The Southwest Division provided us with the two sides of the Western Conference Finals a few months ago and it could very easily be that competitive once again.
A division that has been dominated by the greatness and longevity of the San Antonio Spurs could be about to experience a changing of the guard. The aging Spurs can no longer rely on the power of Tim Duncan and key performances from sixth man Manu Ginobili. They were incredible in the postseason in 2013, but they may have made their final run only to fall short to the incredible Miami Heat. Don’t be fooled though, the Spurs are making moves too and will be competitive as always next season under Gregg Popavich.
Houston’s moves have been well publicized while Memphis still has their core intact though not its coach. In Dallas, Monta Ellis will provide the Mavs with a much needed scoring punch in the back court and in New Orleans, the additions of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans to Anthony Davis could have the Pelicans being taken a bit more seriously than the Hornets were last year.
Let’s take a look at the moves of each of these teams to this point and how they might shake up this division.
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The Spurs have added to their squad by bringing in Marco Belinelli, a solid two guard and jump shooter who can aide Tony Parker and allow Danny Green to play small forward if Kawhi Leonard needs to move to power forward at times in relief of the aging Duncan. Leonard was excellent against LeBron James in the NBA Finals defensively regardless of whether he was playing the three or the four and can likely defend anyone in that position.
The team re-signed Tiago Splitter to a four year deal worth $36 million and brought in Jeff Pendergraph to help add size to its front court. With Popavich pulling the strings, San Antonio will be there again, but whether or not the age of their core actually begins to have an effect on them at some point remains to be seen.
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The Rockets likely aren’t done dealing, but by adding Dwight Howard to a young, talented lineup that includes James Harden, there is no doubt that the Rockets are legitimate threat to the Spurs stronghold on the division. With young talent in Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to round out the lineup, the Rockets don’t just appear to be a playoff team, they could be a title contender.
They also have the young up and coming Donatas Motiejunas who may yet develop into a decent scorer from either forward position, but the key to Rockets success is whether or not Howard can turn them into a halfway decent defensive team. The Rockets were the third worst defensive team in the league last season, relying on their ability to score in order to win games. That recipe has never yielded a championship, just ask Howard’s former coach Mike D’Antoni.
Not much is going to change in Memphis without Lionel Hollins in charge. The team appointed his assistant Dave Joerger and re-signed Toney Allen, so the defense first make up of the Grizzlies will probably remain. With the core of Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol still in place, Memphis has its identity nailed down and will be looking to take the next step in their quest toward a title by winning the Western Conference.
The Grizzlies have added seven foot center Kosta Koufos for backup to Gasol in exchange for Darrell Arthur. They still have Tayshaun Prince and Ed Davis on the roster, two players who came over in the Rudy Gay trade, and are bringing Jerryd Bayless back once again, so expect the Grizzlies to hit the ground running this fall.
The Mavericks have been perhaps the busiest team in acquiring players as they had only a few contracts still on the books after last season. In the wake of missing out on Dwight Howard, the team certainly hasn’t stopped hunting down new talent as they announced the signing of Monta Ellis earlier this week.
With Dirk Nowitzki in the final year of his $22 million per year contract, the Mavs can have some fun next summer with fresh funds, but in building a team now, Mark Cuban is trying to be aggressive, particularly in the back court where he drafted the University of Miami’s Shane Larkin and signed free agent Jose Calderon. The Mavs have a plethora of shooting guards from experienced players like Vince Carter, Ellis and Wayne Ellington to draft pick Ricky Ledo. Where the Mavs are going with all this remains to be seen, but they need some help at center where Brandon Wright is currently their biggest name. The team is going to make a lot of three pointers but the weakness at center will have to be addressed if the team is going to compete in a division with Gasol and Howard in it.
The Pelicans decision to trade Nerlens Noel for Jrue Holiday was strange and now they’ve swapped Greivis Vasquez and Robin Lopez for Tyreke Evans, making them one of the most guard heavy teams in the league with Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers also in the lineup.
The team acquired the rights to former Kansas center Jeff Withey and signed Greg Stiesma to help fill Lopez’s shoes, but relying on those two to step up and play a significant role seems like a bit of a long shot. New Orleans wasn’t a bad defensive team last year, but they’ll have to hope that one of those two centers can play a key part in helping Davis protect the rim. The moves the team has made have improved their back court a bit, but the way this team is going be set up is somewhat confusing at present. New Orleans was 24th in the league last season in offense, something that will probably improve with the addition of Holiday as a pick and roll partner for Davis, but none of this is likely to have them fighting for relevance in the Southwest any time soon.