We all have them. Some of us follow them. Most of us give up on them after a couple of weeks. That’s right, with the calendar ready to flip to 2020, it’s time to make our New Year’s resolutions. For regular people, this usually involves going on a diet, spending more time with family or making progress toward a career goal. For the NBA, however, the resolutions take on a much different meaning.
It’s every team’s goal to win an NBA championship, and while that’s only in the cards for a handful of teams, it doesn’t mean there aren’t improvements every franchise can make. For some it’s as simple as finding a consistent scorer, while others will require a bit more drastic changes.
Either way, we can be sure that, just like our own resolutions, most of these won’t be followed. Here are 2020 New Year’s resolutions for every NBA team.
- Get everyone healthy and on the court
Between John Collins‘ 25-game suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug policy, and injuries to the likes of Kevin Huerter and Trae Young, the Hawks have rarely had all of their top players together on the floor, which is a big reason for their pitiful 6-27 start. Before they can even start thinking about turning things around, they need to get back to basics, and that starts with getting everyone healthy and on the court at the same time. — Jack Maloney
- Make a playoff-focused upgrade
Through 30 games, the Celtics and Bucks are the only teams in the top five in both offense and defense. Kemba Walker is having the time of his life, and both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have compelling cases to join him in the All-Star Game. The vibe is completely different from last season, and Boston has exceeded expectations despite rarely having all five of its best players available at the same time.
The Celtics still don’t feel like a true championship contender, but they have played well enough that the front office must be looking at win-now moves. This could mean improving their big-man rotation or adding another reliable reserve. The tricky part, though, is that Boston doesn’t have medium-sized contracts to move if it intends to keep Marcus Smart. Team president Danny Ainge’s challenge is to increase his team’s odds of getting out of the East even though he is heavily constrained. — James Herbert
- Stay present
Until Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert are back, the Nets need to keep pushing, even if they find it difficult to play with much offensive rhythm when Spencer Dinwiddie is on the bench. When they are healthy, the playmakers have to work on making each other better — back when Brooklyn had an elite offense and Irving was doing spectacular stuff, its bench wasn’t particularly strong and everybody was trying to feel one another out.
With this team, there is always a temptation to look forward. Kevin Durant will eventually play a home game at Barclays Center, and the roster could look significantly different when he does. Everything that happens before then, though, is useful information for management and the coaching staff. This season has not been what Brooklyn wanted it to be, but it can be salvaged, provided that it feels like the team is actually building something cohesive. — James Herbert
- Brainstorm better jersey ideas
The Hornets have been much more enjoyable to watch this season than everyone was expecting, but this is still a long-term project that’s going to take years to complete. As far as manageable, short-term projects they can focus on, they should start with improving their jerseys, which are some of the most disappointing in the league. Their teal color scheme is terrific, but it’s wasted on shirts with a giant “CHA,” or simply confusing “Buzz City” across the front. — Jack Maloney
- Identify a franchise cornerstone
The Bulls have a lot of talented young players, like Wendell Carter Jr., Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. However, they need to figure out which of these guys, if any, could be the team’s cornerstone moving forward; someone that they can build around as they try to climb back to contention. The NBA is a superstar-driven league, and the Bulls’ apparent lack of identity is tied largely to the fact that they don’t have their own star(s). Is Lavine going to be that guy for them moving forward? If he is, they need to try to structure a team around the sharp-shooting, athletic guard. If not, then the organization needs to identify another potential centerpiece, either through the draft, a trade or free agency. — Michael Kaskey-Blomain
- Fully embrace the rebuild
The Cavaliers have been in rebuilding mode ever since LeBron James left Cleveland to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018. However, they haven’t fully embraced the rebuild yet. In the new year, the Cavs need to flip proven veterans Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, as neither projects to be a long-term fit with the franchise at this point in time. The picks and/or young players that Cleveland could potentially receive for trading Love and Thompson, as well as the cap space generated could expedite its rebuild and help boost its climb back to contention in the East. — Michael Kaskey-Blomain
- Resist making a huge trade at deadline for short-term success
The Mavericks have been a pleasant surprise in 2019-20. Luka Doncic, last season’s Rookie of the Year, is now an MVP candidate this time around. Rick Carlisle is coaching the best offense in the league, and Dallas has one of the best scoring benches money can buy. All signs point to the playoffs for the Mavs in 2020, and while they may be one piece away from catapulting themselves into a serious contender, that doesn’t mean they need to be swinging for the fences at the trade deadline.
