The gift-giving guide for NBA Christmas Sunday

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Wait, so we’re going to have actual, real-life games on Sunday? Like, for real? With defense and actual coordinated playsets (as opposed the summer exhibitions) and everything?

BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER.

And since ’tis the season and all, we thought it would be good to put together what the teams playing in Sunday’s season openers really want under the tree.

Miami Heat: A Chemistry Set

It’s amazing that everyone acts like the Heat were the greatest disappointment last year. Teams who finished ahead of the Heat: the Mavericks. That’s it. By two games. Still, the same questions haunt the Heat in regards to chemistry and how they will fit together. The Heat need to find those keys that will enable them to play more cohesively as a team in order to win on Sunday. The Mavericks aren’t the same team they were last year, but they’ll still have more cohesion than most teams. The Heat have added Shane Battier but against the Mavericks they need more than individual abilities. The same problems the Heat had in the Finals will be present, down to how to guard Dirk and how to keep men out on the shooters. But if they can improve their chemical combos, revenge might be theirs even on a day when the Mavericks will raise their banner.

Los Angeles Lakers: A Self-Help book by Phil Jackson

The Lakers need some spiritual guidance. They’re having a rough month. Busted on a trade for Chris Paul, lost Lamar Odom to bad feelings, thin in the frontcourt, Bynum on suspension, Kobe Bryant injured and facing divorce. Mike Brown may wind up a better overall coach than Phil Jackson in terms of in-game adjustments, tactical design, and you, know, doing things during the game, but there’s no question Jackson was the master of motivation. The Lakers need some spiritual and mental healing, and Jackson could provide it. He understands this team, even if he lost it last season. The Lakers are facing a Bulls team that has advantages at multiple positions. They need to find their center, not their actual center, he’s suspended, if they want to start off 1-0.

Boston Celtics: A nice new shiny whirlpool

My first thought was Ben Gay, but that seemed mean. Instead, this team just needs to try and stay as healthy as possible with their age and injuries, especially facing what is going to be a meaner, tougher Knicks team with Tyson Chandler. Even with the Knicks’ defensive non-existence outside of Tyson Chandler, there are some big mean players on that squad. It’s going to be a battle for the Celtics all season and they need what they can get to stay healthy right off the bat.

Orlando Magic: Super-glue.

The Magic are trying to keep Dwight Howard. They’re facing starting off the year against a young contending team featuring multiple stars that has drafted well and made no serious gaffes in personnel management. So they could use something to try and hold Superman to their roster. Plus, against the Thnder, who are one of the most active teams in the NBA defensively, they could use it to limit their turnovers.

Los Angeles Clippers: “Precious memories” scrapbook

You only debut the best team in franchise history once.  The Clippers are ready to unleash the CP3-Blake Griffin combo on the world, and the Golden State Warriors are a suitably terrible defensive team to allow them to run roughsod. A loss would be the ultimate buzzkill. But most likely this is the start of one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. They should just enjoy the ride.

New York Knicks: Temporary tattoos.

The Knicks need to change the perception of their attitude. They need to become a tougher defensive squad. But since they’re mostly made up of poor defensive players and they’re facing of the biggest bully teams in the NBA, they need to do some window dressing. I’m thinking some fake barbed wire or an anchor with “Mom” on it. The Knicks are going to have to get tough buckets. It’ll be a stiff first test for Tyson Chandler who is charged with changing the whotenter. le culture for the Knicks. But at least the Celtics are thin down low, with Kevin Garnett expected to play significant minutes at center. If the Knicks are going to make a statement, they have to believe they are tough enough. You know, pretend.

Chicago Bulls: A new bulletin board

The Bulls are the latest team to post the best regular season record and advance to the Conference Finals while boasting the MVP to claim that they are disrespected. The Bulls feed off of doubt, and with most people not putting Derrick Rose in the running for MVP, nor putting the Bulls in the Finals, they can use a bigger bulletin board to put all their motivational material, especially since they’re so favored on Christmas. The Lakers are in disarray, so it might be easy for the Bulls to get complacent… much like they became after blowing out the Heat in Game 1 of the ECF last season. The Bulls need their edge and to approach the game Sunday with the same level of “why not us?” that helped them to such a great season last year, including a big win over the Lakers.

Golden State Warriors: A 2013 Calendar

This is a team in transition. 2012 doesn’t even help them. Better to look ahead to a full year and get them something to look forward to when the team looks dramatically different. Mark Jackson wants a tough, defensive, veteran team, and this is a young, offensive, inexperienced team. So it’s going to be rough going, especially against a Clippers team that looks ready to go. It’s best to keep an eye on the long-term, the big picture, the hope of 2013.

Oklahoma City Thunder: A Spalding basketball. 

