NBA Summer Previews: Southwest Division

Again, we are having a guest writer in for some NBA summer team previews.  I have no inside knowledge whatsoever and these are just meant to give an idea of where teams are at as a whole as we head into draft and free agency season. This is part 3 of the series – click below for previous versions:

 

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San Antonio Spurs

  • 2015-16 record: 67-15
  • Finish: 2nd place, eliminated in second round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Kawhi Leonard (22.5)
    • Rebounds: LaMarcus Aldridge (8.3)
    • Assists: Tony Parker (5.3)
    • Blocks: LaMarcus Aldridge (1.4)
  • Restricted free agents: Boban Marjanovic
  • Unrestricted free agents: Matt Bonner, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Martin, Andre Miller, David West
  • Draft picks: 29th

Last season overview: The Spurs turned in an under-the-radar historic season, nearly going undefeated at home in the regular season (losing just once) and winning 67 games. This was one of the most formidable all-time regular season teams – they just happened to be overshadowed by Golden State’s excellence. The team was experiencing a changing of the guard last year, with budding superstar Kawhi Leonard and free agent signee LaMarcus Aldridge assuming the mantle as the present and future of the team while mainstays Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili began to show their age. The team hit a wall in the playoffs as they were upset by the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder in six hard-fought games. Seeing as the Thunder nearly went on to upset the Warriors, there’s no shame in that loss – but it still feels like a disappointing end to what would most years have likely been a championship-winning team.

Summer outlook: With Duncan and Ginobili pondering retirement, this summer could be the true changing of the guard as the old leaves and the team rebuilds completely around Leonard and Aldridge. It will be interesting to see what kind of offers the enormous but unproven Marjanovic gets on the restricted free agent market, and how much the Spurs value him to bring him back. As long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, the Spurs are going to be good, and will be a free agent destination. Expect this team to be in the mix again.

Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks

  • 2015-16 record: 42-40
  • Finish: 6th place, eliminated in first round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Dirk Nowitzki (20.4)
    • Rebounds: Zaza Pachulia (5.4)
    • Assists: J.J. Barea (5.0)
    • Blocks: Saleh Mejri (1.3)
  • Restricted free agents: Dwight Powell
  • Unrestricted free agents: Raymond Felton, David Lee, Dirk Nowitzki, Zaza Pachulia, Chandler Parsons, Charlie Villanueva, Deron Williams
  • Draft picks: 46th

Last season overview: The always-contending Mavs took a step back last season in terms of talent and expectations, after an offseason that saw them lose Tyson Chandler and swing and miss on free agent DeAndre Jordan. However, they far exceeded expectations, making the playoffs with a banged-up and ragtag group of veteran castoffs. Nowitzki continues to play well in his old age, and guys like Zaza Pachulia, Deron Williams and JJ Barea looked better then they had in years playing under Rick Carlisle. The team was never a serious contender, but made the playoffs and took a game from the red-hot Thunder in what has to be considered a successful season overall.

Summer outlook: With Nowitzki certain to resign a three-year deal after a year that feels good, the Mavs will always have him as their centerpiece. The rest of the roster, as it feels like is the case every year with this team under Mark Cuban, is likely to change. Parsons is a big decision, as injuries have prevented him from living up to the contract he signed when he left Houston for Dallas a couple of years back. There are a lot of ways this team could go, but expect them to be active in free agency and continue to look different each year.

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Memphis Grizzlies

  • 2015-16 record: 42-40
  • Finish: 7th place, eliminated in first round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Zach Randolph (13.0)
    • Rebounds: Zach Randolph (8.8)
    • Assists: Jordan Farmar (4.0)
    • Blocks: JaMychal Green (1.3)
  • Restricted free agents: Bryce Cotton, Xavier Munford
  • Unrestricted free agents: Chris Andersen, Matt Barnes, Mike Conley, Jordan Farmar, PJ Hairston, Ryan Hollins, Lance Stephenson
  • Draft picks: 17th, 57th

Last season overview: The Grit-and-Grind Grizzlies era may have seen its final bell toll last season, as the Grizzlies were a depressing slog of a team that scratched and clawed their way to a playoff spot but after a wave of crushing injuries were mere fodder for the Spurs, getting swept out of the playoffs in four blowout losses. They played an antiquated style of basketball, saw stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conley go down to season-ending injuries, played a slew of anonymous fringe NBA players down the stretch, and ended by firing coach Dave Joerger. The Grizz may have become the hardest team to watch by the end of last season. Truly the end of an era.

