Resolutions? Any new calendar year wouldn’t be complete without them. Both in the creation of resolutions, and the ability to keep them.
Which brings us to the NBA season, which is three months old yet is really about to ramp up right about now. Teams and players could use a few pledges and promises to either enhance their outlooks or make necessary changes, all for the better of the league.
For example: The Phoenix Suns should find a way to free Jae Crowder, still in limbo until he’s traded. Minnesota needs to unlock a way to make the Rudy Gobert trade less alarming. Whatever happened to the Golden State Warriors’ defense that handcuffed the Boston Celtics in the 2022 NBA Finals? The Chicago Bulls are 7-1 against the Bucks, Celtics, Nets and Heat but have this costly habit of playing down to the level of lower competition. And the Atlanta Hawks should come up with resolutions to resolve any in-house issues that could create larger issues.
How about resolutions for players: Ben Simmons should pledge to be more productive and become a better No. 3 in Brooklyn. Zion Williamson can mix in a few more 3-pointers to become a more balanced scorer. Everyone in the Mavericks’ rotation can pledge to give Luka Doncic a bit more help. And so on.
As the calendar year flips to the first page, here are the five most meaningful resolutions here in the early stages of 2023:
Gain some weight and find a(nother) big man. Brooklyn ranks 28th in rebound percentage and, although they lead the NBA in blocks per game (6.8), lack an intimidation factor in the paint. It’s the Nets’ only serious weakness and could prevent them from going deep into the postseason. With the exception of Jarrett Allen, the Nets haven’t had such an impact player on the front line since Kevin Durant arrived. This is no disrespect to Nic Claxton, a young center who has developed nicely and is among the NBA leaders in contested shots. But he’s often by himself in that regard in Brooklyn and, also, his body is a little thin. The Nets can skip the buyer’s market, keep the status quo and take their chances. Or they can put together a package and see what they can get, especially if teams at the bottom in the East and West start auctioning off rotational players. Suppose the Spurs are willing to part ways with Jakob Poeltl? The Hawks with Clint Capela? Or maybe the Nets can scan the buyout list after the deadline and see who’s there? Understand that there’s a decent chance Brooklyn might need to go through Philly and Joel Embiid in the postseason, or require an extra body against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. Adding a big man just gives Brooklyn some extra protection and better prepares the Nets for the postseason run.
Los Angeles Lakers
Preserve LeBron James at all costs. It’s still a bit premature to write the season off as a total loss because the Lakers are still just a handful of wins away from the top six in the West. And yet, if the Lakers are still floundering after Anthony Davis returns from yet another injury absence, they should shift gears and make LeBron’s health their top (and only) priority. Because then it’s all about next year for a team and a player who said “it’s all about winning.” Finding significant help by the trade deadline doesn’t appear to be realistic as the Lakers have little of value to swap. Plus, bringing in yet another role player won’t make a difference for them. They’re a player away … from being a player away. Once LeBron overtakes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the all-time scoring lead — which will happen in late February at the current pace — and assuming the Lakers are still going nowhere special, they need to reduce his workload. Doing so will spare his 38-year-old body and protect him for his 21st season — assuming he’ll want to stay in L.A. beyond this season (he is under contract for next season and has a player option in 2024-25). Despite his high level of play, the Lakers can’t take his age for granted. Hard to believe when you see him score 47 points on his birthday, but eventually, Father Time will get LeBron, too.
Be humble. Let’s be clear — many love the swagger of the young Grizzlies. They are entertaining, fearless and self-confident and love having a good time. That is all fine. But there’s a thin line between confidence and cocky, and Memphis not only crosses it at times, but does so with a level of (perceived) disrespect. On Christmas Day, the Warriors’ Klay Thompson — who has four times as many rings as the Memphis franchise — gave it right back to them (and Dillon Brooks). The message was clear: Do something meaningful, like win a championship and then talk your talk. The more Memphis struts, the more opposing teams will use it as motivation. It’s probably best for Ja Morant, Brooks and the others to spare themselves that energy, while keeping their confidence as high as their potential. Eventually, if the Grizzlies keep improving and locking themselves near or at the top in the West, they’ll get bragging rights. Baby steps, first.
Sit Khris Middleton until he’s ready. Last spring, a bum wrist cost him in the playoffs. This year, it’s a sore knee that’s keeping him in and out of the lineup. Middleton can’t catch a break, and by extension, neither can the Bucks. We saw how much they missed him in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season when they took the eventual East champion Boston Celtics to seven games in a series with a small margin for error. Therefore, the Bucks need Middleton to be as fresh as possible for springtime. Milwaukee has very little upside as a team. With the exception of Giannis Antetokounmpo, most of the important pieces in the rotation have already reached their career peak. Milwaukee is equipped to win another title with the Antetokounmpo-Middleton-Jrue Holiday-Brook Lopez core, but all of them must be healthy and refreshed by springtime. There’s no urgency to fight for the best record in the East — the Bucks need to prioritize health over home court.
Get Joel Embiid that Kia MVP. You might’ve noticed how thick the MVP chase is, and how most of the candidates have staying power. If anything, the race will get more crowded, now that Luka Doncic is dropping 60-point triple-doubles. None of this is good news for the hard-luck candidate: Embiid. He had a decent case for winning the award twice now, and was bummed he finished runner-up to (deserving) winner Nikola Jokic last season despite leading the league in scoring. Embiid is again near the top of the scoring heap and serving as the solid last line of defense for Philly. That said, the race is actually stronger this year than last. If Jokic keeps producing at the rate of the last two seasons and the Nuggets claim the best record in the West, then he’ll likely get a third straight MVP. If Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant or Giannis Antetokounmpo do the same in the East, then that’s in their favor. The Sixers will have a harder time giving Embiid the edge record-wise, so they’ll need to prop him up in other ways. As in: Give him the ball, watch him work, watch the team win more often than not, and hope for the best.
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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