Coal or Candy: 10 Christmas gifts for good players and bad NBA teams


It’s the holiday season, and you know what that means: Annoying TV jingles that make you a brand adversary rather than a loyalist. Plus, NBA basketball!

Yes, Christmas truly does belong to the NBA in the sports world. We all should be ready for Monday’s slate of games, all of which should provide for an interesting way to ignore your extended family (no promises for that Timberwolves-Lakers game).

This also means that we should be making our list, and checking it twice to see who has been naughty and who has been nice during this young NBA season. Let’s get our trusty quill out and head to the scroll to see what NBA teams and players will be asking for come December 25.

A clean bill of health for Joel Embiid

At this point, it seems as though there’s a faction of fans — mostly outside of Philly, it would stand to reason — that want “The Process” to fail. That means actively rooting against Embiid (which he predicted, naturally). I don’t think the 76ers need Embiid long-term to succeed. They have a great core that can grow, and continued diligent draft decisions, trades, and free agent signings should get them where they need to go. But why wouldn’t you want to see Embiid play?

A resolution on officiating from the NBA

Originally, when this article was planned I had this written down on my list as “some explanation for what’s going on” but we sort of got that from the NBPA an NBRA. We don’t know what’s going to come of the two associations sitting down to talk, or even if they will announce anything if they come to some sort of resolution. But we should start hoping to see some kind of change soon. Guys can’t be getting tossed on one technical foul.

Playing time for Jahlil Okafor

As of writing, Okafor has played in just one game for the Brooklyn Nets after being traded to the team from the 76ers in early December. The talk — outside of Okafor and his former coaching staff going back-and-forth — has been that Okafor needs to get into game shape and learn the new system in Brooklyn. Still, this feels weird and has to be more than we’re being let on. One of the best ways to get into game shape would be to play in games, and it’s not like Brooklyn could do any worse. They’re on a four-game losing streak and aren’t a playoff team.

Confidence in beating the Warriors for the Houston Rockets

Houston GM Daryl Morey says the team is obsessed with beating Golden State, and as we’ve seen in the past, the best way to gain confidence is to beat them over and over again. The Rockets already beat the Warriors in the first game of the year, and they play twice more in 2018 before the playoffs. Still, will that be enough to bolster them before what everyone is assuming will be a Western Conference showdown?

Shooting confidence for Lonzo Ball

The guy did block James Harden the other day, but he’s still shooting just 34 percent from the field. No, his shooting form isn’t going to get corrected over the course of the season. Most coaches wouldn’t try to do that, and it’s doubtful his father even lets anyone suggest as much next summer. But his long release is secondary to his clear reluctance to even let it fly. That’s a good thing for most rookies, but Ball is crucial to his team’s success and he’s not exactly Boston-era Rajon Rondo on defense. Let it fly, young buck.

A gameplan for the Oklahoma City Thunder

Watching the Thunder is weird enough, but looking at their stats really confirms the tale of the video. Oklahoma City is 26th in the NBA in terms of pace, which feels right considering the ball-stopping nature of their offensive weapons. It’s also a huge step back from last season, when the team finished 9th thanks to Russell Westbrook running at full speed at all times. They’re also No. 2 in defensive rating, another surprise. But it hasn’t yielded them returns. They’ve recently jumped into a playoff spot, and that could be them settling. But any confidence of them in the playoffs would be misplaced at this moment.

Some kind of promise to pursue a team for Seattle fans

There’s a memorandum of understanding for remodeling Key Arena, which is good for the city overall. It will probably net them an NHL team, and a better arena was what former SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz was going for back before the team moved to Oklahoma City. It’s unlikely any NBA team ever calls Key Arena home, but if the Oak View Group at least makes an effort to feign a pursuit of a team it would be a step in the right direction. Seattle is too great a basketball city to have no NBA squad.

More Michael Beasley for Knicks fans

Beasley went HAM on Thursday night, scoring 32 points in a winning effort over the Boston Celtics. He’s been a double-digit scorer for the entirety of December, save for two games. Beasley has also been a key bench player for New York, but that’s not why he’s interesting. B-Easy is still just 28 years old, and getting more fun game out of the former No. 2 overall pick is exactly what basketball twitter needs in the middle of these long, winter weeks.

A playoff spot for the Pacers

Seriously, how great is this Pacers story? They get their legs swept out from under them by Paul George, and when the time came to trade him, Indiana somehow makes out like a bandit. Victor Oladipo looks much different, which is a relief for those of us who were down on the former No. 2 overall pick from 2013. The team currently sits at No. 4 in the Eastern Conference, and all of us are hoping they make it to the finish line both for the longevity of the Pacers and to make things interesting come spring.

A Lakers jersey for LeBron James

Like, maybe just as a white elephant gift (but also maybe for real).

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

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Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.

Reports: Jazz might trade Rodney Hood before deadline

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Rodney Hood has been a solid shooter for the Jazz this season, averaging 16.7 points per game and shooting 41.3 percent from three. Of course, you remember him better for this.

Hood is in the final year of his rookie contract, and with the rise of Donovan Mitchell it’s not exactly clear what Hood’s role would be for the Jazz going forward.

Which means Utah might trade Hood, according to multiple reports.

Hood isn’t going to net much in return because he’s in the final year of a contract and because he misses time with nagging injuries (he was out the end of Friday’s game against the Knicks with a lower leg contusion), but considering the number of teams who could use another shooter in the mix there will be interest. More than the big name deals — Kemba Walker, DeAndre Jordan — this is the kind of trade likely to get done at the deadline.

Lowry scores 24 points as Raptors beat Spurs 86-83

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TORONTO (AP) — Kyle Lowry scored nine of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, DeMar DeRozan added 21 and the Toronto Raptors beat San Antonio 86-83 on Friday night to snap a four-game losing streak against the Spurs.

Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and 11 rebounds as the Raptors improved to 17-3 at home, the second-best home record in the NBA behind San Antonio’s mark of 19-2.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 17 points and 14 rebounds, Pau Gasol scored 15 points and Patty Mills had 13 as San Antonio lost for the fourth time in six road games. The Spurs are 11-15 away from home.

It had been more than two years since Toronto last beat San Antonio. The Raptors won 97-94 at home on Dec. 9, 2015.

San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili missed his second straight game because of a sore right thigh. Ginobili returned to Texas after the Spurs won at Brooklyn on Wednesday.

The Spurs trailed 70-69 after a 3-pointer by Bryn Forbes at 6:52 of the fourth, but DeRozan and Lowry connected on back-to-back possessions, giving Toronto a 74-69 lead with 5:11 remaining.

After a jump shot by Mills, Toronto reeled off a 6-0 run including baskets by Lowry, Valanciunas and DeRozan to lead 80-71 with 2:40 left.

Another 3-pointer by Forbes made it 86-83 with six seconds left. DeRozan was fouled but missed both free throws, giving San Antonio a chance to tie, but the Spurs couldn’t get a shot off in time.

After making seven of 23 shots in the first quarter, the Raptors hit 11 of 20 attempts in the second, including a buzzer-beating jumper from DeRozan that gave Toronto a 44-37 lead at halftime.

Toronto led 55-41 on DeRozan’s three-point play at 7:33 of the third but Aldridge did all the scoring in an 8-0 Spurs run that cut the gap to 63-60 heading to the fourth.