See, because they need two for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, you see. More overrated: the Durant v. Westbrook struggle, or the characterization of that struggle as overhyped? It’s so meta. The reality is that Westbrook isn’t a pure creator, and Durant isn’t great at creating space for himself in key situations. That’s been the lost element throughout this debate. Durant struggles in creating separation, Westbrook blows past everyone. Durant rarely comes off a screen clean for a catch-and-shoot, Westbrook is able to create offense on his own. This is going to continue to be an issue until they resolve that. But in the meantime, maybe they can just both shoot at the same time. Westbrook with layups and pull-up jumpers and Durant with heavily-guarded, fading away 35-footers.

Dallas Mavericks: Nothing.

They get to raise the banner of a championship. What can be better than that?

Rumor: Dell Demps out, Joe Dumars in with Pelicans?

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Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is on shaky ground.

What about New Orleans general manager Dell Demps?

A long-swirling rumor is getting renewed.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

A few league sources peg the New Orleans Pelicans as a team that is going to make sweeping changes once their season ends in eight games.

The Pelicans have long been rumored to be the next stop for former Piston’s executive Joe Dumars, who is a Shreveport, Louisiana native and has close ties to the ownership and leadership of the Pelicans and Saints organization.

League sources said recently that Dumars has been active in the NBA front office circles, scouting players and reconnecting to the process.

Demps has done a lousy job building a supporting cast around Davis. Part of the reason trading for the risky DeMarcus Cousins made so much sense: The Pelicans were so underwhelming, they wouldn’t be much worse off if Cousins destroyed their culture and/or bolted in 2018 free agency.

But it’s not too late to salvage Davis’ tenure in New Orleans. He’s locked up for three more seasons, and Cousins is an extremely talented No. 2.

Is Dumars the right man to bring it all together?

He masterfully built the Pistons into the 2004 NBA champions. He also played an integral role in the team’s downfall.

Another factor: There appears to be a mutual respect between Cousins and Dumars, who coveted the big man since he was coming out of Kentucky. That could help the Pelicans re-sign Cousins in 2018.

Dumars’ success should get him general-manager job interviews, but his more-recent failings demand tough questions. I’m unconvinced the Pelicans are scrutinizing Dumars enough, and they’d probably benefit from a more-thorough search.

But Dumars might be a fine hire. Dumping Demps would at least be step in the right direction.

Maryland star Melo Trimble declares for NBA draft

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Maryland guard Melo Trimble declared for last year’s NBA draft but withdrew.

This time, he’s not turning back.

Don Markus of The Baltimore Sun:

Trimble, less than three weeks removed from finishing his junior season with the team’s first-round loss to Xavier in the NCAA tournament, announced Wednesday he will make himself available for the NBA draft.

Unlike a year ago, when Trimble went through the pre-draft process without signing with an agent and then decided to return to school hours before the deadline, the 6-foot-3 point guard will forego his senior season.

“The deciding factor was that I felt there was nothing more I could do,” Trimble told the Baltimore Sun from the Stamp Student Union during a lunch break. “I felt like I did everything I could for the program. We went to the [NCAA] tournament three years in a row, and I had the same amount of points three years in a row. I felt that if I wanted to hopefully get to the next level, I had to leave at this time.

Trimble’s scouting report hasn’t changed much in the last year. He’s a scoring guard whose size (6-foot-3) will require him to play point guard in the next level, but he hasn’t shown the necessary distributing skills.

The biggest difference: He’s now 22, not 21.

Trimble had a superb college career, but at this point, his range is second round to undrafted.

DeMarcus Cousins answers first several Kings-related questions same way (video)

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DeMarcus Cousins had a bitter exit from the Kings, but that won’t be the last they see of him.

Cousins’ Pelicans will host Sacramento tomorrow night.

Not that Cousins rushed to talk about the matchup.

Justin Verrier of ESPN:

Cousins is pretty funny when joking with the media, and his smile is contagious. Just listen to all the laughs Cousins generates as he goes through his shtick.

Bonus points to Cousins for eventually breaking down and providing real answers. Some of his relationships in Sacramento were clearly meaningful to him, and he wanted to acknowledge those — even if he’d prefer just to get past this awkward game and all the talk it invites.

Report: Sweet-shooting 7-footer Lauri Markkanen leaving Arizona for NBA draft

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Lauri Markkanen is 7-foot and made 42% of his 3-pointers this season.

That combination alone will have NBA teams drooling, and the Arizona freshman will capitalize.

Evan Daniels of Scout:

Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen is declaring for the NBA Draft and is expected to sign with an agent, multiple sources told Scout.

Markkanen seems pretty certain to get picked in the lottery, likely in the top 10.

Calling him a good shooter for his height undersells him. It’s not just he shoots so efficiently from deep, it’s that he can generate 3-pointers in so many ways — pick-and-pops, spot-ups, off off-ball screens and even running pick-and-rolls himself. Having the height to shoot over defenders is his most noticeable asset, but don’t undersell his mobility.

Markkanen also finishes well at the rim and offensively rebounds at extremely impressive clip for someone who spends so much time on the perimeter. Those interior skills instill belief he will eventually become a suitable defender.

There are a couple red flags. He’s old for a freshman, turning 20 before the draft. He leaves plenty to be desired defensively, especially due to his lack of strength.

But his size and shooting are tantalizing. That’s plenty for now.