker is a bonafide star. He's in the top-5 of three-pointers made, top-10 of scoring, and top-15 of assists. When he's on fire, he's a joy to watch, but too often, he's had to do so much to make the Hornets a competitive club.
Walker is set to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019. The Hornets would love to keep him, but at the same time, they owe it to him to upgrade the roster around him. In an ideal world, they should be able to do both.
Chicago Bulls - A front office shakeup
It'd be easy to just say that the Bulls should cut bait with new head coach Jim Boylen, given their record-setting blowout loss early in his tenure, and his frequent clashes with his players. In the bigger picture though, a shakeup higher up might be better. The duo of Gar Forman and John Paxson, for all their drafting acumen, have hamstrung the team with poor trades, offseason signings, and coaching choices. Put it all together, and the environment in the Windy City has been pretty toxic. The Bulls could definitely use a culture change, and it's not enough to just go from strict head coach (Thibs) to easy-going (Hoiberg) to back to strict (Boylen).
Cleveland Cavaliers - The next LeBron James
They just need to be able to draft another one-of-a-kind superstar that happens to be born in Akron and have him stay long-term. Shouldn't be a problem finding one of those, right?
Detroit Pistons - Shooters
The Pistons have a great one-two big man punch in Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, but part of the reason why the team parted ways with coach-exec. Stan Van Gundy is that he wasn't able to surround them with the type of shooting that would space the floor for his inside threats. The likes of Reggie Bullock, Henry Ellenson, Stanley Johnson, Luke Kennard, and Jon Leur simply haven't been getting it done - they're top-10 in three-pointers attempted per game, but near the bottom in three-point percentage, a fatal combination.
Indiana Pacers - A star to pair with Victor Oladipo
The Pacers came out smelling like roses when they dealt Paul George to the Thunder. Victor Oladipo has become a bonafide star, and Domantas Sabonis is looking like a vital building block in the team's future. That said, to really compete in the NBA now, they're going to need at least one more All-Star caliber player. With multiple players on expiring deals, they could become an offseason buyer, should they be able to entice someone to play in Hoosier-ville. Or who knows, maybe Sabonis becomes the guy, making that trade look even better than it already does.
Miami Heat - The contract year version of Dion Waiters
The Heat have been shaky all season long, and a big reason for that inconsistency has been Goran Dragic's health. Now, reports have him out for an extended period due to knee surgery, and the team desperately needs someone aside from Dwyane Wade who can create shots for himself and his teammates.
Well, Dion Waiters is reportedly nearing his return from left ankle surgery. He of course, made waves during the offseason because of how out-of-shape he looked, but given the way the Heat emphasize conditioning, it shouldn't be long before he looks better. The hope though is that he can channel his game from two seasons ago, when he was in a contract year. Waiters normed 15.8 points on 39.5 percent three-point shooting with 4.3 assists. That's the sort of player the Heat currently need.
Milwaukee Bucks - Giannis Antetokounmpo's three-point shot
While his teammates have totally embraced the three-point barrage system of Coach Mike Budenholzer with excellent results, Giannis has been the sole exception in Milwaukee. He's launched 64 three-point attempts, but he's hit a mere eight, for a 12.5 percentage on three's. Despite that though, Antetokounmpo is in the top-10 scoring-wise, and is a clear-cut MVP candidate. But boy, oh boy, he would be unstoppable if he had a three-point shot, and his team might be the hands-down favorite in the East.
New York Knicks - A healthy Kristaps Porzingis
It's hard to evaluate the Knicks when they're without their centerpiece Kristaps Porzingis. Odds are, he probably won't return this season either, with the club keeping him out as he recovers from his torn ACL. Truth be told, the Zinger has been a bit injury-stricken in his NBA career, never having played more than 72 games (and that came in his rookie season too). If the Knicks are to look enticing for free agents, he'll have to show that he can stay on the court for longer stretches.
Orlando Magic - An identity
Seriously, who are the Orlando Magic? Who's their best player? What does their future look like? Coach Steve Clifford has them playing hard, but they've looked more "collection of dudes" than "team" for the past few years. Also, they'll likely be sellers before this year's trade deadline, muddying the waters further.
Philadelphia 76ers - Clarity on the Fultz situation
All fingers crossed that the latest diagnosis on Fultz's shoulder is the right one, so that last year's number one overall pick can return to the court and flash the game that made him so appealing. If not? It might be time for him to find a new slant, so to speak.
Toronto Raptors - A promise to re-sign from Kawhi Leonard
"You like it here right? We're the best team right now in the NBA right? We could challenge the Warriors in the Finals right? ....please stay."
Washington Wizards - Some magic to fix their current situation
Trading for Trevor Ariza is like getting a band-aid when surgery is needed, especially since it came at the cost of their most productive young player, Kelly Oubre (although to be fair, the team likely would have opted not to re-sign him in the offseason). In the best-case scenario, Ariza is as good as advertised and gives the team a slight boost, helping them make the Playoffs. But even with a prime Ariza, this squad was never going to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. A more-long-term approach might be preferable, as they simply can't run the increasingly expensive Wall-Beal-Porter Jr. trio back each season with slightly different supporting casts.
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