Back on Sept. 3rd we took a look at our very own Northwest Division (TWolves, Nuggets, Thunder, Jazz & Blazers). You can find that preview here.
Today, we're staying in the Western Conference, but we're moving to the Southwest (Mavericks, Rockets, Spurs, Hornets & Grizzlies). Well, let's get started...
For Dallas: Two years ago they were 'on top of the world' in the NBA. CHAMPIONS. Now, they've got a very different roster and now appear to be a 4-8 playoff seed in the West. They may have swung and missed on Deron Williams and in a roundabout way, Dwight Howard, but they're Plan B (if this really was their plan B) didn't play out too badly. They've infused some youth into their roster as well as some very crafty & talented veterans. They traded away backup center Ian Mahinmi to the Pacers for point guard Darren Collison (who'll likely be the starting PG) & reserve swingman Dahntay Jones. They also signed free agent & former Grizzly O.J. Mayo--who Mavs owner believes can be a 'star' (I know for a fact there are a few thousand Memphis fans that would adamantly disagree). They also added the former Los Angeles Clippers' starting frontcourt: Elton Brand & Chris Kaman. Kaman was a free agent & Elton Brand had been amnestied by the 76ers early in the summer. Not only did they add two likely (young) starters (Mayo & Collison), they picked up three rookies in the 2012 NBA Draft: shooting guard Jared Cunningham, small forward Jae Crowder and 27-year-old center Bernard James. Both Cunningham & Crowder will be third string players at their positions, while James will be the main backup to Kaman at center. At times they'll have a lineup that boasts Dirk Nowitzki, Elton Brand & Chris Kaman on the court...at the same time! How do you defend that? They'll be an interesting squad to keep an eye on and barring injuries to one of their stars (Dirk, Marion, Brand) they'll be a force in the West. Ultimately they're not a contender as they were quite recently, but I can envision an upset come June. Their success relies heavily on what kind of production they can get from the guard positions.
For Houston: For the past few seasons they've tried to gather a lot of mid-level talent in hopes that they could bundle them together to swing a deal with a team looking to unload a superstar. They missed on Carmelo Anthony, they've made attempts at Josh Smith and just this summer whiffed BIG time at Dwight Howard. They disassembled their roster to an almost absurd attempt AND apparently GM Daryl Morey has an infatuation with 'tweener' forwards, more-so than David Kahn's love of point guards. In a last ditch effort to swing a blockbuster deal for DH, the Rockets amnestied Luis Scola (who was eventually picked up by the Phoenix Suns), they traded star point guard Kyle Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for Gary Forbes and their 2013 1st-round draft pick. They also swung a deal with our TWolves for the 18th pick in the draft the Rockets sent us Chase Budinger. The Rockets also participated in a sign-and-trade deal with the New York Knicks. The Knicks got Marcus Camby and the Rockets grabbed Toney Douglas, Jerome Jordan (waived), Josh Harrelson (waived) and two 2nd-round picks. They currently have 20-some players on their roster (the maximum, by the start of the season being 15 players). Some cuts will definitely be made throughout training camp. Because they have so many players, we'll just look at the rookies they selected this season and their starting lineup. They used the 'poison pill' contract offers to grab the mid-level talent of Jeremy Lin (their starting point guard) & Omer Asik (their starting center). I didn't get to caught up in Linsanity last season and I think that the Rockets paying him $25million-plus over the next three seasons is Linsane, especially after a sample size of 25 starts last year. I am excited to see what Omer Asik will do as a full-time starting center. Kevin Martin is the only real veteran left on the roster and you better believe they'll move him at the offer of a couple of draft picks. Chandler Parsons will start at small forward again, with Scola gone, Patrick Patterson is penciled in as the team's starting power forward. The Rockets had the 12th, 16th & 18th picks in the 2012 Draft. With it they nabbed shooting guard Jeremy Lamb (guarantee he'll be the starting shooting guard, by seasons end), versatile forward Royce White and power forward Terrence Jones. I could probably go on and on with what the Rockets did this offseason, talking in circles...but, I won't. Houston will be lotto-bound in the summer of 2013, they're on the road to rebuild, but they have a lot of 'interesting' pieces and if Kevin McHale can put the pieces together, give them a year or two and they should be a Western Conference playoff regular.
