The Southwest Division was arguably the strongest division of the 2014-15 NBA season, with a combined record of 261-149 and all five teams qualifying for the playoffs. As hard as it may be to believe, though, the division probably got even tougher over the offseason, with some big time free agent signings, huge trades and new coaching hires.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The Spurs franchise again proved they know what they’re doing — re-signing all of their key players and adding one of the top free agents of 2015. It looks like even after Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili retire, the team will still be in good hands.
LaMarcus Aldridge appears to be the player set to take the reins as the future of the franchise (alongside Kawhi Leonard) while the older veterans prepare for their looming exit. It will be interesting to see Aldridge and Duncan share the front court together, and both should give opposing bigs nightmares all season long.
What to Watch for: Keep an eye out for how Duncan performs throughout the season because this could very well be his last year in the NBA. He will be 40 by the time the season is over — an amazing feat. Having Aldridge by his side will no doubt ease some of the pressure he feels in the front court, so look for these two to dominate from the get-go.
It seems that every year we all underestimate how good the Grizzlies will be. With Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley leading the way, they are poised to again make some noise this season. Over the last five years or so, this has been the team nobody wants to play, and they will probably continue to suffocate opponents with their stifling defense again this year.
Acquiring Matt Barnes in a trade was one of their biggest moves this offseason, besides re-signing Gasol. Barnes appears to be a perfect fit for this squad, adding to their reputation for being a tough-nosed, no-nonsense team. He and Tony Allen will likely create havoc on the bench, maybe even making it impossible for opposing guards/forwards to get into any kind of rhythm at all.
What to Watch for: Mike Conley and Jeff Green are both unrestricted free agents in 2016, so look for the success (or lack thereof) to potentially determine if the Grizzlies will be able to hold on to them. Could this be the year they are finally able to overcome all of the talent in the Western Conference? Probably not, but who knows?
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
It’s hard to grasp the very realistic possibility that a team as good as the Pelicans may only finish fourth in its division. This is in no part due to a lack of talent on the team, as they have one of the brightest futures in the league. However, they are still young, and it could take another year or two before we see them at their best.
Despite this, and despite being in the tough Western Conference, it is still more likely than not that the Anthony Davis led Pelicans will make the playoffs. This offseason, the Pelicans were able to re-sign multiple key players, as well as add Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. Furthermore, they have a new head coach in Alvin Gentry, who is one season removed from being an assistant coach to the champion Golden State Warriors. With a talented core and some good coaching, this team will prove to be a tough out for anybody come April.
What to watch for: Make sure to track the continuing surge of Anthony Davis, who is perhaps the fastest rising superstar in the NBA. He averaged a whopping 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks a game last season, and it wouldn’t be surprising if those numbers go up with another year under his belt. Davis could very well be the future of this league, and it will be interesting to see what he can do with an improving Pelicans team.
The Rockets made some noise this summer by acquiring point guard Ty Lawson from the Denver Nuggets without giving up any key pieces. Lawson, while struggling with off-court issues for a number of months now, may put the Rockets over the top in their championship aspirations. He provides a nice complement to defensive savvy point guard Patrick Beverley.
In addition to Lawson, with Dwight Howard and James Harden still leading this team, they should easily finish in the top five in their conference. A few players on the roster may also be ready for career years, such as center Donatas Motiejunas. His continued improvement could play a big part in the Rockets’ success.
What to watch for: Keep an eye on how head coach Kevin McHale utilizes Lawson. It looks like a strong possibility he could come off the bench, so it should be interesting to see how he handles that after being the leader on the Nuggets. Also, stay glued to Harden this season, as he could go on a tear after feeling cheated out of the MVP award in 2015.
Well, it was an interesting offseason for the Mavericks to say the least. The top story of the whole summer was when free agent DeAndre Jordan made a verbal commitment to sign with the Mavericks, and then backed out and re-signed with the Los Angeles Clippers. This move made Jordan a player sure to be booed at the American Airlines Center for years to come.
In addition to losing Jordan (even though they never really had him to begin with), the Mavs also lost a lot of key free agents this summer, including Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis and Amar’e Stoudemire. They were able to add Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams in free agency, and acquire Zaza Pachulia in a trade, however. Still, it seems that the Mavs’ days of being a shoe-in for the playoffs are over. Dirk Nowitzki will be gone soon, and it’s starting to feel like the rebuilding days are near for this franchise.
What to watch for: It will be interesting to see whether or not the experienced and hopefully healthy Nowitzki can make up for all that the team lost this offseason. The Mavs are one of the oldest teams in the league, putting them in an uncomfortable spot for the future, as they are stuck somewhere between contending and rebuilding.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Houston Rockets
3. Memphis Grizzlies
4. New Orleans Pelicans
5. Dallas Mavericks