What the Heck Happened in the Southwest Divison?

Detroit Bad Boys

Welcome to the saddest division in The Association. Yes, it’s home to the upstart Grizzlies and Luka Dončić, but if you look at the collective status of each franchise, you come away feeling a bit hopeless and a lot bummed. It shouldn’t be like this. Not only do you have Dončić, but you have Zion freaking Williamson. You have Jalen Green. You have Gregg Popovich. But you have a fake contender in Dallas, a franchise stuck in the abyss in San Antonio, an impending implosion in New Orleans and the Rockets who are just starting a rebuild behind what is sure to be an awful defense. Outside of Houston, just about every team could finish at .500 and be considered a disappointment. Or they could be even worse. Alas.

Milwaukee Bucks v Memphis Grizzlies

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Memphis Grizzlies

Offseason in 5 Words or Less: Kids Ready to Become Men

The time is now for the Memphis Grizzlies, and I really feel like they can surprise people and capture a division title. There is no more satisfaction in playing spoiler or surprising people with a near .500 record.

Ja Morant is one of the best young point guards in the NBA already. It’s time for his efficiency and consistency to catch up to his athleticism and playmaking. It’d help if he could build a floater into his game or ditch the high-risk paint touches away from the rim. He had the sixth-most paint shots outside the restricted area last season and only converted at a 38% clip.

The real excitement comes from Jaren Jackson Jr, a player I just can’t seem to quit. He’s always been an elite offensive player with his size and touch. His defense is iffy and his health has been awful. I feel like this is the year he finally puts it all together. He’s fresh off a big, long-term extension. And his body has really filled out since his rookie year. If he can take the leap, this team can make some real noise.

Combine those two with the veteran (read: nasty) presence of Steven Adams and Kyle Anderson to go with other young, energy pieces like Desmond Bayne and Xavier Tillman, and you have a dangerous team night-in and night-out.

Better or Worse?

Their development must be internal, but everyone is of an age and experience level where several players could take a step forward. I think they are not only better but officially dangerous.

Possible Playoff Contender?

I’m pushing my chips in on the Grizz being the surprise team of the NBA season.

Dallas Mavericks

Utah Jazz v Dallas Mavericks

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Offseason in 5 Words or Less: Luka didn’t get enough help

As high as I am on the Grizzlies, I feel like I’m equally low on the Mavericks. There is no excuse for them to have a top-10 player in the NBA, who also happens to be just 22 years old, and go into a season with as many questions and with as low of a ceiling as Dallas. Oh yeah, and now Jason Kidd is the head coach. These are not ingredients that I trust in the slightest.

The problem with the Mavs is the same as last season — they bet big on Kristaps Porzingis being the team’s second star, and it’s not going to work out. They know it as much as anyone knows it, but Porzinigis makes too much money to deal so they are stuck in neutral. Their second big issue is that because Luka is so damn good, they have invested very little in initiators and creators. It’s the Luka show, and that’s good enough on most every night of the regular season. But it could wear him down, and if the team makes the playoffs, if the opponent shuts down Dončić, and they will throw as much as needed to shut down Dončić, then the entire offense grinds to a halt. You can only get so much from Jalen Brunson and Trey Burke.

It’s a shame because I like their wings as complementary players, and the Reggie Bullock deal was a sneaky great signing. But it’s still not enough.

Better or Worse?

I don’t care how much Luka didn’t gel with Rick Carlise, going from Carlisle to Kidd is an automatic downgrade.

Possible Playoff Contender?

Dončić is so good he could single-handedly will them into the playoffs. But they could also perform poorly enough on D that they disappoint once again, and even if they get to the playoffs, their ceiling seems pretty low.

San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio Spurs v Orlando Magic

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Offseason in 5 Words or Less: Running Out the Clock

The San Antonio mystique is gone. The team seems to be in a perpetual state of rebuild, but with an organizational culture that doesn’t accept losing, and too much talent in the front office and the sidelines not to get the most out of its players. That combined with tapping Spursy type veterans means being bad but too good to get the kind of difference-maker they need in the draft.

In the offseason, they said goodbye to their latest stable of vets in DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills, Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge. So the team is young or young-adjacent.

They have tons of young guys fall somewhere on the scale of like to begrudgingly respect in Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Jakob Poeltl, Devin Vassell and Josh Primo. But they don’t have the guy that you build any of that around.

I just don’t know where this franchise is going until Popovich hangs it up and the front office feels like it has the latitude for a huge swing.

Better or Worse?

Worse, but with more clarity on leaning into its quality youth. Still not enough though.

Possible Playoff Contender?

The playoffs are not in the cards this season.

New Orleans Pelicans

2021-22 New Orleans Pelicans Media Day

Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Offseason in 5 Words or Less: Zion Williamson foot injury

While all the eyes are on the Sixers and Nets because sickos want to see if those teams implode courtesy of Ben Simmons and Kyrie Irving, respectively, the smart NBA rubbernecker is keeping their sights set on New Orleans. This thing seems like a disaster in slow motion.

Zion Williamson is one of the most dangerous offensive forces in the NBA. But GM David Griffin revealed on media day that unbeknownst to everyone not only was Williamson injured, but he had foot surgery that would keep him out of training camp.

At the same time, Griffin said the hope was to get Williamson back “in time for the regular season.” A month later, Griffin said people misconstrued his comments, and he actually meant Zion would return before the beginning of the playoffs. Sure, David.

Foot injuries are no joke. Especially for players Williamson’s size, and especially especially for players as reliant on athleticism. And this was a team already dealing with the fallout of a disappointing season, the firing of Stan Van Gundy one year into a multi-year deal, a strained relationship with Zion and his people and big questions about the team’s depth and talent level.

Grab your popcorn, cuz this season could get ugly.

Better or Worse?

They had a lot of mess to cleanup and did it by ditching SVG and gross contracts for Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe, and yet they still somehow managed to get worse.

Possible Playoff Contender

Not a chance

Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets v San Antonio Spurs

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Offseason in 5 Words: Haren Era Becomes Green Era

Detroit Pistons fans are a little too interested in the Houston Rockets, if I’m being honest. First, there is an obsession with Christian Wood, who was unearthed by the Pistons but not retained and eventually signed a multi-year pact with Houston. Then there is Jalen Green who could be the great player the Pistons missed out on by taking Cade Cunningham No 1. Or he could struggle. Or they could both be great! I’m not sure why Detroit followers seem more obsessed with Green than Cade himself. It doesn’t help that Green seems to hold a personal grudge and Cunningham so far has refused to take the bait.

In the end, Houston is going to be a really bad team with a really explosive offense (in spurts). Green will be inefficient but do things other players in the NBA simply can’t do. The great Kevin Porter Jr. at point guard experiment should be interesting. And I’m always here to watch Jae’Sean Tate, Alperen Sengun and Josh Christopher do interesting things on the court.

One thing they won’t be doing is much winning, however. But that’s fine! This is Year 2 of a rebuild. They are putting the pieces together.

Better or Worse?

They will be commanding a tank throughout the season, but their talent level is intriguing at just about every spot on the floor.

Possible Playoff Contender?

I’m sure they’d love to send Eric Gordon to a playoff team. Any takers?

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