My NBA Christmas List

Dear Santa Claus,

It’s me, Sonny. I just wanted to get this out there before the big day. I understand you are probably really busy this time of year, but I assure you that this is important. Last year you helped to deliver the greatest Christmas present any basketball fan could ask for: the return of the NBA after a 16 game lockout. This year on my Christmas list you will see a drastic change from years past where I typically didn’t ask for much NBA related stuff besides an occasional jersey or DVD. I would really appreciate it if you didn’t necessarily have your elves craft me any handmade products this year. Rather, I’m just asking you to use your mystical powers to make sure the following things occur:

May 3, 2011; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (left) exchanges words with Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins (5) during the fourth quarter in game two of the second round of the 2011 NBA playoffs at Oklahoma City Arena. The Thunder defeated the Grizzlies 111-102. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

– I want to see Zach Randolph and Kendrick Perkins face off in a UFC fight, back alley brawl, backyard wrestling match, or just putting the dukes up at midcourt. Some sort of violent altercation between the two of them is all I ask for, and really it doesn’t seem like it’s out of the question.

– I need you to keep Stephen Curry and the rest of the Golden State Warriors healthy please. I know this is a lot to ask since Curry has had chronic ankle issues since his junior season at Davidson and Andrew Bogut’s arm almost snapped off of his body a few years back, but this is a hell of a story that should not be derailed. Plus I picked them to finish 7th in the western conference before the season started, and not many people can say that, but that’s beside the point. Additionally, not too many people realize that this is one of the better teams in the league. Their win in Miami 9 days ago was far from a fluke, and neither was their 7 game road trip that they went 6-1 on, defeating 3 eastern conference playoff teams along the way. As long as Stephen Curry remains healthy and playing at an MVP caliber level (actually, David Lee has been just as good), the Warriors are an intriguing contender in the western conference. – For all of the past, present and future abolitionists everywhere, please make sure Andrew Bynum never cuts his hair and continues to look like a modern day Frederick Douglass.

– Since I hold you in higher regard than I do David Stern, and it’s much more likely you’ll actually listen to me, I’m going to blueprint how we can make NBA All-Star weekend better, and you do your best to put it into action. To make this as simple as possible, I’ll map it out in chronological order.

  • On All-Star Friday night, everything is just about perfect. As long as Kevin Hart is involved in the celebrity game, it becomes can’t miss TV after his performance last year.  The Rising Stars Challenge is also as good as it can get. As long as we keep super athletic guys whose sole devotion is to make the SportsCenter Top 10 at the end of the night, we should be fine.
  • We move to All-Star Saturday Night, which happens to be my least favorite night of All-Star weekend since it is in desperate need of star power, particularly in the Dunk Contest which is on life support after the atrocity of last year. Let’s just say that last year it was trending on Twitter for all of the wrong reasons. It’s a relatively simple fix: Offer some sort of incentive to some of the top guys in the league to get some big names in the contest. If you need to throw in a donation to a charity of the winner’s choice, the league should definitely do so to avoid a collective clamor from fans to get rid of the contest all together. After LeBron, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, etc. are coerced into the contest, tell them to cut all of the corny stuff out. I don’t need to see someone jump over a car or wear a goofy outfit when they are dunking; I just want a throwback to every pre-2000 dunk contest when guys just dunked the ball and the crowd went nuts for the right reasons. Not because Dwight Howard decided to pretend he was Superman just two years before he would start being the biggest A-hole in all of the NBA. And as long as big names remain in the 3-Point Contest and Skills Challenge then things are good.
  • The All-Star game should be treated the same way that the Rising Stars Challenge was last year. Two captains pick their respective teams, without what their conference mattering. The captain’s would be chosen by fan vote as a means to keep the fans somewhat involved, but not involved enough for uneducated/slightly biased fans to vote Jeremy Lin as a starter (at the last ballot returns, Lin was 3rd in the voting for western conference guards). Hypothetically, let’s say that LeBron James and Kobe Bryant maintain their lead in the voting standings; it’s then up to those two to pick their teams with the only rule being you can’t pick more than two of your own teammates for your team. Can you imagine the rivalries that would be formed and animosity between the teams, especially if the teams were formed in a schoolyard pick’em? I would be willing to bet it would be the most competitive All-Star game yet. For the sake of this idea, this column and my own personal entertainment, here are the 24 players who I would like to see playing in the All-Star game this year, paying no attention to conferences:
    -Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Jrue Holiday, Dwight Howard, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Al Jefferson, David Lee, Kevin Love, OJ Mayo, Joakim Noah, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Zach Randolph, Josh Smith, Anderson Varejao, Dwyane Wade, and Russell Westbrook.

– Would it be totally out of the question to ask for everyone to fully appreciate just how good LeBron James is? Yeah, I’m probably getting a little ambitious with this one.

– I know that sequels are rarely as good as the original version, but I want Stephen A. Smith going off on Kwame Brown for 2 minutes straight, part two. Maybe it won’t happen with Kwame Brown since Kwame will never be this relevant again, but it’s totally in play that Stephen A. could snap and go off on just about anyone.

– Have you checked out the franchise names that have been trademarkedfor New Orleans? Santa, I’m thinking we go with something a little snazzier than the likes of the New Orleans Mosquitos. Bayou Ballers, maybe?

