The clock is ticking down on the 2021 year, which means a new year and potential wishes are before us. The 2021 year featured a lot of adversity with COVID-19, no fans, and a surprise championship from the Milwaukee Bucks. The start to the 2021-2022 season has featured some new adversity with COVID-19, but with fans back in the stands and surprise players coming out of retirement, it has certainly given us plenty to talk about.
Each team is looking at 2022 as a fresh start, rather it be towards contending for the playoffs or building a path towards being a championship contender. Fans across the county do it with New Year’s resolutions. The same goes for NBA franchises. Once the clock turns midnight and 2022 is officially here, this is what every team will be wishing for their franchise.
Atlanta Hawks - Make The Playoffs
If the playoffs started today, the Hawks would not only be out of the playoffs but out of the play-in tournament as well. After making a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hawks have fallen to a 15-19 record, which puts the team as the No. 12 seed overall. This is a big drop-off from the No. 5 seed a year ago, but the Hawks have battled some adversity in key players missing games.
Bogdan Bogdanovic and De’Andre Hunter have missed significant time this season, while John Collins has missed time as of late. Trae Young is having an All-Star season, but one player can only do so much. The Hawks proved to the NBA that seeding doesn’t matter if you are healthy and vibing at the right time. All the Hawks need to do is make the playoffs and they could pull off a Cinderella march once again.
Boston Celtics - A True Point Guard
When the Celtics signed Kemba Walker, they thought that was going to be the key move to return to the NBA Finals. He was coming off a stellar career with the Hornets, where he became the all-time leading scorer in franchise history. However, in the Conference Finals, we saw that Walker was not the third piece to the equation. Combined with healthy issues and inconsistent play, the team was able to deal him to bring back a proven veteran in Al Horford.
However, the cash-strapped Celtics have struggled the last two years with no true point guard. Walker failed last season, while Dennis Schroder is clearly not the answer for the team either. The Celtics have two of the best players in the conference in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, but nobody that can get them the ball. If the playoffs started today, the Celtics would play in the play-in tournament. On paper, they are better, but again, there is no true point guard on the roster.
Brooklyn Nets - Vaccinated Kyrie Irving
The Nets have gone this whole time without Irving, so getting Kyrie now is like picking up a free agent midway through the season. The Nets own the best record in the Eastern Conference, but now get an All-Star on a part-time basis. Because Irving is not vaccinated, he does meet the requirements set forth by the New York law to play in-home games.
This could be troublesome once the playoffs start. The Nets remain the lead contender to make the NBA Finals. What if the Nets make it? Irving will only play in half the games. Imagine if the Nets lose and what that chaos will bring from fans. If Irving was vaccinated, the Nets would probably have an easier time clinching the No. 1 seed and winning a championship this season.
Charlotte Hornets - Not To Overpay Miles Bridges
If Bridges continues to play like this, he will win Most Improved Player of the Year pretty easily. Bridges is averaging 19.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game. He is a big reason for why the Hornets are over .500 for the season and contending for a spot in the playoffs and not the play-in game. With two years left on LaMelo Ball’s contract, Bridges appears to be a core piece to build alongside him.
The trick is going to be for how much. Bridges is a free agent after this year and the Hornets already have significant money going to Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward. As mentioned, Ball has just two years left before his big contract signing. Is Bridges worth $20 million? Could he be worth more? If the Hornets overpay, they could lose out on a window, which would be a shame because the Hornets have a really good thing going for them right now.
Chicago Bulls - Domantas Sabonis
Remember when the world said that signing DeMar DeRozan was a bad idea? He has made people eat those words as he is a perfect companion next to Zach LaVine. Now that Nikola Vucevic has finally found his fit with the team, the Bulls have themselves playing for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls could go all in and try and win a title this year if they added one more All-Star player.
Domantas Sabonis is likely on the trade market since the Pacers are one of the worst teams in the conference. The Bulls have assets like Coby White they can part with. Adding Sabonis to make a starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, LaVine, DeRozan, Sabonis, and Vucevic might be enough to win their first championship since 1998.
Cleveland Cavaliers - Ben Simmons
The Cavaliers are the second-best defensive team in the NBA this season. The frontcourt of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley has appeared to be a very efficient tandem. Imagine adding some defensive efficiency to the backcourt. Ben Simmons, the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year runner-up, could play today and bolster this team’s overall play, especially with Ricky Rubio gone for the year.
Simmons may not be the top target on offense, but the Cavaliers don’t need him to be. They just need him to do what he did in Philadelphia, which is to facilitate, rebound, and defend. The Cavaliers have assets because the last few years the team has been a doormat. With that said, the team is contending for a top-4 spot in the playoffs, and adding Simmons could help even more.
