Team Needs: Southwest Division

Mon, 06/23/2008 - 8:27pm

Memphis Grizzlies
2007-08 Record 22-60
Head Coach: Marc Iavaroni

The lowlight of the Grizzlies past season was the unexpected swift trade of the franchise's best player, Pau Gasol. The deal was necessary, but the haste with which the franchise decided to cut costs and deal their centerpiece, they did not allow themselves to come close to yielding the returns they should have. The deal was consummated weeks before the trade deadline with numerous groans from other teams, specicially San Antonio about the lack of balance and Memphis allegedly not giving every team an equal shot.

As for the roster as it stands right now, the only guaranteed starters you have going into next season are Rudy Gay and Mike Conley. Gay cranked it up a notch in his second year, doubling his scoring average to 20 ppg on 46 percent shooting, pulling down 6 rpg, while also coming away with 1 block and 1.5 steals a game. He also started every game last season, averaging 37 minutes a contest. Gay is without a doubt the cornerstone of this franchise now that Gasol is gone. If he can make another leap like he did last year, he will push himself into an all star spot and also enter the discussion of best small forwards in the game.

Conley becomes next year's starter by default. His numbers were ok -- granted that point guard is the most difficult position to walk into for a rookie. But being the fourth overall pick automatically pushes him into the spotlight. What will be interesting to see is who emerges as the backup point guard between Kyle Lowry and Javaris Crittenton and who, presumably, gets shipped out.

Lowry was given more minutes last year, but his numbers didn't really increase. His value leans more towards the defensive side of the ball where he has gained a reputation as a lockdown defender.

Crittenton's value, on the other hand, is based almost solely off of intrigue and potential. At 6'5", Crittenton brings unique size to the point guard position. He had a so-so freshman year running the point at Georgia Tech and played adequately his rookie year, but many believe he may be better suited to play shooting guard, a position where his size plays less of a factor. If I were Chris Wallace, Grizzlies GM, I would check the market for both but look to move Lowry and make Crittenton a backup guard able to play both positions.

Speaking of trades, Mike Miller figures to be another hot name on the trade market for the second year in a row. While playing shooting guard primarily for the Grizzlies, he has inadequate quickness for the position and is naturally a small forward. He brings good size to the position and one of the game's best jump shots. Expect to hear his name coupled with Lowry or Critterton for teams looking to solidify their roster for playoff runs.

Starting at the 4 spot is Hakim Warrick, the athletically inclined forward out of Syracuse. What Warrick lacks in size and strength he makes up for with quickness and leaping ability, but even that is still not enough to qualify him as a starter in my mind. He puts up decent numbers, but nothing eye popping. There has been a lot of talk of the Grizzlies moving up in the draft to take Michael Beasley. A combination of Beasley and Warrick at power forward would be a nice tandem to throw at teams night in and night out, but at what price remains to be seen.

Wrapping up the key players on the Grizzlies roster are center Darko Milicic and reserve shooting guard Juan Carlos Navarro. In a draft class so flush with talent, to come away with an underachieving big who never continued to develop puts a small damper on GM Joe Dumars impressive resume. The only part of Darko's game that is even slightly impressive is his blocking, where he comes in at about 1.5 a game. But he shoots a low percentage, doesn't rebound particularly well, he doesn't really do much of anything. For a player who was touted as being an offensive revelation coming out of Europe, the term bust just doesn't seem to emphasize how disappointing he has been.

Navarro came over last season from Spain to play with fellow Spaniard Pau Gasol. Navarro only signed a one year deal last year, so with Gasol out of the picture, look for Navarro to bolt as well. Navarro is an undersized shooting guard, but has a good shot to go with his gunslinger mentality. He should have value on the open market, so look for him to play someone with a larger Spanish population or at least another Spanish player.

The Grizzlies should have plenty of cap room to play with in the upcoming season, especially once Brown's contract is officially off the books. Should any young, up-and-comers hit the market expect the Memphis to throw a truck full of money at them. As far as the draft this year goes Memphis has two first round picks, number five and twenty-eight. Expect the Grizzlies to make a push for the second pick to acquire Beasley. If that doesn't follow through though, the Grizzlies should opt for Brook Lopez over Kevin Love. With their later pick, players of interest should include Serge Ibaka, Nathan Jawai and Omer Asik.

