Last season, the San Antonio Spurs were one Ray Allen step-back three pointer from another NBA Championship, but alas, we know how that ended. There is much speculation about the future of the big three—Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli—and whether they have the legs for another championship run. As per usual, the Western Conference has gotten even more competitive. In the Southwest division alone, you have three potential contenders with the aforementioned Spurs, the newly assembled Houston Rockets, and the Memphis Grizzlies. This division, specifically, will be a slugfest and it’s very possible that the winner of this division will go on to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
Houston Rockets (Last Season 45-37):
The Houston Rockets won free agency lottery this off-season with the signing of Dwight Howard. Now, General Manager Daryl Morey is tasked with filling out the roster around James Harden and Dwight Howard and, thus far, has done a superb job. He has found gems with Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley and he still has attractive trade bait in Omer Asik. If Morey can surround Howard with more shooters, he would, in essence, be replicating the strategy the Orlando Magic took. The quality of the players on the Rockets are far superior to the ones on the Magic, however, and that will allow this team to compete for a championship as early as this season.
Key Additions: C Dwight Howard, SG Omri Casspi, PG Reggie Williams,
Key Subtractions: PF Thomas Robinson, SFCarlos Delfino, SF Royce White
Biggest Question: Will James Harden and Dwight Howard, both high usage players, be able to coexist?
Prediction: 2nd seed of 8 seeds in the Western Conference
San Antonio Spurs (Last Season 58-24):
The Spurs are consistently one of the top teams in the NBA, yet always seem to be overlooked because of their age. They are not very flashy, only having one alley-oop all of last season, but they play basketball the way it is supposed to be played. After a heart-breaking loss in Game 6 of the NBA finals to the Heat (by not coming down with a rebound) and an eventual loss in Game 7, do they have what it takes to get back on top in the West?
Key Additions: SG Marco Belinelli
Key Subtractions: G Gary Neal, F DeJuan Blair
Biggest Question: Will the Spurs still be the Spurs? If any
team in the league could bounce back after last year’s heartbreak and prove they have the attitude, talent, and formula for success to reach the NBA Finals once again, it is the San Antonio Spurs. They may not be the team that will give you a highlight play on SportsCenter, but playing San Antonio basketball means playing the right way and knowing how to win games.
Prediction: 5th seed of 8 seeds in the Western Conference
Memphis Grizzlies (Last Season 56-26):
The Grizzlies, despite winning 56 games, did not renew the contract of their Head Coach Lionel Hollins, and instead let his apprentice Dave Joerger take over. One can only speculate how the players will respond to this move by management, as Hollins is responsible for the defensive foundation of this team and establishing the “Grit ‘N Grind” culture that has characterized the team and city. Despite this possible resentment by the players, the core of this team—Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Zach Randolph—are still here. They were also able to add amnesty “victim,” Mike Miller, who will help to space the floor and give the big men more room to operate. The one aspect that the Grizzlies failed to address in the off-season was their lack of a playmaker. The team desperately needed a wing player who could take on a defender and create his own shot. The closest thing that the Grizzlies have to that is Mike Conley, who is streaky at best. Joerger has claimed to want a more uptempo offense, and that may solve many of the Grizzlies offensive problems, but since he is unproven, only time will tell.
Key Additions: SF Mike Miller, C Kosta Koufos, Head Coach Dave Joerger
Key Subtractions: Darrell Arthur, Head Coach Lionel Hollins
Biggest Question: How will Dave Joerger change the offense, and how will the players react when adversity hits?
Prediction: 6th seed of 8 seeds in the Western Conference
New Orleans Pelicans (Last season 27-55):
The New Orleans Pelicans, formerly the Hornets, made a bold move on draft night as they traded the 5th overall pick, Nerlens Noel, for 76ers All-Star point guard Jrue Holliday. They also went on to acquire Tyreke Evans, giving the team a lot of offensive fire power, but also leaving them vulnerable on the defensive end. The cornerstone of this team is still Anthony Davis, and he has definitely looked the part thus far in the preseason. The Pelicans will likely be a borderline playoff team, and because of the hefty contracts that they are responsible for, it seems that will be the ceiling for this team.
Key Additions: PG Jrue Holiday, SG Tyreke Evans, C Greg Stiemsma, SG Anthony Morrow, C Jeff Withey
Key Subtractions: PG Greivis Vasquez, PF Robin Lopez, SF Xavier Henry, SG Roger Mason, PF Louis Amundson
Biggest Question: Can Eric Gordon’s knees stay intact and how effective will he be? What will the growth of Anthony Davis mean for this team?
Prediction: 8th seed of 8 seeds in the Western Conference
Dallas Mavericks (Last Season 41-41):
Mark Cuban famously—well, infamously—broke down his championship team in 2011 in anticipation of a stricter luxury cap and future free agents. That plan failed miserably, as the Mavericks failed to lure Deron Williams away from Brooklyn, and—more recently—they were unable to convince Dwight Howard to sign with them. So what does Cuban do? He signs a medley of mid-level players and then says that having this group of players is better than tying up money on a max contract superstar. In the end, no one knows if this plan will work, and if it does, we will all hear about Cuban’s savvy business sense. Until then, however, Cuban’s dismantling of the defending champions will remain questionable at best.
Key Additions: SG Monta Ellis, PG Jose Calderon, C Samuel Dalembert, PG Devin Harris, SF Wayne Ellington, PG Shane Larkin, PG Ricky Ledo
Key Subtractions: SG O.J. Mayo, PF Elton Brand, C Chris Kaman, PG Darren Collison, PG Rodrigue Beaubois
Biggest Question: What will Mark Cuban do next? Or rather, how will this medley of mid-level players gel together?
Prediction: 11th in the Western Conference
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