Dallas Mavericks - One More All-Star Player
Not to state the obvious, but the duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis is not working. If the Mavericks are stuck with this unit moving forward, they might as well go all in and add a third superstar. It would be hard moving a contract like Tim Hardaway Jr.'s, but you can’t keep playing like a 16-18 team and expect fans to be happy.
There will be some players on the market such as Sabonis, Myles Turner, or even Brandon Ingram. The Mavericks are barely hanging onto the playoff race and haven’t made it out of the first round with Doncic on the roster. At some point, the overall team needs to produce and not just Doncic’s stats.
Denver Nuggets - Healthy Jamal Murray
With Jamal Murray on the roster, the Nuggets made the Conference Finals two years ago. Without Murray, the team made the second round of the playoffs based on the pure leadership of their MVP in Nikola Jokic. The additional pieces in Aaron Gordon, Will Barton, and Michael Porter Jr. make this Nuggets team a championship contender, only if Murray is healthy.
With Porter out for the rest of the year, the Nuggets might have to wait another season to contend. That’s the problem. The pieces look great on paper, but nobody can stay healthy at the same time. Murray should return at some points this season with a tentative date set for February. Hopefully, he doesn’t rush and comes back fully healthy.
Detroit Pistons - ROY For Cade Cunningham
After a tough start to the season, Cunningham has started to look like the true No. 1 overall pick from the 2021 draft. Cunningham is averaging 15.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.4 steals in 25 games. Watching Cade's development has to be great for fans in Detroit given that he is only 20 years old.
The Pistons as a whole are struggling. The team owns the worst record in the NBA at 5-28. At this point, the Pistons are going to coast the rest of the way and let their younger players develop. Winning Rookie of the Year would give fans some closure about the development of at least one of their players.
Golden State Warriors - Healthy Klay Thompson
The Warriors are the best defensive team in the NBA and tied with the Suns for the best record in the league. With 27 wins, the Warriors are 20 games over .500. Steph Curry looks like he could win the MVP, while Draymond Green looks like the Defensive Player of the Year. All the team needs are Klay Thompson to remind them of the 2015-2019 dynasty years.
Thompson hasn’t played a game in two years and has missed almost half of this season as he recovers from a variety of injuries. Nobody knows what to exactly expect when he comes back. The team is not rushing him because of their current place in the standings. To clinch the title, the Warriors need one more piece. They have it and are hoping that he can be healthy.
Houston Rockets - 2022 No. 1 Pick
The Rockets own the worst record in the Western Conference at 10-25. The team is a dismal 3-17 on the road this season as well. Jalen Green has looked good at times. Green is averaging 14.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.4 assists this season while shooting 39.5% from the field and 31.6% from three-point range. It’s going to be a long road back before Houston is competing again.
The Rockets need another lottery pick to start truly building around the team. Chet Holmgren and Green could be the future of Houston if they get lucky. All they need is the No. 1 overall pick to make it happen.
Indiana Pacers - 2022 Lottery Picks
The Pacers are likely going to be having a firesale before the deadline. Sabonis, Turner, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris LeVert could all be on the table. The Pacers are circling being in the middle of the NBA, which is where nobody wants to be. If the Pacers want to try again, it’s going to have to start with the bottom.
Sabonis could get the team the most in a return, while Turner is potentially worth a first-round pick as well. Brogdon has an affordable contract and can play point guard. You never know what teams are willing to give in desperation. Either way, the 2022 draft will be here before we know it and Indiana should want as many top picks as possible.
Los Angeles Clippers - Healthy Kawhi Leonard
The Clippers weren’t expected to be in playoff contention but right now, they would be the last team to qualify for the playoffs and avoid the play-in tournament. Paul George has been playing like an MVP candidate this season to keep this team alive in the race. With Kawhi Leonard out, the Clippers were supposed to be outside the race.
The Hawks are a perfect example of what can happen if your team is healthy and playing well at the same time. Last year, the five seeded Hawks made the Conference Finals. Last year, the Clippers made the Conference Finals and could have potentially made the NBA Finals if Leonard was healthy. If the Clippers can make the playoffs, they could run it back if Leonard returns.
Los Angeles Lakers - Healthy Anthony Davis
The Lakers have an abundance of issues. The team sits with the No. 7 seed in the West and have lost five of their last six games. Fans are calling for the team to trade Russell Westbrook. The team is filled with older veterans. The biggest problem is probably Anthony Davis not playing at all.
