The Southwest Division houses two of the last three Western Conference representatives in the Finals as well as the last West team to hoist the championship trophy. Can the division keep both streaks alive?
From the surface, no team took a step back and the offseason's biggest free agent acquisition landed on the squad with the most upside moving forward. As we've done with the other five divisions, so goes the Southwest under the TSS microscope.
Before we get going, we want to thank everyone for their participation in the preview series. You're major. Oh, and basketball's back, y'all!
New Orleans Pelicans
What To Like: The moment I heard Jrue Holiday was traded to N'awlins I had the sneaky suspicion he and Anthony Davis could form one of the best big man/little man combos in the entire league. Call me crazy, too, but I really like Tyreke Evans as a sixth man on this team.
What Not To Like: The Pelicans are stacked in the backcourt. That doesn't sound like a bad thing until you realize Greg Stiemsma could be the team's second best big man. And then there's Eric Gordon's health and commitment to New Orleans. If he's healthy and invested, the Pelicans become that much more dangerous with a more-than-capable two-guard. If he's not, well, just remember he never wanted to be there in the first place.
Random Note: Everyone's pegging this as the breakout year for Anthony Davis, which I hope doesn't become a classic case of "he's so underrated that he's overrated." On a semi-related note, the Pelicans do not have a first round pick next June because of the Nerlens Noel trade. Depending how this season pans out and/or if free agents see New Orleans as a promising location, this could be a moot point or head-splitting migraine.
What To Like: Rick Carlisle is still one of the better coaches in basketball. Plus, there's real offensive potential in a (healthy) Dirk Nowitzki x Monta Ellis x Jose Calderon trio, especially in the pick-and-roll setting. This team will numbers on the board if nothing else.
What Not To Like: 26.7%. 28.7%. Those are Monta Ellis' three-point shooting percentages the past two seasons. The last thing Dallas needs is Monta hoisting four triples a game a la 2012-2013. If he's slashing to the basket, the floor opens up. That and one has to wonder where the defensive identity on this squad will resonate from. They can't keep placing that responsibility on Shawn Marion.
Random Note: One thing about Mark Cuban is that he's never going to wave the white flag. Just look at last year when Dallas damn near squeaked into the playoffs. Mark and Dirk are joined at the hip at this point and it'll be interesting to see if he uses the expiring contracts of someone like Vince Carter and/or Marion to bring new faces in.
What To Like: Zach Randolph's still there. Marc Gasol's still there. Tony Allen's still there. Mike Conley's still there. Memphis should once again be one of the NBA's best defensive teams.
What Not To Like: Aside from newly-acquired Mike Miller - who may or may not give a damn about the regular season after being spoiled in Miami - where exactly does the outside shooting come from? And I'm still not pleased with the decision to let Lionel Hollins go. All he did was get to the Western Conference finals. In some of the finest quality Steve Harvey suits imaginable, at that.
Random Note: You ever wonder how often Grizzlies management kicks themselves for picking Hasheem Thabeet when James Harden and Stephen Curry were sitting right there in 2009? Keep in mind, it's the same team who came within one ping pong ball in 2003 from landing LeBron.
Also, remember those Zach Randolph trade rumors from last year that seemed asinine when they first broke? All I'm saying is don't be surprised if they re-emerge this year...but with an actual trade.
What To Like: CHANDLER PARSONS, YO! Despite all the jokes and well-deserved shade thrown at Dwight Howard at times, it's still a Dwight Howard who wants to be in Houston and is healthy and motivated. Those are three things he wasn't around this time last year. Pair that with James Harden and it's easy to see why Rockets fans are happier than Anthony Weiner with an unlimited data plan.
What Not To Like: If Dwight didn't like running pick-and-rolls as a Laker, what about now in Houston where they're probably going to run the PnR even more? The verdict is still out on how an Asik/Howard pairing is going to work as well. There's a lot of money tied in those two.
Random Note: Jeremy Lin basically averaged the same exact numbers across the spectrum his first year in H-Town as he did that one magical year in Madison Square Garden (while starting all 82 games). Someone around here said a few days ago that Lin's the key to how good and how far this team can go and quite frankly I agree. He's never going to be confused for the league's best point guard. Yet, pending he buys into committing himself on defense, and learning when and where to get the ball to Howard, Parsons and Harden, Houston couldn't ask much more out of Lin.
San Antonio Spurs
What To Like: Gregg Popovich. Tim Duncan. Tony Parker. Manu Ginobli. Kawhi Leonard. At last check, all of those people are still on the payroll. More importantly, the thought of a new season of Popovich vs. Craig Sager sideline moments is enough to bring a Sekou Smith grin on anybody's face.
What Not To Like: Leonard only played in 58 games last season. Tony Parker was a legit threat to the LeBron James Trophy (commonly known as the MVP award) until he went down with injury. Manu Ginobli missed 20 in his own right. If there's one team in basketball who lives the adage "make due with what you've got," it's the Spurs. But one has to wonder how much more of an impact injuries could potentially have a season later.
Random Note: The Spurs have won 50+ games for 14 years running. They're a safe bet to make it 15, but how much do the 2013 Finals linger? San Antonio deserves the benefit of the doubt for their meticulous approach to basketball and how well they are with just focusing on the task at hand. Perhaps I'm making something out of nothing, but Pop's already admitted the memory still haunts him - as has Tony Parker - so I know it does with the rest of the team as well. To answer the question, however, I guess that won't be documented until next spring when they're in a dogfight with potentially a conference championship on the line.
In the meantime though, we've still got this!