While Santa's yearly NBA Naughty or Nice list is usually based off of the first portion of the regular season leading up to the Christmas Day games, this is a unique circumstance where there have been very few games played going into the NBA's marquee day.
With that being said, he's still making a list and checking it twice. It's time to find out who's been naughty or nice.
Nice: The Lakers front office
Fresh off of an NBA championship, it would have been easy for the Lakers to get complacent. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the roster, there is no circumstance in which Los Angeles would not have entered the 2020-21 season as one of the best teams in the league and a title contender yet again.
Instead of getting complacent, the Lakers got better.
Sure, they lost key pieces like Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, Danny Green and Avery Bradley, but they replaced all of those players with someone equal, if not better. Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, another one of the best bench players in the league Dennis Schröder, a veteran 3-and-D wing Wesley Mathews and a veteran defensive anchor Marc Gasol take this roster to another level.
They also re-signed Davis to a five-year, $190 million max contract and extended James to a two-year, $85 million deal to keep their cornerstones in place for years to come.
It was an active and productive offseason for owner Jeanie Buss and general manager and vice president Rob Pelinka, landing both of them on Santa's Nice list this year.
Naughty: The Clippers offseason
As for the other team in Los Angeles ... it remains to be seen if they improved or not. That doesn't mean money wasn't flowing for the Clippers this offseason, though.
Their best signing of the offseason was Serge Ibaka on a two-year, $19 million contract. But some other moves turned some heads, like a four-year, $64 million deal for forward Marcus Morris and an identical four-year, $64 million contract extension for newly acquired guard Luke Kennard.
Lastly, their biggest splash of the offseason came from a five-year, $226 million max contract extension for Paul George, who is coming off of a lacklustre postseason performance. They didn't reach an extension with their other franchise cornerstone, Kawhi Leonard, who has a player option coming up next offseason.
If Leonard is unsatisfied with the team's outcome this season, that puts the Clippers at risk of committing all this money to supplementary pieces with a chance that their best player enters free agency. That brings a little added pressure to LA for the upcoming season.
Nice: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Antetokounmpo should be at the top of Santa's Nice list this year for all of the distractions he helped his team avoid.
One of the biggest storylines of the offseason was Antetokounmpo's extension and he had a deadline of Opening Night of the 2020-21 season to make that decision. If the reigning back-to-back MVP declined to sign the extension and enter the season with the intentions of becoming a free agent with all options open next offseason, that would have been a dark cloud looming over the team's head all season.
Instead, Antetokounmpo put an end to that storyline before it really took off.
Signing the largest contract in NBA history, Antetokounmpo reached a five-year, $228 million deal to stick around and try to win a championship with the Bucks. Now with all focus on the task at hand, can Milwaukee get over the hump and reach the NBA Finals?
Naughty: James Harden
I know you saw this coming.
Harden tops Santa's Naughty list this year for a couple of reasons. He showed up to training camp late, sent Houston into a frenzy with a trade request and reportedly clashed with a teammate in practice, throwing a ball at a rookie.
The Rockets have tried to bring in valuable pieces around Harden in a highly coveted free agent in Christian Wood and a returning All-Star in John Wall, but none of that has changed the three-time scoring champ's stance. Houston's asking price of "young assets and significant draft compensation" has scared other teams away so far, meaning Harden is likely to start the season with his current team.
The Rockets hold the longest active playoff streak in the NBA, making the postseason for eight consecutive seasons - every year since they traded for Harden back in 2012. That could be jeopardy if Harden and the Rockets don't get on the same page before tip-off on Opening Night.
Nice: Kevin Durant's return
It had been 18 months since we last saw Kevin Durant play a meaningful basketball game but the wait is finally over.
Prior to his first injury in the 2019 NBA Playoffs, Durant was coming for the throne of the best player in the world. He was averaging 34.2 points on .514/.438/.903 splits in the postseason and had delivered a couple downright ridiculous performances, including dropping 45 points in Game 5 against the Clippers before coming back with 50 points in Game 6 to advance to the next round. He also had a 46-point outing in the Conference Semifinals and was well on his way to leading the Warriors to a third-consecutive title and Finals MVP before tearing his Achilles.
Over a year later, we saw him return to the floor on Opening Night, going for 22 points in only 25 minutes of play against his former team, showing shades of the same player we saw prior to the severe injury.
This Christmas, he lands on the Nice list on behalf of all NBA fans that get to watch one of the greatest scorers in NBA history back in action.
Naughty: Gordon Hayward's injury bug
Hayward's injury bug earns a permanent spot on the Naughty list.
The one-time All-Star signed a lucrative deal (four years, $120 million) with the Charlotte Hornets this offseason and should be expected to become one of their go-to options in his first season with the team. We saw a glimpse of him in the preseason but it didn't take long for that first ailment to pop up.
Hayward sustained an avulsion fracture of his fifth metacarpal (a broken pinky) on his shooting hand during practice, which leaves him questionable for the team's season opener.
Coming off of a bounce-back season where he still suffered nagging injuries like a broken hand and a severely sprained ankle that caused him to miss time, it is critical that he stays healthy if the Hornets are going to fight for a playoff spot in the East.
Nice: Zion Williamson's lifted minutes restriction
The New Orleans Pelicans were extremely cautious with their No. 1 overall pick in his rookie year. Williamson missed the first 44 games of the season with a knee injury and when he returned, he was under a heavy minutes restriction for the 24 games he participated in.
Williamson is such an electrifying player that even in those 24 games, he still did plenty to wow NBA fans, averaging 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while shooting 58.3% from the field and 42.9% from 3 in less than 28 minutes per game. For the entire 2019-20 season, we could only imagine what type of damage Zion could do playing regular minutes.
In 2020-21, we won't have to imagine what that would look like because Williamson enters the season without a minutes restriction of any kind. We will finally get to see him unleashed, and that's enough to earn a spot on Santa's Nice list this Christmas.
Naughty: Pascal Siakam
Santa almost left Siakam off of this year's Naughty list just because he's already received enough criticism, but he couldn't turn a blind eye to his 39.6 field goal percentage and 18.9 3-point percentage from last season's playoffs.
There isn't much explanation needed here, as you've already heard all about how Siakam went from an All-Star starter and All-NBA selection in a breakout season to a very underwhelming playoff performance.
Besides, Siakam probably got enough presents last year for his regular season performance leading into 2019 NBA Christmas Day.
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