Christmas is a magical day in the NBA. With five games on the schedule, it’s an opportunity for players and fans alike to celebrate everything that makes the NBA so special. It also means that if you’re watching the Knicks and Bucks play at noon ET Dec. 25 on ESPN, the Christmas shopping season is over. So, with that in mind, we asked our writers to look ahead one full year and tell us what they’d like to see under the proverbial NBA Christmas tree in 2019.
Malika Andrews: A woman head coach
The argument that women are incapable of coaching men has been debunked, as more women have seen success in the NBA in recent years. Last summer, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon became the first woman to interview for a head coaching position. The Denver Nuggets recently hired Sue Bird to work in the front office. Pau Gasol penned an open letter urging the league to employ a head coach who is a woman. LeBron James said he would “love” to have a female coach and would welcome any coach who “knows the game.” Women know the game.
In November, Adam Silver said that he is “very confident” a woman will be an NBA coach “at some point.” Some point should be 2019, Santa Silver. Perhaps within the next year is wishful thinking, but isn’t that what the holiday spirit is all about? Miracles happened on 34th Street, why not at NBA headquarters at 51st and Fifth, too? By Christmas 2019, we should be celebrating the first two months of the NBA’s first woman head coach.
Kevin Arnovitz: A title run for this Bucks core
It’s a bit early to declare the Milwaukee Bucks a team with a championship window. But as we approach 2019, the indicators are favorable. They feature a top-five superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo who’s compulsive in his preparation and unselfish in his play. Milwaukee runs an offensive system that complements his talents and a defense that’s a work in progress but already the league’s fourth-most efficient. The Bucks sport the NBA’s best point differential, are deep, culturally sound, and have one of the league’s top coaching staffs.
Yet apart from Antetokounmpo, every member of the Bucks’ starting lineup is scheduled to become a free agent July 1. Keeping Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon and Brook Lopez under contract will be prohibitively expensive, particularly for a small-market team. It will also demand a great deal of faith that this core truly has the talent and chemistry to sustain its current trajectory toward being among the NBA’s elite. But there’s something about this team, its vibe, the way individual players embrace their roles that suggests the opportunity for something big.
Ian Begley: An improvement to two-way contracts
This isn’t an earth-shattering change, but it’s one that can even the playing field in a system some players believe is too beneficial to teams: Put an NBA opt-out in two-way player contracts. Currently, two-way players who spend a maximum of 45 days with their NBA teams have the chance to earn roughly $275,000 — much higher than the average G League player. But the extra money comes with a cost. A two-way player can only be called up from the G League by the NBA team he’s signed with. G League players on non-two-way deals are eligible to sign standard NBA contracts with any team. So the two-way system limits the player and can also hurt the open market. A potential solution that would make for a merrier holiday season in 2019? Allow two-way players to opt out of their deal if another NBA team offers them a guaranteed contract for multiple seasons. This sets a high bar for an opt-out while giving players deserving of that contract length/money the opportunity to cash in.
Tim Bontemps: A fun home for Zion Williamson
RJ Barrett passes the ball to Zion Williamson, who quickly finds his way to the basket for the layup.
It’s hard to envision a scenario that wouldn’t have a fun outcome for Zion Williamson, the most famous basketball player in the world currently outside the NBA. How about Williamson with the New York Knicks? Pair him with Kristaps Porzingis and a free agent or two this summer and the Knicks might finally be in business again. What about him catching alley-oops from Trae Young with the Atlanta Hawks? Or with the Brooklyn Nets, where a franchise that has yearned for an identity since coming to Brooklyn would finally have one? Or the Chicago Bulls, where he could pair with Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen in what would have the makings of a terrific young core?
The list goes on. Whether Williamson is the next all-time great player or not is one thing. But what is not in question is that, wherever he goes, it is going to be a nonstop story next season. I, for one, can’t wait to see how that story goes — and where it is located. The only guarantee is that it is going to be a lot of fun.
