The NBA season will kick off later this month with training camps opening and media days being unveiled. It really is time to start thinking about who the contenders and pretenders will be in the NBA during the 2013-14 season. Our preview season continues with a look at arguably the toughest division in basketball – the Southwest division. This division has two of the early Western conference favorites in San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets, a pretty confident playoff lock in the Memphis Grizzlies and another potential playoff contender in the Dallas Mavericks. That all excludes what should be an improved New Orleans Pelicans line-up. Here’s the team-by-team with a predicted order of finish:
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have won the Southwest division in four of the last five years, and while age concerns return and fatigue concerns after last season’s long run as well, it’s hard to look past them for another title. People will correctly point out that regular season success means little to San Antonio, but they forget that it doesn’t have to. Gregg Popovich will rest Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker regular and he will manage all of his players’ minutes. Still, his ruthlessly efficient coaching system on both sides of the ball and the depth of this roster will ensure that this team remains competitive. Duncan might not match last season’s impressive statistics, but don’t expect too much of a drop off. Meanwhile, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard should enter the season ready and confident about assuming larger roles. San Antonio will win this division.
The Rockets showed a lot of promise as an organization last season with James Harden leading an exciting young team coached by Kevin McHale back to the playoffs. The offseason could have hardly gone better for this team in terms of its development. They were able to add arguably the game’s top center in Dwight Howard via free agency. Houston will hope that Howard leaves the drama of 2012-13 season behind him after an unsuccessful campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers hit his own reputation pretty hard. He completes a front court that should be extremely strong. Omer Asik is a pretty decent player at power forward, while Chandler Parsons will score the ball from the 3-spot. Don’t forget that Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley man the point guard position as well. All in all, this is a roster with lots of talent and depth, they deserve all of the preseason hype that they have received thus far.
Memphis enters the 2013-14 season in an odd position. The franchise is coming off the best season in its history having posted a 56-26 record and advancing to the Western conference finals for the first time in their history. Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Tayshaun Prince, Tony Allen and Mike Conley all return as the starting line-up. There is a little depth too. Still, there is a general feeling of pessimism about the franchise’s prospects. The feeling is that this team went as far as it possibly could last year and that while other line-ups are stronger in 13-14, this team is the same. There is also a degree of uncertainty surrounding the coaching transition after the very popular Lionel Hollins was fired and replaced by David Joerger. The main reason for the change is that Hollins apparently wasn’t as interested in coaching by analytical statistics as management would have liked. Joerger might get on better with the front office, but will he replicate the fantastic results that Hollins managed to achieve?
Dallas missed most their major targets during the offseason but still re-configured their roster in an attempt to remain competitive and provide an ageing roster with one more shot at a championship. A quick reflection on their roster suggests that the Mavericks have a decent chance of returning to the playoffs as long as Dirk Nowitzki is healthy, but they do not look like a serious contender. The front court looks more than a little tender besides Nowitzki, while Dallas will be dependent on maximizing what is left from Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Devin Harris returns, while Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon also join a radically changed back court. Ellis is a scorer, but not an efficient one, while Calderon will have the opportunity to facilitate an offense with weapons. Age, injuries and a disjointed feeling make this roster’s chances of doing anything more than claim a low seed seem low. Grabbing that playoff place could be made harder by playing in such a tough division too.
New Orleans Pelicans
Eric Gordon will hopefully be healthy this season, while talented young scorers Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday also join what should be a significantly improved New Orleans. More importantly, the Pelicans will be looking at Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers to take significant steps forward in their development. The cohesiveness of this team will still be questionable, while Monty Williams and the front office might want to use this year to isolate the core pieces moving forward. The good news for fans is that New Orleans should be significantly more competitive in 2013-14.