They need to practice patience. Unlike the rest of the top teams in the West, Dallas is built to be elite for a lot longer given the age of Doncic (20) and Kristaps Porzingis (24). They aren’t in a win-now mode like the Rockets, Lakers and Clippers, which means they don’t need to make a huge splash in the trade market to increase their likelihood of winning a championship this season. There are smaller moves that could be made to make incremental improvements to this team, like flipping Courtney Lee‘s expiring contract for another shooter who can defend on the wing. Trying to orchestrate a trade to bring on someone like Kevin Love or Andre Iguodala, however, should not be the goal for this team. Not this year. — Jasmyn Wimbish
- A (Jrue) Holiday gift
Outside of the Nuggets organization, pretty much everyone feels the same way about the franchise — they’re a very good team that lacks the star power to go from a dangerous playoff team to actual title contention. That rings especially true this season, as the Nuggets are in a conference that now contains LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the Clippers. When it comes down to a series with either of those teams, it’s going to be hard for Denver to compete.
Enter Jrue Holiday, a borderline All-Star who may or may not be on the trade market leading up to the Feb. 6 deadline. An All-Defense staple, Holiday would bolster an already elite Denver defense, while giving them a much-needed extra playmaker on offense. The Nuggets are 19th in the NBA in half-court offense at 0.935 points per possession, according to Synergy, and are 25th in pick-and-roll situations — which they don’t run as often as most teams since they run the offense through center Nikola Jokic. Holiday would add a pick-and-roll option with Mason Plumlee while Jokic is off the court, and also become a devastating dribble hand-off option with Jokic.
The Nuggets have assets like Gary Harris, Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez to throw into a deal with draft capital, and if they get truly excited they could offer Michael Porter Jr., though he’s likely considered close to untradeable at this point. Holiday would take Denver from an also-ran to one of the league’s top title contenders, so working out a deal should be a top priority in the new year. — Colin Ward-Henninger
Andre Drummond has a $28 million player option for the 2020-21 NBA season, and it’s very likely that he’ll turn that option down in favor of a fresh contract that comes with some long-term security in free agency. If Drummond does indeed turn down his player option, the Pistons should move on from the big man. This isn’t a slight against Drummond, who is a great player and one of the league’s best rebounders. However, he has been in Detroit for the entirety of his career and has never advanced past the first round of the postseason as the Pistons have struggled to build a competitive team around him. There’s no real reason to think that it wouldn’t just be more of the same if Drummond were to remain in Detroit past this season. Sometimes, a player and a team both just need a fresh start, and this is one of those times. — Michael Kaskey-Blomain
The No. 8 seed in the Western Conference is currently several games below .500. The Warriors have gotten (relatively) hot since early December, and the gap is not insurmountable. If they really wanted to push for a spot in the playoffs, they probably could, and financially speaking, ownership is at least somewhat incentivized to do so. A few home playoff games really help offset the repeater tax, even for a cash cow franchise like Golden State.
But the Warriors have a good thing going here. If they stay the course, they’ll be able to add an impact rookie that is, critically given their balance sheet, vastly underpaid for four more years. That player, in combination with Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and D’Angelo Russell next year, could get the Warriors back into the championship picture, either as a part of their rotation or a trade asset. That all disappears if Thompson or Curry come back too quickly and hurt themselves again. Just because their conference is begging them to jump back into the playoff race doesn’t mean the Warriors should actually try. The 2020’s look bright for Golden State … provided they don’t jump the gun. — Sam Quinn
- Realize you made a mistake and live with it
The Rockets should have never traded for Russell Westbrook. Yes, Houston is third in the Western Conference, James Harden has found new ways to impress us and their offensive rating is top three in the league. That’s all fine and well. However, you cannot ignore the fact that Westbrook hinders this team. He’s shooting an abysmal 23.4 percent from deep and 42.4 percent from the field, and when he’s on the bench, the Rockets’ offensive rating jumps from 111.7 to 122.2. Daryl Morey and the Rockets organization may not want to admit it, but they made a mistake in trading away Chris Paul, who by the way, has been incredible in Oklahoma City.
Trade rumors have been floating around in regards to the Rockets dealing the veteran. Still, there are very few teams that would have the room to take on such a large contract and be willing to offer enough valuable assets in return for Westbrook, who’s owed $132.7 million over the next three years, including $47.1 million in that final year at age 34.