Nick DePaula: A new look for Kawhi Leonard
A year after surprisingly signing with New Balance, here’s hoping that potential MVP Kawhi Leonard has his very first signature shoe model on store shelves and underneath trees by the close of 2019. He could be playing once again in Toronto, in Los Angeles or with another franchise, but the success of his first sneaker will be reliant less on his home market and more on a compelling design and marketing campaign that’s more captivating and exciting than his famously reserved persona. Despite its lack of cache among NBA fans, New Balance has nearly 115 years of history, a lot of expertise making sneakers and raked in more than $4 billion in sales for 2018. Leonard hardly signed with a newcomer, though the pressure will be on him to reignite interest in the brand’s basketball category.
Nick Friedell: A drama-free year for the Bulls
If Santa is feeling particularly generous for the 2019 holiday season, maybe he’ll send some warm thoughts toward a team that really needs some: the Bulls. After several years full of drama and strife within the organization, how about a whole year of peace, happiness and growth? A fully healthy team would be nice. Maybe Santa can help keep Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. healthy enough to play together for an entire season. Maybe the Bulls can get a little lottery luck and add another promising young piece to their core. That’s a lot of wishes for a group that has struggled to find its way of late, but if any team is in need of a Christmas miracle it’s these Bulls.
Chris Herring: A Bay Area return for KD — in a new jersey
No player, not even Kawhi Leonard, can send the sort of shockwaves through the entire league that Kevin Durant can by simply changing his home address. This summer, Durant will face a difficult choice, especially if Golden State wins a third consecutive championship. Does he want to continue to win and be a major piece of a team that for years has belonged to Stephen Curry, or does he want to go somewhere and have a team built primarily around him, as was the case in Oklahoma City?
The logic in leaving would be clear: After accomplishing just about everything he could with Golden State, he’d be prepared for the next challenge, to show he’s capable of winning big without the sort of star power he has now.
The bet here is that come Christmas Day 2019, Durant will be playing in the Bay Area — just in the opposing team’s uniform, in his return to face his former team.
Jackie MacMullan: A fresh start for Markelle Fultz
SVP plays “Headline or Storyline” with Markelle Fultz being diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, saying it could finally lead to a full recovery.
The only thing on my 2019 NBA wish list is for Markelle Fultz to be OK.
This kid deserves a break; from the persistent scrutiny, from the parade of doctors and specialists, from the unrelenting pressure of being a No. 1 pick gone awry, from the peculiar season-and-a-half of doubt and disappointment and intrigue.
It’s clearly a time for a change of scenery. Fultz needs a clean slate where he can re-establish himself as a dynamic talent with scoring ability, particularly in the pick-and-roll. The Sixers need to move on from a player who has lost trust in them and is a painful reminder of what has become, until circumstances change, a major pre-draft trade blunder.
Wherever Fultz winds up, I hope it’s someplace where he can heal in peace. Keep in mind he is only 20 years old, too young to drink a beer or rent a car without surcharges. Count me among those who believe he can still have a happy, productive NBA career. But for that to occur, Fultz needs a new year, a new team and a new, honest outlook on the game that has so cruelly betrayed him.
Bobby Marks: A Raptors Christmas Day game
For the past few years, it has been Groundhog Day in early August when the NBA schedule is released. The Raptors, despite an average of 52 wins since 2013-14, are left off the Christmas schedule, in favor of big-market but lottery-bound teams like the Knicks and Lakers (before LeBron James).
Yes, the future of Kawhi Leonard will certainly determine whether the Raptors are sleeping in on Christmas Day 2019 or getting ready for the noon game (sorry, New York). But if the Raptors advance to at least the conference finals and Leonard returns? The answer is easy.
Expect to see Toronto playing on Christmas for the first time since 2001.