– To no surprise of my own, the Bobcats went from 7-5 to 7-18. How much fun would it be if their owner, Michael Jordan, made yet another comeback? Look, it can’t be that difficult to use your powers to coax the most maniacally competitive athlete of all-time out of his management position and back onto the basketball court. He clearly has the itch to do so. I don’t care how ripped apart I get for saying this, but I think for a four minute stretch MJ can still be an effective player, despite the fact that he is 49 years old and has been retired for a decade. You can’t convince me that if Jerry Stackhouse, 38 years old, can get crunch time minutes for Brooklyn, a playoff team, then the greatest basketball player of all-time couldn’t play down the stretch for a team who has lost 13 straight games. Sure, Jordan would likely be a complete defensive liability and limit any kind of fast paced tempo you wanted to play at, but wouldn’t teams still be terrified of Jordan late in games? I’d think so. At the very least, even if Jordan was clearly in over his head, this would make the Bobcats completely relevant every single night. They’d be the top story on SportsCenter, PTI, Around the Horn, First Take, etc. and would be by far the hottest ticket in the NBA if Jordan made a 3rd return to the NBA. Realistically, that is probably the only way it could ever happen. Unfortunately for Charlotte, this is totally unrealistic… unless you can come through Santa.

– Am I the only one that misses the seeing a basketball playing dinosaur on an NBA uniform? I hate to turn this into a fashion column, but I would like to make a request that the Raptors, Grizzlies, Hawks, and Pistons all permanently wear their retro uniforms.

– I’m convinced that Charles Barkley isn’t wrong, and that Dwyane Wade is far from the player he used to be. Since the Big Three were formed back in the summer of 2010 it hasn’t been difficult to see that Wade has lost a step physically and statistically every year. Of course you have to factor in Wade taking a backseat to LeBron James, playing less minutes and the Heat bringing in more and more weapons each season, but at the same time, it’s glaringly obvious that Wade has lost a step. He isn’t the same physically and it’s understandable. He plays a very physically and sometimes recklessly, and it’s been suggested that unless he modifies his game in the fashion that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant did, we won’t be seeing Wade for as long as we’ve been fortunate to see Jordan and Kobe. We still see glimpses of old school Wade every once in a while, but it’s not as consistent as it once was. Admittedly, I attack Dwyane Wade quite a bit, but I understand that a lot of what is going on in Miami is Wade (and LeBron for that matter) seem to be coasting through a decent amount of games this year, which is probably the best thing for them to do since they will be the heavy favorite in the Eastern Conference no matter where they are seeded. Still, my mind wanders every once in a while and I think about what it would be like to be a Miami Heat fan without Dwyane Wade in the picture. I’ve dabbled around with the ESPN trade machine every so often, and these are my favorite Dwyane Wade trades that I’d love for Santa Claus to look over.

Trade #1: Dwyane Wade to Minnesota for Kevin Love.
Trade #2: Dwyane Wade to Golden State for Stephen Curry, Harrison Barnes and Andris Biedrins.
Trade #3: Dwyane Wade to Cleveland for Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters and Omri Casspi.
Trade #4: Dwyane Wade and Mike Miller to Los Angeles for Kobe Bryant.
Trade #5: Dwyane Wade to Golden State, David Lee and Mike Miller to Minnesota, and Stephen Curry and Kevin Love to Miami.

– Finally, I know it’s still four months away, but take a look at my suggested playoff seeding’s and see if you could get us here in late April. I even included a brief “Why we should be rooting for this” blurb below.
East- 1 New York, 2 Miami, 3 Chicago, 4 Atlanta, 5 Boston, 6 Brooklyn, 7 Indiana, 8 Milwaukee
West- 1 Oklahoma City, 2 San Antonio, 3 Los Angeles Clippers, 4 Memphis Grizzlies, 5 Golden State Warriors, 6 Los Angeles Lakers, 7 Minnesota, 8 Houston

In the East: New York wins easily over Milwaukee. Miami defeats Indiana somewhat easily in a rematch of last season’s physical series. Chicago (with Derrick Rose back) defeats Brooklyn, and Boston defeats Atlanta, keeping Atlanta in their constant state of irrelevance. In the 2nd round Miami would be just a little too much for the rejuvenated Bulls, and the New York/Boston series would likely be a classic. You really couldn’t complain with either outcome in the Knicks/Celtics series since it would result in either New York/Miami (LeBron and Carmelo potentially dueling four times at Madison Square Garden in an extremely meaningful playoff series) or a Miami/Boston rematch which would of course go seven games and cost me a few years of my life.

In the West: James Harden returns to Oklahoma City in the first round, a series that the Thunder win easily except for one game in Houston where James Harden goes off for 40 points. San Antonio would defeat Minnesota, but it would be nice to see Love and Rubio in the playoffs. The Clippers/Lakers series is exactly what that rivalry needs in order to take off. We need seven games of Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Lamar Odom, Khloe Kardashian and everyone else going to war. As hot as the Clippers are right now, I’d give the Lakers the edge come playoff time. And how much fun would a Grizzlies/Warriors series be? These are two of the most underappreciated teams in the league who are backed by extremely good crowds. Either way, this either sets up for Stephen Curry vs. the Thunder in the 2nd round, or a rematch of the 2011 Western Conference Semi’s where the Grizzlies as an 8 seed nearly pulled the upset of the upstart Thunder. In the other 2nd round match-up it would be Los Angeles (Lakers or Clippers) facing the Spurs, which would be great under either circumstance. And you could really say the same thing about the conference finals. No matter who was there in early June, we would be getting classic basketball, which is really all I am asking for this Christmas.

Thanks in advance St. Nick. I know you will come through for me like you always have in the past. Have a safe trip around the world.  I’ll have the cookies and milk out on Monday night.

Sonny Giuliano