For the culture: 10 NBA teams that need course corrections in the offseason
Sometimes, offseason needs aren't just about personnel
After the Toronto Raptors suffered a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs, team president Masai Ujiri told reporters they needed a "culture reset." In order to take the next step, Ujiri didn't think Toronto just needed to add more shooting or more playmaking or more toughness to the roster.
"We have to dig deep into everything we do." Ujiri said, via Raptors Republic's Blake Murphy. "And I'm talking scouting, I'm talking our medical department, I'm talking everything. I have to look at it overall. I think we are on a good scale in the NBA, but how do you get better? How do you get elite? That is what I'm saying. We can't just pinpoint coaching. We can't just pinpoint not making shots. Our attitude, our leadership, everything. The way we work together. I think those things we need to revisit and then get on with it."
The Raptors had two All-Stars, a great statistical profile and depth, but they clearly needed something more, perhaps something intangible, when it mattered most. Let's start there, then look at some other teams that need course corrections, culture-wise, this offseason.
Toronto Raptors: More oomph
There is always a lot of talk in Toronto about being overlooked and wanting to prove people wrong, but that kind of edge isn't always evident in its play, especially in the playoffs. Remember when Paul Pierce drew the ire of Raptors fans a couple of years ago when he played for the Washington Wizards? This is all that he said: "We haven't done particularly well against Toronto, but I don't feel they have the 'It' that makes you worried."
The Raptors have improved significantly since then, but teams still don't fear them. Coach Dwane Casey constantly preaches that they have to "hit first" and be the aggressors, and as boring as it is to hear that over and over again, he is right. Think about what Kevin Garnett brought to the Boston Celtics or how Golden State Warriors coaches always say the team needs Draymond Green's voice and intensity. Toronto probably can't land one of the best defenders of all-time this summer, but it could use that kind of personality.
Chicago Bulls: More joy
Where's the fun in Chicago? The Tom Thibodeau era supposedly ended because his demanding, in-your-face coaching style had run its course. Even if you maintain that Thibodeau's perfectionism and screaming on the sidelines made for an uncomfortable workplace, it's impossible to argue that the past two years under Fred Hoiberg have been an improvement.
on Instagram, about the franchise player, a to come out of the shadows -- this Bulls season was never boring. It was also never pleasant. Regardless of the major personnel decisions the front office has to make this summer, Chicago needs to start fostering the kind of environment that players find attractive. Its 41-41 record looks about right for that roster, but drama and dysfunction define the team now.
New York Knicks: More humility
Top to bottom, the Knicks have been arrogant for a long time. They started last season with Kristaps Porzingis skipping his exit meeting -- can be explained by organizational hubris., a flawed plan and a misguided belief that the team would come together and be more than the sum of its parts. Everything that went wrong -- from the Charles Oakley disaster to the Melodrama to
It's time for New York to admit things are fundamentally broken and it will take time to fix them. The Knicks don't need any more big names or quick fixes; they need an honest reassessment of where they are and what needs to be done to start building something sustainable. Part of this could involve -- gasp! -- president Phil Jackson swallowing his pride and allowing his coaching staff to install a more modern offensive system.
Milwaukee Bucks: More discipline
I'm not saying the Bucks need to get less weird and more traditional. There is perhaps no team that can use funky lineups like them, and that's a huge part of what makes them interesting. Their style of defense, though, requires them to execute extremely well, and there is room for improvement when it comes to communication and connectedness. And on the other end, while they are good at taking advantage of mismatches, they ranked just 14th in half-court offense, per Synergy Sports. Milwaukee's shot selection could be better -- I would like more Khris Middleton 3s, for example.
Essentially, playing the Bucks should feel like running into the Miami Heat at the height of their winning streak this season. They should wear you out with athleticism, speed and aggressiveness, and they should play with purpose on every possession. That requires a focus that they haven't shown consistently.
Detroit Pistons: More spirit
Entering 2016-17 it seemed like the Pistons were on the upswing, with enough talent and versatility to potentially challenge for home-court advantage in the playoffs. Instead they missed the postseason entirely, with embarrassing, avoidable losses in March sealing their fate. Where was their fight? Where was their camaraderie? Detroit obviously underachieved, but a lot of that can be explained by Reggie Jackson's injury and rocky road back from it. The bigger problem was, when it had a chance to salvage the season, it wilted.
