In light of the pending shift of the calendar from 2010 to 2011, Holding Court comes up with New Year's Resolutions for four struggling NBA teams.
New Jersey Nets, 9-23, 13th in Eastern Conference
Resolution: Get Brook Lopez back into last season's form by moving him closer to the basket
One could argue the Nets have more pressing concerns than Lopez, their cornerstone center, who's pouring in 19.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots per game, which is a defensible position. But Lopez has developed some bad habits this year, ones coach Avery Johnson needs to address now so they don't negatively affect the rest of his career.
A seven-footer with true back-to-the-basket skills, Lopez is shooting 45.5 percent from the floor this season as he's taken on a more perimeter-oriented game. Presently, 27.3 percent of his shot attempts are jumpers, according to the play-tracking service Synergy Sports Technology, and Lopez is converting them at a 33.9 percent clip. That represents an increase in volume, but decrease in efficiency, from last season. Put another way, he's taking more jumpers at a worse percentage than he did a year ago, which is hurting New Jersey.
Potentially unrelated to his shot-selection, but also as distressing: Lopez's rebounding, on a per-minute basis, has regressed sharply in each professional season. Though not ideally mobile for a player of his age, Lopez is nonetheless tall, athletic and skilled enough to grab more than one rebound every 5.7 minutes; not even playing alongside rebound magnets Derrick Favors and Kris Humphries adequately explains the drop-off.
Cleveland Cavaliers, 8-24, 15th in Eastern Conference
Resolution: Flip unproductive veterans for whatever is available to truly begin the rebuilding process.
The Cavaliers cannot delude themselves into thinking they're but a player or two away from making a hard playoff push. No, they need to honestly assess the roster -- the same roster that's lost 15 of its last 16 games -- and finally cut ties with Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams and perhaps even Anderson Varejao. In a vacuum, these players likely top their alternatives in terms what they can contribute when given major minutes on a nightly basis. But taken in context, Cleveland has little use for veterans of their talent and skill.
The Cavaliers need to embrace a youth movement, but first, they need to add young players. Among rotation players, only J.J. Hickson (22) and Daniel Gibson (24) are younger than 25, and neither has demonstrated star potential. Neither Williams nor Jamison is likely to yield much in a trade, but Cleveland needs to take a chance that a youngster it receives in return -- be it a player now or in the form of a future draft pick -- can become its next cornerstone.
Minnesota Timberwolves, 8-25, 14th in Western Conference
Resolution: Add a bona fide shooting guard
For better or worse, Minnesota's invested almost $34 million in Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic over the next four seasons, according to ShamSports.com, so it's set at center. Kevin Love deserves All-Star consideration for his eye-popping productivity across the board at power forward. The offensive freedom coach Kurt Rambis afforded Michael Beasley at small forward has revitalized the third-year player's flagging career. Veteran Luke Ridnour and sophomore Jonny Flynn are simply filling in for Ricky Rubio until the Spanish sensation can join the team. Indeed, shooting guard is the only long-term hole in this team.
But it's a hole in the present as well. Wayne Ellington is the only natural two-guard on the roster at present, and he stands at just 6-foot-4, making him more of a specialist. The Timberwolves are fairly well stocked for the future, but need to add a wing presence who can at least defend opposing shooting guards without hurting the team on offense. Corey Brewer satisfies the former condition, but certainly not the latter. Now in his fourth season, Brewer is averaging career-worst 36.3 percent shooting, which makes him a tremendous liability on offense, one whom opposing defenses can ignore in order to apply pressure elsewhere.
Sacramento Kings, 6-23, 15th in Western Conference
Resolution: Stabilize the team with a consistent playing rotation
Perhaps no coach has (over)tinkered with his squad this year more than Sacramento's Paul Westphal. He's used 12 different starting lineups in 29 games this season, but none more than six times. Of the 15 players to suit up for Sacramento this season, 11 have made at least two starts. Despite all the changes -- it might be easier to name what Westphal hasn't tried yet than what he has -- the Kings have the league's worst record.
This young Sacramento team would benefit if Westphal set a core starting five, named a few key reserves on whom he'd rely each night, and simply stepped back, taking a more hands-off approach to coaching. The Kings' oldest core player, Jason Thompson, is 24. The only older players under contract beyond this season are Francisco Garcia (29) and Beno Udrih (28). In short, this team ranks among the league's youngest. Westphal should define clear, unambiguous, realistic roles for his young charges, and then take some of the pressure off them. Playing with more freedom, and a better sense of purpose, could yield improved results for a team in serious turmoil ... or as serious as turmoil can get in the wake of this incredible, uplifting game-winner by Tyreke Evans.