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An NBA Offseason Guide: The Southwest Division
Well the 2014-2015 NBA season has come to an end which means one thing: it’s time to look forward to the 2015 NBA offseason. This year sees many teams facing an uncertain future and the moves they make in the next few months will shape the outlook of the league for the next few years. Of course you could have written the preceding sentence about any offseason in the past decade or so. But every NBA offseason brings a certain level of excitement, it presents the chance for teams who underachieved to hit the reset button and it allows crazy owners to make crazy trades and dish out mind boggling contracts. Its a time for players to bet on themselves and turn down relatively large contracts (looking at you Jimmy Butler). This guide will look at the entire NBA by division by team giving you a comprehensive breakdown on what teams may be looking for this July. Today we will be looking at the Southwest division.
2014-2015 Record: 50-32, 7th in the Western Conference.
Free Agents: Al-Farouq Aminu (UFA), J.J Barea (UFA), Tyson Chandler (UFA), Monta Ellis (UFA), Raymond Felton (UFA), Bernard James (RFA), Richard Jefferson (UFA), Rajon Rondo (UFA), Greg Smith (UFA), Amar’e Stoudemire (UFA), Charlie Villanueva (UFA).
Are the Dallas Mavericks’ days of title contention over? Dirk Nowitzki is no longer the MVP candidate he once was. His three point percentage was down (38%) and it doesn’t look like he can rebound anymore (only pulled down 5 a game this season). Most of the team’s core from this season with the exception of Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons are free agents, meaning the Mavs can either bring back the gang or start over and reload yet again. Tyson Chandler and Monta Ellis could come back for the Mavericks, both were productive players this season and are good pick and roll players who are used to playing with Nowitzki. Obviously there is no scenario in which Rajon Rondo comes back to Dallas next season. The Mavs traded for Rondo about midway through the season and the trade could not have gone worse for the team. Rondo did improve the team’s defense and rebounding, but Dallas had to give up Jae Crowder and Brandan Wright, two key bench players to get him. The lack of backup frontcourt players hurt the Mavs and the team could barely play .500 ball in the west. Of course Rondo’s shooting didn’t help the team (35% from three on 1 attempt a game) nor did his attitude. There were a few occasions during the season, and even the playoffs, in which coach Rick Carlisle clashed with his temperamental point guard. It’s not clear what team is going to take on Rondo after his time in Dallas, but it is clear that there’s no way he’s going back to Big D. Which leaves the Dallas Mavericks once more searching for a point guard. Of course who the Mavericks want to bring in at point guard depends on whether or not Monta Ellis is going to be re-signed by Dallas. The 29 year old shooting guard has averaged 19 points, 3 rebounds, and nearly 5 assists while he has been in Dallas. His speed with the ball works well with Dirk’s shooting ability to form a deadly pick and pop duo. But Monta might not be a lock to re-sign with the Mavs and quite frankly the team might look to move on from that relationship. If Dallas chooses to re-sign Ellis they may want to look into pairing him up with a bigger shooting guard in the backcourt and slotting Ellis in as the point guard. At 6-3 Ellis is a little small to be playing the shooting guard, making it tough defensively for the Mavs. Re-signing Tyson Chandler can help the defensively challenged Mavericks, but he’s 32 and while he played well last season, there’s no knowing how much longer he can keep his play up. Asking Chandler to cover for Dirk, Parsons, and Ellis is a tall order for any defensive anchor, let alone one that’s on the wrong side of 30. The Mavs also need to spend this offseason replenishing their bench. The departures of Jae Crowder and Brandan Wright left Dallas using a washed up Charlie Villanueva and Amare Stoudemire as backups for Dirk and Chandler. If the Mavs want to give Dirk his second title before he retires, the Mavs must make some serious moves.
