The Dallas Mavericks are the reigning NBA champs. With some of their pieces gone, can they stay atop this division and contend for another title?
1. Dallas Mavericks
2. Memphis Grizzlies
3. San Antonio Spurs
4. Houston Rockets
5. New Orleans Hornets
Dallas Mavericks – How do you make up for the loss of Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, and DeShawn Stevenson? Simple. You trade two second-round picks for Lamar Odom and sign Delonte West and Vince Carter. Odom will make up for what Chandler lacked on offense, plus he can handle the ball and play some defense. I like the signing of West. He is a hard-nosed player that can hit big shots. He will replace Stevenson. Carter, on the other hand, I am not so sure of. He is up there in years (34), but I think playing with Dirk Nowitzki, Carter won’t have to do much other than hit some shots, play some defense and roughly 25 minutes a game. The Mavericks still have Shawn Marion and the Jason’s (Terry and Kidd), three savvy veterans who have been there before and done it all. Nowitzki is still one of the best players in the game, even though he is 33 years old. Mark Cuban has taken an interesting approach this offseason. Not spending the big money to bring in the big free agents unlike he did in the past. He is hoping that next season, when Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, the Mavs will have enough money to sign one or both of them. Still, the Mavs are the defending champs and will be a tough team to play every night.
Player(s) to Watch – Lamar Odom – I want to see how he handles the transition from being “disrespected” to playing for an owner who takes care and sticks up for his players. Odom is that consistent force off the bench and has been for years. A viable Sixth Man of the Year candidate year in and year out, Odom has done nothing but his job every game. I bet he will be playing with a chip on his should this season, especially when the Mavs head to Los Angeles to play to the Lakers.
Why they will finish 1st in the Southwest Division – They are the defending champs. Enough said. Nowitzki is coming off an unreal playoff run and the addition of Odom will only help save Nowitzki from playing a lot of minutes during this rollercoaster of a season. Kidd is still one of the best defenders at the point guard position, but they will miss Barea. Terry makes big shots in big games. Newly drafted guard Jerome Randle might make an impact if given a chance.
Memphis Grizzlies – I was shocked when the Grizzlies beat the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs last April. The Grizzlies didn’t even have their best player (Rudy Gay), but they still got the job done. Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley stepped-up to the plate to help the Grizzlies overcome the more-experienced Spurs. Even though their run ended against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Grizzlies proved that they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. I am a little bit worried about the loss of Shane Battier, but Tony Allen should be able to step into the starting role and become the new defensive-stopper. They also lost Darrell Arthur to a torn Achilles just a few days ago and that will hurt their depth at the power forward spot. Looking at their roster, I don’t see Walter Sharpe or Brian Skinner replacing the production that Arthur gave them as a back-up. O.J. Mayo is one of the best Sixth Man’s in the league and Xavier Henry should get more of a chance to play this season after having a forgettable rookie season. Gay, coming back from injury, definitely helps their scoring production and will make them a contender in the Southwest Division.
Player(s) to Watch – O.J. Mayo – There has been a lot of trade-talk involving Mayo since training camp opened. I don’t know why they would want to trade Mayo. He can create his own shot, knock down three-pointers, and is instant offense off the bench. If the Grizzlies are looking to go further than the second round of the playoffs, they are going to need Mayo’s production off the bench. Keep the man and let him do his thing.
Why they will finish 2nd in the Southwest Division – The losses of Battier and Arthur will hurt the Grizzlies. Getting Gay back will help the Grizzlies, but I want to see Gay return to the same player he was before his injury. If Gay comes out like gangbusters, the Grizzlies might end up winning the division.
San Antonio Spurs – Tim Duncan is two years away from becoming a dinosaur. Two-thirds of San Antonio’s “big three” are in their mid-30’s (Duncan, 35 and Manu Ginobili, 34) and they didn’t make too many moves this past offseason to improve their roster. I am amazed that they won 60 games last season. I don’t know they did it to be honest. Richard Jefferson gave them minimal production last season, 11 ppg in the regular season and 6.5 ppg in the postseason. They drafted Kawhi Leonard, who might end up starting over Jefferson by season’s end (even though Gregg Popovich doesn’t like starting rookies). They traded George Hill for T.J. Ford and I don’t know if that was a good or bad thing, only time will tell. If the Spurs are to go anywhere this season, it will be because of Tony Parker. He is the youngest of the “Big Three”, and had the best season last year. He needs to raise his game to another level if the Spurs want to compete in a very tough Western Conference.
