The Southwest division was the strongest division in the NBA last season, and it looks to be the strongest division this coming season as well. The Western Champion Mavericks are continuing to look good. the always tough Spurs have made some curious changes which could lead them back to another title. The Rockets should be healthy and looking to go back to the playoffs after a year long absence. the Hornets have gotten a lot better and deeper. And the Grizzlies have bolstered their team as well.
The biggest move within the division was the Hornets acquiring Peja Stojakovic from the Indiana Pacers, but there are other less noticed moves which should make a huge impact in the division. One such move was the trade between Houston and Memphis which saw the Rockets acquiring bronze medalist Shane Battier from the Grizzlies.
The Western Champions Mavericks have done a lot to change their roster from a year ago, they made a pair of trades with the Pacers to bring in Austin Croshere, and Anthony Johnson, plus they added some depth at the center position by signing un-drafted rookie Pops Mensah-Bonsu.
Along with Stojakovic, the Hornets made a other big moves. One was acquiring center Tyson Chandler from Chicago. The Hornets also signed Bobby Jackson to back-up 2006 Rookie of the year Chris Paul.
San Antonio Spurs.
Key Losses: Nick Van Exel(free agent), Rasho Nesterovic(Toronto) Nazr Mohammed(Detroit)
Key Additions: Jacque Vaughn(New Jersey), Francisco Elson(Denver), Jackie Butler(New York) Matt Bonner(Toronto), Eric Williams(Toronto)
The Spurs lost all their centers from a year ago, but have they may not be a bad thing for them. Both Nesterovic, and Mohammed were inconsistent, and usually a liability, especially during the playoffs. The Spurs brought in Butler and Elson to replace them, but neither of them have had much in playing time. Elson the old veteran of the two should win the starting job in training camp, but Butler has shown a lot of promise at times, and should keep Elson working to keep his starting job. However, both could become huge mistakes for the Spurs should they not pan out. The Spurs don’t have enough cap space nor an open roster spot to bring in another center, so if they both struggle the Spurs may be forced to move Tim Duncan to the center spot.
Speaking of Tim Duncan, he should be healthy this year. That could mean another Spurs championship. Duncan was slowed last year by injuries and it became apparent as the Mavs continually exploited them during their playoff match-up in which Dallas won in seven games.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are both healthy as well. Parker missed the World Basketball Championships in August because of an injury, but should be back to full strength come October.
Key Losses: Keith Van Horn(Free Agent), Adrian Griffin(Chicago), Darrell Armstrong(Indiana),Marquis Daniels(Indiana), Pavel Podkolzine(waived)
Key Additions: Maurice Ager(Draft), Pops Mensah-Bonsu(Free Agent), Greg Buckner(Denver), Devean George(La Lakers),.
The Mavericks have made what seems to be a lot of changes over their roster from a year ago which got them to the NBA finals, however their moves are a bit deceptive. The core roster for the Mavericks is still intact, they have however added much more depth than they had last year. Buckner, George, and Ager will give them the much needed defensive guard stopper that they so desperately needed during the Finals. They also get a huge upgrade in Mensah-Bonsu over Podkolzine, Mensah-Bonsu will likely work his way into the rotation and will likely become a key player off the bench.
Dirk Nowitzki will be in MVP forum again for the Mavericks, and should get off to a quick start for them early in the season. The Mavericks also re-signed Jason Terry, who should be poised for yet another big year. If Terry and Nowitzki both have similar years this year to that of last years, the Mavericks should once again find themselves very deep into the playoffs.
Key Losses: Keith Bogans(Orlando), David Wesley(Cleveland), Stromile Swift(Memphis)
Key Additions: Kirk Snyder(New Orleans), Steve Novak(Draft), Casey Jacobson(free Agent), Shane Battier(Memphis).
The Rockets only big off-season move came during the draft when they traded Swift and the rights to Rudy Gay to the Grizzlies for Shane Battier. Battier will give the Rockets a nice strong small forward to fit into their line-up. Battiers defense will be more important to the Rockets than his offense.
The Rockets will also get Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady back, and healthy. If both Yao and McGrady stay healthy the Rockets will be a very dangerous team. However if neither of them can stay healthy the Rockets are in for yet another long season.
Second year guard Luther Head will probably have a huge breakout season, but the he needs to be patient and let the game come to him. He and Battier are going to be nice role players for the Rockets this year.
New Orleans Hornets.
Key Losses: Kirk Snyder(Houston), Speedy Claxton(Atlanta), Aaron Williams(Clippers), PJ Brown(Chicago), JR Smith(Chicago)
Key Additions: Peja Stojakovic(Indiana), Tyson Chandler(Chicago), Jannero Pargo(Chicago), Bobby Jackson(Memphis), Hilton Armstrong(draft), Cedric Simmons(draft)
The Hornets have been busier than any other team in the NBA this off-season, acquiring all-star caliber players in Stojakovic, and Chandler, while adding depth with Bobby Jackson. All three players will make a huge impact for the Hornets this season. Stojakovic will give second year point guard Chris Paul a primary target to get the ball to, while Chandler will give the Hornets interior play.
Chris Paul will take most the minutes at the one spot, and with the Hornets still lacking a true shooting guard, Bobby Jackson should fill that void but the lack of a quick two could hurt the Hornets down the stretch.
Rookies Hilton Armstrong and Cedric Simmons should see some minutes early in the season, but they will need to prove they can play or they will find themselves out of the rotation.
Key Losses: Bobby Jackson(New Orleans), Shane Battier(Houston), Lorenzen Wright(Atlanta)
Key Additions: Rudy Gay(Draft), Kyle Lowry(Draft), Junior Harrington(Europe)
The big news for Memphis is that they’ll be without All-star forward Pau Gasol for most the season. Gasol got injured during the World Basketball Championships in Japan. With-out Gasol and the loss of both Battier and Jackson the Grizzlies could really be in trouble this season. Rudy Gay, while talented is most likely not going to make a large enough impact to help the Grizzlies out.
The Grizzlies would be the most likely team of the five in the Southwest division that won’t make the playoffs, especially is Gasol takes his time coming back from his injuries.
San Antonio 60 22
Dallas 59 23
Houston 52 30
New Orleans 46 36
Memphis 38 44
All Division first team.
C Yao Ming(Houston)
F Tim Duncan(San Antonio)
F Dirk Nowitzki(Dallas)
G Tracy McGrady(Houston)
G Chris Paul(New Orleans)