1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Dallas Mavericks
3. Houston Rockets
4. Memphis Grizzlies
5. Oklahoma City Hornets
The Southwest Division is a good representation of America where the rich get richer, the middle-class stay right where they are and the poor get plowed by a hurricane and re-located.
San Antonio Spurs
Now this just ain't fair. Back in the Detroit Pistons' other glory days their championship teams had to deal with losing players to the expansion draft. The NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs managed to get even better this summer by getting Nick Van Exel and Michael Finley on the cheap. Argentinian star Fabricio Oberto is also coming to town. I doubt anyone in San Antone will be missing Glenn Robinson or Tony Massenburg this season.
Of course, the addition of Brent Barry was supposed to guarantee a Spurs championship. I realize that they did indeed win but Barry wasn't exactly a key cog in the mighty Spur machine. These acquisitions however should have a much bigger impact. First of all, the two veterans showed they were dying to win by playing for less money than was offered elsewhere and their desire should be enough to keep this team from resting on its laurels (as if Coach Popovich would have ever let that happen). Secondly, in Van Exel they get a guard who doesn't lose his cool at crunch time and can make huge shots when called upon. Oberto joins the front court and will allow Tim Duncan plenty of rest (and Robert Horry can pretty much fall asleep now and set his alarm for June).
Is there a chance it can all go wrong for the Spurs? Sure. Keep a close eye on Duncan's wonky ankles. This team will remain dangerous without him during the regular season but if he's not healthy in April the Spurs will be in trouble. Of course if Duncan's health is on the wane in February the Spurs can always count on Isiah Thomas gifting them a good player at the trade deadline in return for Rasto Nesterovic.
Uh, that last sentence wasn't supposed to be funny.
Something is wrong here. The Mavericks are actually making NBA preview writers work this season. Before all that needed to be done was rattle off a myriad of trades and free agent signings as the Mavs renovated their roster once again. Sure they let Michael Finley go but that was a completely rational move and totally expected when you take into consideration Cuban's new financial restraint as evidenced by last season's departure of Steve Nash.
The only new player to the Mavs who should be a major factor is Doug Christie who won't totally replace Finley but is a solid pro who can D it up. The Dallas franchise knows how to coddle a player better than any other team so they will definitely get more out of Christie than Orlando did.
This team could be a real sleeper (well relatively speaking). For the first time in years the coaching staff doesn't have to integrate a whole slew of new players, and for the first time in years the head coach seems to know what he's doing in the defensive end. I'll go on record saying that Don Nelson may have been the most over-rated coach of all-time. In Big D, he just got lucky that he had an owner that could go out and buy talent. Coach Johnson on the other hand knows how the game is played in the 00's (I really don't think Nelson learned anything about basketball beyond the 80's).
With the possibility of the Spurs coasting during the regular season while they feel out their new teammates and save themselves for the playoffs there is a solid chance that this Mavs team can win this division. That will be important as whomever wins this division doesn't have to play the third place finisher in the Southwest in the first round.
Many reasons have been listed why this team might surprise some people this year but the biggest has yet to be discussed: the retirement of Shawn Bradley. That's got to be worth something, right? At the very least Shaq won't be interested in humiliating the Latter-Day Beanpole twice a year and two wins over Miami would go a long way in taking this division.
In Houston they are giving serious consideration to re-naming the team the Houston Robaxacets. This is the NBA's all Bad-Back team. Tracy McGreedy, Derek Anderson, Jon Barry and Bob Sura have all missed games in the past couple years due to back problems. Juwan Howard has been breaking down recently, David Wesley is getting on in years and Dikembe Mutombo just signed an endorsement deal with Depends. The Rockets may be the NBA's oldest team yet because they managed to add Stromile Swift everyone is predicting big things for this team. Stromile Swift will grab rebounds. Stromile Swift will run the floor. Stromile Swift will block shots. Why didn't he do all these things with such abandon while playing in Memphis? Mark my words, Stromile Swift is the Brent Barry of this season. He's a nice addition but he's not bringing all that much to the table.
