Since it’s creation in the 2004-05 season, the NBA’s Southwest Division has been dominated by the state of Texas – San Antonio has five titles and Dallas has two. While the Memphis Grizzlies have made major strides in the past few seasons after being perennial doormats, it’s once again looking like Texas will house the Southwest Division’s winner.
San Antonio Spurs
PG: Tony Parker
SG: Manu Ginobili
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Tim Duncan
C: Boris Diaw
Bench: Patty Mills, DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, Stephen Jackson, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner
Another year, another division title for the Spurs. Every time their contender window seemingly closes, they manage to make critics look like fools. After a 98-84 loss to the Lakers left them at 40-16 late last season, they went on a 20-game winning streak – 10 to close out the regular season and 10 to begin the playoffs. While that run ended fairly abruptly with four straight losses to the eventual Western Conference champion OKC Thunder, it was proof that Gregg Popovich can keep his teams in contention.
Other than two guards – rookie Marcus Denmon and 2009 draftee Nando de Colo – the Spurs’ roster is unchanged from 2011-12. They resigned every free agent on the team, including eventual Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, multi-tool forward Boris Diaw, and Australian superstar guard Patty Mills. Despite the lack of activity, the Spurs should be considered the team to beat until proven otherwise; they’re just that consistent.
PG: Darren Collison
SG: O.J. Mayo
SF: Shawn Marion
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
C: Chris Kaman
Bench: Elton Brand, Vince Carter, Dahntay Jones, Rodrigue Beaubois, Brandan Wright, Jared Cunningham, Dominique Jones, Jae Crowder, Bernard James
The Mavericks pushed hard for guard Deron Williams, but came up short when he re-upped his contract with the Nets, keeping him in Brooklyn. Things didn’t get much better after that, though.
Jason Kidd and Jason Terry left for the East Coast, with Kidd going to New York and Terry to Boston, leaving the Dallas backcourt young and very inexperienced (five years of NBA experience for Beaubois and Dominique Jones).
Give it to Mark Cuban, though – his team recovered immensely after these initial disasters and got better for both the short-term and long-term.
The biggest upgrade has to be their guards; they traded little-used center Ian Mahinmi to Indiana for Collison and Dahntay Jones, already an upgrade over their previous backups. Collison is a starting-caliber point guard and Jones is a defensive specialist – always welcome on an NBA team.
Their scoring then received a boost through the acquisition of three veteran players – Brand, Kaman, and Mayo. Brand had been amnestied by Philadelphia, leaving him available on the waiver wire – the Mavericks eagerly paid for the remainder of his contract. Kaman has shown he can still be effective in the NBA, and is a true upgrade over Brendan Haywood, who the team amnestied. Mayo could be one of the best pick-ups of this offseason, as he can really score in a starting role, something he’ll get from day one. Collison and the former Memphis Grizzly will likely form the team’s backcourt for many years.
The biggest question for this team will be their ability to defend. Other than Dahntay Jones and Collison, most of the roster is either offensive-minded or past their defensive prime. The frontline has length, which will help, but none of the starters are really known for guarding, outside of maybe Marion. For this team to be true contenders, they’ll need to really follow head coach Rick Carlisle’s teachings.
PG: Mike Conley
SG: Tony Allen
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: Zach Randolph
C: Marc Gasol
Bench: Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington, Marreese Speights, Hamed Haddadi, Quincy Poindexter, Tony Wroten, Josh Selby, D.J. Kennedy, Darrell Arthur
The Grizzlies may have only lost one major player from last season, but with that person being O.J. Mayo, the team took a pretty big offensive hit. The newest Maverick provided an explosive scoring option, whether it was off the bench or starting. Gay is equally good, but teams will now be able to focus their defense more on him, Randolph and Gasol now.
After a 41-25 regular season, the Grizzlies fell apart once they made the playoffs. Despite having homecourt advantage against the Clippers, Memphis fell behind early in their matchup against the Clip Show and never recovered. They ended up bowing out of the playoffs with a weak 82-72 loss at home.
The biggest challenge for this team next season will be to take the next step – have a good regular season and keep that momentum going into the postseason. Otherwise, they will be stuck in the ‘pretender’ category.
New Orleans Hornets
PG: Greivis Vasquez
SG: Eric Gordon
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
PF: Ryan Anderson
C: Anthony Davis
Bench: Austin Rivers, Xavier Henry, Hakim Warrick, Robin Lopez, Jason Smith, Roger Mason, Lance Thomas
Few teams went through a transformation as drastic as New Orleans did. Not only did they finally get a new owner in Saints owner Tom Benson, they got the first overall draft pick despite having the fourth-best chances to do so.
With that pick, New Orleans selected forward Anthony Davis, considered one of the best big men to come out of the draft since Kevin Garnett. While he is extremely raw still, his experiences playing with the Olympic team should prove invaluable as he grows in the NBA.
The team didn’t stop there, though; they resigned star guard Eric Gordon, who had made it public that he wanted to play in Phoenix. While it cost them $58 over four years, keeping Gordon around was crucial to this offseason. His scoring ability and leadership will help guide this team as they try to recover from years of irrelevance.
Trades also helped them improve. The Hornets acquired 2011 Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson from the Orlando Magic, who has the ability to stretch defenses with his perimeter shooting. After losing Chris Kaman to free agency, they filled the position with former Suns center Robin Lopez.
New Orleans improved via subtraction, too – they rid themselves of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza’s contracts with a trade to Washington for Rashard Lewis. They immediately turned around and amnestied Lewis, leaving them free of bad contracts against their cap space.
Will they win a title next year? Definitely not. They might not even make the playoffs in an always-tough Western Conference. What this team will do, however, is provide New Orleans with a competitive squad once again.
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Kevin Martin
SF: Chandler Parsons
PF: Patrick Patterson
C: Omer Asik
Bench: Shaun Livingston, Donatas Motiejunas, Toney Douglas, Marcus Morris, Royce White, Jeremy Lamb, JaJuan Johnson
In what has to be seen as a colossal failure of an offseason, the Rockets have gone from a relatively competitive team to one that has to be the favorite for the #1 overall pick next season.
Two major personnel moves doomed GM Daryl Morey this offseason: signing Lin and Asik to matching $25 million contracts, and stockpiling assets in a failed attempt to lure free agent Dwight Howard to Houston.
Lin’s signing can possibly be justified, as the team has needed a marketable star since Yao Ming’s retirement. Lin will do that, even if he doesn’t live up to the contract; he should also form a decent, albeit defensively-challenged, backcourt with Martin.
Asik’s signing, however, makes no real sense. With such a small sample size of average games under his belt, why sign the former Bull to a major contract when you already have plenty of young, cheap talent on your roster? Let Motiejunas, Morris, and Patterson battle it out and gain experience down low.
The team also traded up in the draft to get Lamb, Jones, and White; none of them project to be more than complementary players. Ridding the team of last season’s proven commodities for filler players and unproven athletes makes no real sense. It shouldn’t surprise Rocket fans when they’re slotted to pick first in next year’s NBA Draft.