2015-16 NBA Preview: Southwest Division

By: DREW SORRELLS

San Antonio Spurs:

credit: www.usatoday.com
  • 2014-15 Record: 55-27
  • Key Acquisitions: LaMarcus Aldridge (Trail Blazers), David West (Pacers)
  • Key Departures: Tiago Splitter (Hawks)
  • Projected Starting Lineup: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Lamarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan

What you need to know:

It’s been a longstanding scientific and universal acceptance that time catches up to all men. Sooner or later, the effects time’s passage come to fruition in all of our lives. But you know what, I don’t buy it anymore. You can’t look me in the face and tell me that time will catch up to everybody when Jennifer Anniston is still out there as beautiful as ever. And don’t you dare tell me that time will ever catch up to the San Antonio Spurs. I have fallen for that blasphemy one too many times.

The teams of my childhood have all faded into the backdrop of mediocrity and irrelevance in some way or another. The 2000’s “7 seconds or less” Phoenix Suns, the 04-05 Detroit Pistons and Kobe Bryant’s Laker champions are all examples of teams who once stood atop the league that are no longer anything more than a memory. But somehow, the Spurs remain victorious in their combat against time. Here in 2015, they will once again be a championship contender, if not the frontrunner to take the title back home.

The Spurs are very old in some areas of their roster. Tim Duncan, while his game remains ageless, will turn 40 before the end of the season. Tony Parker is the point guard equivalent to your dad’s 1970’s Mustang that sits in the garage and sounds like it is going to break down into its individual parts every time it gets above 5 miles per hour. Manu Ginobli has more bald on his head than he does hair. What magnificent hair he had.

RIP credit: www.menshairforum.com
credit: hairlossgeeks.com

But they have also had a resurgence of youth. They landed the summer’s free agent prize by signing LaMarcus Aldridge, in hopes that he will be Kawhi Leonard’s partner in crime for the future. Danny Green and Patty Mills have also developed into reliable nightly producers. But most importantly, they still have the brain behind the operation, coach Gregg Poppavich.

Leonard will be the motor for this team. He is far and away the best wing defender in the league, and he has the hardware to prove it. By the end of last season, dribbling within a 5-foot radius of the 2014 NBA Finals MVP was the equivalent jumping into a tank of hungry sharks with an open wound. He will put the seatbelt on any wing player in the NBA with more care and precision than a father strapping-in his newborn baby, or me when I buckle-up my bag of to-go Chiptole in the shotgun seat. He was absolutely ruthless on that end of the floor, and has developed the offensive game to compliment his skill-set on the defensive end.

With Aldridge now, the Spurs have a new foundation for the future. They mix the old with the new in a product that will only be incredible. Unless, of course, you are an NBA team trying to figure out how to stop them. There will be bumps in the road as they incorporate Aldridge into their new system, and they very well could start the season sluggish. But make no mistake; the Spurs are going nowhere anytime soon. Hopefully, neither will Jennifer Aniston.

Houston Rockets:

credit: www.jameshardenillustrated.com
  • 2014-15 Record: 56-26
  • Key Acquisitions: Ty Lawson (Nuggets) 
  • Key Departures: Josh Smith (Clippers)
  • Projected Starting Lineup: Ty Lawson, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Terrance Jones, Dwight Howard

What you need to know:

You really can’t blame last season’s shortcomings on James Harden. With an abundance of injuries plaguing the Rockets, they fell at the hands of the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. On top of that, Harden’s cooking-celebration lead to rapper Lil B placing a curse on him throughout the playoffs. Just look at the facts.

While a full beard is often the indication of an astute wisdom, Harden was foolish to provoke The Based God and force him to cast his curse. The odds were insurmountable to overcome. Just ask Kevin Durant.

Before the curse, James Harden was one of the best players in the league, finishing behind only Stephen Curry in voting for league MVP. He was once the little brother to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, coming off of the bench in Oklahoma City. Now he is the bearded face of this Rockets franchise.

What the Rockets bring to the table this year is a healthy team, a curse-free and pissed off James Harden, and the addition of troubled point guard Ty Lawson. After his second DUI, Houston was able to acquire him for spare parts. While his personal health and treatment obviously takes precedent over basketball, Lawson can still hoop. He’s a distributer with tremendous speed that can propel the Houston offense forward if he can excel in the proper niche.

Many have them dubbed as a championship contender. But any number of incidents could derail their status as a contender, with the most crucial of those being Dwight Howard. Injuries have plagued him ever since he fled Los Angeles and Houston needs him in order to make it out of the gauntlet that is the West.

