We will start doing NBA divisional reviews today and start it out in the West.
5. Memphis Grizzlies – Clearly a team going absolutely nowhere this season and is simply cutting salary in an attempt to be sold by Michael Heisley. In other words, their 2008 basketball venture will not be a magic kingdom of fun like his Disney business was. Before we completely write them off though, let’s take a closer look at the roster, as they do have some talented young players.
The young core to build around is currently composed of: Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, Mike Conley, Darrell Arthur and the “other” Gasol guy. There are also some fairly solid pieces surrounding them including Hakim Warrick, Kyle Lowery and Javaris Crittenton.
The dead weight on the roster comes in the form of their three highest paid players, those respectively being Marko Jaric at 6million, Darko Milicic at 6.5million and Antoine Walker at 8.3million. What a horrible group of vets to mentor the youth movement! Clearly, the quicker they can dump any of those three the better.
Ultimately the core has an impressive level of talent and could be a competitor in 2 years with the right moves. They will be a fun team to watch this year and I think it is reasonable to assume they will win about 28 games.
4. Houston Rockets – The next four teams could all quite conceivably win the division and it’s fairly certain that all four will be playoff teams again this year. Houston is my pick to finish fourth in the division for the same old reasons. Those being:
A) Yao Ming will get hurt and miss 20 games.
B) Tracy McGrady will get hurt and miss 25 games.
C) Ron Artest, Steve Francis and Rafer Alston are nuts. At least one of them will have a nuclear meltdown during the year, with the overwhelming favorite being Artest.
In spite of these problems, they will show resilience thanks to the steadying influences of unspectacular role players like Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Brent Barry and Carl Landry. They have a lot of talent and depth but they really seem stuck in a rut. They are not good enough to be in the Western elite and will be treading water until they ultimately make the tough choice to get rid of McGrady next season. I'm going to pencil in a disapointing 47 wins.
3. Dallas Mavericks – Speaking of teams in a rut, here come the 2008/9 Mavs. It is obvious that Nowitzki probably missed his only real shot when they choked against the Heat in the Finals a few years ago. It is also obvious that re-acquiring Jason Kidd from the Nets is not a move that will put them over the top, although a couple of years ago it may have. I wonder how Toni Braxton’s conscience is feeling after she singlehandedly broke up Dallas’ “Three J’s” in the early 90s. Does she feel as uncomfortable as I do watching the current incarnation of Kidd in the twilight of his career struggling to try to regain his former skills in the same uniform he never really should have stopped wearing more than a decade ago? I doubt it. She’s probably too busy hanging out with Whitney Houston and wondering where it all went wrong.
The issues surrounding Josh Howard vis-à-vis his lack of patriotism and smoking habits are overblown in my mind. He will likely be fine as long as he simply learns to keep his mouth shut.
The problems with Dallas continue with the rest of their role players though. Do the names Erik Dampier, Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse or DeSagana Diop provide the Mavs “big three” with the depth or talent necessary to compete in the playoffs? I think not. This team will need to be blown up sooner rather than later, but I still think they can grab about 50 wins though during the year.
2. San Antonio Spurs – They are old. Like really, really old. How evident will the rust become on Duncan Finley, Bowen, etc? How much will Ginobli’s prolonged absence hurt their team? How much will they coast through the regular season, knowing how unimportant the records are once the playoffs start?
Let’s just say that Tim Duncan’s sheer willpower alone will be enough to get them a decent seeding. The Spurs know what they are doing and will try to execute that plan starting in April. In the meantime, at least they have the Red Rocket to keep the regular season amusing. Am I living in the past to think they will be able to grind out 52 wins?
1.New Orleans Hornets – Make no mistake, these are not the same old Hornets, the underachieving legacy of Grandma-ma is over. This was a team just beginning to hit its stride last year. With Chris Paul and David West elevating their games to new levels, the Hornets were a revelation in the Western Conference where they proved they could go toe-to-toe with the big dogs.
They certainly also have a deep pool of talent with the rest of the starting unit including rebounding machine Tyson Chandler, Mr Clutch James Posey and the sharpshooting David Schwimmer. The bench has some solid characters with MoPete, Hilton Armstrong and Julian Wright who can provide solid minutes. It is a young and hungry team that looks to have the pieces in place to finish above the three tough teams from Texas that they are stuck in a division with. Expect a win total in the range of 55.