Where I write Diwali greetings cards with Squad Goals for each NBA team

Illustration by

Illustration by Harshika Jain.

It is of some fortune for NBA teams that the new season started off around the same time as billions of Indians around the world celebrate Diwali, the beginning of a fresh, new year. Just replace the LED lights with some diyas, tune down the sound of the DJ with some fireworks, and turn our attention to the demigods on the court.

Diwali is synonymous with greeting cards and large parcels of gifts, usually consisting of diabetes-inducing laddoos and addictive kaju-kishmish combinations, as friends pass on their good wishes to each other. Some need wishes of better performance in their exams, some for good health, and some for financial stability.

What wishes do the NBA teams desire? Of course, the ultimate goal of each team is to eventually win a championship (yes, even the 76ers, despite what seems like a ‘process’ as pain-inflicting and long as the whole of the kal-yug). But what are their realistic aims for the 2016-17 season? Every team, from the Warriors to the Nets, started the season with the same record, 0-0. Where do they hope to go from there? With the new season and the new year on the Hindu calendar on the way, here are some of my wishes for each squad.

Atlanta Hawks: A new guest is in your house, a guest that calls your city his home. May Dwight Howard find peace in his hometown next to Paul Millsap, may Dennis Schröder not falter as the lead point guard, and may you survive the loss of Al Horford to remain a playoff contender in a rebuilt year for the Eastern Conference.

Boston Celtics: May the arrival of Al Horford from Boston bring you prosperity. The mantle for ‘second-best’ in the East is up for the taking, and we shower blessings for Coach Brad Stevens to figure out a perfect formula with the depth at his disposal to give you that mantle.

Brooklyn Nets: You suffer from lack of talent and lack of a future First Round draft pick. Wishing that you’ll do the decent thing to trade Brook Lopez away from his pain. When things look dark, put more wax in the diya for some optimistic light: at least you could get a season of semi-Linsanity with Jeremy Lin back in New York.

Charlotte Hornets: May Coach Clifford’s defensive intensity stay as consistent as ever, but for you to return to the playoffs, you will need Kemba Walker to have some help on offense, too. Hopefully the gods will fix Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump-shot so that he can master basketball as well as Arjun mastered the teer-kaman.

Chicago Bulls: You see that box of Diwali sweets that just rolled up to your house? Sure, the chocolates, bundi-wallah laddoos and barfis, look amazing right now, but remember that you can’t just have all the sweets, you need a balanced diet. You are blessed with the ‘Three Alphas’ in Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler, but where is the outside shooting coming from? You are very intriguing, my Bulls, and a few healthy options in your diet could make you a surprisingly dangerous playoff team.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Your Diwali night was the ring ceremony, where you raised your banner and were celebrated as returning champions, and your Big Three of LeBron-Irving-Love is similar to the triumphant return of Ram-Laxman-Sita from Lanka. Lakshmi has been good to you in recent years. Your goal is to stay healthy, the East is yours for the taking but don’t underestimate it. Returning to the NBA Finals is a must, and after that, may you repeat your Ramayan once again with another title for Cleveland.

Dallas Mavericks: Here’s wishing that you don’t let people forget about you. You have a good coach (Carlisle) and a solid, if ageing, backbone (Nowitzki). May your new additions – Barnes and Bogut – slide in seamlessly into the lineup, and your point guard – Deron Williams – show more consistency.

Denver Nuggets: Yes, you are sure to go through some of the bumps in the road. That is a part of youth, dear Nuggets. Don’t be down with failure this season, you must keep a long-term approach. May your brigade of exciting young players – Emmanuel Mudiay, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Jusuf Nurkic, Will Barton – grow into great talents.

Detroit Pistons: May Guru Dronayacharya, I mean, Stan Van Gundy, be a positive influence on you and may Andre Drummond learn to make his free-throws. Many believe that you have the ability to become the surprise team in the East: my wish is that improved performances by Drummond, health for Reggie Jackson, and consistent outside shooting brings the chants of ‘DET-ROIT-BAS-KET-BALL’ back to the playoffs.

Golden State Warriors: Congratulations, for better or worse, you are heading towards a mythical season. Diwali is not a time for negative wishes, but so much negativity has been showered upon you recently that you must turn it into a feeling a revenge and retribution. You blew a 3-1 lead, the worst job of defending an advantage at home since Raavan in Lanka; nothing but a championship ring will be good enough. I wish great chemistry to Durant, Curry, Green, and Thompson and I wish for a historical season in the Bay.

Houston Rockets: You do not need my blessings for offense: between Coach Mike D’Antoni and James Harden, you will have no trouble with the prosperity of points. But life is all about balance, my Rockets, and without defence, you can wave those post-season dreams goodbye. I wish to you the gift of more defensive intensity so that you are not just fun to watch, but successful, too.

Indiana Pacers: Count your blessings, dear Pacers, I’m sure only the intervention of Lord Dhanvantari helped Paul George return to the court and back to superstar status. I wish to you more continued health for PG-13 as he makes an ambitious bid for the MVP award. You are in arm’s reach away from the Eastern Conference Finals, and I wish that your role players – Myles Turner, Monta Ellis, Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young – can provide George the supporting cast he needs.

Los Angeles Clippers: I wish to you to stop complaining, dear Clippers. Sure, you’ve never been past the Second Round despite a wealth of talent, but you are blessed with a strong, consistent core of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan. You can be a legitimate challenger to the Warriors in the West: my blessings for you to figure out some team chemistry issues so you may finally make franchise history.

Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe has gone, crossing over the river from the Maya to the Atman, achieving basketball immortality and Nirvana. This is a good opportunity, young Lakers, for you to start over in the mortal with new deities to worship. Sure, you will lose a lot, but you should stay in track for a strong rebuild. May D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle, form a strong young core and the distractions of the great Swaggy P kept to a minimum. The latter will need some extra prayers.

