SOUTHWEST DIVISION: Fans of front-running NBA teams may feel shortchanged when it comes to the underwhelming quintet of squads that make up this season's Southwest Division. The San Antonio Spurs stood pat with their elder statesmen, the Dallas Mavs let the JET take flight, the Memphis Grizzlies didn't hold the Mayo, the New Orleans Hornets are on that new new and the Houston Rockets paid a king's ransom for Linsanity and the Beard. Buckle up, hoops fans, it's gonna be a bumpy ride down South.
NYQUIL (DON'T SLEEP): The NBA media swarmed like the Killer Bees all over the three-ring circus of indecision that was Dwight Howard this summer, and spent substantial time exploring other big-name moves and non-moves like Joe Johnson to BK, Ray Allen to South Beach and Deron Williams, who spurned the Mavs’ advances because he wasn’t wooed hard enough and Mark Cuban didn’t show up to the free agency meeting. Has it really come to this? What about the other under-the-radar players that eased on down the road to new teams? Need a rundown? What about Darren Collison, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand and OJ Mayo making their way to the Mavs? What about Ryan Anderson bringing his sweet shooting from behind the arc to the Hornets? What about Omar Asik getting his time to shine in the middle with the Rockets?
1 PLUS 1 EQUALS 2 (THE INEVITABLE): Cue up the Tupac, because all eyes will be on Jeremy Shu-How Lin this season, as he tries to defibrillate Linsanity outside of the confines of Madison Square Garden. The Asian wunderkind was the little engine that could in New York, captivating the league with a come-from-nowhere Cinderfella story that spread throughout the sports world like crack in the Reagan Era. The Rockets bet the farm that the gushed-about PG will be their savior, but they’ll learn the hard way that there ain’t no future in yo frontin’. Linsanity was a mirage, a temporary happenstance that won’t fly down South. When the smoke finally clears, all that’ll be left is a serviceable floor general on a team with the cohesiveness of crabs in a bucket.
SLOW BURN (OH, IT'S COMIN'): It ain’t easy being a former basketball phenom. OJ Mayo knows all too well what it means to underwhelm as an NBA player after living a life as an overhyped prep star. Mayo went No. 3 in the ’08 draft out of USC amid scandal and has had to watch as players drafted after him like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Roy Hibbert and Serge Ibaka have surged as top tier players in the league. With the departure of Jason Terry and Dirk out recovering from knee surgery, the 24-year old two-guard will finally have the green light to step into a more significant offensive role and live up to his potential that landed him in Sports Illustrated as a seventh grader.
THE WACKNESS: The NBA’s new rule against flopping will have the biggest impact in the SW because of the effect it’ll have on the King of Flop, Manu Ginobili, and the Prince of Flop, James Harden. Any rule that takes the game out of the ref’s hands takes away from the game. Sure, flopping had gotten out of control since the influx of European players into the L, but that’s no reason to implement such a B.S. rule. Stop it, David Stern; you’re ruining the game with this ish.
Here’s one last look at Jeremy Lin’s Linsanity highlights. Enjoy them, relive them and commit them to memory, because there will be no Linsanity 2.0
ALL DIVISION SQUAD:
Anthony Davis, Hornets, C: He may be young, but he’s ready. This shot blocker with the trademarked unibrow will have an immediate impact on the Hornets.
Zach Randolph, Grizz, F: Z-Bo had an off year last season, but he’s slim and trim and ready to work his crafty low post moves under the basket like a surgeon.
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavs, F: The only thing that could keep Dirk Diggler off of this list is a setback while coming back from his knee surgery. But with his work ethic, he’ll be dropping one-legged J’s on fools in no time.
James Harden, Rockets, G: Manu is the league’s most dangerous practioner of the Euro step, but Harden is the remix. Now that he’s running his own show, he’ll rocket up the ranks as a league-leading guard.
Tony Parker, Spurs, G: Eff what you heard, the Spurs have been the Frenchman’s team. With the sweet, unstoppable teardrop in the lane, he’ll have another MVP caliber year.
SOUTHWEST DIVISION MVP: Tony Parker’s not much of an MC, but he came in fifth in last year’s league MVP voting. So it’s a no-brainer that the swift Frenchie PG will again be illmatic with the rock for the battle-tested Spurs.
HOOD PLATINUM: Chandler Parsons summed it up in a two-word tweet: Beard me. The block just got hot in Houston and it’s because of the Rockets’ recent trade for James “Fear the Beard” Harden. He’s the deadliest sixth man in the league, but is he a star? Is he worthy of a max deal? Daryl Morey, with all of his geeky analytics is betting everything, including his career, on Lin’s continued Linsantiy and Harden’s ascension into superstardom, while everyone in the 713 is wondering why they ever put their trust in a guy who relies solely on numbers to build a championship contending basketball team. Will Morey’s bet pay off? Only time will tell.
1. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Coach Gregg Popovich takes no shorts. He’s no-nonsense, calculated and knows what the hell he’s doing when it comes to the X’s and O’s. Phil Jackson may be more celebrated, but Pop is the better tactician. Hands down. San Antonio didn't make any major acquisitions in the offseason, but with Pop’s leadership and the complete buy-in he has from his players, the Spurs will always be contenders for a shot at the NBA crown. This year will be no different. While Pop brings along his young upstarts Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio will continue running off dubs without logging major minutes on their vets’ wheels. There’s a growing concern that this squad’s window is closing with Timmy D’s dominance in the post waning with every passing minute, but as last year’s romp through the regular season to the best record in the West showed, this team still has a lot left in the tank. Skip Bayless’ hyperbolic opinion notwithstanding, Tiago Splitter is primed to step in and fill in for the Big Fundamental, Manu will be Manu and TP will continue to be a whirling dervish in the backcourt. The Spurs are back in effect and will be gunnin’ for that number-one spot.
Projected Record: 60-22
The Grizzlies made a splash in ’11 when they knocked out the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. Things cooled off last year, but, to their credit, they were riddled with injuries. This season, Z-Bo is lighter and healthy, Rudy Gay is on a mission for redemption, Marc Gasol is coming off an All-Star year and Mike Conley made major strides as a point guard. They will feel the pain of losing OJ Mayo, though, because Jerryd Bayless is not a viable replacement.
Projected Record: 55-27
Mark Cuban has deep pockets like Daddy Warbucks, but failed to shell out the Benjamin’s needed to keep the players that helped him win the chip in 2011―how the hell he let Tyson Chandler walk will forever be a mystery. This offseason, he let Jason Terry bolt for Boston, but he did bring in OJ Mayo to replace him. Dirk is down for the first six weeks of the season, but this bunch will figure out a way to still make the playoffs.
Projected Record: 52-30
The Rockets came up short in their pursuit of Dwight Howard and had to settle for a consolation prize of draft picks in Jeremy Lamb (traded to OKC), Terrence Jones and Royce White. But the biggest moves for Houston was outdueling the Knicks for Jeremy Lin’s services and the trading Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and two first-round draft picks to OKC for James Harden. Lin isn’t the answer at PG, but Harden may very well be the star Daryl Morey has craved since Yao retired. They won’t win anything, but everyone’ll definitely be watching to see what Rush Hour 4 can do.
Projected Record: 46-36
NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers ain’t no shook rooks, so they’ll infuse some much needed excitement into Crescent City. Add to that Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson and this team has the pieces to make some noise. Just not this season. They’ll win a few shockers but the playoffs are still a dream.
Projected Record: 43-39
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