Anything is possible, and as we’ve seen before, the Rockets aren’t above trading anyone if it means making this team better. If they don’t find a trade partner for Westbrook, though, Houston will have to make it work with him and Harden sharing the backcourt for the foreseeable future. — Jasmyn Wimbish
- Garner some national attention
The Pacers (21-12) are right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but you wouldn’t know it based on national coverage of the conference, and the league at large. Over the offseason, the bulk of the headlines went to the 76ers and Bucks, and since the season started, the surprisingly strong play of teams like the Raptors, Celtics and Heat have received a lot of attention. The Pacers, though, are a small-market team currently playing without a superstar, and they have flown under the radar as a result. However, if they keep up their solid play they will ultimately make it impossible to look the other way. The return of All-Star guard Victor Oladipo should only help in that regard, too. — Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Los Angeles Clippers
- Take load-management to the next level
The Clippers are practically flawless. They may not be as top-heavy as the Kevin Durant-era Warriors, but there isn’t a true problem to be found on this roster. So in the interest of protecting it, it’s time to start playing prevent defense and dial the load management up to 11 to ensure that this perfect team remains healthy entering the spring. Montrezl Harrell is 26 and hardly ever misses games? Too bad, you’re load-managing now. We’re locking Kawhi Leonard in a bacta tank for all of March. Steve Ballmer has connections in the tech world. Let’s explore the black market for a fresh set of shoulders to graft onto Paul George.
And why stop at the players? Let’s load manage the coaches. Doc Rivers works hard too, you know. Give Ty Lue a mid-February sabbatical to interview for, and subsequently decline, the Knicks‘ coaching job. I’m even worried about Ballmer. No way he can keep these reactions going through June. Take a couple of weeks in Tahiti, Steve. We need you and everyone else fresh for when the real games begin. — Sam Quinn
Los Angeles Lakers
- Find a third scorer
Either Anthony Davis or LeBron James has led the Lakers in scoring in all but two of their games this season. Those two games both came against the Clippers. Yes, James and Davis have run roughshod over normal teams, but the Clippers have proven both capable of and comfortable with the idea of shutting them down and forcing someone else to beat them. Right now, the Lakers don’t have such a player.
Kyle Kuzma is currently third on the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game, but he has missed quite a bit of time due to injury. Even when healthy, his fit on a forward-heavy Lakers roster is questionable when his poor defense and inconsistent shooting is factored in. Beyond him, the Lakers do not have any other double-digit per-game scorers. They’ll have to explore the trade market to find one, and Kuzma is their likeliest bait. There aren’t many high-scoring guards on the market at the moment, and the Lakers lack the salary filler to go after many of the ones that are, so they will have to get creative in filling their biggest hole before the deadline. — Sam Quinn
- Continue growing the chemistry within young core
Give it a few years and the Memphis Grizzlies might be one of the most exciting teams in the league. Ja Morant is on his way to becoming the Rookie of the Year, Brandon Clarke has proven to be one of the best picks in last year’s draft and Jaren Jackson Jr. has made strides from his first year in the league. It’s not amounting to many wins, but this team is in a long rebuild, and as long as those three players stick together, the Grizzlies will reap the rewards down the line. — Jasmyn Wimbish
The Heat have been one of the biggest surprises of the season, establishing themselves as a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference, rather than just a middle-of-the-road playoff team. A big reason for their success has been the arrival of Jimmy Butler, who is putting together a tremendous season despite the fact that he’s apparently forgotten how to shoot. Now, the rest of the Heat just need to keep working hard enough to keep Butler happy. Don’t want a Minnesota situation to develop. — Jack Maloney
- Make it to the NBA Finals
A championship should be the goal for the Bucks, but an NBA Finals appearance is a realistic resolution. It would represent a significant improvement over last season when they were eliminated by the Toronto Raptors in the conference finals. It would also potentially help convince reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to remain in Milwaukee long-term when it comes time for him to make his free agency decision in 2021. Keeping Giannis in a Bucks uniform is obviously imperative for the franchise, and a failure to get out of the Eastern Conference could hurt their chances of doing so. — Michael Kaskey-Blomain
After a strong start, the Wolves have sputtered, but it won’t be a lost season as long as Andrew Wiggins keeps developing. He’s become a better playmaker and his shot selection has improved, which gives him the potential to be a true No. 2 to Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota’s future plans.
“I think just his aggression — his aggression with the ball. His shot selection has improved,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said of Wiggins’ biggest differences this season. “Defensively, he’s been very engaged. With that, we’re asking him to do a lot as well. With him handling the ball too, his playmaking gets better and better.”