Davis will return this season, but we saw last year what can happen if you rush a player back from an injury. The Lakers are desperate enough to where that could happen to keep the team in the playoff race. Davis is essential to the team’s success. The Lakers can only win a title if Davis is healthy.
Memphis Grizzlies - An Established Veteran
The Grizzlies are the fourth-best team in the Western Conference right now. The team is quietly making a run at one of the top seeds in the conference with players that may not get you excited outside of Ja Morant. Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, and Jaren Jackson Jr. are all playing well. Steven Adams is considered the “old” veteran at 28 years old. If the team wants to succeed in the playoffs, they need someone who has been there before.
Making a run in the playoffs at a young age isn’t done very often. It’s been 10 years since Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden did it in their low 20s. This Grizzlies team doesn’t have the same firepower. Getting a player like Goran Dragic could help with the experience.
Miami Heat - Healthy Jimmy Butler
The top four teams in the Eastern Conference could win the No. 1 seed. The Heat are in a position to do that right now as they are one of four teams with 22 wins or more. Jimmy Butler is playing like an MVP candidate when he is on the floor but the problem is that he has played only 22 games this year.
Butler is averaging 22.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 2.2 steals when he is on the floor. Before he got hurt, Butler was contending for the steals title. If Butler stays healthy, this Heat team is good enough to make another run to the NBA Finals, especially with the way Tyler Herro is playing right now.
Milwaukee Bucks - Finals Repeat
Every team’s wish is to make the NBA Finals. That is the point of playing this game anyways. The defending champions would love to defend their hardware and they are playing well enough to do it. The Bucks are in the thick of contending for the No. 1 seed with the Nets, Bulls, and Heat. With an MVP candidate of their own in Giannis Antetokounmpo, anything is possible.
The Bucks are not favored to win the title and are not favored to come out of the East. This same Bucks team defeated the Nets in the playoffs last year and not a lot has changed. The Nets have the star power, but Milwaukee has taken them down once. Can they do it again?
Minnesota Timberwolves - NBA Playoffs
The Timberwolves are stuck in an identity crisis right now. Should they buy or sell? Sitting with the ninth-best record in the West, the team is going to need to make a decision. Right now, the Timberwolves would qualify for the play-in tournament, but what is that worth? Karl-Anthony Towns could get the team a huge package but is essential to helping the team afloat in the playoff race.
Making the playoffs should be the wish because it would give the team a clear identity moving forward. For so long, Minnesota has been a doormat franchise. The team isn’t viewed as a contender. With Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Anthony Edwards, it sounds good on paper but hasn’t produced much on its own. A playoff appearance would help change the narrative.
New Orleans Pelicans - Healthy Zion Williamson
The Pelicans have been playing well as of late, and looked like one of the worst teams in the league to start the year. Even with Brandon Ingram, the Pelicans have struggled to win games. Devonte’ Graham and Jonas Valanciunas were supposed to be complementary pieces to help the team win games. That hasn’t happened.
A big reason for that is that Zion Williamson hasn’t played and the timeline for his return is unknown. Having multiple setbacks wasn’t the plan. It’s just the current situation. At this point, the Pelicans should want to make the lottery and allow Williamson to fully heal. There is always next year.
New York Knicks - Last Season’s Julius Randle
Randle was rewarded with a big contract extension after his emergence to All-Star status last year. This year, we have seen a major regression in his shooting, specifically from outside. Last year, Randle averaged 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and shot 41.1% from outside. This year, Randle is averaging 19.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and is shooting 32.8% from three-point range.
The Knicks would be the No. 9 seed if the playoffs began today. That would be a drop from the No. 4 seed last year. The drop in their team play likely has something to do with Randle’s drop as well, even though it is not the complete reason.
Oklahoma City Thunder - Develop Young Guys
Nobody expected the Thunder to compete this year. This is the second year of their rebuild and they have a bright future ahead with all the draft picks stocked. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the first major commitment of the team moving forward. Who is next?
Josh Giddey, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 draft has shined at points this year. Giddey is averaging 10.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 6.1 assists in his rookie year. His 24.5% shooting from three-point range could improve. Improvement is going to be the theme for the rest of the young roster.
Orlando Magic - 2022 No. 1 Pick
Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner are the future in the backcourt for the Magic. The team also has Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz in their plans. With the emergence of Wendell Carter Jr., there is a lot of young talent on this roster that could be productive one day.
With that said, the Magic have the second-worst record in the NBA. Their seven wins are a sign of young development. Adding a piece like Chet Holmgren could be the final young piece and could help accelerate the rebuild if the Magic got lucky.
