A person would have to be the captain of the championship debate team in order to convince me that the Southwest Division is not the best and deepest division in the NBA right now. With four teams that won more that 50 game apiece last season and each of those four look to win as many if not more again this year, it is hard to argue against the Southwest. Some of the best players of the past decade along with some of the brightest future stars reside here. The Hornets, Mavericks, Rockets, and Spurs are all but locks to make the playoffs again this year. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies they are still the blacksheep of the division, but there lies hope in some of their young talent.
It is a difficult task for one to attempt to wrap their mind around this season and just how the Southwest will play out. The Spurs have made no real roster changes, but are always a threat to make a run for another title as long as Tim Duncan is still wandering in the paint. The rags to riches team of last season, the Hornets, look like they will be even better with the addition of the gritty James Posey. This could be the Rockets' season to return to the Finals with the risky acquisition of Ron Artest, or will major injuries to either Yao Ming or Tracy McGrady hold those dreams in check? Will the Jason Kidd trade look like a great move as the Mavericks make it to the final dance, or will lack of defense and passion make the trade look like a mistake?
The only way to get to the bottom of these questions and many more is to take a good look into each team and try to seperate fact from fiction. Let the breakdown begin:
1. The New Orleans Hornets (60-22) (2nd Seed)
The only true challenge that faces the Hornets this season is if they are good enough to have another great season after surprising the league last year. They are no longer off the radar. Will they be able to step up and play against harder competition? I think they will take that step. My reasoning is simple. They have Chris Paul. To me Paul is the second best player in the league this year and if the Hornets are as good as they were last season, I think he will take home the MVP. Who is the best player you ask? Well, he is not in this divison so I will refrain from that agrument. Chris has that special talent that makes everyone on his team better. He is the ultimate team player. The Hornets also have a balanced team with David West, Peja Stojakovic, and Tyson Chandler. West is now considered one of the top low post players in the game and Tyson is a great defender and put-back man. The player that is standing out this preseason is Mike James. I understand that it is only the preseaon, but having another scoring threat on the floor only makes Chris Paul more dangerous. I also love the addition of James Posey. The Hornets will only benefit from having the tough as nails Posey around. Every great team has that player who can get under the opposing players skin. Think Rodman or Bowen. Posey will not put up big numbers, but will be responsible for more then a couple of wins. Overall, the Hornets have a great chance to go all the way, but so do three other teams in the division. I just think they have the most complete team with a superstar handling the ball.
2. The Houston Rockets (57-25) (3rd Seed)
I would love to see everything work out perfectly for this team, but something deep in the back of my head says something will happen to take the glory from McGrady's hands. I do not believe in curses, so I do not think that some force from the outside is toying with poor Tracy. What I do believe in is injury reports and history tells me not to put too many eggs in the Rockets' basket. With that being said, If the Rockets stay healthy, both Tracy and Yao, then they could very well make it to the Finals. Yao Ming is a top center and Tracy McGrady is one of the best players in the NBA period. With the addition of Ron Artest the Rockets could finally have all the parts needed to take that next step. I think Artest is a great player for the Rockets. He can drive a fan and a coach crazy at times, but if his talent is harnessed correctly he could be the key. The Rockets also have some other interesting players to consider. Brent Barry is a solid pick-up. He can open up the offense with his sharp-shooting. Luis Scola will only get better, and Shane Battier will always play smart ball whenever he is on the floor. Rafer Alston is a solid Point Guard and is able to run the team on the floor. Overall, The Rockets could be the best team is the league if they suffer no major injuries to McGrady or Ming.
3. The San Antonio Spurs (53-29) (5th Seed)
As much as I love to watch Tim Duncan and the Spurs, I truly feel they are starting to fade. It all started last year when they were pushed to seven games against a much younger and less experienced Hornets team. However, I can not just write them off. I think they will still be a top team and cause a lot of problems for other teams. At the end of the day though, I am not sure they have enough left in the tank to win another Championship. If somehow I am a fool and they do win another ring, then Tim Duncan will be the best Power Forward that the NBA has ever seen. Many already make that claim now, but nobody would be able to refute it if they win it all again. The other key factors on the team are also getting older as well. Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas, and Michael Finley are all about ready to sign up with AARP. I thought the Spurs would make a splash in the offseason, but it never happened and now they face the season one year older. Tony Parker is the young guy on the team and he is certainly a superstar in the league, but he can only do so much. Manu Ginobili is now 31 and his body might start slowing him down. Will manu still have his quickness and in turn still be so effective? I am not sure. In many ways that is a good way to look at this team now. "I am not sure". In the end however, I can think of really no team that would want to face them in a seven game series. I just hope they get some more talent around Duncan before it is too late.
4. The Dallas Mavericks (52-30) (6th Seed)
Yes, I think the Mavericks will be a better team this year. Not a lot better, but a little better. I do think they will edge out the Suns for the 6th seed as well. Sorry Suns fans. Jason Kidd has much to prove and will play quite well this season. The thing is is that the Mavericks still just have so much talent that they can not lose. Will they play hard defense under new Head Coach Rick Carlisle? No. Will they score a lot of points and out run most teams? Yes. Dirk Nowitzki will do what he has always done. He will score like crazy from all over the floor. Jason Terry and Josh Howard will also just flat out score. This will work in most cases. This will get them into the playoffs. However, the Mavericks will never win the Finals without some more defense. The Mavericks are the best team in the NBA on paper, but only the tenth best on the floor. The Mavericks really should have made the trade for Ron Artest, even if it meant losing Josh Howard. The NBA is full of Josh Howard type players, but there is only one Ron Artest. Say what you want about Artest, but he would have been a nice fit on the Mavs. A bright spot in Dallas however is the young Brandon Bass. He looks like he could turn into a real monster down low. Overall, I really do not see the Mavericks making it out of the first round. That is sad because they ooze talent.
5. The Memphis Grizzlies (24-58) (miss playoffs)
This brings me to the bottom of the pack. The Grizzlies have a few parts, but let's face it, they are a long way from being any good. To top it off they are in the best division within the best conference. I gave them two more wins this year simply out of pity. Rudy Gay is the star of a one man show. Sure there is Hakim Warrick, Mike Conley, and the rookie O.J. Mayo to make things interesting and entertaining form time to time, but really this team is in a rebuilding period. Maybe even a promising one at that, but they are far from competing. The Grizzlies fan must sit back and not look at the wins and loses. He must look to see if the young guys are getting better. He must make a fist pump when Marc Gasol slams one home and jump out of his seat like a madman if Gay hits a buzzer beater. Take it from a Bulls fan, you must find some joy in the little things. The real doom of this team can be found on the roster. His name is Antoine Walker. I predict that he alone will account for at least 50 of the 58 loses. All kidding aside Grizzlies fans, you are the underdogs, so stand up and have some pride in yourselves. You are going to need it.
Well I hope this was half as fun for you to read as it was for me to write. I really like the Hornets this season to go all the way. They are the one team that really stands out to me from the rest of the pack in the Southwest. However, Anything can happen, as it often does, in this wonderful game we call the NBA.