Player(s) to Watch – Kawhi Leonard – Leonard will prove to be another draft pick that worked out for the Spurs. He plays good defense, rebounds, takes good shots, and doesn’t need the ball to be effective. Leonard had a great season at San Diego State last season. I think that he has the ability to take the starting spot from Jefferson by season’s end. If Popovich gives Leonard minutes, he will prove that he is ready to play in San Antonio’s system.
Why they will finish 3rd in the Southwest Division – Duncan might be in the best shape of his life, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they got bounced in the first round of the playoffs last season and now, the core of that team, is a year older. If the Spurs can avoid significant injuries, I feel that they can make some noise in the playoffs but it is going to be tough. I feel that the Spurs will begin the re-building process sooner rather than later.
Houston Rockets – I bet most people didn’t know that the Rockets averaged 106 ppg last season. That was good enough for 3rd most ppg in the league. They have a new coach, Kevin McHale, who I think will be a good fit in Houston. They have some young talent on this team as well. They drafted Marcus Morris (the better of the Morris twins) in the 2011 draft, Chase Budinger is on the rise, and they acquired point guard Jonny Flynn on a draft-night trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Rockets already have Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic at the point guard spot. That’s why the Rockets were involved in that Chris Paul-to-L.A. trade and were set to acquire Pau Gasol and ship Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and Dragic to New Orleans to make room for players like Patrick Patterson, Flynn, and Dontas Motiejunas. This roster is flooded with players that play the same position. Until they make the necessary moves to unload some players, they will finish 4th in this division and will miss the playoffs.
Player(s) to Watch – Jonny Flynn and Patrick Patterson – Flynn was a high draft-pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009, but he didn’t live up to some of the hype that comes with being selected with 6th overall pick. He was injured most of last season and didn’t fit into Kurt Rambis’ offensive system and ended up being traded on draft night this past June. I hope he gets a chance to show what he can do in Houston. Patterson is another player that is loaded with potential. I feel that he could start for 40% of teams in the NBA. He is athletic and a tenacious rebounder. He is playing behind Scola at this point in his career, but he is only 22 years old and still needs to learn more about the NBA game before he can make an impactful impact on a contending team. He could turn out to be the next Brandon Bass. That’s not the greatest compliment I can give a player, but Bass is still in the league and now playing for the Boston Celtics.
Why this team will finish 4th in the Southwest Division – If they had been able to acquire Gasol, I would have put them above San Antonio. But the fact that they have Kevin Martin, who plays no defense, and a roster loaded with players that play the same position, I don’t feel that the Rockets are going to improve much this season. I hope they prove me wrong.
New Orleans Hornets – Chris Paul has finally been traded. It’s finally over and Hornet fans should be rejoicing. They know that Paul was not going to re-sign with them, so instead they acquired Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al Farouq Aminu, and the Minnesota Timberwolves 2012 first-round draft pick and that pick could end up being a #1 pick if the Timberwolves suck again this season. The Hornets will find themselves in the lottery this season, but don’t view that as a bad thing. This year’s draft class could be the best since the year LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were drafted in 2003. The Hornets need to make sure they lock up Gordon for 5 years because this man is the real deal. He can score (22.3 ppg) and could end up being an All-Star this season. The lost of David West will hurt the Hornets, but if they are smart they would start Kaman alongside Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza with Gordon and Jarrett Jack in the backcourt. The Hornets were a great defensive team last year, giving up 94 ppg (5th in the NBA). This team will struggle to put fans in the seats and W’s in the win column.
Player(s) to Watch – Eric Gordon – He has already become my favorite player on the Hornets and I don’t even like the Hornets. He will be the face of this franchise for years to come if he stays in New Orleans. All eyes will be on him because this roster doesn’t have much else an NBA fan would want to watch. Like I said earlier, he might become an All-Star this season.
Why they will finish 5th in the Southwest Division – They don’t have much anymore. With Paul and West gone, the Hornets are going through a transformation period. The addition of Carl Landry should not go unnoticed. But other than that, the roster is pretty sad. It’s amazing that they will go from playoffs to lottery, mainly because they traded Paul. But don’t worry Hornet fans. You will get two future big-time players in the draft and in two years, you will be back in the playoffs.