Dallas Mavericks
2007-08 Record : 51-31
Head Coach: Rick Carlisle

The big news in Dallas during the 2007-08 season was the trade for Jason Kidd, a move that owner Mark Cuban hoped would push his team over the top in terms of talent. Instead it merely increased his payroll while depleting his bench and making his team older, a flaw mercilessly pointed out by Chris Paul's Hornets.

So out with Avery Johnson, a defensive-minded coach not known for his offensive wizardry, and in with Rick Carlisle, a defensive coach not known for his offensive wizardry. Did I doze off at some point and miss the lecture on hiring a new coach who is philosophically identical to the coach you just fired? Carlisle was well aware of the criticism and apprehension at his press conference as he addressed the issue with promises of freer offensive sets and a sort of giddiness to show the league what is up his playmaking sleeves.

I think Carlisle is a good coach, but I lump him in with the same crowd as Scott Skiles, Jeff Van Gundy, Jim O'Brien and Doug Collins, that being coaches who are great at improving terrible teams but terrible at pushing those teams over the hump. For a team like the Mavericks with title aspirations, the Carlisle hiring makes little sense to me, but I'm willing to give him a chance to show he knows what to do with a talented team.

So the most glaring weakness Carlisle has to face next season is the glaring lack of depth on his team. With a team this old, this is an issue that won't just go away. As it stands right now, pint sized Juan Jose Barea is the backup point guard, Jerry Stackhouse will back up the two and three spot with a sprinkling of Eddie Jones here and there, undersized power forward Brandon Bass is behind Dirk Nowitzki and the choices behind Erick Dampier are Juwan Howard and Jamaal Magliore. The only two players listed there that I would trust for extended stretches of games Stackhouse and Bass.

Depth is going to be a real concern for this team as the season grinds on, and lets not even get into potential injury scenarios. There has actually been talk about moving Josh Howard for several talented players -- a move that would severely cripple the starting lineup. I say Cuban gives the team a month or two to prove themselves and if things don't pan out then expect Howard to be gone for even more veterans.

The starting five is about as good as it gets as they are able to defend and score points. Nowitzki is in his prime and is still one of the leagues best players. Given his size and skill set his prime should be for a little bit longer than, say, a player who relies on their athleticism primarily. Shooting really isn't a skill that deteriorates with age so expect his scoring numbers to stay fairly consistent.

Jason Kidd can also still play and is at his best creating for others, using his abnormal size, strength, speed and vision to make those around him better. He can also hound opposing point guards defensively, generating steals that lead to fast breaks, where he excels. While Kidd has aged nicely, his age was exposed by point guard extraordinaire Chris Paul, a wearisome sign given Dallas and New Orleans play in the same division.

Dampier is a capable starting center, but he is not a $10 million center by any stretch of the imagination. He provides size and defense, the occasional bucket and some boards but Cuban was apparently size hungry, willing to pay anything for a big body to play against San Antonio. Dampier has four years left, meaning its going to get worse before it gets better.

Jason Terry is a skilled, under-sized shooting guard who knows how to score from anywhere on the floor, against any defender. He has added value since he can also handle the ball and has previous point guard experience. His jumper is good and keeps the floor spread out for the other Mavericks players.

Howard is a heady player with long arms who can hit jumpers and play defense. He has improved every year in the league and played himself into a nice, fat contract. But as the team stands now he is the only player on the roster with any sort of trade value. Pair that with his controversial, and unpopular, admission to smoking marijuana during the offseason and it seems as though Howard would be a prime trade candidate. With a market value that could fetch several bona fide players/picks, don't be surprised to see Howard playing somewhere besides Dallas next season.

