Seasons greetings folks! With the holidays in full effect, it’s as good as of a time as any to show some gratitude, NBA style that is. I know for those of us that consume a high concentration of Houston Rockets basketball, becoming relevant again is something to be thankful for.
Given that the Rockets are once more competitive and fighting for a playoff spot, I figured I’d also highlight one thing each team in the western conference should be thankful for this year. Without further adieu...
To echo my colleagues thoughts, the Rockets must be thankful that they have found credibility. Becoming a serious organization is the first step into outsiders viewing you in the same light.
I think the answer here has to be Luka Doncic. He’s shooting the best he ever has from the floor and he’s practically a walking triple-double. Mark Cuban won’t hesitate to make Luka the first $70 million per year guy in the league once he’s eligible for extension. It’s hard to imagine Doncic wanting to leave Dallas as long as the team continues to improve around him.
Jokic is the easy answer, but I’ll go with winning the title before your window closes. I say this because we’ve seen it happen far too many times. Whether it’s due to injuries, salary cap, chemistry, etc., nothing is guaranteed. I remind you that OKC made it to the finals with three future MVPS and never made it back.
The margins get thinner every year and while the Nuggets should still be the favorite in the West, Jamal Murray already has dealt with the injury bug this year. Securing that first ring just means that it’s all gravy from here on out.
Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry. He’s 35 and while everything around him has gotten worse over time, he still has managed to keep the Dubs afloat. No matter how bleak the situation looks out in The Bay, they’ll always have a chance with the baby-faced assassin.
Los Angeles Clippers
My first inclination was to say the infinite amount of toilets that will be featured at the Intuit Dome, but I’ve settled on having Russell Westbrook at this stage of his career. He’s not the same Russ that pulled off jaw-dropping feats, but he still has something in the tank.
Most importantly, he’s been willing to accept a reduced role — he was on the verge of getting pushed out of the league if he didn’t — and that has resulted in more team success. His latest move — volunteering to come off of the bench — has paid huge dividends for a Clippers team that looked like it had too many stars, but only one ball to share.
Los Angeles Lakers
It’s LeBron. It’s Year 21 and he continues to defy biology, physics, chemistry and other things of that nature. He shouldn’t have to be the most reliable guy on the roster at this stage of his basketball life, but he has to, and that’s why I refuse to bet against him until the day he officially calls it a career.
The Grizzlies must be thankful that 2023 is almost over. It’s been a tumultuous year for the team. Between a slew of injuries and their franchise player getting suspended on multiple occasions, I wouldn’t blame them for wanting to simulate to 2024. Hopefully, a more mature Ja Morant returns in December so Memphis can get off to a better start in the New Year.
The Ant-Man is probably where you thought I would go with this, but I will say — and I can't believe I’m saying this — I think the T-Wolves have to be most thankful for Rudy Gobert not looking like a lemon. What they gave up in the trade for Gobert is still inexcusable, but given how well the team has looked this season, it’s not as dire as it could have been.
A reinvigorated Rudy G. has propelled Minnesota towards the top of the west with a stifling defense. Combine that with the emergence of Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels, this team looks like a legitimate threat out west.
New Orleans Pelicans
Herb Jones gets the praise here. He’s truly a menace on defense and deserving of the nickname “Straitjacket.” Whether it’s pestering opposing All-NBA guards or closing out on three-point attempts that should be cashed, he’s everyone on the court. He’d be a hard player to relinquish should the Pels choose to shake up the roster.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Paul George trade request, above everything else, is what OKC should be most thankful for. The hard reset landed them a top 10 talent in the league in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and it has allowed Sam Presti to stack an enormous amount of draft capital. He’ll have to move off some of those picks, but this is better than what the alternate would have been had they kept trying to win around stars that couldn’t get them to the promise land.
Similar to how much of an anomaly LeBron and Steph are, Kevin Durant can claim the same. I’m not a fan of how much Phoenix has had to rely upon him due to early season injuries to their other two stars, but the purest of hoopers has managed to thrive. The Suns have to be thanking their lucky stars that he chose them as his next destination.
Portland Trail Blazers
Clarity moving forward is the answer here. Breaking up with Damian Lillard was a decision that should have happened about threes seasons ago, but now the Blazers can at least go forward in a unified direction. Getting stuck between a rebuild and a championship push only resulted in mediocrity. Now with an assortment of young assets, they can more accurately get a read on who will be the next franchise cornerstone.
Lighting the beam was an option here, but I’ll side with the Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox duo. The Kings have looked like a competent organization since they decided to match these two guys up, and while losing Tyrese Haliburton in the process stings, it’s still a much better product than the previous 15 seasons had been.
San Antonio Spurs
Does the fix being in count? If not, then of course it’s landing Victor Wembanyama under normal circumstances. Talk about hitting the jackpot, not once, not twice, but three times with David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and now this guy. I’m going to cease my complaining before Pop tells me to stop.
I also can’t believe I’m giving praise to one of my longtime foes, Danny Ainge. Trader Danny has been pretty good since arriving in Utah. The trade packages for Gobert and Donovan Mitchell netted them a haul of picks, an all-star in Lauri Markkanen, and many serviceable pieces. With no rush to win a title, the Jazz are in prime position to keep building upon a solid roster.