Lamarcus Aldridge is said to be high on the Dallas Mavericks’ wish list this offseason. The forward would give Dallas a successor for Dirk and could even bring Dirk off the bench in an effort to save his legs. Aldridge is a pick and pop like Dirk, so he could be paired up with Ellis. However Aldridge isn’t able to pop out to three the way Dirk is able to, giving the other Dallas perimeter players less room to drive. But Aldridge is younger than Dirk and has played a similar role to Dirk in Portland’s offense, making integration a little easier. Deandre Jordan could also be a good fit for the team if Tyson Chandler chooses to move elsewhere. Jordan can come into Dallas to be their rim protector and an athletic roll man in the pick and roll. However Jordan is going to come at a heavier price than Chandler. Jordan is looking to grab a max contract and while Dallas may have that cap space to throw around, they also need to save space for other role players. Chandler also sounds like he wants to re-sign with the Mavs and enjoys playing with Dirk. The Mavs can also grab Chandler for less than the max, giving them space to sign him and other players. Role players that could interest the Mavs include, Danny Green, Gerald Green, Jared Dudley, Mike Dunleavy, and Marco Belinelli. Essentially look for the Mavs to go after mid tier wings who can defend and shoot threes. The Mavs don’t have great three point shooting right now and there are a lot of players on the market this season that can shoot. In the draft RJ Hunter, Delon Wright, Jerian Grant, and Rashad Vaughn may all fall to the Mavs at 21. Wright and Grant are both point guards who could give Dallas another pick and roll player. Hunter and and Vaughn could give the Mavericks another shooter on the wing.
2014-2015 Record: 56-26, 2nd in the Western Conference.
Free Agents: Patrick Beverley (RFA), Corey Brewer (UFA), K.J Mcdaniels (RFA), Kostas Papanikolaou (RFA), Josh Smith (UFA), Jason Terry (UFA).
The Houston Rockets enjoyed a relatively successful season in spite of Dwight Howard missing a majority of the season due to injury. James Harden enjoyed the best season of his young career (averaged 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists) and finished the season as the runner up for MVP. The emergence of Donatas Motiejunas was also a pleasant surprise for Daryl Morey and Kevin Mchale. Moving forward a core of Harden, Howard, and Motiejunas is a nice core for the Rockets to surround with role players. Of course now the trick is finding these role players. Houston has only one playmaker right now in James Harden and it showed in the playoffs. With no one else to create shots Houston’s offense sputtered at times and the Rockets were eliminated by the Warriors 4-1 in the Western Conference finals. The Rockets need to find a secondary playmaker to help out Harden. The team doesn’t necessarily need another perimeter player that can score, Howard and Motiejunas are both capable of doing that. What the Rockets need is a second perimeter player that can bring the ball up the floor and facilitate with or without Harden on the floor. Ironically a player that could help them is Jeremy Lin, whom they traded to LA in a cap clearing move. A secondary ball handler could help to boost the team’s offense which would launch Houston to the next level. The team had a top ten defense this season, but their offense was only ranked 12th (offensive rating of 107). The addition of more shooting to the roster could also help to boost the Rockets’ offense. Although the Houston offense is based around getting open threes and layups, the team doesn’t employ many shooters. Only five players on the roster shot better than 35% (Harden, Ariza, Motiejunas, Beverley, and Terry). Both Terry and Beverley are free agents this offseason. Beverley is likely to come back since he is only a restricted free agent and a solid defender at the point guard position. Terry on the other hand is 37 years old and may be headed for retirement. The Rockets started him against Golden State. If Houston wants to take their game to the next level they need to bolster their bench.
Aaron Brooks may be a free agent Houston could look into. Brooks had a solid season for Chicago and could be Houston's secondary playmaker and an instant offense guy off the bench. He doesn’t offer much in terms of defense, but Houston could really benefit from having his offensive talent. Rodney Stuckey, Mo Williams, and Lou Williams are other options the Rockets could consider. Lou Williams could be out of Houston's price range, is coming off of winning the sixth man of the year award and looks to command a larger contract this offseason but Stuckey and Mo might be tempted with a lower offer. He had a solid season, but isn’t as good of a facilitator as Mo or Lou Williams. Mo Williams will go with the highest bidder, but given that he had a down year he may be had on the cheap. Any of those three guards could help out Houston offensively. Of course the team also has to maintain their wing depth. Corey Brewer is a free agent this offseason and KJ Mcdaniels is a restricted free agent. Both should be retained by Houston for the purposes of defense and transition points. The Rockets are going to have to use free agency to fill their needs since the team has no pick in this draft. Unfortunately after Houston retains their own players they may not have enough space to go after some of the other shooters on the market. Mike Dunleavy may be signed for a team friendly contract, but others may be outside of their price range.
2014-2015 Record: 55-27, 5th in the Western Conference.
Free Agents: Nick Calathes (RFA), Marc Gasol (UFA), Jeff Green (UFA), Kosta Koufos (UFA).
