Southwest Division Preview

The addition of Dwight Howard makes the Rockets a major contender in the Southwest.

Dallas Mavericks

The NBA is a fickle league where teams typically aren’t built over years and years. If the right pieces fall into place a team can become extremely good very quickly, but the opposite applies as well. The Dallas Mavericks are on the opposite side of that slope trying fiercely to hang on to relevency following a deserved title. Rick Carlisle has unquestionably been a good coach for the Mavs but we may be at a point where Carlisle’s message is no longer applicable and the roster may no longer be capable. With The Mavericks struggles in 2012-13 Darren Collison was more or less allowed to walk. Jose Calderon was signed primarily to run the point and he is a solid passer who will have more recipients than he’s ever had. Calderon will be an upgrade over Collison in a number of ways and will improve the Dallas backcourt. Devin Harris will provide solid depth and a responsible secondary option. Monta Ellis will partner at the 2 spot and Ellis will be counted on to score like he did a few years ago. Unfortunately for the Mavericks as a combination Calderon and Ellis have never been confused for defend first players. If Rick Carlisle’s message sinks in they hope to be servicable but there’s a possiblity that the backcourt becomes a turnstile for opposing teams. Shawn Marion will continue to be on e of the better swingmen in the league providing help for every position on the floor while Vince Carter provides a solid depth option. Carter has redefined himself as an effective 6th man, a surprising role for a player who was once almost universally derided as too selfish. Combined Marion and Carter will give the Mavs options at both ends and athleticism that doesn’t reside at each position. As has been the case for more than a decade Dirk Nowitzki will be the main option at power forward. His absence due to injury in 2012-13 reduced the Mavericks to a non playoff team. Dirk Nowitzki will not get any younger this year and while he continues to be a wonderful scorer inside and out he’ll depend on younger legs more than ever. DeJuan Blair will be Nowitzki’s primary backup but as a smaller 4 there’s a similar possiblity to what the backcourt has and that is that teams that lineup will be able to score at will. Finally Samuel Dalembert arrives as the center of choice. Dalembert is seen as the poo poo platter leftovers from the Dwight Howard sweepstakes and for good reason. He’s a solid rebounder, blocker, and defensive player, but Samuel Dalembert is a limited player. He’s helpful but he would be just as valuable as a #2 center on a better tteam than he is for the Mavericks. Brandan Wright will come back early in the season and could usurp Dalembert before midseason. If Wright can’t go Dalembert’s depth will come from Bernard James. Overall the Mavericks made changes comings into the new season but the biggest change will be having Dirk Nowitzki healthy again. If Nowitzki makes it thru the full season playing at the level he’s played at for a decade the Mavericks will likely land in the playoffs as a 5-7 seed. The unfortunate nature of the NBA is that a Monta Ellis/Jose Calderon backcourt addition means a 41 win team wins a little more but still is no where near a contender. They may win a round, they may pull an upset, but this is a team about to enter a no man’s land of not contending but not drafting high enough up to change that. Mark Cuban is a man of action and the eventual actions to possibly make the Mavs a contender again are the type that come with great risk and the potential to leave the Mavs on the outside for a length period. (Michael Bedard)

Dallas hopes Monta Ellis can be the second fiddle to Dirk and get the Mavs back to the playoffs.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets got the attention of the Southwest division and the Western Conference when they signed Dwight Howard. Paired with James Harden, the Rockets will make a lot of noise this season. Alongside those two superstars are more than serviceable Jeremy Lin and up and coming Chandler Parsons. Omer Asik is not a menacing big man but could be solid paired with Howard. The bench is a little weak but they do have veterans in Fransisco Garcia, Ronnie Brewer and Aaron Brooks and Donatas Motiejunas, a twenty three year old the Rockets love. I’m not sure this team is in the elite class yet, but they will easily make the playoffs and could give a top seed some fits. (Scott Boutcher)

