Last Season: 41-41 (4th in the division)
The tide has turned for the Dallas Mavericks after winning the 2011 NBA championship.
The decision to keep its core championship team proved to be a failure for this organization. As a result, the Mavericks struggle to stay afloat in the realm of the Western conference elite. Dallas made some bizarre offseason moves in 2013. The collection of players Dallas got through free agency makes you wonder whether this organization is in fact dedicated to adding another championship banner inside of American Airlines Center.
Now that Dirk Nowitzki is fully healthy, can he return to form? The Mavericks will need him to transform from the past two season of ordinary play into the player that captured the 2011 Finals MVP. Health will be key! Face it, without Nowitzki playing at a high level, the Mavs are doomed. Adding Monta Ellis might help this team. However, his lack of skill as a defender and inconsistent shooting could prove to be a hindrance.
We all know the cliché, “defense wins championships”. Well Dallas’ front court of Dirk Nowitzki, Samuel Dalembert and Shawn Marion are fair defenders at best. As one of the older backcourts in the league, age will be a factor.
This season will be very interesting for the Mavericks. Will they make a deal during the season with the hopes of convincing 2014 free agents that they are a player away from being dominate again, or do the tank the season and prep for the lottery? We shall see.
Last Season: 45-37 (3rd in the division)
Last year, the Houston Rockets began the season feeling like the “Ugly Step-sister” when they didn’t land Dwight Howard. Well, patience is a virtue. They lost Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, Louis Scola, Courtney Lee and Samuel Dalembert, and got Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. Then they made some moves and got James Harden from OKC . Harden becomes everything the Rockets could hope for. Now it’s 2013 offseason and Dwight Howard is available again. The Rockets get their man. Did I say patience is a virtue? Now, the excitement is back in Houston and championship aspirations are in the air. The main question will be whether this group will gel.
Will Jeremy Lin bounce back from injury and become the guy that the Rockets need at the point guard position? If he can stay healthy, Lin and Harden have the potential to be a dominating backcourt. Ronnie Brewer will have to step up this season. Last year his production was disappointing. Francisco Garcia had an impressive playoff run. Consistency will be key for him this season.
This season’s success will fall on the shoulders of Dwight Howard. He can do so much in the post when he’s playing to form. There should be no excuses. Both parties got what they wanted so now is the time to shine.
Last Season: 56-26 (2nd in the division)
Despite all the personnel changes that this organization went through, the Grizzlies continued to shine as one of the elite teams in the NBA. Last season, Memphis, finished with a franchise record 56 wins. In the playoffs, they advanced to the Conference Finals.
This season, the Grizzlies will be forced to adjust to the changes made in the this offseason; more importantly, the head coach position. Can former Griz assistant and now head coach David Joerger perfect what Lionel Hollins built? Joerger is a defensive minded coach that’s been with the team for seven seasons. The Grizzlies’ starting five are a potent group and adding Mike Miller, Nick Calathes, and Jamaal Franklin might prove to be the best roster in the Western Conference.
With the playoff success of the past several seasons, Memphis is fully equipped to make it out of the West.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Last Season: 27-55 (5th in the division)
This organization has had some pretty forgettable seasons since moving to New Orleans in 2002. Last season was no different. The team finished 27-55 and finished near the bottom in just about every category statistically in the West.
Now enter the era of the Pelicans.
They signed Tyreke Evans to a four-year, $44 million contract to improve the offense. New Orleans also added All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday via a trade from Philadelphia. Both huge wins for the Pelicans. New Orleans added some depth in signing Anthony Morrow, Greg Stiemsma and drafting Jeff Withey in the second round. Losing Robin Lopez in the Tyreke Evans trade will force New Orleans to play small ball. Anthony Davis had a solid rookie season last year. He averaged 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals. The Pelicans are counting on him to improve in these areas. Shooting guard Austin Rivers on the other hand, didn’t have the rookie season that New Orleans expected. Rivers shot only 37.2 percent from the field and dished out under two assists per game. His Player Efficiency Rating or PER was a depressing 5.9. Will Austin Rivers prove that last season was a fluke? He better or his tenure in the NBA will be short-lived.
With the Pelicans playing in arguably the strongest division in the NBA, Houston being stronger and the talent that San Antonio and Memphis have, New Orleans will be banging with the Mavericks for last place in the division.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Last Season: 58-24 (1st in the division)
I’m still shaking my head when I think of Game six of the NBA Finals. And in Game seven, we all knew that the Spurs were done. The question this season is can the Spurs recover from the heartache of last season? Did the Heat close San Antonio’s window or did they provide a spark of motivation? Do Timmy, Tony P and company have one more run in them?
I believe so. Kawhi Leonard is becoming the heir apparent to Manu Ginobili. What he did in the NBA Finals was remarkable. The Spurs organization is counting on him to shine this season. Marco Belinelli is s a great pickup for the Spurs. Danny Green has to be more of a consistent scorer for the Spurs. This will take the pressure from both Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, whom seemed exhausted in games six and seven of the Finals.
Last season, Duncan looked as if he jump out of the fountain of youth. Playing like the Timmy of old. Going into his 16th season, will he have enough fuel in the tank for another championship run? Can he still healthy? Will Tiago Splitter produce and earn the $36 million the Spurs signed him for? He had a great season last year. Hopefully he can build on that.
Manu Ginobili’s body failed him last season. He never really had that stroke of magic that we’re accustom to seeing. With all the mileage, he may never returned to the Manu of old. This could very well be the end of the Duncan-Parker-Ginobli era.
By Keith Madyun