Being millions over the cap and not having a first round pick truly limits the Mavericks options in regards to upgrading the team. With the No. 51 pick, the Mavs would be lucky to find someone who could come in and contribute right away, so more than likely they will go international and leave a player away overseas, keeping them off the already inflated payroll. Look for the Mavericks to be busy leading up to the draft trying to acquire extra picks and younger players.

Houston Rockets
2007-08 Record: 55-27
Head Coach: Rick Adelman

The biggest problem keeping this team from moving forward is keeping stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady healthy at the same time. There are few two-man combinations that can hang with Yao and McGrady, but each player is seemingly always battling injuries -- either foot injuries for Ming or back problems for McGrady, limiting the time they play together. Yao's game is predicated on skill and his size (certainly not his athleticism) so he will more than likely age nicely and have a long career hitting mid-range jumpers and hovering around 10 boards a game, i.e. a Zydrunas Ilgauskus/Rik Smits type.

McGrady, while also quite tall and long for his position and supremely skilled, relies on his athleticism (or the threat of his athleticism) to keep defenders honest and give him space for his jumper, putting a shorter window on his prime years. If the Houston front office could somehow bring in some sort of space-aged medical staff, maybe the same staff that keeps George Hamilton's skin from charring or Joan River's face from splitting in half (now those are bona fide miracle workers ladies and gentlemen), then maybe they could hope for an entire season. Hell, how about 70 games together and ride the duo into the playoffs.

Outside of the two superstars the rest of the lineup is somewhat strange. Rafer "Skip to my Lou" Alston is the primary ball handler and is consistently good for about 13 ppg and 5 apg and one steal. While he is a decent three-point shooter, his overall field goal percentage leaves something to be desired. One would like to see more assists out of Alston, but as was the case last season the Rockets needed a secondary scorer once Yao went down for good and Alston was called upon to fill that role. He's a better backup than starter, but is as good as Houston has on the squad for right now.

Behind Alston is Bobby Jackson and Aaron Brooks. This is where the personal confusion begins as both of these players are shoot-first point guards. Jackson is a nice offensive spark plug off the bench but is frequently injured while Brooks is a Earl Boykins-type player with maybe slightly less speed and less strength. These two seemingly fill the same role, so why did Houston draft Brooks in the first round last year? A curious move to say the least. While I'm sure Brooks will fill a need farther down the road as an offensive bench dynamo, for a team looking to win now I just don't see the logic.

McGrady is the starting two guard followed up by Luther Head and Steve Francis. Head, like Brooks, was another reach by the Houston front office, an undersized two guard who played well enough to make the leap into the first round. His first two seasons in the league he put up modest numbers, but this past season saw Head regress completely, posting the worst numbers of his young career. The icing on the "Luther Head Cake of Shame" was his complete disappearance in the playoffs, where he was simply abused by the Utah Jazz, a troubling sign to say the least.

Francis is simply not the same player that he was five years ago, exemplified by the number of teams he has played for the past three season. Best-case scenario is that one of these four backup guards steps up next season and takes the reins as a primary backup guard, able to play both spots. Jackson is capable when healthy, and Head and Brooks are young enough to grow into the role. Francis has an opportunity next season, albeit slim. The position is definitely up for grabs.

Shane Battier is the starter at small forward and is an excellent fit on this team. He provides the perimeter defensive toughness that so many of his teammates lack. He hits open shots, can defend multiple positions at a high level and is a positive influence in the locker room. But...would this team have been better suited keeping its 2006 draft pick Rudy Gay? The team was looking for more defensive minded players to give then new coach Jeff Van Gundy, but with Gay's recent emergence one has to wonder "what if...".

Steve Novak is the backup small forward and is really only good for stretching the defense. He is a marksman from outside and the team's best three point shooter. His ability to receive kick outs from McGrady and Ming makes him valuable so look for Novak to see more situational floor time next season.