The Grizzlies were able to advance to the Western Conference finals two years ago but have stalled since then. This year they made it to the second round, but were eliminated by the eventual champs in six games. Part of the reason for the team hitting a rock can be traced to their lack of perimeter shooting. Of the players on the Memphis roster only Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, and Mike Conley shot above 35% from three. Since the team managed to make the Western Conference finals it has been painfully obvious the team required more three point shooters on the wing to give Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph space. The trade for Jeff Green was supposed to give them shooting and athleticism on the wing (Tayshaun Prince wasn’t cutting it), but Green struggled and was a non factor in the playoffs. In other words the Grizzlies, still don’t have the perimeter shooting they need to make their offense work. This team is actually still close to contending as long as Gasol and Randolph can maintain a high level of play. Conley is an all star level point guard that can make plays for his teammates and run the offense. The Grizzlies are a few role players away from potentially making a finals run. The core of Gasol, Randolph, and Conley can still make a deep run in the playoffs, they just need the right amount of help to make it happen. The front office don’t necessarily need to chase after free agents. Jarnell Stokes and Jordan Adams are young wing players that may develop into athletic wings for the Grizzlies.
That being said there are some free agents that the Grizzlies may be interested in. The usual suspects, Jared Dudley, Marco Belinelli, Mike Dunleavy, and Gerald Green would all be decent fits for Memphis. All would be able to fill the shooting void that has been hindering the Memphis offense for the past few years. There are a few other options for the Grizz but whether or not the team chases after them will depend on their financial situation. Marc Gasol is a free agent this summer and will command near max money for his talents. He is a great defensive anchor as well as a solid low post scorer. To top it all off Gasol is one of the best big man passers in the game. The size of Gasol’s contract will determine how much cap space the team will have to go after other free agents. The team will also have to consider whether or not they want to bring back Kosta Koufos. He is one of the better backup centers in the league and is a good piece for the Grizz. Memphis should try to retain him as their other options are less appetizing. Of course instead of going after free agents the team could just hope that Stokes and Adams can be ready to contribute next season. However that is a lot to ask a third year and second year player to be ready to contribute regularly to a team. Memphis also has the option of looking at the draft and hoping their pick can contribute. Right now the team is drafting at 25 and could be taking Justin Anderson. Anderson could give them a defender and shooter on the perimeter. RJ Hunter or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could also fall to the Grizzlies and give them other options on the perimeter.
New Orleans Pelicans
2014-2015 Record: 45-37 8th in the Western Conference.
Free Agents: Alexis Ajinca (UFA), Omer Asik (UFA), Luke Babbitt (UFA), Norris Cole (RFA), Dante Cunningham (UFA), Jimmer Fredette (UFA), Jeff Withey (RFA).
The New Orleans Pelicans should be proud of themselves this season for making the playoffs. The west is brutal and just making the playoffs in this conference is a major accomplishment. Now if they want to return to the playoffs, the team needs to be a lot better. Anthony Davis had an MVP caliber season putting up 24 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and 2 blocks per game. These are incredible numbers, solidifying Davis’ status as New Orleans franchise player. This offseason the Pelicans should be focused on getting players that can help Davis. The front office also needs to hope that Jrue Holiday can stay healthy. He and Davis make a dangerous pick and roll duo and if they can be surrounded by shooters New Orleans can become a dangerous offensive team. New head coach Alvin Gentry should help with creating an offensive system that will enable Davis to thrive. Gentry has experience with coaching a similar player in Amare Stoudemire. Both are athletic forwards who can play some center. Gentry will help to boost the offense, but the defense is a question mark. However he has spent a year with Golden State, last year’s best defense, so it will be interesting to see what the Pelicans defense will look like next year. This team has a lot of potential, but the west is tough, and even if Gentry improves the team from a coaching standpoint the Pels still may not make the playoffs. The team is also in flux in terms of their wing rotation. Tyreke Evans can play both guard spots and small forward, but it would be nice if the team could have a couple of other players to play alongside him. The problem with Tyreke however is his lack of a three point shot. For his career he has only shot 27%, but he upped it to 30% this season, limiting his ability to play off the ball. Eric Gordon has been okay as the starting shooting guard, but he’s not worth his max contract. He is going to be an expiring contract, making him an intriguing trade asset. Gordon can still space the floor (shot 40% from 3 last season) and could be a valuable piece in Gentry’s offense. However the wing duo of Evans and Gordon leaks points defensively and there’s only so much Davis can do to cover for them. They may want to pick up a 3 and D wing in order to shore up their perimeter defense.