Kevin Pelton: A potential new home for the Clippers
Steve Ballmer’s big wish in 2019 is a new home in the L.A. area for his Clippers, who have had third priority as tenants at Staples Center behind the rival Lakers and NHL’s Kings. If the Clippers are unsuccessful in their hotly contested efforts to build a new arena in Inglewood before their Staples lease expires in 2024, Seattle would be an obvious backup plan for the former Microsoft CEO. The city recently landed an NHL expansion team to play in a renovated Key Arena. Despite the interest in bringing basketball back to the former home of the SuperSonics, Ballmer still doesn’t sound interested, telling a Seattle audience at the recent GeekWire Gala, “I love Seattle. I would never move our team.”
Mike Schmitz: A better appreciation of Zion Williamson
While Zion Williamson is a physical marvel unlike any we’ve seen in the sport, by this time next year the likely Rookie of the Year candidate should be praised for his actual basketball acumen, not just his rim-rattling slams. Lost in the ferocious alley-oops are his nifty handle, sharp vision, incredible footwork and relentless motor. He’s more than just a dunker with an extensive YouTube clip reel, and it shouldn’t take long into his rookie campaign for players, coaches and fans to see that Williamson has real game, even if the jumper is still a work in progress.
Andre Snellings: A new king of the NBA
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s double-double ties a career-high with 44 points and 14 rebounds in the Bucks’ 114-102 victory over the Cavs.
From the time he entered the NBA, LeBron James represented a physical evolution, and he ascended to greatness over several impressive seasons. During the 2008-09 season he won his first MVP and assumed his throne as King James, the greatest player in the world, despite the previous generation of kings (e.g. Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett) still making their mark on the league. History is repeating itself, as a new physical evolution has arisen to take the throne from King James. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been ascending for several seasons, bursting from exciting prospect to Most Improved Player to All-NBA MVP candidate. By Christmas 2019, it should be clear that he has taken over as the new greatest player in the world and the standard by which history will evaluate every other player of the next generation.
Michael C. Wright: A vintage Spurs squad
Plenty of fun rides can be found locally at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, but Spurs fans desperately want off the roller coaster that has been 2018.
This year, the Spurs showed they were capable of beating up on solid Western Conference foes such as New Orleans, Houston, Portland and Golden State, only to suffer losses to struggling squads like Phoenix and Miami sprinkled in with a couple 30-point stinkers to Minnesota and the Rockets. That is not the consistency of a team that won 50-plus games every season from 2000 through 2017. Sure, San Antonio flashes glimpses of the franchise you could always count on to make the postseason, but even that is in jeopardy this season.
Let’s hope by Christmas 2019, the Spurs have found a way to develop a level of familiarity, trust and cohesion with all the new players left in the aftermath of the departures of their Big Three and Kawhi Leonard, and are on the way to starting a new run of consistent success.
Royce Young: A clear solution for clear-path fouls
The clear-path foul — and the endless replay reviews it brings — is one of the great scourges of the modern NBA. And it wouldn’t take a Christmas miracle to fix it, just a small tweak, borrowing from soccer. Instead of blowing the whistle and calling the foul to stop the game then inevitably go to the monitor, referees should hold out both arms and play “advantage.” Let the play happen, have the scorekeeper write it down as a foul both on the player and team, and play on. This way, we get a more free-flowing game. That will result in more time spent watching exciting highlights, and less time watching referees huddle over a courtside monitor.
Ohm Youngmisuk: A basketball rebirth in NYC
Picture this for next Christmas: Kevin Durant and Kristaps Porzingis are lacing up their holiday sneakers as they prepare to play their first Christmas game together as Knicks teammates at Madison Square Garden. Across the Brooklyn Bridge, the Nets are a few hours away from their turn on the Christmas Day national stage now that they have Kyrie Irving, Khris Middleton and No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson.
It’s possible for New York basketball to be back, following an Empire State-sized blockbuster summer, when both teams lure stars to NYC with their ample cap space and the Nets get some lottery luck. KD, Kyrie, Unicorn and Zion all in New York; it’s a Broadway ending that not even Spike Lee could dream up.