At last, we reach the Southwest Division – a competitive place host to three Texan teams, and two other teams, which are geographically located in the Eastern half of the United States. Let’s begin with the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks have a plethora of iconic faces. Mark Cuban’s billions of dollars make him a great owner but also one helluva personality. From tossing around insults to being investigated for securities fraud, Cuban’s ambitions for Dallas to win the title every single season is as painfully obvious as Shaq’s inability to make free throws. In contract to Cuban, Dirk Nowitzki is a stunning example of a loyal team leader. He has spent his entire career with this team and is openly proud of that fact. Liked by virtually everyone, he deserves a ring to wear. He’s been an MVP, he’s been a 3-point shootout champion, he’s a perennial All-Star, and the Mavericks are his team. The fact is, however, that no matter how good the Mavericks are, they won’t be the best team in the West. Until the Lakers begin to fall apart, the Mavs won’t be able to challenge them. The problem isn’t that the Mavs are a bad team; it’s simply that the other teams in the West, particularly in the Southwest Division, are very good. This poses possibly insurmountable competition for an aging team. Jason Kidd’s talent is beyond reproach, but his age is beginning to slow him down. Shawn Marion is in a similar situation to Kidd. Jason Terry – a former Sixth Man of the Year – is one of this team’s x-factors. Caron Butler is in a contract year and he, along with former Washington Wizards DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood, need to perform well this season in order to have secure NBA futures. Tyson Chandler’s arrival should give this team an experienced center. After winning 55 games last season, the Mavericks should have another good run this year, probably in the 50 game range again. Fact is, no matter how well they do, they won’t win the West, and ultimately, that’s what counts.
The San Antonio Spurs, along with the Los Angeles Lakers, have dominated the past decade. After all, the Spurs have a guy named Tim Duncan who is a shoe-in to be inducted into the Hall of Fame once he retires. Along with guard Tony Parker and former Sixth Man Manu Ginobili, the Spurs were a powerhouse for m many seasons. However, times have changed. Duncan is getting old and his knees are starting to fail him. Parker is expensive and not necessarily worth the contract money. Manu has continued his impressive performances – even carrying the Spurs at one point last season – but he can’t do it alone. San Antonio is trying to make one last run this season, but the odds of them coming out victorious are slim to none. After winning 50 games last season, I doubt the Spurs could do better. They’ll win around 45-52 games this year, but they’ll be lucky to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
The Houston Rockets have had a turbulent decade. They looked like title contenders back when Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady first teamed up, but over time and lots of injuries, the dream duo ended up short. McGrady never made it out of the first round of the playoffs and Yao had to deal with a number of injuries. Then McGrady underwent knee surgery, and the Rockets suddenly found themselves without two perennial All-Stars. But this Texan team was resilient. They continued to fight all of last season, but they couldn’t quite clinch a playoff spot. This season will be different. With McGrady gone and Yao back in the line-up, the Rockets are looking ahead to brighter times. The problem is that Yao is nowhere near his peak at the moment. After missing the entire season, he has to take it slow, both on and off the court. It’ll be months before he returns to his old self, if he ever gets back to that point. This team didn’t have a blockbuster summer, by any means. However, they did sign Brad Miller, an experienced veteran, and Luis Scola has shown incredible potential. Scola was phenomenal during the FIBA World tournament, and he’ll have the ability to get even better this season. The Rockets won 42 games last season and are in a position to win 45 or so this year. If Yao can stay healthy, this team will make the playoffs.
The Memphis Grizzlies were a pleasant surprise last season. They missed the playoffs, but they did perform better than many expected. With three solid starts in Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, and Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies have a lot of firepower. Add Marc Gasol and newly acquired Tony Allen, and Memphis can contend for a lower playoff berth. While some teams took a tumble during the offseason, the Grizzlies look better on paper, although that may not necessarily be the case. This team has had some injuries, and team chemistry could take a few months to develop. On the bright side, the Grizzlies are one of the youngest teams in the league. Zach Randolph is their most seasoned veteran at 9 years, followed by Tony Allen and Damien Wilkins. After those three, the most experienced player is Rudy Gay with just 4 seasons under his belt. The Grizzlies won 40 games last season, and I’d like to see them get better with about 45 wins. Given their potential, I could envision the Grizzlies usurp the Spurs or overtake the Rockets for a bottom playoff berth.
Now, we come to the worst team in the Southwest Division: the New Orleans Hornets. They had an interesting summer. After trading Darren Collison and James Posey, the Hornets were hoping to clear some space and set the future for Chris Paul. The problem is that Paul’s future in New Orleans is anything but certain. At one point, he was allegedly demanding a trade, then he was satisfied with staying, and now it’s anyone’s guess as to what he’s really thinking. Signing Trevor Ariza is hardly a guarantee of good times to come. He wasn’t a big factor for the Rockets, and his contributions to the Hornets are very uncertain. Peja Stojakovic is a great three-point shooter, but he’s not going to carry this team during crunch team. That job belongs to Chris Paul and David West. With some synergy and a bit of luck, Paul, West, and Ariza could form an interesting triumvirate on the court. Unfortunately, that could all be wishful thinking. At least sophomore Marcus Thornton has shown a lot of potential. The Hornets won only 37 games last season and will have to win at least 45 to contend for a playoff spot in the West. Whether they can do it or not remains to be seen. If Chris Paul and David West stay healthy, the Hornets will be very competitive, but that’s a big “if” after last season.
And that’s it folks! We’ve reviewed every team in the NBA. Next up, the NBA season opener on October 26, 2010!