Fortunately for the Pelicans this free agent class is full of wings that specialize in shooting and defense. This could absolutely be a great place for Jared Dudley to land. He’s familiar with the coach, capable of playing three different positions, and a great 3 and D wing. Gentry might be able to coax Dudley into signing with New Orleans. Other players they may want to look at Wayne Ellington and Wesley Johnson. They can’t shoot or defend as well as Dudley nor are they capable of playing as many positions as Dudley. But Ellington and Johnson can defend fairly well and bring size to the wing, something New Orleans doesn’t really have. New Orleans also has to decide whether or not they are going to bring back Omer Asik. He could serve as a backup center but, I think he may want to start for a team. Also I don’t think that he fits very well in Gentry’s offense. He’s not very quick in the pick and roll and has pretty bad hands. I would expect New Orleans to pass on Asik and go for someone like Brandan Wright. He’s quicker, a better finisher at the rim, and good enough on defense that he won’t hurt you. New Orleans has no 1st round pick in this year’s draft so they are probably going to look to mainly free agency to fix their holes.
San Antonio Spurs
2014-2015 Record: 55-27, 6th in the Western Conference.
Free Agents: Jeff Ayres (UFA), Aron Baynes (RFA), Marco Belinelli (UFA), Matt Bonner (UFA), Tim Duncan (UFA), Manu Ginobili (UFA), Danny Green (UFA), Cory Joseph (RFA), Kawhi Leonard (RFA).
It sounds like the Spurs are bringing the gang back for one last stand. There has been some noise that Tim Duncan is going to come back next season. If this holds to be true the front office has to go all in on the next two years. This includes bringing back Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Marco Belinelli. If Duncan does come back he is probably going to be on a team friendly contract to enable the Spurs to bring back Kawhi on a max deal and other role players. The team is also allegedly rumored to be in the running to land either Marc Gasol or Lamarcus Aldridge. If the San Antonio can pull that off then there is no reason, barring a catastrophic injury, the Spurs won’t be able to win the title next year. Kawhi is one of the best young wing players in the league and if he can stay healthy next year, watch out. He has pushed his averages this year to 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals per game. He took home the defensive player of the year award and is an amazing two way player. San Antonio needs to be sure to sign him to an extension this season and prevent him from leaving. He is absolutely the key to San Antonio’s title contention next year. That being said, the team could use more scoring. Its a lot to ask 38 year old Tim Duncan to do more than he’s already doing (13 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists per game) and Tony Parker has lost a step, and by that I mean he’s fallen off a cliff (14 points 4 assists per game). Danny Green is primarily catch and shoot player and can’t do a ton off the dribble. Which means San Antonio is going to have to find some help on offense.
Of course if the Spurs could land Lamarcus Aldridge or Marc Gasol, then that would go a long way to helping solve that problem. Both are capable scorers and would be great in Greg Poppovich’s motion offense. However it’s not clear if they want to sign with San Antonio. RC Buford and Pop have built a winning culture and team in San Antonio, but so has Portland and Memphis. Both Aldridge and Gasol could get more money from their incumbent teams and they have to know that if they don’t take their talents to San Antonio, the Spurs are going to be weakened next year. Even if the Spurs bring back Kawhi that team might not have enough talent to get through the west next year without Aldridge or Gasol. Which means if Aldridge and Gasol stay with their respective teams, they might be able to beat the Spurs. But Aldridge and Gasol also have to consider that if they join the Spurs current roster, they might be the missing piece to another San Antonio title. Its a complicated decision with league wide ramifications. Outside of those two San Antonio is probably going to give other role players (Dudley, Green, Dunleavy) a look to see who they like. I mean they’ve been doing this for a decade now you know the drill. At 28 in the draft there are a couple of talented players that could fall to them. Montrezl Harrell is a solid power forward who could help them with front court depth and rebounding. Chris McCullough is going to miss next season, but could be a decent NBA player some day and whoever San Antonio drafts isn’t playing much next year anyway so he could get a look. Overall just look for San Antonio to load up for another title run. They’re San Antonio, this is what they do every fricking offseason.