Whether Wiggins makes himself essential to the Wolves’ growth or makes the nearly $100 million owed to him over the next three seasons slightly more tradeable, it’s in the franchise’s best interest for him to continue improving. — Colin Ward-Henninger
- Don’t rush Zion back
We would all love to see rookie Zion Williamson grace us with his presence this season. However, not at the expense of his long-term health. The on Williamson have been that the Pelicans are still expecting him to return this season, and he’s about two weeks out from beginning contact drills. Williamson has been itching to get back on the court and he could certainly help this floundering New Orleans team, but if he is anything less than 100 percent healthy there is no reason for him to step foot in an NBA game this season.
The Pelicans are reportedly changing Zion’s walking and running technique in order to alleviate any future injuries. At Williamson’s size (6-6/284), he will always be at great risk for injuries, and the Pelicans are taking the right steps to ensure that he doesn’t become another cautionary tale as a No. 1 overall draft pick. He’s expected to ramp up basketball activities in mid-January, but there should be no rush to get him back on the floor to play with a rebuilding team that is a few years away from competing. If Zion isn’t ready to go by then, it might be wise to just put him on the shelf until next season altogether. — Jasmyn Wimbish
New York Knicks
- Make weakness a strength
The Knicks have been more competitive in the Mike Miller era, and Julius Randle appears to be turning his season around. They should not, however, overreact to this. New York needs to act like a normal rebuilding team, which means approaching the second half of the season with three goals: Making future-focused trades, improving the offensive environment and developing the young players.
In the big picture, maybe it’s not such a bad thing that the franchise is seen as a laughingstock right now. No one is expecting the Knicks to be creative or competent, so if they just make a few logical moves, it will be a huge story. The reality is that it shouldn’t be difficult to sell off some or most of the guys they signed last summer, balance the roster a bit and lose games productively. Let’s see New York clear this low bar. — James Herbert
The Thunder have looked like a playoff team lately, but they should still do everything in their power to trade Gallinari before the deadline. His skillset and shooting ability make him an attractive asset for a contender looking to make a playoff push, and he’s on an expiring contract. Dennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have proven they can handle the extra offensive load with Gallo out of the lineup, and it would only add to their development. Ideally, the Thunder would acquire a young wing to take Gallinari’s spot, but it would also open up time for Darius Bazley, a budding prospect who could be part of OKC’s future plans.
Gallinari’s $22.6 million salary may mean that the Thunder have to take on a bad contract, but they’d likely be willing to do that if it meant getting young talent and/or a draft asset. There should be deals out there for Gallinari — it’s up to Sam Presti and the Thunder to find the right one. — Colin Ward-Henninger
- Shoot better
The Magic are hanging on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the East at 14-18, but things would be much easier for them if they focused on making some more of the shots they take instead of missing them. Heading into the new year, they’re just a few percentage points ahead of the Knicks for the worst field goal percentage in the league, and are bottom-five in 3-point percentage as well. — Jack Maloney
- Have more fun
You probably saw the Sixers on Christmas Day, playing with pep in their step and making Milwaukee look lackluster. They moved the ball and barely turned it over. They exploited mismatches but rarely seemed robotic. It was hard to believe that this was the same team that has often seemed so sluggish and clunky.
Philadelphia needs to find a way to conjure that kind of energy more consistently, to not just trust the process but enjoy it. This can be a challenge over the course of an 82-game season, and it is particularly difficult when your best players don’t naturally fit together on offense. (In Saturday’s loss to Miami, coach Brett Brown resorted to playing Trey Burke in Al Horford‘s place down the stretch.) I’m not sure the front office will make an in-season move as drastic as the ones they made last year, but the Sixers should target players who can give their system some more juice. — James Herbert
- Resist the temptation of a win-now trade
I see you, Robert Sarver. You saw how well your team played to open the season and are just attributing the recent slide to bad luck. You think you’re a move away from making noise in the postseason, especially with the bottom of the Western Conference looking weak. You want to give up a first-round pick for Kevin Love, don’t you?
Let’s take it easy.
What is happening to Phoenix this year is a natural step in the progression of a rebuild. The Suns have been dreadful for most of a decade. This season, they’ve taken a step up to mildly competent. As tempting as it might be to skip that step and jump up to first-round cannon fodder, there is little benefit to doing so. If the Suns trust the moves that they’ve made in recent years, they’ll return to the playoffs in a year or two anyway. Let the young players progress. Let them continue to find comfort in Monty Williams’ system. Don’t burden them with the unrealistic expectations of a 5-2 start. — Sam Quinn
- Find a way to go back in time
The Blazers are uncharacteristically struggling, but the demise can be traced back to the offseason, when frustration with stagnation caused them to jettison Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless while bringing in Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore and Mario Hezonja. The thinking made some sense, but it left a gaping hole at the four spot that was filled by Zach Collins — until he suffered a shoulder injury that will keep him out most of the season.