Power forward is an interesting position for Houston as they have three players who can contribute. Luis Scola is the starter, followed by Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry. Scola played well in his first season in the NBA, posting 10 ppg and 6 rpg. All three players are undersized, hustle-type forwards, but Yao's size allows Houston to play somewhat small at the four. Scola is the most skilled offensively, armed with a high basketball IQ and adept at hitting jump shots and passing. Hayes and Landry seem to be the exact same player. Both are small, but incredibly tough power forwards who rebound extremely well for their lack of size. Neither is an offensive force, but they know their role on the floor and play excellent defense while allowing the offensive players to do their job. The power forward position is an area of strength for the Rockets, especially given the bargain contracts that all three players are playing under right now.

Behind Yao we have the ageless wonder, Dikembe Mutombo. While it is slightly frightening to have a 40 year old defensive minded center backing up an injury prone offensive minded center, Mutombo is still a force defensively and is a great value. Ideally though Mutombo is a third option, a situational center whose defensive expertise is best served off the bench for 15-20 minutes a game. A more balanced backup to Yao is priority number one for Houston.

With the No. 25 pick, the Houston Rockets should look to shore up their center position with some youth and balance. If Roy Hibbert is available then he would make sense, but Hibbert figures to go off the board. Other players who figure to be in play at 25 include Jason Thompson, Nikola Pekovic and DJ White.

San Antonio Spurs
2007-08 Record: 56-26
Head Coach: Greg Poppovich

After the San Antonio-New Orleans series in the playoffs, many began to predict the downfall of the mighty Spur's dynasty. Chris Paul and his talented Hornets exposed the Spurs as slow and old, two ailments that don't figure to simply go away. While there may be a changing of the guard in the West, with the Lakers and Hornets leading the charge, the Spurs still won 56 games this past season, made the Conference Finals yet again and still retain the core of their team. As long as the big three of Parker, Ginobili and Duncan are together, this will be a dangerous team come playoff time.

As it stands right now, the Spurs are a little over $11 million over the salary cap, but with the contracts of Brent Barry, Michael Finley, Robery Horry and Kurt Thomas (a combined total of roughly $20 million dollars) coming off the books, the Spurs have some flexibility to maneuver in the free agent market.

This roster begins and ends with Tim Duncan, who continues to play at the highest level. Manu Ginobili upped his level of play this past season, even entering MVP conversations early in the season. An area of concern though for San Antonio has to be the sustained health of Ginobili, whose reckless, driving style of play often wears him down by season's end. With the age and expiring contracts of reserve shooting guards Michael Finley and Brent Barry, some fresh legs at shooting guard must be placed near the top of the offseason priority list.

Tony Parker rounds out the "Big 3" for San Antonio. These three players roles for the next few years is cemented in the Spurs game plan. It's the players beyond the "Big 3" that will decide if San Antonio adds another title to its already impressive collection.

Starting at the top, backup point guards Jacque Vaughn and Damon Stoudamire offer opposing styles of play. Vaughn is the more offensively challenged of the two, but is a stabilizing point guard and plays better defense. Stoudamire on the other hand is more of a hired gun, capable of getting hot from outside and racking up point at a tremendous pace. Stoudamire was brought in last season to give the San Antonio offense a little more zing, per se, but he was used sparingly. Perhaps another season becoming familiar with the Spurs game plan will net Stoudamire more minutes next season. Both are free agents, but expect both to be brought back with inexpensive contracts.

Behind Ginobili we have the aforementioned Finley and Barry. If this were five years ago, this may be as good as you could possibly ask for as far as shooting guard depth. But its not and both players are getting a little old in the tooth. Finley is still a capable player and should be asked to come back at an affordable price. The same goes for Barry, although he is more of a situational player, able to come in and spot up for threes and handle the ball a little bit. While are crafty, seasoned veterans, but you can't ignore their age and declining production. Getting younger at the two spot is a major priority for the Spurs.

At three we have defensive stalwarts Bruce Bowen and Ime Udoka. Age is becoming a factor for Bowen as well, which resulted in the signing of Udoka last season who has an identical game to Bowens: stifling defense, spot up for threes from the corners and little else. Udoka is slightly younger, but not by much and is merely a minor fix at three. Additional youth at three would be nice to acquire.

