A July of massive player movement has changed the complexion of the NBA, especially in the Western Conference where the Mavericks hope to find a way to jump several teams and start a new era of success, starting with a return to the playoffs.
Based on the incredible amount of change and how much some teams improved, it’s not going to be easy. But as coach Rick Carlisle likes to say, it’s not supposed to be easy.
Now that the free-agent dust has settled, we can look at the landscape and assess what the coming NBA season will look like.
During this series, we’ll break down what’s happened to each team’s roster in the Western Conference and analyze how it will impact the Mavericks. We will culminate with our offseason power rankings.
We started with the Northwest and Pacific divisions, both of which are stacked with power-broker teams. Now we get to the Mavericks and the Southwest Division, which has a heavyweight at the top and a lot of young, emerging teams that are going to look to reach new levels. And there’s also a return of an old Mavericks’ friend to the division.
Allow us to explain.
In the old days, back before Google and people actually looked things up in books, the Texas Triangle was a real thing in the NBA.
The Mavericks, Rockets and Spurs all had major successes and all of them made the NBA playoffs in the same season several times.
Not to jump too far ahead, but those days could be back soon, maybe even this season.
The Mavericks are better. The Rockets traded a really good point guard for a really great one. The Spurs are still the Spurs. These three teams will anchor what figures to be a really competitive Southwest Division, which we break down here.
Impact additions: PG Russell Westbrook, C Tyson Chandler.
Regrettable subtractions: PG Chris Paul, F James Ennis, F/C Kenneth Faried.
What the moves mean: Give the Rockets credit for at least one thing – they know how to stay relevant when it comes to getting marquee players. Even if they may or may not fit well together.
Good players usually figure out how to play together. And it’s not like the Rockets are devoid of talent beyond Westbrook and James Harden.
But Westbrook was the headline grab of the Rockets’ summer. He’s been a walking triple-double for the last three seasons and while he’s been known to go stat-chasing at times, he does get those numbers regularly. He’s a dynamic driver and finisher and midrange shooter. He does not qualify as a legit 3-point threat in today’s NBA, but that doesn’t keep him from taking those shots when they are available. And his relentless activity on offense should help free Harden for easier shots.
And then there’s Chandler. The former Maverick will be back in the Southwest Division and we will see if the big man can work his magic with the Rockets the way he did with the Mavericks in 2011, when they won the championship. There’s a reasonable chance that Chandler, at the ripe old age of 37 (as of Oct. 2) will fit in seamlessly as the backup to Clint Capela. And we all know what Chandler can do in the right role.
Bottom line: The Rockets will miss Paul, but by the end of last season, he and Harden were not clicking like top-shelf teammates need to click. It was time to move on to something different, and these Rockets will be different. What the Rockets have to hope is that their defense is different, too. They allowed opponents to shoot 46.6 percent last season, 19th in the league. They need to shore that up some. And Chandler should help veteran defender P.J. Tucker in that regard. But Harden and Westbrook will never be confused with elite shut-down defenders. Still, the Rockets will be one of the contenders in the Western Conference and the team to beat in the Southwest Division.
2. San Antonio.
Impact additions: G Dejounte Murray, F Trey Lyles, F DeMarre Carroll.
Regrettable subtractions: C Davis Bertans, F Dante Cunningham.
What the moves mean: The Spurs are the masters of understated roster movement. What they have done this offseason is add three quality players without really losing anything of substance off of last year’s 48-win team (although Bertans showed some promise). Whether or not that’s enough to keep them in the playoff mix in the Western Conference remains to be seen.
Murray technically was with the Spurs all of last season. But he spent the entire year recovering from anterior cruciate ligament surgery. Two seasons back, then just 21 years old, he averaged roughly 8 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists while playing less than half the time. He was penciled in as the starting point guard last season before the injury and his absence derailed the Spurs’ season, to some degree.
In Carroll, the Spurs are getting a solid all-around player who can shoot the 3-pointer, rebound well for his size and defend. He fits the classic definition of a “Spur” perfectly. He probably won’t be in the starting lineup with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge ahead of him, but at the very least, the Spurs probably lead the league in players with three capital letters in their name.
Lyles, 23, has had a steady start to his NBA career and could be close to breaking into another level. He averaged 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds the past two seasons with Denver, while playing only 18 minutes per game. He’s got room to grow. The question is whether he’ll get enough playing time to take the next step.
Bottom line: The Spurs are still the Spurs. Period. You know they are going to be a precision machine on offense, no matter who they plug in and with DeRozan now in his second season with Aldridge, this should be a better team than last year. And by the way, if somebody asked you who was the best 3-point-shooting team in the NBA last season, you probably would be surprised to know that it was the Spurs. They get – and make – good shots, even if coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t particularly like the 3-point shot. At this point, it’s hard to bet against the Spurs being No. 2 in the Southwest.
Impact additions: C/F Kristaps Porzingis, G Seth Curry, C Boban Marjanovic.
Regrettable Subtractions: C/F Dirk Nowitzki, G Devin Harris, C Salah Mejri.
What the moves mean: What the Mavericks are doing this year is saying goodbye to an era.
Without Nowitzki, and to a lesser degree without his pregame shooting buddy, Harris, this is going to take some getting used to. Nowitzki’s been through the last 21 Maverick training camps. Harris has been alongside him for a bunch of those. Now, Nowitzki is retired and Harris is waiting for the phone to ring to see where he’ll continue his NBA career. As of now, it looks like it won’t be in Dallas. Then again, he’s been sent away from the Mavericks three times and each time, he found his way back. Don’t bet against it happening again, if indeed he leaves.