Portland was left scrambling, and despite doing pretty well by taking a chance on Carmelo Anthony, finds itself hunting for one of the final Western Conference playoff spots after making the WCF last postseason. At this point there’s no clear fix — rumors of Kevin Love trades abound, but with no real traction — so what the Blazers really need is a time machine to go back to the summer and try things a bit differently. — Colin Ward-Henninger
- Consolidate their depth
Nobody is happy in Sacramento. Buddy Hield claims there are trust issues. DeWayne Dedmon already wants a trade. The return of Marvin Bagley and the eventual health of De’Aaron Fox is going to cut into minutes for even more players. The Kings simply have too many people who expect minutes. This was entirely predictable. The Kings lost nobody of note from last season’s already fairly deep team and decided that the best course of action would be to split their cap space amongst four veterans who all need playing time, and are paid too much to be denied it. So if people are unhappy, why fight it?
The Kings should find a new home for Dedmon. They should explore the trade market for expectant free agents Trevor Ariza (perpetually in demand from contenders) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (which would help Hield, who has already signed an extension, gain some trust in the organization) if they don’t plan to bring them back. This rotation needs to be trimmed down to a tight nine. At the moment, there are a dozen Kings who need to play. The solution here is to move off of some of that depth, either by combining multiple players in a consolidation trade, or by trading them off for future assets. — Sam Quinn
San Antonio Spurs
- Trade DeRozan and Aldridge
Technically, the Spurs are still very capable of making the playoffs. As of Monday, they’re sitting at 13-18, which is tied for the eighth seed in the West with the Portland Trail Blazers. For 20 straight years, the Spurs have reached the postseason, and they’ve never been known as a franchise that is comfortable with losing in order to get a better draft position. But let’s face it, as currently constructed, the Spurs aren’t going anywhere fast and the only solution is to move on from DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge before the trade deadline in order to regroup and focus on rebuilding.
Since receiving DeRozan in the Kawhi Leonard trade, it just hasn’t worked out in San Antonio. It’s time to sell DeRozan and Aldridge, who’s been as good as advertised in four-plus seasons in San Antonio, for whatever they can get in return, and focus on what the next step is for this franchise. Gregg Popovich is likely nearing retirement, and while he likely won’t want to be part of a lengthy rebuild, it’s in San Antonio’s best interest to hit the restart button instead of becoming a middling team in the Western Conference for the next few years. — Jasmyn Wimbish
- Remember “AMJ”
In his first year coaching the Raptors, Nick Nurse made “AMJ”– April, May, June — something of a team motto. Throughout the regular season, he wanted them to remember what they were working toward. They experimented with defensive schemes and lineups, and they peaked at the perfect time.
Plenty has changed now that they are defending champions, but they need to keep that approach. Toronto’s training staff must do whatever it can to make sure Marc Gasol is fresh when the playoffs arrive, and its coaching staff must keep working with Pascal Siakam on how to attack elite defenses. It might be a blessing in disguise that both of these players (and Norman Powell) are out of the lineup, as the reserves who stepped up when Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka were out have continued to get playing time. A few months from now, when Nurse is considering adjustments, he will have options. — James Herbert
- Reclaim their defensive identity
The Jazz haven’t finished outside the top three in defensive efficiency since the 2015-16 season, when they were seventh. This season they’ve fallen outside the top 10. This is partly due to trading big man Derrick Favors, a defensive staple in the middle for years in Utah, and adding two perimeter players in Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic. If the personnel change was supposed to sacrifice a slight bit of defense for better offense, it hasn’t worked — the Jazz are scoring three fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season, with markedly worse defense.
They’ve managed to hang around through the first part of the season given their talent and system, but if they’re going to become a genuine threat in the Western Conference, which many felt they would be heading into the season, they’re going to need to get back to the defensive identity that was their calling card for the past few seasons. — Colin Ward-Henninger
- Improve defensive play to “a little bit below average”
Earlier this season, Davis Bertans — who has been shooting the lights out, and is one of the best stories of the season — gave a fantastic quote, in which he proclaimed that the Wizards’ offense is so electric that they just need to “play a little bit below average” on defense to win. It’s good to go small with your New Year’s resolutions, or else your goals will feel impossible to reach, so this feels like the perfect place for the Wizards to start. — Jack Maloney