Jackson and franchise center Andre Drummond are close friends, but it's not about that. Off-court chemistry only matters if it translates on the floor. Despite the fact that the pieces fit on paper, the Pistons often looked like they didn't love playing together. Unless you have overwhelming talent, it's hard to win when your players aren't on the same page.
Houston Rockets: More adaptability
Sometimes, a team's greatest strength can be its greatest weakness. The Rockets got a ton of mileage out of a simple idea, described thusly by Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated: "What if you just ran your best play every chance you could?"
Mike D'Antoni fully unleashed James Harden like never before by moving him to point guard and having him completely control the offense when he was on the court. D'Antoni might win Coach of the Year because of this -- he turned Houston's offense into one of the best in NBA history in the regular season. In the playoffs, though, the San Antonio Spurs made Harden uncomfortable and the Rockets ran out of counters. Whether you're talking about the amount of available players after Nene went down, the lack of size in the front court or the lack of creators who can bail out a possession in the mid-range, it just felt like they needed more options. After the defeat, even D'Antoni acknowledged they might need Harden to have more facilitating help.
Utah Jazz: More selfishness
Like Houston, this is an excellent team, and a significant part of its identity might be stopping it from being a truly elite one. The Jazz have passed the ball like crazy ever since Quin Snyder became coach in 2014, and this is a good thing in terms of making everybody on the court invested in every possession. It also helps them slow the pace, which is good for their fantastic half-court defense anchored by center Rudy Gobert.
By my count, though, Utah has three players -- Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood and George Hill -- who could be even more dangerous with more of an attacking mentality. These guys have the ability to put the pressure on the defense early in the shot clock, and if they were do to that more often at the expense of some extra passes, the Jazz could go from a slightly above-average offensive team to a great one.
Oklahoma City Thunder: More perspective
In his first year with the Thunder, coach Billy Donovan tried all sorts of different lineups and strategies throughout the regular season and later explained he was simply experimenting. The playoff run to the Western Conference finals proved they were much better than their record, and they peaked at the right time. Donovan came off looking smart for seeing the big picture.
Heading into the post-Kevin Durant era, Donovan said repeatedly that Russell Westbrook would do what's best for the team, and what's best wouldn't necessarily be him going nuts every night. Once the season started, though, it was clear that this was the Westbrook show. It seemed like Oklahoma City was desperately trying to survive every game, with its lone star doing whatever he could to get them wins, even if it meant they were a total mess whenever he wasn't the one with the ball in his hands. Going forward, the Thunder need to make a concerted effort to be less reliant on Westbrook and make other players feel involved in the operation.
Minnesota Timberwolves: More attitude
Despite its 31-51 record, Minnesota was often fun to watch, especially when Ricky Rubio was at his best. Karl-Anthony Towns is absolutely incredible with the ball in his hands. Andrew Wiggins had his moments where he looked like a potential superstar, too. It's a bit of a problem, though, when the coach is the team's most intense guy.
It's unclear whether the Timberwolves struggled on defense for most of the season because they had problems with technique or they just weren't committed enough. On the most basic level, though, their identity shift has to start with taking pride in that end of the court. Coach Tom Thibodeau is always talking about being connected, communicating and "doing your job," but the Wolves shouldn't be just trying to please him. They need to do all the little things because they work. They need to love getting stops the way they love making plays. They need to not get bored with the mundane execution of Thibodeau's scheme, instead taking it upon themselves to be the kind of team opponents hate to see.
Phoenix Suns: More trust
It was pretty weird that Phoenix was more enjoyable when it was tanking. A lot of that, though, was about Tyler Ulis taking the reins at point guard and being encouraged to run the team. When he and the young guys were running around (and losing), it was the only time that it felt like the Suns had hope.
For most of the season, this team was simply a drag. Phoenix's assist numbers were always awful, and there was never much cohesion. It's tough when a young coach has a weird roster and no clear hierarchy, and things get even more jumbled when rookies and second-year players are seeing the floor instead of established vets because development is the priority. Still, if the Suns are going to start building something, they need to play together.
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