Summer outlook: First and foremost, resigning star point guard Conley has to be their top priority. Past that, anything could happen – big men Gasol and Randolph are under contract, but as aging veterans on a team in transition, who knows where they’ll go from here. Our expectation is that they continue to value being a contending if not quite championship level team, so will avoid a full rebuild – but if Conley leaves, who knows.

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Houston Rockets

  • 2015-16 record: 41-41
  • Finish: 8th place, eliminated in first round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: James Harden (26.6)
    • Rebounds: Dwight Howard (14.0)
    • Assists: James Harden (7.6)
    • Blocks: Dwight Howard (1.4)
  • Restricted free agents: Terence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas
  • Unrestricted free agents: Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Jason Terry
  • Draft picks: 37th, 43rd

 

Last season overview: After a season in which James Harden finished second in MVP voting and the team made an epic run to the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets brought nearly the exact same team back and they became a mess and perhaps the most disappointing team in the league last year. The Rockets were viewed as a preseason title contender, but wound up getting off to an awful start that saw them fire coach Kevin McHale after a handful of games, rumored infighting between stars Harden and Howard and a team that never seemed to like each other, click together or give much of an effort at all throughout the season. They squeaked into the playoffs as an eight seed, getting blown out in five by a Warriors team missing Steph Curry for most of the series. In a season of high expectations, this was a team with very few bright spots.

Summer outlook: The Rockets started the summer off by hiring Mike D’Antoni as their coach of the future, clearly doubling down on the offensive talents of Harden and looking to play a run-and-gun style rather than focusing on defense. This also seems to signal the departure of Howard, who has a player option for next year and is widely believed to be leaving. This is a team in major flux, and GM Daryl Morey has never shied away from making moves. Chalk this up as another team that is going to look completely different next season.

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New Orleans Pelicans

  • 2015-16 record: 30-52
  • Finish: 12th place, missed playoffs
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Anthony Davis (24.3)
    • Rebounds: Anthony Davis (10.3)
    • Assists: Jrue Holiday (6.0)
    • Blocks: Anthony Davis (2.0)
  • Restricted free agents: James Ennis, Tim Frazier
  • Unrestricted free agents: Ryan Anderson, Norris Cole, Alonzo Gee, Eric Gordon, Jordan Hamilton, Kendrick Perkins
  • Draft picks: 6th, 39th, 40th

 

Last season overview: The Pelicans were another team that took an unexpected step back last year. After making the playoffs in 2014-15, the Pelicans were expected to continue their improvement, and star Anthony Davis was a darkhorse preseason MVP candidate. Instead, the Pelicans were never able to get off the ground, as a litany of early-season injuries dug them into a hole they could never recover from. This has been a snakebit roster, as key cogs like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson found themselves often injuried during their tenure in New Orleans, not making the impact they were expected to at any point in their tenure. The team ended their season playing guys off the street big minutes, and looking nothing like what they promised to be before the beginning of the season. Head coach Alvin Gentry, in his first year at the helm, has to be looking to regroup going into year 2.

Summer outlook: The Pelicans have a lot of decisions to make, not least of what to do with Anderson and Gordon, two players who were onetime keys to the team’s plans but did not wind up moving the needle for various reasons. They probably need to rebuild the team around franchise centerpiece Davis, but have to do it in a smart way – Davis will be in his prime for the next four years, and it’d be a shame if that prime was wasted on a middling team.

 

 

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