It’s almost Christmas, and with the NBA starting a couple weeks earlier this year, most teams actually have themselves figured out by what used to be (for many) the unofficial start of the season. The Benchmob is feeling the holiday spirit, however, so we’ve put together a wishlist for all 30 teams in the NBA.
76ers: Bubble wrap
For all the sportswriters hand-wringing over Embiid playing 49 minutes against the Thunder… Let Embiid cook! Is playing him 49 minutes the best long-term plan? Honestly? Probably not. But eventually, the 76ers should treat Embiid like a normal NBA player. I would hate if the team has to walk on eggshells his entire career. I yearn for the day when it’s not a big deal that Embiid plays more than 35 minutes in a game. Hopefully the team won’t have to be so protective forever.
Bucks: An in-his-prime guard who can defend and shoot threes
Oh! They got one already? Never mind! The Bucks are in good shape, as long as Jason Kidd stops employing baffling late-game strategies.
Bulls: A loss
The Bulls are turning into a real-life version of Major League, ripping a seven-game win streak that threatens to derail their tank. All of this is somehow happening with Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic co-existing on the court. The Bulls need a good old-fashioned loss to remind them what they are really playing for.
Cavaliers: The LBJ6 Method
Why hasn’t LeBron written a totally self-serving book filled with pseudo-science about how he keeps his body in shape yet? The Cavs, a team as old as dirt, need to be mining James for all his health secrets while they still can. In year 15, LeBron is having arguably the best season of his career. Whatever James is doing is working, and he shouldn’t be stingy when it comes to passing that info to teammates. The Cavs are going to need everyone to be fresh come playoff time.
Celtics: A Nintendo Switch or whatever is cool these days
Gordon Hayward, who last year wrote The Case for Gaming for The Players’ Tribune, told SI’s Lee Jenkins he’s been playing video games during sleepless nights to help him relax after the brutal leg injury he suffered opening night. So what better way for the Celtics to keep their sidelined star happy than with a dope new gaming console? Hayward can take that Switch on the go. He can play from the bench. He can play on the team plane. Let’s throw in a science book for Kyrie Irving, and Boston will be applauded for making its players’ lives better. Oh, and a scorer wouldn’t hurt too. The C’s defense is championship-caliber, but their offense is slipping.
Clippers: Trade calls
The Clippers are in a bad place because of injuries to players who, frankly, are frequently injured. L.A. should wish for calls from other teams for its remaining useful parts. It may even be time to part ways with Blake Griffin. But whether Griffin is part of the future or not, the Clips need to find a way to acquire young talent.
Grizzlies: A really good apology note
For David Fizdale, who wasn’t the problem in Memphis.
Hawks: Spicy tenders from Chick-fil-A
The Hawks basically have nothing going for them right now. But I’m pretty sure some Chick-fil-A locations are testing out spicy tenders…? That’s an absolute gamechanger, and a great way to drown your sorrows if you’re playing for the Hawks.
Heat: Last year’s Dion Waiters
The Heat have been inconsistent this season, particularly on offense, where they sit in the bottom-third of the league in efficiency. Not helping right now is my guy Dion, who has been horribly inefficient for much of this season. The Heat need the Waiters from the second half of last season to help lift their offense, but does he still exist? If Miami (and Dion) find offense, the Heat are capable of making a small run up the standings.
Hornets: Nic Batum’s mojo
What happened to the swaggering Nic Batum who was punching people in the privates during international games? Batum is posting career-worst shooting percentages this season, and his 9.8 points per game are five fewer than what he’s averaged since moving to Charlotte in 2015. The Hornets simply need more from a player in the second year of a $120 million deal.
Jazz: A sneak tank
The Jazz’s four most-used lineups all have negative net ratings. Rudy Gobert keeps getting hurt. And Utah is only two games ahead of the lowly Kings in the loss column. Would a tank be a bad idea here? Donovan Mitchell has been a revelation, and adding another young star to pair with him could be the best for this team’s future. Gobert is a keeper, but outside of him and Mitchell, no one else on this roster should be untouchable. If the Jazz can tank just right, they can be decent again as soon as next season. But Utah has likely reached a ceiling with most of its current core, and one year of bottoming out post-Hayward could have them set up for success as early as next season.
Kings: A youth movement
The Kings possibly have one too many veterans for a team committed to rebuilding. It’s good to have older guys in the locker room to show the younger players the ropes. But guys like Vince Carter or George Hill should be spending these years with contenders, though it remains to be seen if contenders will take them. Either way, youngsters should be seeing even more of the court in Sacramento. Sorry, Z-Bo.
Knicks: A worldwide tour for J.D. and the Straight Shot
Keep James Dolan as far away from this fun team as possible.
Lakers: Season tickets to the Big Baller League
Just keep making sure Lavar has a hobby and is too busy to tell Luke Walton how to coach the team. Walton has the Lakers playing better than expected, and I’m still a believer in Lonzo.
