2010-11 Southwest Division Preview
The Southwest Division used to be the strongest in the league. Depending on the health of some key players and the presence of others, the division could once again be the league’s finest.
1. Dallas Mavericks
Mark Cuban made minor waves this summer when he proclaimed that the Mavericks could be in a position to take down the Lakers as the best team in the Western Conference. He’s wrong, of course, but this does not mean the team isn’t talented. Drik Nowitzki is still a headache for power forwards to defend. Caron Butler and Shawn Marion are a formidable tandem on the wings. Jason Kidd is old, but still a better option than most teams have available at point guard. Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood are down low to provide size and muscle. But a lack of legitimate size at shooting guard and overall defensive weakness will prove to be Dallas’ undoing. They’ll shine in the regular season– mostly because the Spurs stopped caring about anything other than the Playoffs long ago– and they’ll go home in the first or second round.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Tim Duncan’s career is winding down. We discovered last year that he’s just not the player he used to be. But in spurts, he’s still incredibly effective and still the best center to masquerade as a power forward ever. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are back as his wingmen and a mix of young and old surrounds them as the Spurs try to take their shots before their stars retire/get too old/get traded. Again, the Spurs are not measured by their regular season success, but it would behoove them to try and get homecourt advantage in the hypercompetitive Western Conference. You have to figure that things will be as tightly bunched in the middle of the conference as they have been in recent years and playing more games at home than on the road would be an attractive goal for a team with an average age of old.
3. Houston Rockets
Yao Ming is back, but only for 24 minutes a night and probably not for both games in back-to-backs. Still, the reinsertion of a player of Yao’s size and talent should definitely boost the Rockets’ chances of gaining reentry to the postseason. Bad space puns aside, the Rockets are cultivating incredible depth and versatility. Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks bring the scoring, Luis Scola does whatever is asked of him on a particular night, Shane Battier is there to annoy the opposition’s best perimeter player, and Kyle Lowry, Brad Miller, Courtney Lee and company form a pretty exciting bench. If the Rockets make the playoffs, they could be interesting to watch since the league makes sure there are plenty of off days in between postseason games.
4. Memphis Grizzlies
Let’s get this out the way now: Memphis overpaid to keep Rudy Gay. But what other choice did they have? Without him, they’d be irrelevant. With him, they stand a chance at making the Playoffs for the first time since they gave up one Gasol for another. Marc– currently the team’s starting center– is making the Grizzlies forget that they gave Pau away for magic beans while Zach Randolph has surprised with his steady play and an All-Star worthy campaign. OJ Mayo will continue to improve, but you have to figure that the team’s fate will be decided by how well Mike Conley plays at the point guard position.
5. New Orleans Hornets
This team begins and ends with Chris Paul. You can talk about David West’s steady– if visually unimpressive– play and Emeka Okafor’s workmanlike skills or even the athleticism the team has brought in, but if CP3 isn’t healthy and happy to be a Hornet, none of it matters. He is the franchise and reports from the summer indicated his unhappiness with the team’s direction. No word on if he’s pleased with Trevor Ariza, Jerryd Bayless, Joe Alexander and Marco Belinelli are the types of additions that Paul wants, but they’re what he has. They’d better perform if New Orleans is expected to be relevant any time in the near future.