James Harden has become a superstar and with Howard he will only get better.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies were one of the NBA’s big surprises last season making a run to the Western Conference Finals before being swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Many experts predicted that they would beat San Antonio as well. They were one of the main beneficiaries of the Russell Westbrook injury as they were able to eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder in just five games. They had their best season in franchise history, winning 56 games in the regular season. What made their year so impressive is that they did this in their first season under new ownership and they also traded their leading scorer Rudy Gay, midway through the season. The Grizzlies did not have much money to spend as they were barely under the luxury cap, but they have made some solid additions adding players like Mike Miller, Kosta Koufos, Jamaal Franklin and Nick Calathes. Koufos is a pretty underrated center and he’ll fit in better with Ed Davis and Zach Randolph more than Darrell Arthur did. Calathes has been a good player overseas and he’s one of those players with a pass first mentality so him serving as a backup is a good fit. Jamaal Franklin’s defense was one of the reasons San Diego State was so good over the last couple of years and he’ll look to get better on the NBA level. Miller will perhaps matter the most when it comes to the playoffs as last year, they kind of suffered when it came to three-point shooting so he’ll be able to provide more in that area. The Grizzlies lost very little and made some nice additions to their bench. This is one of the deepest teams in the league. This team will easily be amongst the best defensive teams as that’s how they made their postseason run last season. They were ranked 17th in offensive efficiency last year. They were dead last in three point attempts and makes last season. It’ll be interesting to see what is going to happen with Zach Randolph as it would be hard to keep both Ed Davis and Zach Randolph. Randolph is getting older now and could soon be in decline and the longer they wait to trade him, the more Memphis could be giving up in return so keep an eye out if the Grizzlies decide to part ways with Zach. They have a new coach in Dave Joerger which to me was one of the main missteps for the Grizzlies. I thought Lionel Hollins was a pretty good coach and the fact that he’s not coaching anywhere this season is absolutely ridiculous. Joerger is going to have to find ways to game manage properly in his first season and deal with proper rotations of his players. They were the slowest paced team last season and Joerger has said that he wants to speed it up, so what will that mean for a below-average offense? Lastly, the Grizzlies are mainly the team they are because of Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen, etc. Gasol is one of the best players in basketball right now and is close to his prime. He is one of the smartest players in the game when it comes to positioning and decision making. Allen is a great defender and Conley has the ability to make some great plays. All in all, I expect the Grizzlies to take a slight step back this season though. They are still deep and will win a lot of games in the regular season thanks to the defense, but Tayshaun Prince and Zach Randolph will likely start to decline. They likely won’t benefit in a playoff series from one of its star players being injured either this time around. I really doubt they would’ve beaten the Thunder had Russell Westbrook not gotten hurt. They should still win 50 games and probably a playoff series, but I don’t think they’ll match 56 wins or another Western Conference Finals berth. (Dan Sohler)

The Grizzlies hope Dave Joerger can get the Grizzlies over that hump Lionel Hollins could not.

New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans, formerly the New Orleans Pelicans, are looking to start anew with a new mascot, new uniforms, and better players. The additions of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans will give the Pelicans a much improved backcourt, and having Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis already, this is a much improved squad. This is a very young, but talented team, which will come close to doubling their win total from a year ago. In its first year in their new uniforms, the Pelicans are moving in the right direction to fight for a playoff spot. (Kevin Langner)

Jrue Holiday could be the player that gets New Orleans back into the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs

After a pretty quiet offseason, the San Antonio Spurs decided to stay pact and stick with the players they had last year for the 2013-2014 season. Coming off a disappointing end to last year and coming a couple minutes from hoisting the championship trophy, Greg Popovich will attempt to rewrite last years script. The keys for the Spurs success is to keep the team chemistry they thrive with and to keep the same consistency they always possess. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili are their big three, but the Spurs are not built around just three players. Popovich expects everyone to play a role and step up. Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Danny Green are three up and coming players that played a key role in the teams success. Look for the Spurs to battle for the top of the Western Conference. (Kevin Langner)

San Antonio’s big three still have the bad taste in their mouth from the NBA finals.

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