Duncan mans the four spot with reserves Matt Bonner and Robert Horry in reserve. Duncan needs no explanation, so lets move right on to Bonner and Horry. Bonner doesn't receive much playing time unless someone goes down with an injury, but he is a more than capable player, providing a sweet shooting stroke and the occasional board. He provides good value with his outside shooting and big body. Horry is a playoff specialist, playing sparingly during the regular season to turn it on and deliver daggers during May and June. But this year Horry just couldn't turn it on like he used to, shooting only 22 percent from behind the arc for the playoffs, posting a miserable overall field goal percentage of 19 percent. Horry might have one more season in him, but his usefulness is effectively used up and its time for San Antonio to restock the power forward cabinet.

The Spurs actually have the rights to two young power forwards, Frenchman Ian Mahinmi and Brazilian Tiago Splitter. Mahinmi was called to San Antonio last season, but rarely saw action. While physically gifted, he is still years away from impacting the Spurs roster. Splitter was supposed to be able to come over and help right away, which would have been a godsend for this aging roster. But since Splitter was a first round pick and must therefore take a rookie-scale contract, his Spanish team Tau Cermanica simply offered him more money and he signed a new two year deal to stay in Spain, thwarting the Spurs plan of letting Splitter season an additional season before bringing him over to America.

At five is Argentinean Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas. Oberto is a nice hustling compliment to Duncan. Oberto knows how to play and knows his role on the talented Spurs roster. Thomas provides great post defense and can hit a mid-range jumper, and after this season his contract should come back to reality. Expect San Antonio to retain Thomas for a much more reasonable price.

With the 26th overall pick, the Spurs are likely to target a NBA ready shooter like Ryan Anderson , or Kansas combo guard Mario Chalmers, should he slip to them.

New Orleans Hornets
2007-08 Record: 56-26
Head Coach: Byron Scott

New Orleans was a cute story throughout the season, a team that seemed to emerge out of nowhere to try to get a whiff of Western Conference glory. Doubters continually waited for this team to fold under the immense pressure of this year's playoff race. But they stayed atop the Southwest Conference 'til the end. Then the playoffs began and the Hornets started to make true believers out of former critics. Chris Paul absolutely obliterated the Dallas Mavericks' future Hall-of-Fame point guard Jason Kidd. The the Hornets pushed the defending champion, and playoff masters, San Antonio Spurs to within an inch of their playoff lives. The Hornets are for real, and with their young nucleus of players they figure to be in the West for the foreseeable future.

The team goes as Paul goes. This guy is unbelievable. A six-foot point guard without a great three-point shot who just does as he pleases on the court. He scores, he shoots a high percentage from the floor, he's among the league leaders in assists and steals, he even chips in a respectable four boards a game. And he's only 23. With this guy at the point there is no reason to believe that the Hornets will fall from the ranks of the Western elite next season.

Opposite Paul in the backcourt is Morris Peterson, a three point specialist at this point in his career, shooting 39 percent from three this past season. Unfortunately, he's not particularly good at any other aspect of the game. The reserve guards are Jannero Pargo and Mike James. Pargo saw a drop in his numbers last season, proving last season's uptick in production was an anomaly. His numbers this season are much more reflective of the player he really is. As a bench guy, he's not the worst.

Mike James is also a point guard, but as much of a shoot first point guard as has ever played the game, garnering him minutes at shooting guard. Once he was acquired he saw his minutes cut in half, drastically effecting his numbers. expect to see more James next season as he becomes more familiar with the organization.

There are several players on the roster who can fill in at multiple positions, Mo Pete being one at the 2/3. Bonzi Wells, acquired in a trade last season with Hosuton, can also play the 2/3. Wells has carved a niche in the league as being a wide-bodied guard who can punish opposing guards on the blocks. He is also one of the best rebounding guards in the league. He was brought over from Houston to help with a playoff push, but another season of playing with CP3 should get Wells into the swing of things more.

