Every week leading up to the start of the 2019-2020 NBA season, I will be looking at a different division in the NBA and briefly reviewing the offseasons of each team in the division. Last week, I looked at the Pacific Division, which has three championship contenders. This week is the Southwest Division, holding a dominant Rockets team as well as several younger squads which could make waves this season.
Players Added: Russell Westbrook, Tyson Chandler, Ben McLemore, Anthony Bennett, Shamorie Ponds
Players Lost: Chris Paul, Iman Shumpert, Kenneth Faried, Terrence Jones
Summary: After knocking on the door of the NBA Finals for two years in a row and falling just short each time, the Rockets underwent major change this summer, swapping out Chris Paul at point guard for Russell Westbrook. Westbrook declined last season, shooting worse than ever from three and getting to the rim somewhat less frequently than in his prime. He should be an upgrade over Paul on a game-to-game basis; at the very least, he should play more frequently, and with better health, than CP. On the other hand, he and James Harden are the two highest-usage players in the NBA, and Westbrook’s lack of shooting makes him a less-than-ideal partner for the Beard. Still, the remainder of Houston’s core is intact, and that core has been one of the best teams in the NBA the past couple years. There’s not a ton of youth, or upside, on the roster, but the Rockets are trying to win a championship, and they have the pieces to do so. All that remains to be seen is whether the Russ-Harden duo will work as the Rockets hope.
Predicted Record: 55-27
Players Added: DeMarre Carroll, Trey Lyles, Luka Samanic, Keldon Johnson
Players Lost: Davis Bertans, Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter, Donatas Motiejunas
Summary: No team in the conference turned over their roster less than the Spurs, who moved on from a just couple role players and replaced them with players of a similar caliber. The biggest change for the Spurs will be the return of starting point guard Dejounte Murray, a defensive menace who missed all of last season with an injury. Murray together with breakout sophomore Derrick White will give the Spurs a talented, youthful backcourt that can play both ways, and should pair nicely with veteran star LaMarcus Aldridge. The rest of the pieces around the new core are typically Spurs-y: veterans with a single strong skill that coach Popovich can utilize to great effect. The Spurs are unlikely to be great this year, but the presence of Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan ensure that they will be able to get buckets fairly consistently, while the backcourt adds upside and defense. They’re not a lock for the playoffs, certainly, but it would not be surprising to see the Spurs back in the postseason yet again in 2020.
Predicted Record: 48-34
Players Added: Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Derrick Favors, J.J. Redick, Nicolo Melli, Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil-Alexander Walker
Players Lost: Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Ian Clark, Cheick Diallo, Solomon Hill, Stanley Johnson, Christian Wood, Dairis Bertans
Summary: Anthony Davis is no longer in New Orleans. The one-time savior of the Pelicans has unceremoniously left the building, but the mood in the city is joyous. That’s because New Orleans lucked into Zion Williamson, the best prospect in a generation, and a player who promises to bring the Pelicans to new heights. Joining Zion are the fruits of the AD trade – Ball, Ingram, Hart, and a bevy of future draft picks. None of those players are surefire stars, but Ball in particular has demonstrated significant upside if he can just stay healthy. New front office executive David Griffin had a phenomenal draft, adding Hayes, Nickeil, and an extremely promising stash in Didi Louzada. The Pelicans went from a mediocre team going nowhere to having more assets than almost any team in the NBA.
The Pelicans are not just a team of the future. Zion is the rare rookie who might make a significant impact right away, with the potential to be a star player out of the gate. Jrue Holiday, the one crucial leftover from the Davis era, is one of the most underrated players in the NBA, a two-way force who should help the Pelicans’ young players adjust to the NBA and get them in the right spots on both ends. The returns from the AD trade, while maybe not stars, are at the least helpful players. And the Pelicans did well in free agency, too, adding perennially underrated big man Derrick Favors and sharpshooter J.J. Redick as well as international sensation Nicolo Melli. The Pelicans have a great mix of rookies, young talent, and veterans, and while they might not make the playoffs this year, they should be a difficult team to beat on any given night.
Predicted Record: 42-40
Players Added: Delon Wright, Seth Curry, Isaiah Roby
Players Lost: Dirk Nowitzki, Trey Burke, Devin Harris, Salah Mejri
Summary: Dirk Nowitzki has finally retired, bringing an end to one of the greatest careers in NBA history – and the best player to ever wear a Mavericks uniform. With the pioneering big man gone, the Mavs’ future is firmly in the hands of wunderkind Luka Doncic, who is coming off a phenomenal rookie season of his own. Joining him as a Mavs’ cornerstone is Kristaps Porzingis, who sat out all of last season with a knee injury. The rest of the Mavs roster did not change too much, at least compared to the massive shuffles that took place across most of the rest of the Western Conference, with the only major additions being starting point guard Wright and bench gunner Curry.
Much of the Mavs’ competitiveness this season will depend on Porzingis. He hasn’t played in the NBA in over a year and a half, and it’s unclear what his conditioning or level of play will be for at least the first chunk of the season. Even when he has played, he’s been largely overrated due to the New York hype machine and the revelatory nature of a big man who can block shots and hit threes. To be the true sidekick star to Doncic that the Mavs require, he will need to become a more efficient scorer and a better rebounder. Outside of those guys, the Mavs roster is fine – Wright is good, Curry will help off the bench, and guys like Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell are positive impact players. None of them, however, are difference makers, leaving the weight of the Mavs franchise on the two youngsters. If Luka can make the leap to superstar, or if Porzingis comes out of the gates with something to prove, this prediction could look low. But it just doesn’t seem like there’s enough talent on this roster to be much higher in a stacked Western Conference, even with the wizardry of Rick Carlisle as head coach.
Predicted Record: 38-44
Players Added: Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke, Tyus Jones, Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill, De’Anthony Melton, Grayson Allen, Josh Jackson, Miles Plumlee
Players Lost: Mike Conley, Delon Wright, Joakim Noah, Avery Bradley, Justin Holiday, Chandler Parsons, C.J. Miles, Jevon Carter, Tyler Dorsey, Julian Washburn, Tyler Zeller
Summary: The Grit and Grind era is finally over in Memphis. The Grizzlies moved on from the last cornerstone of their 2010s core this summer, trading Mike Conley to Utah and shifting gears towards a total rebuild. Fortunately, they were able to select stud point guard Ja Morant in the 2019 NBA Draft, who should pair nicely with super prospect Jaren Jackson Jr. The Grizzlies will hope that Ja and Jaren are the heirs apparent to Conley and Marc Gasol as the head and backbone of the franchise over the next decade. However, even if Ja and JJJ dazzle, they are extremely young players, and NBA teams are rarely great on the back of such young prospects, no matter how talented they are.
The Grizzlies do have some solid veterans on their roster, but they’re unlikely to be on the team for long. Andre Iguodala has already been mentioned in trade and buyout rumors, and Jae Crowder will likely follow suit. The rest of the team is mostly composed of youngsters, and while there’s plenty of latent talent there (Brandon Clarke in particular), the same rule applies. The Grizzlies will probably be quite fun to watch this year. They are going to play fast, and there will be nights where their young talent clicks, torching the opposition. In most games, however, the Grizzlies will struggle; they are just too young. In two years, watch out.
Predicted Record: 24-58