We might call this next division the “faded powers” division, featuring a group of teams that largely seem on the downslope of impressive runs. Can Memphis or Houston take this division by storm? How bad will New Orleans be without CP3?
San Antonio Spurs
(61-21, lost in the first round to Memphis)
Headline: In the Twilight of a Modern Dynasty, do Tim Duncan and Co. Have One Last Run Left?
Summary: For much of last season, it appeared like the Spurs might turn back time and make one more run for a title. However, they never recovered from a shocking loss in game one of their first round series vs. Memphis and ultimately bowed out in the first round. It appears this group is done as title contenders, but dismiss the Spurs at your own peril — they still have plenty left.
Overall Trend: Down. The Spurs have had an absolutely amazing run and although one more title run is possible, there is no question they are not what they once were.
Biggest Addition: Kawhi Leonard (15th overall pick)
Losses: George Hill and Antonio McDyess.
Best Case: NBA Title. It is certainly possible that Tim Duncan, Manu and Tony Parker could turn back the clock and make a title run, if they can remain healthy that is.
Worst Case: First round of the playoffs. The Spurs appeared dead on their feet during the first round last year and with a compressed schedule, it is easy to see a case where they could have a similarly early exit once again.
Most Likely Case: First round of the playoffs. The Spurs are still a good team, and they will not want to end their run with consecutive first round exits. They will be hard pressed to avoid this; however, it looks to be another quick exit for this bunch.
(57-25, NBA Champions)
Headline: Can the Mavericks Repeat Their Magical Run or is it One and Done for the Defending Champs?
Summary: Admit it Blazers fans, not many of you thought Dallas was a likely champion when they beat Portland in the first round. Even after easing past the Lakers and Thunder to make the NBA Finals, no one really thought they’d beat Miami, did they? Dallas proved us all wrong, putting together an improbable series of fourth quarter comebacks to beat the highly favored Heat in six games for the franchise’s first title. As for the chances of a repeat, it’ll be hard to recapture last year’s magic, but one never knows.
Overall Trend: Down. Losing Tyson Chandler will hurt more than they let on, and Lamar Odom is not a replacement. Their already veteran core is also one year older, so it will be hard to say they are as good a team as last season.
Biggest Addition: Lamar Odom.
Losses: Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and JJ Barrea.
Best Case: NBA Title. If healthy, the Mavericks are not an easy team to beat in the playoffs. It is certainly possible, however unlikely, that they repeat their feat and win it all again.
Worst Case: First round of the playoffs. If Dallas ends up with a bad playoff matchup, say Oklahoma City or even someone like Portland or the Clippers, they could be one and done this year.
Most Likely Case: Western Conference Finals. The Mavericks are probably not the second best team in the west by talent alone, but their combination of talent, experience and coaching means they should be favorites to return at least to the conference finals this year.
New Orleans Hornets
(46-36, lost in first round to LA Lakers)
Headline: Without CP3, the Hornets Look to Rebuild and Avoid Relocation.
Summary: This offseason was more than a bit of a farce for the Hornets as David Stern, acting as the Hornets owner, vetoed multiple trade offers to send CP3 to the Lakers before finally agreeing to about the fourth or fifth offer proposed by the Clippers. Without CP3 and with David West bolting in free agency, the only questions are how far this team will fall, and will a new owner truly keep them in New Orleans?
Overall Trend: Down, and down very quickly. New Orleans is in full rebuilding mode right now, the only question is how good a draft pick they get this season, either from their own or via Minnesota’s pick they got in the CP3 trade.
Biggest Addition: Eric Gordon.
Losses: Chris Paul and David West.
Best Case: #1 overall pick. The Hornets truly have a chance to be the worst team in the league this year, especially if they can mention to jettison Okafor’s deal. With a little luck in the lottery, they could easily end up with the #1 overall pick (and another likely top 6-8 pick with Minnesota’s pick to boot).
Worst Case: They can’t find an owner who wants to keep them in New Orleans, and they remain under NBA control and stagnate. It used to be that Donald Sterling of the Clippers was the worst owner in the NBA. That is no longer true, as it is clearly David Stern. The longer the NBA owns the Hornets, the worse it is for the franchise.
Most Likely Case: Top-three pick. The Hornets will almost certainly have one of the 3-5 worst records in the league, and combined with the Minnesota pick can be expected to end up with a top-three pick (or at worst top-five).
(46-36, lost in second round to Oklahoma City)
Headline: After an Amazing Playoff Run, can the Grizzlies Prove Last Year was no Fluke?
Summary: After Rudy Gay went down, we thought they were done; after OJ Mayo decided to get nailed by the league for violating their drug policy, we thought they were down; after they drew the Spurs in the first round, we thought they were done. It turns out that we were all wrong, as Memphis upset San Antonio and came very close to upsetting Oklahoma City as well. With Gay back, the Grizzlies look to establish themselves as true contenders.
Overall Trend: Up. The Grizzlies are finally being noticed for the right reasons, and with a good core and a fairly balanced roster, they are definitely a team on the rise.
Biggest Addition: Jeremy Pargo.
Losses: Shane Battier.
Best Case: NBA Finals. Memphis is a good team, and they have lost almost no one from last year’s squad. Although they are probably not good enough to win it all, they can certainly make a run to the finals if everything breaks right for them.
Worst Case: First round of the playoffs. If they can’t keep the same chemistry, they get hit by injuries or they run into a bad early playoff matchup, it could be a depressingly short stay for the Grizzlies this season.
Most Likely Case: Second round of the playoffs. The Grizzlies are a good team, but they just appear to be a step below Oklahoma City and Dallas this season.
(43-39, missed playoffs)
Headline: Without Yao, the Rockets Look to Rebuild Anew.
Summary: Although perhaps not surprising, it was nonetheless depressing for everyone in the NBA when Yao Ming was forced to retire after last season. Without their franchise cornerstone, and having been denied in an attempt to speed up their rebuilding by involving themselves in the CP3 trade, Houston has to find a new path. They have not been far from the playoffs the past two years, but it is not certain the y can make the jump this year.
Overall Trend: Up, probably. The Rockets still have a good core, and signing Samuel Dalembert to bolster their undersized frontcourt should help. The Rockets are in that stage of rebuilding where it can really go either way, depending on the development of certain players, and more than a little bit of luck.
Biggest Addition: Samuel Dalembert.
Losses: Yao Ming, Chuck Hayes and Brad Miller.
Best Case: First round of the playoffs. The Rockets have not been far from the playoffs the past few years, and it certainly possible they can make that leap this year.
Worst Case: Just miss the playoffs. The Rockets are much like the Indiana Pacers have been, neither good enough to make the playoffs nor bad enough to get top draft picks. It is possible history could repeat itself and they just miss the playoffs again.
Most Likely Case: Land a pick in the 11-13 range. Unless they decide to completely blow it up, this Rockets team is going to come close to the playoffs. Probably not as close as last year but close enough to be a late lottery team again.