Just do yourself a favor, James Harden, and don’t provoke The Based God.

Update: He provoked the Based God. The damage has been done.

New Orleans Pelicans:

credit: www.fansided.com
  • 2014-15 Record: 45-37
  • Key Acquisitions: Coach Alvin Gentry 
  • Key Departures: None
  • Projected Starting Lineup: Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis, Omar Asik

What you need to know:

Anthony Davis has managed to build more hype around his mere potential than this league has seen in a very long time. At this point, no prediction for his career is too ostentatious for The Brow. He lead the league in PER last season, a remarkable accomplishment especially when you add in that the man is 22 years old. His new coach, Alvin Gentry, was the supposed mastermind in orchestrating Golden State’s record-breaking offense last season. These two enter the season with high hopes, but their supporting cast falls very short of the mark that is necessary for legitimate contention.

The problem with the Pelicans lies on the shoulders of everyone who has two eyebrows. They have done a tremendous job in assembling a roster that cannot stay healthy for any significant period of time. Even at full health, they do not possess the weapons to take pressure off of Davis. In the West, winning takes more than one star player, and the likes of Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans are not going to scare any team away.

More than anything, us mere mortals will marvel at the magnificent things that Anthony Davis does with a basketball. For New Orleans, next season will be about seeing how Gentry meshes with Davis offensively and if he can improve them on the defensive end. A playoff appearance, while probable, is not guaranteed. It will be all on Davis to take this team to the next level, which is a heavy burden for a 23-year old.

Dallas Mavericks:

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  • 2014-15 Record: 50-32
  • Key Acquisitions: Deron WIlliams (Nets), Wes Matthews (Trail Blazers)
  • Key Departures: Monta Ellis (Pacers), Tyson Chandler (Suns), Rajon Rondo (Kings), DeAndre Jordan (kind of)
  • Projected Starting Lineup: Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki, Zaza Pachullia

What you need to know:

If you direct your attention to the starting lineups once more, you will notice that the center is not named DeAndre Jordan. In case you missed out on that fiasco this summer, read this. 

It’s all good though, Dallas still isn’t mad. Seriously, they’re not still incredibly heated at Jordan and the Clippers for making them look foolish this summer in front of the entire country.

Okay, they might still be mad.

With that being said, Dallas didn’t completely miss out in free agency this year. They took a chance and signed Wesley Matthews, who is coming off of a freshly torn MCL. They also were able to secure the ghost of Deron Williams from Brooklyn. While Williams is not what he used to be, I concede that he is an upgrade from a tag-team duo of Raymond Felton and J.J. Barea.

They may come to be haunted by Jordan’s departure. Dirk is aging, Matthews and Williams are risks, Pachulia is a liability (to put it delicately), and Chandler Parsons has yet to justify the contract he received last year. If any of last season’s playoff teams will fall out of contention, look for Dallas to be that team.

Memphis Grizzlies:

credit: www.snipview.com
  • 2014-15 Record: 55-27
  • Key Acquisitions: Matt Barnes (Clippers)
  • Key Departures: Kosta Koufus (Kings)
  • Projected Starting Lineup: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Jeff Green, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol

What you need to know:

Nothing has changed for the Grizzlies entering this season. While the rest of the league trends towards small-ball and faced-paced offenses, Memphis holds true to their foundation. They are bullies, but instead of lunch money they aim for rings.

They run their offense through a frontcourt of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, which gives the Grizzlies their identity. They look to dominate the glass and protect the interior defensively, which is where Memphis predicates its offensive sets.

They also boast one of the most underrated point guards in the league, Mike Conley. He provides the spark from the perimeter on offense that Gasol and Randolph cannot.

While Tony Allen is “FIRST TEAM ALL DEFENSE,” he is also the weakest link of the offensive end that stagnates what could be a very well oiled machine.

Unless Jeff Green turns into a phenomenal outside scorer, the Grizzlies will have to rely on their old school brand of basketball to get the job done. They took the Warriors to 6 games in the playoffs last year with this brand. While the rest of the NBA abandons it, Memphis holds true; partly because they have to, and partly because they have the talent to succeed this way.

Memphis will attempt to once again bully their way into contention with physical defense and post-play. While it has been successful in the past, it has never paid the dividends of a ring. They will look to change that this year in their last ditch effort to save the style of basketball that is becoming extinct.