San Antonio Spurs big men Tim Duncan and Aron Baynes. Photo: AP
In the fourth part of the six-part division by division series by Paul Suttor and Paul Zalunardo, it’s time to see how the teams are shaping up in the Southwest division.
This is the toughest division in the NBA. The Spurs are yet again supposed to be on the decline but will again be one of the best teams in the Western Conference, Memphis will again be strong, Houston are reborn, Dallas have retooled in a bid to give Dirk Nowitzki another crack at the playoffs and the rebranded New Orleans Pelicans are on the rise.
San Antonio (58-24 last season) It’s become an annual event – saying the Spurs are a team in decline and they can’t possibly make another shot at the NBA crown with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili well past their prime. Well, last season they were a missed free throws away from bouncing Miami out of the finals in game six and it would be brave to suggest they won’t again be among the top teams in the west again this season. Marco Belinelli offsets the loss of Gary Neal in the shooting stakes and Boomers big man Aron Baynes is likely to see more minutes in the rotation with DeJuan Blair shipped off to Dallas.
Don’t bet against them being a leading contender yet again
Gains: Jeff Ayres (Indiana), Marco Belinelli (Chicago).
Losses: DeJuan Blair (Dallas), Tracy McGrady (retired), Gary Neal (Milwaukee).
Memphis (56-26) The Grizzlies didn’t change any major parts of their roster and the addition of centre Kosta Koufus and (when he’s not struck down by back issues) reliable shooter Mike Miller have given them plenty of depth. They don’t score a lot of points and rely on their defence so if Miller can give them an outside scoring presence, they might be able to again go deep into the Western Conference playoffs.
Unlikely to make the Western Conference finals a second year in a row
Gains: Nick Calathes (rookie), Jamaal Franklin (rookie), Kosta Koufos (Denver), Mike Miller (MIA).
Losses: Darrell Arthur (Denver), Austin Daye (Toronto), Tony Wroten (Philadelphia), Keyon Dooling, Donte Greene.
Houston (45-37) Expectations are high again in Houston following the acquisition of Dwight Howard. It will be interesting to see if they go for the Twin Towers front court with Howard alongside Omer Asik or if they trade their Turkish tall timber to get a more attack-oriented power forward. With Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and James Harden rounding out their starting five, the Rockets are likely to be challenging for a top four berth in the west.
If D-12 is back to his best, the top four beckons
Gains: Ronnie Brewer (Oklahoma City), Marcus Camby (New York), Isaiah Canaan (rookie), Omri Casspi (Cleveland), Robert Covington (rookie), Dwight Howard (LA Lakers), Reggie Williams (Charlotte).
Losses: James Anderson (Philadelphia), Carlos Delfino (Milwaukee), Tim Ohlbrecht, Thomas Robinson (Portland), Royce White (Philadelphia).
Dallas (41-41) Possibly under-rated, perhaps even over-rated. It’s not easy to get a gauge on the Mavericks’ chances this season. If ageing star Dirk Nowitzki is healthy, they could challenge for the playoffs but he was not healthy last season and Dallas were terrible when he wasn’t around before making a late surge to finish a 500 team. The new back court of Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis have a history of under-achievement.
Don’t bank on them making the finals in the loaded Western Conference
Gains: DeJuan Blair (San Antonio), José Calderón (Detroit), Samuel Dalembert (Milwaukee), Wayne Ellington (Cleveland), Monta Ellis (Milwaukee), Devin Harris (Atlanta), Shane Larkin (rookie), Ricky Ledo (rookie), Gal Mekel (rookie).
Losses: Elton Brand (Atlanta), Chris Kaman (LA Lakers), O.J. Mayo (Milwaukee), Anthony Morrow (New Orleans), Darren Collison (LA Clippers), Jared Cunningham (Atlanta), Mike James, Josh Akognon, Rodrigue Beaubois.
New Orleans (27-55) Trading away what would have been the appropriately named Nerlens Noel was a risk on draft day by New Orleans but with the player who was supposed to be the top draft prospect injured long term, the Pelicans formerly known as Hornets will cash in over the short term with All Star guard Jrue Holiday running the point. The acquisition of swingman Tyreke Evans, a former rookie of the year, adds to their shooting power and they will be better than last season but they have strong teams all around them.
Better than last year but the wins tally may not rise too much
Gains: Tyreke Evans (Sacramento), Jrue Holiday (Philadelphia), Anthony Morrow (Dallas), Greg Stiemsma (Minnesota), Jeff Withey (rookie).
Losses: Xavier Henry (LA Lakers), Robin Lopez (Portland), Roger Mason jnr, Greivis Vásquez (Sacramento), Louis Amundson, Terrel Harris.