Gibberman: Southwest division preview
San Antonio Spurs
Last Season: 54-28
The San Antonio Spurs are loaded. Head Coach Greg Popovich has put a supporting cast around the Big 3 that fits the style he wants to coach and is very talented. It reminds me of how the New England Patriots surrounded Tom Brady with Randy Moss and Wes Welker; they were good the season before, but those additions created the opportunity for a special season. I see that same type of potential with this Spurs team.
Off San Antonio’s roster from last season are Kurt Thomas, Ime Udoka, Bruce Bowen, Drew Gooden, Jacque Vaughn, and Fabricio Oberto. Added to the Spurs roster this off-season were DeJuan Blair, Keith Bogans, Richard Jefferson, Antonio Mcdyess, and Theo Ratliff. They have gone from having one of the weakest benches in the league to one of the strongest.
DeJuan Blair was a steal in the 2nd round. That sounds like I am contradicting myself because in my draft preview I said a team was going to take him too high. For a player who had surgeries on both of his knees I believed it was to big of a risk to grab him in the lottery. In the second round you don’t have to give him a big contract and he was worth the risk. Richard Jefferson gives the Spurs a legitimate 4th scoring option and depth if Manu Ginobli gets hurt. Antonio McDyess takes some of the load off Tim Duncan’s plate. Keith Bogans was one of the most underrated free agent pick ups. He will easily fill the role that Bruce Bowen played on the defensive end and he is an upgrade on the offensive end. 2nd year PG George Hill will improve and give great depth behind Tony Parker.
Last Season: 53-29
The Houston Rockets are the toughest team in the NBA for me to get a read on. They are a team of role players with the injuries to Yao Ming and Tracy Mcgrady, but they have proven they could win without them the past two seasons.
I like the frontcourt of Luis Scola and Carl Landry, both players can do a little bit of everything. Former University of Arizona product Chase Budinger has been one of the surprise rookies in the preseason. Second round pick Joey Dorsey out of Memphis could be one of the surprise rookies if he gets minutes, I see him being a Ben Wallace type force on the glass (he will be just as bad offensively also).
The big free agent pick up this off-season was Trevor Ariza. I have been following Ariza’s career since he was a rookie with the New York Knicks (2nd round pick by Isiah Thomas) and he has improved every season. The problem is Ariza is not good enough to be the focal point of the offense and that is what Houston will be expecting with the money they spent on him.
I don’t like Aaron Brooks as a full time PG, his role as a spark plug off the bench was perfect. His body is too small to take the rigors of a full NBA season. Shane Battier is another player who is better fit as a role player than a focal point. Every time I have doubted the Rockets, Head Coach Rick Adelman has found a way for this team to succeed. If he does it again this year he deserves to be NBA Coach of the Year.
Last Season: 50-32
The Dallas Mavericks have won 50 games every season since 2000-2001 and I don’t expect that to change this year. They still have Dirk Nowitzki, he can put a team on his back for 82 games and will be in the MVP talk as always. Starting small forward Josh Howard is banged up and Head Coach Rick Carlisle isn’t sure when he is going to be ready to play. The Mavericks have enough depth to fight through until he is ready to return.
The Mavericks big offseason pick up was former Phoenix Suns SF/PF Shawn Marion. He will feel right back at home with point guard Jason Kidd. Marion won’t be asked to be a creator like he was in Toronto and Miami, he can go back to what he does best – finishing.
PF/C Drew Gooden is an upgrade over Erick Dampier and allows Dampier to be a role player off the bench where he won’t be relied upon to contribute every night. Back up point guard Jose Juan Barea is an excellent change of pace for Jason Kidd off the bench, Barea is more of a scoring point guard than Kidd. SF Tim Thomas will spread the court making it difficult to double team Dirk Nowitzki.
New Orleans Hornets
Last Season: 49-33
The New Orleans Hornets two years ago were one of the best stories in the NBA, last season they took a step back. This season coach Byron Scott could be end up being the first head coach on the hot seat. If the Hornets struggle to start the season and attendance drops I believe that superstar point guard Chris Paul will be traded. Where there is smoke, there is fire, the Hornets traded Paul’s best friend on the team Tyson Chandler for Emeka Okafor and didn’t make any other significant off-season signings. The Hornets used a first-round pick on UCLA PG Darren Collinson when they had more important holes to fill on the roster. Sounds to me like they are starting to prepare for the post Chris Paul era and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was a Pau Gasol saving money type move.
Last Season: 24-58
The Memphis Grizzlies organization just makes you shake your head. Who in their right mind thought it was a good idea for Zach Randolph and Allen Iverson to be on the same team? The Grizzlies will be the worst passing team in the league and AI/Z-bo combination will stunt the growth of their young core; PG OJ Mayo, SF Rudy Gay, PG Mike Conley, C Hasheem Thabeet, and SF Sam Young. Head Coach Lionel Hollins is in for a very long season.