Memphis Grizzlies: Lakshmi’s blessings of prosperity have been especially kind to Mike Conley, who now has the richest contract in the NBA. Times are changing in the league, but you remain the same. I wish for health for Marc Gasol, offensive output and shooting from Chandler Parsons, and for Conley to live up to his contract and make Lakshmi proud. May the dominance of the gritting and grinding era never end.

Miami Heat: Life has its ups and downs. A few years ago, you were blessed with the NBA’s best players, had championships, a great coaching and management staff, and weather to attract the top free agents. The top players are gone but you must count your blessings because all the rest is still intact. Starting new without a long-term loved one – Dwyane Wade – is never easy. I wish you a relatively painless rebuild.

Milwaukee Bucks: There are some curious creatures in the universe with the power to astonish, surprise, and leap into greatness with the finesse of a hiran. In Giannis Antetokounmpo, the ‘Greek Freak’, you have one such special creature, a hiran, I mean, a Buck. I wish you the best for the ‘Point Giannis’ experiment and for him to make a tantalising young duo along with Jabari Parker. You have my blessings to jump back to a playoff spot in the East.

Minnesota Timberwolves: This Diwali, I won’t offer you any good fortune: you already have been showered with luck by Lakshmi after adding Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Coach/President Tom Thibodeau in recent years. But fortune is only half the job: now, you need to follow Guru Thibodeau’s lead and become the hardest working team in the NBA. A long-awaited return to the playoffs is near.

New Orleans Pelicans: Do you know that some souls have a third-eye chakra, a part of the brain that sees more than the physical realms of the two eyes, that can see into the people of humans and into the future of the universe. This is a very special gift, and you, dear Pelicans, have a special soul with the ‘third eye’ in Anthony Davis. His has the shape of a unibrow, but the results are the same: dominance. At times, the talent around Davis could make this season seem depressing: I wish continued health for Davis and consistent play from his teammates to make sure the future remains bright.

New York Knicks: One of the most contentious traditions of Diwali is gambling, and this Diwali, you have really gone for a high-stakes gamble, adding Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to a squad with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. I wish that all these maha-yoddhas mesh together to thrive in your holy triangle and you treat those long-suffering fans with deep playoffs action.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Don’t feel alone Russell Westbrook, the brother by your side has left you for Bay-area pastures, but you have some decent teammates around you: Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, and Enes Kanter. Perhaps no individual has as much pressure to carry team like Westbrook does. Hanuman moved a mountain, remember. Westbrook would himself say: “Why not?”

Orlando Magic: You confuse me Magic-wallahs. What’s up with all the bigs? Remember, the holiday season is a time of generosity, too, and each generous act returns to one with greater goodness. Trade away some players, give away some players, edit and sharpen your roster. You have a good coach in Frank Vogel and some interesting pieces – I wish Aaron Gordon develops into a star and you have some real jadoo in Orlando in the future.

Philadelphia 76ers: Remember, Diwali didn’t happen in a day. It took Ram, Laxman, and Sita the suffering of exile from their kingdom, a kidnapping, a battle, and a long stroll back to return to Ayodha triumphantly. You have been broken down, but every depth leaves room for a rebuild. Nurse your injuries and enjoy your precious gifts. I guess what I’m trying to say is: trust the process.

Phoenix Suns: Believe in your karma, Suns. A decade before the Warriors’ free-wheeling, three-point-shooting style revolutionised the NBA, you did it first and nearly perfected the art. You have an inexperienced team right now, but the fruits of your labour will come back to bless you in the future. Be patient. Devin Booker is the real deal.

Portland Trail Blazers: May Damian Lillard truly become an MVP-level talent and may your role players grow to greatness besides him. After the first three teams, the Western Conference is there for the taking; with Lillard as your leader, may you improve on your playoff performances from last year and even go a step further.

Sacramento Kings: I hope that when he inaugurated the new arena – the ‘Golden 1 Center’ – your Indian-born owner Vivek Ranadive decorated with ample diyas and agarbattis and held a grah-puja to court the blessings of all the gods. You are going to need it. The only true raja among those Kings is DeMarcus Cousins. May he find basketball nirvana in the league – even if it means a trade for him and a few new faces for you.

San Antonio Spurs: The last two decades have been your satya yug, a time where paradise has come on Earth, and you have enjoyed unprecedented, continued success. Now that the leadership of Tim Duncan is over, may the good times continue with Kawhi Leonard as your franchise player. May you be blessed with one more title and some much-needed smiles for Kawhi.

Toronto Raptors: You were blessed with a franchise-best season last year. How do you follow up with the rising expectations? You know what to expect from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but I wish that Jonas Valanciunas will develop into a game-changing center this year so you can continue to become an elite team in the East with a realistic chance of upsetting the Cavaliers.

Utah Jazz: Do you know the story of Satyavadi Harishchandra, an ancestor of Ram? At one time, he was a great, rich king, just like you were a great contender with Stockton and Malone. But by the manipulation of Vishwamitra, Harishchandra lost everything and spent years in suffering. You, our Jazzy friends, have suffered a lot in recent years too. But remember, Harishchandra’s tragic story had a happy ending, and he came to rule Ayodhya. You have an uber-talented young core: may your tapasya pay off so you return to the playoffs and become one of the surprise teams in the West.

Washington Wizards: Listen, I get it, brothers fight, it’s been happening forever, from Pandavs and Kauravs to Cain and Abel. The tension between your talented backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal is worrisome but not unfixable. Without pukka-dosti, a good bond between your backcourt, your playoff chances will be dim. I wish you camaraderie and positive vibes for the rest of the season.


          [KARAN MADHOK]

Karan Madhok
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