For San Antonio: For years people have talked about their championship window closing. But, every year Pop brings some 'ragtag' crew together for 50+ wins. Last year Danny Green seemed to be on his way out of the League and playing out his career overseas. During Green's first two years in the League, he played a grand total of 28 games (0 starts). Last season, Green played all 66 games and started 38 of those. He's penciled in as San Antonio's starting shooting guard. Their mainstays continue to shine. Tony Parker is the best player on this squad, along with veterans Manu Ginobli & Tim Duncan. They're definitely two-deep at each position: Parker--Patty Mills, Green--Ginobli, Kawhi Leonard--Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw--DeJuan Blair and Tim Duncan--Tiago Splitter. People will continue to talk about their closing championship window, they may not be the elite contender they once were, but they'll at least move into the second round in the Western Conference playoffs--unless they face the TWolves in the first round ;) There are 14 other teams, kicking themselves (I would definitely (at this time) take Leonard over Williams) from the 2011 NBA Draft. I have a feeling that over the next couple years the Spurs will continue to blend in young potential talent with this veteran roster (ie: Kawhi Leonard) as they rebuild on the fly (there's no doubt they'll do 100% better than the Detroit Pistons did these past few years). Top 4 seed in the West, I'd peg them at #3 (behind the Lakers & Thunder...not necessarily in that order).
For New Orleans: The Minnesota Timberwolves have been struggling with a rebuilding project for nearly a decade, wouldn't it have been much easier if they got the #1 pick? Just two years ago the Hornets were led by Chris Paul & Emeka Okafor (David West down with knee injury) to a #7 seed, where they very nearly knocked off the Lakers in the first round). Last year they traded away CP3 (and got Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman & Al Faroq Aminu). It was a rough season in New Orleans, but they hit the lotto! The #1 pick and with it: Anthony Davis. They also had Minnesota's #10 pick, where they took guard Austin Rivers. The Hornets swung a sign-and-trade deal with the Magic for last year's Most Improved Player of the Year: Ryan Anderson (sending Gustavo Ayon to Orlando). They continued to disassemble their roster and rebuild. They sent Emeka Okafor & Trevor Ariza to the Washington Wizards very early in the offseason, even before the 2012 NBA Draft. The Hornets got Rashard Lewis & the 46th pick in the Draft. The Hornets quickly bought out/waived Lewis and selected Darius Miller, at #46. New Orleans also sent Jarrett Jack to the Golden State Warriors. Didn't resign Carl Landry (signed with the Warriors). Was part of a three-team deal that sent Robin Lopez & Hakim Warrick to the Hornets. The TWolves were also a part of that trade & sent Wes Johnson & sent a 1st-round pick to the Suns. The Hornets sent a number of 2nd-round picks to Minnesota. They also resigned Eric Gordon (to a max deal). They may not be a playoff team this season, but they'll certainly be a fun team to watch. There's a good chance they'll have a starting lineup of: Greivis Vasquez, Eric Gordon, Al Faroq-Aminu, Ryan Anderson & Anthony Davis. I can say without a doubt that I'm beyond excited to face the Hornets and watch Nikola Pekovic throw Davis around in the post! They'll be a lottery team, but they'll also be a competitive squad and fun to watch.
For Memphis: There are three teams in the Southwest Division that are near locks to be in the thick of things in the West and make the playoffs: the Mavericks, the Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis hasn't made too many moves this offseason and it appears they're standing pat. They drafted Tony Wroten Jr. in June. They traded Jeremy Pargo to the Cleveland Cavaliers for D.J. Kennedy. They traded Dante Cunningham to the TWolves for Wayne Ellington. They resigned Darrell Arthur (despite him missing the entire 2011-12 season--was definitely a good thing, he's a decent sixth man) and they resigned Marreese Speights. If anything holds them back, it'll be the questions they have with depth in the backcourt. They let O.J. Mayo walk via free agency (to the division foe Mavs). They'll start Michael Conley & Tony Allen. The Grizzlies did sign Jerryd Bayless and he's definitely had an up and down career. Along with him they have rookie Tony Wroten Jr., Josh Selby, Wayne Ellington, Quincy Pondexter and D.J. Kennedy that will all likely see some time in the backcourt...certainly raises a number of questions. There's no question that the Grizz have some solid 'big man' options. They'll start Zach Randolph & Marc Gasol and be backed up by Darrell Arthur & Marreese Speights...along with Hamed Haddadi as a third string center. Barring injuries, Memphis has an intimidating frontline. I'm thinking anywhere from a 4-8 seed in the West.
With this we're now one-third of the way done with our division-by-division season previews! Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks. Until then, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!