In the last of the NBA season preview series comes the Southwest division. Last season the Rockets took the division title. Is the Southwest division all Rockets for the second year in a row? After finishing only five games back last season, you can’t count Gregg Popovich and the Spurs out. Can either the young Mavericks or Pelicans make a run? The Grizzlies are still in the rebuilding phase and are likely to end up with another top pick.
Houston Rockets, 1st Southwest Division
Head Coach: Mike D’Antoni
Key Additions/Re-signings: Russell Westbrook, Ben McLemore, Tyson Chandler, Austin Rivers, Gerald Green
Key Losses: Chris Paul
Impact Player: Russell Westbrook
Westbrook will be the key to the Rocket’s championship hopes. The Rockets are Harden’s team, and Westbrook will need to own that right away. It does not mean that he will need to change his game entirely, but he will need to concede to Harden even more that he did with Paul George. If both he and Harden can do so, and they have the capability, this could be the best duo in the NBA.
Season Outlook: If the Harden/Westbrook combo works to perfection, this team will win a title. If they struggle with who the alpha is, it could turn south quickly. The only other aspect that could hold this team back is the desire to defend. The ability is there, but they will need both superstars to amp up their effort on that side of the ball. The Rockets will be a top-five NBA team this year. Could it all come together for a ring this season?
San Antonio Spurs, 2nd Southwest Division
Head Coach: Gregg Popovich
Key Additions/Re-signings: DeMarre Carroll, Trey Lyles, Rudy Gay
Key Losses: Davis Bertans
Impact Player: Trey Lyles
Trey Lyles may seem like a weird impact player pick for the Spurs. It’s the Popovich factor that makes me wonder if there is more to Lyles game. Pop always seems to squeeze every bit of talent out of a player Trey could be one of those that blossoms under the coach. If nothing else, he extends the bench a bit more for the Spurs.
Season Outlook: The Spurs continue to be the Spurs. All they do is win. Whether it is obscure names or superstars, Pop seems to make it work. They continue to fortify the roster with smart veterans and late-round talent found overseas. They just continue to be the Spurs and, as expected, will be in playoff contention for another year.
Dallas Mavericks, 3rd Southwest Division
Head Coach: Rick Carlisle
Key Additions/Re-signings: Seth Curry, Delon Wright, Boban Marjanovic, Kristaps Porzingis, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber
Key Losses: Dirk Nowitzki, Trey Burke
Impact Player: Kristaps Porzingis
A healthy Porzingis gives the Mavs a legit second star to go last year’s rookie phenom Luka Doncic. We have all seen the skillset that Kristaps brings to the floor. If he can be that player for the Mavs this year combined with the best roster he has ever played on, it could be his most exceptional season yet.
Season Outlook: With a young talented playmaker in Doncic and one of the best young big men in the game in Porzingis, the Mavericks’s future looks bright. In fact, if Kristaps can play at the level we have seen this year, the future could come even faster than expected. The Mavs have a chance to turn some heads this season. Maybe they also make a run at the eighth seed.
New Orleans Pelicans, 4th Southwest Division
Head Coach: Alvin Gentry
Key Additions/Re-signings: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, JJ Redick, Derrick Favors, Josh Hart, Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes
Key Losses: Anthony Davis, Solomon Hill, Elfrid Payton, Julius Randle, Stanley Johnson
Impact Player: Zion Williamson
Injured or not, it all revolves around Zion. The Pelicans have other talented players in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday, and J.J. Redick, but this all is built around the young man from Duke. Once healthy, he brings a commanding presence to the court. Zion has the talent to be a superstar, but his health will always be a question mark.
Season Outlook: The Pelicans hired David Griffin to handle the Anthony Davis trade and rebuild this team around Zion. He has done both masterfully. Now they need a healthy Zion to see how it all comes together. While they still look a year away from contention, they could end up a fringe playoff contender this season. This young team has a bright future ahead and the right guy building the roster in David Griffin.
Memphis Grizzlies, 5th Southwest Division
Head Coach: Taylor Jenkins
Key Additions/Re-signings: Andre Iguodala, Josh Jackson, Grayson Allen, Jonas Valanciunas, Jae Crowder, Tyus Jones, Ja Morant
Key Losses: Mike Conley, Delon Wright, Avery Bradley, CJ Miles, Chandler Parsons
Impact Player: Ja Morant
The drafting of Morant signaled the final days of Mike Conley in Memphis and a full-on rebuild. Morant’s shooting will continue to need improvement. His ability to fill a stat sheet will make up for it most nights. He provides a strong base to build off when combined with young big Jaren Jackson Jr.
Season Outlook: The Grizzlies are smack in the middle of a rebuild. Everyone except Morant and Jaren is expendable. The current goals are to gather assets and hope to land high-end talent in the draft. With another season on the way to a lottery pick, the focus is squarely on the future in Memphis.