The marquee addition, of course, is Porzingis. The 7-3 shooter had emerged as one of the best big men in the game two years ago with the Knicks before the ACL injury ended what had turned into an all-star season. Observers in New York who watched Porzingis’ development say that he was really, really good before the injury. So the question becomes how closely he can resemble that player now. There will have been 20 months elapsed between NBA games for him by the time he steps out in the season opener.
Curry is returning to the Mavericks after a year in Portland. He rebuilt his value with a solid season with the Blazers. He had missed all of 2017-18 with a leg injury that eventually needed surgery. He had a very solid 2016-17 season with the Mavericks and last season he shot 45 percent from 3-point range and he’s right at 44 percent for his career, although he’s only played 192 games in his career.
Marjanovic is 7-3 and his presence probably spells the end of the Salah Mejri time in Dallas, although bringing “The Mej” back has not been ruled out. Marjanovic is huge. He pushes 300 pounds, but moves surprisingly well and has a well-rounded game. In 22 games after joining Philadelphia last season after a trade from the Clippers, Marjanovic averaged 8.2 points and 5.1 rebounds in just 13.9 minutes per game. That’s very solid production in short minutes and something the Mavericks are hoping to duplicate.
Bottom line: The Mavericks are going to be better. They were one of three teams in the division to finish with 33 wins last season. They expect a rise in that department and have designs on being a playoff-caliber team. They will probably have to overachieve to make that happen. The wise guys in Las Vegas have their over-under for victories this season at 41½. That may not be good enough. But much depends on the health of Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr. and J.J. Barea, too.
4. New Orleans.
Impact additions: F/C Zion Williamson, G J.J. Redick, F Brandon Ingram, C Derrick Favors, G Lonzo Ball, G Josh Hart, C Jaxson Hayes.
Regrettable subtractions: C/F Anthony Davis. F Julius Randle, G Elfrid Payton.
What the moves mean: No team will look more different in the 2019-20 season than the Pelicans. You can make the argument that they didn’t drive a hard enough bargain when they traded Davis. Getting Kyle Kuzma would have been nice as part of that package from the Lakers. But they still got a slew of good players.
When the lottery gods shined upon the Pelicans and they got Williamson with the No. 1 overall pick, it was a potentially franchise-shifting moment. Williamson has all the tools and talent to be a monster star in the league for many, many years. It will be up to the Pelicans to make sure Williamson is happy in New Orleans to ensure long-term success for the franchise.
The list of other new faces in the French Quarter is longer than a rough night on Bourbon Street.
The Pels brought in a couple of grizzled, capable veterans in shooter J.J. Redick and big man Derrick Favors. They will help stabilize what is otherwise a mostly youthful roster. Redick, pure and simple, is one of the best shooters from 3-point range in the league. He’s not Steph Curry. But he’s not far behind. Favors is a steady big man that knows how to play both ends of the court. He’ll help Williamson immensely.
The rest of the newcomers are all young and most of them came in the Davis trade. Ingram was on the bring of stardom in his third season, averaging better than 18 points, five rebounds and three assists. And he hasn’t turned 22 yet. His future with Williamson could be off the charts.
Ball and Hart are two very skilled guards who will benefit greatly from being around veteran Jrue Holiday and Redick. Neither Ball nor Hart will be asked to carry too heavy a load until they’re ready.
As for Hayes, the Texas product has oodles of potential. Jarrett Allen and Mo Bamba are the forerunners for Hayes, who appears capable of continuing the pipeline of UT big men going to the NBA.
Bottom line: We’ve heard this before about many teams. But you better get your licks in now on the Pelicans because in two or three seasons, they could be among the Western Conference’s best. It doesn’t always work out that way, but they certainly have laid the foundation of a team that could be very potent for years, if they can keep everybody together and everybody happy.
Impact additions: PG Ja Morant, PG Tyus Jones, SG Andre Iguodala, F Jae Crowder, F Josh Jackson.
Regrettable subtractions: PG Mike Conley, G Delon Wright, G Avery Bradley.
What the moves mean: The Grizzlies have basically reworked their entire roster in the span of a year or so. They sent away Zach Randolph, then Marc Gasol, then Conley. The Grind City strategy has been ditched for a full-on rebuilding project.
They hope Morant, the second-overall pick in the draft, will be a major piece of that roster revamping. He has all sorts of skills but will have to grow up with a young team that is certain to absorb a lot of losses in this season and probably for a couple more. But Morant gives the Grizzlies hope, and that’s a strong asset to have. Parlaying him with Jaren Jackson Jr., the solid rookie from last season, and the Grizzlies at least have the chance to build a new culture around those two. Morant and Jones should help ease the loss of Conley, who was nothing short of an icon in Memphis.
Nabbing Crowder and Iguodala gives the Grizzlies a pair of hard-nosed defensive-minded veterans. Iguodala knows all about championships after his run with Golden State. Crowder knows only one speed and that’s to play as hard as possible at all times. Together, they’ll set a good example for the youngsters.
Getting Jackson is a bit of a wild card. He never fulfilled his promise with Phoenix but he’ll get plenty of chances to do so with the Grizz. The question is whether he’ll get there.
Bottom line: The Grizzlies are going to have a hard time winning games. That’s just a fact of life when you’re rebuilding. But if they are patient with Morant and Jackson, they could end up with a tandem that can grow and become something in the future. The Grizzlies had an OK run with Gasol, Randolph and Conley. But the new age is here.