Philadelphia 76ers - Trade Ben Simmons
The 76ers can’t have a dead money investment. The cost for Simmons is too much for that. At over $30 million, that money could be used on multiple assets to help this team contend. Or, it could be used on the player that gave it to, who was a top defensive player in the league and the best overall rebounding point guard.
At this point, the relationship appears unsalvageable. The 76ers need to get a return, any return at this point. There are some players like CJ McCollum and Buddy Hield, who could help the team right now. After winning the No. 1 seed last year, the 76ers are floating over .500. Simmons had value to this team.
Phoenix Suns - A Ring For Chris Paul
Chris Paul will turn 37 years old in May and he is tied with James Harden for the lead in assists this year. Paul has done everything in his career from winning assists and steals crowns to All-NBA squads to All-Star teams. The only thing missing is that elusive NBA championship.
Last year, Paul made the NBA Finals for the first time in his career. Moving forward, the only step above that is winning the title. The Suns are tied with the Warriors for the best record in the NBA. This could be the year that CP3 finally wins his title.
Portland Trail Blazers - Ben Simmons
The Trail Blazers are in a bad spot right now. CJ McCollum has battled injuries, while Damian Lillard has battled a career-low season and injuries. The tandem appears to have run its course. If Portland wants to move forward, they need a new superstar in town. Trading McCollum for Simmons would be a start.
The pair of Simmons and Lillard could work. Lillard could be moved to shooting guard and flourish. Simmons can lead the offense and find Lillard anywhere on the court. Needless to say, what’s happening in Portland isn’t working and it’s time for a change.
Sacramento Kings - NBA Playoffs
Like the Timberwolves, the Kings are struggling with an identity. Some may look on the outside and view the team as not trying to contend. Technically, they have made money moves. They are paying De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Harrison Barnes more than $20 million each per season. The problem is that Marvin Bagley III is a bust and they can’t find a head coach to lead this team.
If the Kings want to change their image, their pieces need to prove they can work. The team needs to make the playoffs, even if it’s the play-in game. The only way they will trade or bring pieces to town is if they show they can make the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
San Antonio Spurs - A Plan
What exactly is the future for the Spurs? Are they contending or tanking? Nobody seems to know and the longer the team loses with Gregg Popovich coaching will keep fans questioning the direction of the franchise. Outside of Dejounte Murray, is there a true building block for the future?
Derrick White is 27, while Keldon Johnson isn’t all that “young” himself. There is no clear superstar on the roster now that DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are gone. If the team is going to contend for the lottery, they need to lose more because right now, the team would make the play-in tournament. At some point, the franchise needs to realize that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a good team.
Toronto Raptors - Trade Pascal Siakam
When the Raptors were good, Siakam was a key piece to their success. Was he the best piece? That is debatable. Those teams had Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, and Marc Gasol playing at a high level. Siakam was rewarded with a max contract for his All-Star contributions, but today it looks like he was overpaid.
Siakam is due $35 million next year and $37 million the season after that. The Raptors are hanging around the No. 10 seed, which is the final spot for the play-in tournament. Again, playing in the play-in tournament doesn’t mean that you have a good team. The Raptors have flaws and a lot of money tied to Siakam and Fred VanVleet. Trading Siakam would give the team financial relief moving forward and potentially a first-round pick.
Utah Jazz - Consistent Jordan Clarkson
Jordan Clarkson wasn’t the reason the Jazz won the No. 1 seed last year, but he was a key contributor. Last year, Clarkson won Sixth Man of the Year by averaging 18.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, while shooting 34.7% from three-point range and 42.5% overall. This year, Clarkson is averaging 14.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, and is shooting four percent worst in both categories.
Clarkson has not been consistent. One night, he will shoot for 23 points and then the next night he could score nine points. If the Jazz is going to make a run for the Conference Finals, Clarkson has to play great every night, not just half the time. He was closing out games last year, but this year he could hamper the team instead.
Washington Wizards - Re-Signing Bradley Beal
Last year, the talk was all around Beal getting traded to the Heat or the Nuggets. Now, Beal’s future is up in the air. The Wizards were a top team in the Eastern Conference, but the team has cooled off since their hot start. Now, the team is .500 and the No. 8 seed. That is a slight improvement to where they were last year with Russell Westbrook on the team, but only by two seeds and a handful of games.
Beal owns a $36 million player option for next season. If he rejects that option, he could test the market and get a multi-year contract that could eventually pay him more than that total down the line. Not to mention, he could get out of Washington and join a contender rather than hope that the team builds one around him, which hasn’t worked in his 10-year career. Beal will turn 29 years old this season and has plenty of prime years left. He’s critical to Washington’s relevance and the team should wish he signs a contract extension sometime in 2022.
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