Thursday December 20th, 2007

'Tis the season of giving, even in New York, where everyone, it seems, has been giving it to Isiah Thomas. That includes Isiah himself, who called out the coach of pro sports' most depressing team and gave him two weeks to turn around his team before agreeing that, yes, talk of firing would be fair. He's a tad late on that.

But, look, in the holiday spirit, I have a present for every team. We're going to line up in reverse order of success so far this season. Note that these are not Marty Burns' official SI.com power rankings, though they may approximate them.

Minnesota Timberwolves -- A boxed set titled "The Best of Kevin Garnett." It's four CDs, and, heck, it only includes his five months as a Celtic.

New York Knicks -- A recording of the Rick Nelson classic (only thing he ever did that could be considered classic) Garden Party. You know the chorus, everybody: "But it's all right now/I learned my lesson well/You see, ya can't please everyone/So ya got to please yourself."

Wait a minute, that's what these guys are doing right now.

Seattle SuperSonics -- A caffeine-ingesting, fish-market-loving sugar daddy to keep them in Seattle. I don't care how many times Clay Bennett says that Oklahoma City is a great place; it ain't Seattle.

Charlotte Bobcats -- Cardboard cut-outs of Michael Jordan so he can be placed at the arena even when he's not really there. Also a less cumbersome and more revealing executive title for His Airness than the one he currently holds: Managing Member of Basketball Operations.

Memphis Grizzlies -- A reincarnated Elvis. That's about the only thing that would generate civic interest in a team that might be good in a couple years.

Miami Heat -- Continued soul-searching by Shaquille O'Neal, who has at last taken some blame for his team's slow start instead of putting it on everyone else. And peace of mind for Alonzo Mourning, whose career could be over after he suffered a knee injury Wednesday.

Los Angeles Clippers -- A miracle cure for Elton Brand, who is hoping to return from an Achilles tendon injury in February. The Clips are slipping dangerously close to the who-cares-about-them? territory they inhabited for many years.

New Jersey Nets -- A better 2008 for the Big Three. We speak, of course, of Josh Boone, Sean Williams and Darrell Armstrong.

Chicago Bulls -- A short trip backward in a time machine. One year. No, they weren't a title contender then, but they won a playoff series, appeared to be a team on the rise and seemed to be having fun. That's better than this.

Philadelphia 76ers -- A giant 25th anniversary celebration of the memorable 1982-83 championship team. Maybe that would put some interest back in Wachovia Center for a team that has been playing over its head.

Milwaukee Bucks -- A giant infusion of nastiness. They've had the same starting lineup for every game. They're all good players. They're in the Eastern Conference. So why aren't they a .500 team?

Sacramento Kings -- An answer to this question: What happens when Mike Bibby comes back from his thumb injury? Are they his team? Ron Artest's? Kevin Martin's? John Salmons'? Reggie Theus'?

Cleveland Cavaliers -- Let them horn in on that Bulls' backward-time trip; that's the only thing that will get them back to the Finals.

Atlanta Hawks -- Shh. Don't give them anything. Don't say anything about them. Don't pay any attention to them. They're getting better, and the one thing that can derail them is if opponents start taking them seriously.

Washington Wizards -- (See Sacramento.) What happens when Gilbert Arenas, a better player than Bibby and a far better blogger, returns from knee surgery?

Houston Rockets -- An injury-free Tracy McGrady and another gear for Yao Ming. They will have to carry this team if it's to go anywhere but -- as was the case last season -- out the playoff door quickly.

Indiana Pacers -- Martial law in Indianapolis. Yes, it presents some sticky constitutional issues, but it sure would reduce temptations.

Utah Jazz -- A shut-off valve on the simmering pressure that is coach Jerry Sloan right now after continued poor play and a flareup with guard Gordan Giricek, whom he sent home Wednesday.

Portland Trail Blazers -- Whatever the opposite of a reality check is for Brandon Roy, get him that. He doesn't need to wake up. He needs to keep playing the way he's playing, which, during this improbable Blazers winning streak, is like the best player in the league.

Denver Nuggets -- An answer to this question: Is the team as happy with Allen Iverson as he is with it? The superstar guard has said he wants the Mile High City to be his last stop, but, though it's not all on Iverson, the Nugs still don't look like a championship contender.

Golden State Warriors -- A lot of love -- and a rigid curfew -- for Stephen Jackson.

Los Angeles Lakers -- Gold-embossed, poster-sized copies of this quote, delivered recently by Kobe Bryant: "This team is the closest I've ever been on. I feel we have a bond as a group. There are no cliques. We all hang out together. I'm happy with it." Let's revisit in May.

Toronto Raptors -- More than a peep or two from Andrea Bargnani; the emergence of the top pick of the '06 draft could cement this team as one of the elite in the East.

New Orleans Hornets -- Safe haven in a storm. Talk to almost anyone in that franchise, and he or she can still tell you a heartbreaking story about Hurricane Katrina.

Orlando Magic -- Tapes of the first month of the season. Man, it was fun then, wasn't it? This reality stuff sucks.

Phoenix Suns -- Relief from everyone telling them that they need better interior defense. And, oh yes, one more interior defender.

Dallas Mavericks -- An injection of fun into what could be a crusade for redemption. Dirk, jeez, smile a little, will you?

Boston Celtics -- An embargo on the words "Auerbach," "Russell," "Cousy," "Bird," "parquet," "Garden Mystique" and "dynasty." But, fellas, let's not screw up what seems to be one of those, you know, old-Celtic-type seasons.

Detroit Pistons -- Sandwich boards for each player emblazoned with the words, WE'RE STILL HERE! Though after Wednesday night's win in Boston, everyone probably realizes it.

San Antonio Spurs -- An end to those irritating, paparazzi-fueled rumors about one of their internationally known players that constantly plagues this team: Once and for all, is Matt Bonner really a redhead?

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