While the Rockets became a force towards the tail end of the regular season last year they still managed to get embarrassed by the Mavs in Game 7 of their first round series. Lest we not forget that Houston went into Dallas and won the first two games of the series as well. The reality is that the Rockets ended the season on a 1-4 slide. But, no, Stromile Swift is going to change all that.
This is, of course, a not-so-subtle reminder that McGreedy has yet to win a playoff series in his career. Now this team is in the hands of Rafer Alston. While you cannot fault Alston's heart it's pretty easy to find problems with his head. The jury is still out on whether Alston's game translates into victories and his relationship with Coach Van Gundy will be the lynchpin of this team's success. If Alston realizes his place in the pecking order and Van Gundy allows him some room to do his own thing, then this might work. If Van Gundy tries to keep a tight leash on the offence or if Alston decides to play one-on-one all night then there might be some fisticuffs. The good news for Alston is that he knows he can whup his new coach.
Jerry West let a whole lot of talent walk out the door this summer but it was probably for the best. They'll miss James Posey's defense but the locker room will be that much better without Jason Williams and Bonzi Wells. Bobby Jackson, Eddie Jones and Damon Stoudamire will all provide veteran leadership and they can easily plug Hakim Warrick into Stromile Swift's role.
Unfortunately for the Grizz, they ended up treading water while a bunch of teams behind them got a whole lot better. Still the departure of the talented head-cases means that Coach Fratello won't feel the need to go 10-deep every night and everyone will have a more defined role. Unless Jake Tsakalidis suddenly sees more playing time, the Grizz are still severely undersized but that never stopped them from making the playoffs the past two years. Just in case, I fully advocate the signing of Charles Oakley. We need the Oakman back in the league and I can't think of a better place than Memphis. He'd be a perfect fit.
Oakley would be a great enforcer for teams putting the beat-down on Pau Gasol. He'd make sure Stoudamire didn't get back on the chronic. The constant threat of violence is a very motivating factor. He's not only good for the team but for the city as well. He'd be a natural out there on Beale Street scaring the bejeezus out of tourists and taking that street back to its shady roots.
And if it looked like the Lakers or the Timberwolves were going to sneak by the Grizz and into the playoffs, he would have somebody killed.
<insert city name> Hornets
"It was the perfect storm. We had three systems converge: the storm of an aging team; a storm of injuries. And the other storm that was evolving, what we felt like, was not the right attitude. They all converged upon us. The season started that way. We struggled early. We weathered the storm and hopefully we came out with some hope." - Alan Bristow to Athlon Sports describing the New Orleans/Baton Rouge/Oklahoma City Hornets 2004/5 season. Of course this was quoted before Katrina hit.
This team will set new records in bad. Even Bill Walton will not have enough breath for all the r's in the terrible that this team represents. A week before the season has started they gave up on it. That's what trading your best big man for a first round pick and a shot-impaired swingman says to everyone else on the team. Coupled with an 82-game road trip and a sudden reliance on Chris Andersen at center sportswriters around America are already salivating at the chance for this team to beat the 1973 Philly record for futility. And yet, somehow the crew at ESPN.com are guessing this team will win 18 games and be better than the Toronto Raptors.
At least this team has one thing going for them: certain Rookie-of-the-Year Chris Paul. Paul is the real deal. Anybody who watched him in college should be baffled at how this guy not only dropped down to 4th in the draft. It's baffling that Atlanta didn't get ripped for picking a player at a position they are already stacked at and passed up Paul and then turned around to give $70 million to Joe Johnson to play the point when he's not even a fucking point guard! Let's not forget the two draft picks, Boris Diaw, and the farce surrounding their ownership consortium. All that could have been avoided by drafting Paul.
Of course, I'm ranting about the wrong team for this preview but the Blue Baller got the luck of draw with that Southeast preview. It's not getting better for this team either. By trading Magloire to the Bucks they just insured the pick they are getting in return is not in the lottery. The New Orleans arena may be ready to go next season but will the residents of the city be ready to shell out the cash to see them? Or even care? The only thing Coach Scott can do is pull a Reggie Dunlop and get his players believing they are going to Las Vegas next season (and really, that shouldn't be hard to do). At least that will keep the locker room positive after getting pounded night after night.