Welcome to the state of Texas and the hardest division in basketball! Last year, the Southwest featured four playoff teams, with the Grizzlies joining the three Texan ball-clubs in the postseason. This year, all four teams have a fairly good chance of returning and may be met by the healthier, friskier Pelicans.
A good amount of free-agent “swapping” went on over the offseason, with the Grizzlies stealing Vince Carter from the Mavericks, the Mavericks wooing Chandler Parsons away from the Rockets, and the Pelicans trading a first round pick for Omer Asik (again from the Rockets). All three of these moves have the potential to be something special; Carter’s toughness should fit right in with the grit and grind spirit of Memphis while Chandler Parsons gives the Mavericks a huge upgrade at SF and someone who can take over the scoring and playmaking abilities when Dirk or Monta Ellis hit the bench. The man with the most impact, though, will likely be Asik, whose defense and GIANT size will allow Anthony Davis to slide to power forward. The Pelicans have been trying to make this exact move for a year now, as it allows Davis to return to his natural position and stop banging bodies with some of the league’s bulkier giants.
The real loss is on the Rockets’ end, though. The extra first-rounder from losing Asik is great, but it certainly doesn’t help this year. Without him and Lin, this is a team now desperately lacking in bench play, and the Trevor Ariza signing isn’t much more than a stop-gap for the loss of the supremely handsome Parsons. Its also worth noting, Parsons was one of the main reasons Dwight Howard came to Houston, and his leaving could have significant effect on the two super-egos left running the show. Regression?
And for the Spurs? Nothing.
What to be Most Excited About?
Well, if you’re not really into James Harden and Dwight Howard catfighting with one another, I would say Anthony Davis. Davis is coming into his third year playing, after a sophomore season that saw him 4th in PER and 7th in win-shares. This guy is already playing with the big boys and is fresh off a FIBA World Cup stint that saw him DOMINATE the competition. I’ve talked about Davis fairly extensively on my league pass rankings, but if the Pelicans stay healthy this year and can complement him with smart passing and outside shooting, I’d say we are looking at a dark-horse MVP candidate.
Honorable Mention: The Dallas Mavericks offense.
As much love went to the high-powered Suns offense from last year, these are the guys who beat them out for that last playoff spot. These are the guys who took the Spurs to 7 games in the first round, further than any other team. And these are the guys who turned “Monta basketball” into something genuinely fun to watch. With Parsons in the fold, and Tyson Chandler for some long tap-out rebounds and rim-jamming, these are gonna be one of the most fun teams to watch in 2014-2015.
Biggest Question Heading into 2014?
When looking at last year’s champs, the first question that should come to mind is “Are these guys ready to repeat?” But with the Spurs, that’s hardly a question at all. These guys are too disciplined, too hardworking, too goddamn good at what they do for that to be relevant. I’ve already picked them as my favorites to repeat and I would be SHOCKED if they failed to make the Western Conference Finals. That being said, they are getting older right?? Siiike, the only difference is I have them failing to exceed 60 wins this time around.
So the real question, do Daryl Morey’s offseason failures affect the success of the Houston Rockets franchise significantly?
After Parsons left, James Harden was quoted by saying that he and Dwight were the “cornerstones of the Rockets” while everyone else received the designation of “role players” or “pieces that complete the team”. Hmmm, how do you feel about playing 2 on 5 James? The Rockets won 54 games last year, good for the 4th seed in the West, homecourt advantage, and a first round upset by the Blazers. This team took massive hits to their bench and may be dealing with some serious chemistry issues (see Donatas Motiejunas claiming that Howard and Harden eat separately from the rest of the team. Can’t say what’s worse, them ditching their teammates or that they’re eating fast food.) I say this is still a playoff team, but there’s no way they get homecourt again.
Hardly a bold prediction, but I gotta say the Spurs win this division again. While Duncan and Manu and all the senior citizens may take more games off than usual, I think Leonard and Danny Green and all their young bloods have what it takes to pull off another 60 win campaign.
San Antonio Spurs (60-22) Last Year (62-20)
Dallas Mavericks (52-30) Last Year (49-33)
Houston Rockets (47-35) Last Year (54-28)
Memphis Grizzlies (44-38) Last Year (50-32)
New Orleans Pelicans (37-45) Last Year (34-48)
Western Conference Final Standings
Just because you’ve made it this far! (And because no one likes shuffling back and forth through pages, trying to remember a lot of stupid numbers.)
1.) San Antonio Spurs (60-22)
2.) Los Angeles Clippers (58-24)
3.) Oklahoma City Thunder (57-25)
4.) Golden State Warriors (54-28)
5.) Dallas Mavericks (52-30)
6.) Phoenix Suns (50-32)
7.) Portland Trailblazers (48-34)
8.) Houston Rockets (47-35)
9.) Memphis Grizzlies (44-38)
10.) Denver Nuggets (40-42)
11.) New Orleans Pelicans (37-45)
12.) Sacramento Kings (36-46)
13.) Los Angeles Lakers (30-52)
14.) Minnesota Timberwolves (22-60)
15.) Utah Jazz (20-62)