Magic: Beard conditioner
The Magic have cooled since their hot start, mostly because they can’t play defense. Aaron Gordon is still playing well (and shooting 40% from three), but he’s missed four of Orlando’s last five games. Amidst all these troubles, Frank Vogel’s beard is still going strong. I’m serious—I love the Vogelbeard. I want him to reach James Harden levels one day. The only way to do that is to start taking care of that thing now.
Mavericks: A really good Shark Tank pitch
Maybe somebody can invent something to make this team relevant again.
Nets: A gold star
Sean Marks and the Nets are trying their hardest to dig out of a crater created by the previous regime. They’ve done well to take risks on young players who maybe didn’t get a fair chance on their first teams. So Brooklyn should be happy with a pat on the back, because there’s still plenty of work left to be done. Eventually owning a coveted Nets draft pick will help.
Denver’s four most-used lineups all have a net rating of at least 12.0. The issue is their second most-used lineup has played only 69 minutes together. Injuries are killing the Nuggets. Paul Millsap is still out for months. Nikola Jokic missed time with a sprained ankle. Gary Harris has missed three games. Those nicks and bruises are adding up, as Denver can’t seem to find consistency amid all the lineup changes. A good run of health, even without Millsap, could do this team wonders. Defense is still an issue, but the growth the front office wanted to see is there. Jamal Murray has five 20-point games in December and is catching fire from three. Harris recently posted a career high in Boston. Denver just needs more time with all its pieces in place. (Don’t we all, though.)
Pacers: A foam middle finger
For all the writers who thought they botched the Paul George trade.
Pelicans: An overhaul
Are we sure Alvin Gentry is getting the most out of Boogie and the Brow? Is the front office really happy with the roster around its two stars? New Orleans really needs to consider changing its infrastructure. Anthony Davis shouldn’t be struggling to get into the playoffs every year. Outside of Cousins and Davis, this team is a mess. I’m not sure the Pelicans can dig out of the E’Twuan Moore/Solomon Hill-sized hole they’ve created on the wing, but the front office needs to be better. (Hill is out for months with a hamstring tear, by the way.)
Pistons: A new point guard
For the second straight season, the Pistons are a better team with Reggie Jackson off the court.
Raptors: A three-point shot for DeMar DeRozan
Whenever I watch the Raptors, DeRozan is hitting ridiculous mid-range look after ridiculous mid-range look, but then he turns into Charles Barkley at the three-point line. It’s 2017, DeMar. Get with the times. If you clam up in another postseason series, you may actually make dinosaurs uncool. For now, though, Toronto has sneakily been one of the better teams in the league.
Rockets: A comfy chair
For Chris Paul, who should rest those legs as much as possible until the playoffs
Spurs: A software update for Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi is slowly but surely getting his legs under him after missing the Spurs’ first 27 games of the season with a quad injury. Gregg Popovich is still being cautious with Leonard, but soon, he will not only need to return to his MVP-caliber form from last season, Kawhi will also need to improve. It’s what LeBron has done. It’s what James Harden has done. Leonard has added to his game every year he’s been in the NBA. This season should be no different. It will be necessary for Leonard to get better, not only to keep pace with his contemporaries, but also to give the Warriors a scare.
Suns: A good friend for Devin Booker
Anything that would make Booker actually want to stay in Phoenix.
OKC has had a bounce-back month of December, climbing over .500 thanks to a welcome regression to the mean in (winning) close games. I still think the Thunder trio can figure out how to work together, but they need time. It’s fair for us to question if Carmelo Anthony was a good fit for this team, or if he’s being selfish by not considering playing off the bench. But the Thunder don’t have time to second guess themselves. They have to decide pretty soon if this experiment can be successful, especially if they don’t want to lose Paul George for nothing next summer. OKC simply needs to focus on its stars playing together as much as possible and see if the tide finally starts to turn.
Timberwolves: A stretch four
I’m sorry, but these are too many Taj Gibson minutes. I’m of the opinion the Wolves are slightly worse than their record indicates. I don’t think anyone in the West is currently scared of facing them in the playoffs. Adding a little more spacing to their offense could help everyone involved, but defense remains an issue here.
Trail Blazers: More offense
It’s crazy to think that an offense with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can be worse than the Nets, but that’s where Portland stands as we head toward the new year. Dame and C.J. haven’t been the problem, however. The Blazers just can’t seem to get much going from their wings, who aren’t threats to put the ball on the floor and create shots. Portland seemingly never finds any easy buckets, and opposing defenses have found leaving shooters open has become a better gamble than letting Dame or C.J. knife into the paint. Portland is paying this roster a lot of money—and the front office will have a big decision to make with Jusuf Nurkic next summer. More should be expected of this team. The Blazers need to find a way to jump-start their offense, even if it means making a move.
Warriors: A Ferrari, a Gucci jacket, an Off-White uniform collab
The Warriors are the most spoiled team in the NBA, so why stop now? This team doesn’t need anything. They’ll keep coasting until the Finals. They may still be coasting by the time the playoffs are over.
Wizards: One more star
The Wizards have maxed out with their current core. If they want to make the leap within the East and become real championship contenders, they need one more All-Star. Can the Wiz pry Boogie out of New Orleans?