Another young, multi-positioned player that figures to play a big role in New Orleans is SF/PF Julian Wright. He lacks the jump shot to play three full time and the size to play the four full time, but he is athletic enough to play both depending on the matchups he's facing. He is a excellent ball handler and passer for his size, adding another wrinkle to his game. Defensively he is long and quick enough to guard everywhere from twos to fours. He struggled early in the season to find time, but improved throughout the season, earning Scott's trust. Look for Wright to play a larger role in New Orleans next season.

As great as Paul was last season, its hard to ignore this front court and what they contribute. David West continued his ascent through the ranks of power forwards, earning his first All-Star appearance this past season. West is small for a starting power forward, but is quick, skilled and knows how to play the game. He is an absolute assassin with his 15-foot jumper.

The Hornets can afford to play a little small at four with the presence of 7'2" Tyson Chandler at center. The acquisition of Chandler from the Bulls a couple years ago is looking like a brilliant move, merely giving up P.J. Brown and J.R. Smith in the deal (the Bulls, on the other hand, have to be kicking themselves for giving up a big, young, athletic, defensively inclined center for an old, undersized one). Chandler has turned into a monster on the boards, pulling down 11.7 rpg -- good for fourth in the league. He was also good for 11 ppg this past season, a bonus considering his lack of offensive prowess.

Rounding out the rest of the lineup, starting small forward Peja Stojakovic finally stayed healthy this season and was the benefactor to all those Paul kick-outs. While his contract is ridiculous, his productivity should return since he is no longer the focus of this offense. He can simply hang out around the three point line and wait for the buckets to come to him.

Hilton Armstrong, a lottery pick in 2006, has failed to live up to expectations. But in a reserve role behind Chandler, his production is adequate. Chris Andersen could be a dark-horse contributor next year. Prior to his one year suspension from the league his hustle, Sportscenter-worthy dunks and his goofy appearance made him a fan favorite. One bad dunk contest and a few too many substance-abuse violations got him barred from the league, but now he's back. If Andersen can return to form and provide the same level of energy prior to his suspension, then the added depth in the front court could prove to be a boon for Coach Scott, giving him even more personnel options.

Given the youth of the core of this team (Wright 21, Paul 23, Chandler 25, West 27), the Hornets should continue to stay atop the Western Conference as long as CP3 is leading the charge. As far as this offseason goes, the re-signings of Andersen, Wells and Pargo seem to be in order. All three should be had for a more than reasonable price. As far as possible draft choices go, look for the Hornets to opt for a shooting guard, possibly Memphis's Chris Douglas-Roberts (if he fell into their laps), Western Kentucky's Courtney Lee or even Kansas State's Bill Walker, bad knees and all.

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Joined: 06/25/2008
Points: 0

"Hayes and Landry seem to be the exact same player. Both are small, but incredibly tough power forwards who rebound extremely well for their lack of size."

Really? Last I checked Chuck Hayes was completely inept on offense, has great strength , and plays great interior defense. Hayes is also 6"6 on a good day. Have you ever seen Chuck Hayes shoot a free throw? He has no mid range game.

Carl Landry is a legit 6"8 and an athletic specimen. He can dunk on anyone and has flashes of a mid range jumper. I think Chuck Hayes may have dunk twice in his NBA career while Landry scored an elite majority of his points of dunks. His interior defense is average at best but nothing to write home about.

They have similar mentalities but are very different players.

"..back problems for McGrady"

T-Mac didn't miss one game last year because of his back. Had knee problems.

" While I'm sure Brooks will fill a need farther down the road as an offensive bench dynamo, for a team looking to win now I just don't see the logic."

The Rockets drafted 26th. What do you expect? At that position you take the best player available. Brooks was a significant addition to the roster and played a good deal of minutes for a rookie PG. He has show flashes to be a nice player. There were rumors of a Artest to Houston deal that were stopped by the Rockets refusal to send AB. Clearly there are some very important people who are high on him.

"Yao's game is predicated on skill and his size (certainly not his athleticism) so he will more than likely age nicely and have a long career hitting mid-range jumpers and hovering around 10 boards a game, i.e. a Zydrunas Ilgauskus/Rik Smits type."

Don't do that. Just stop. Yao is so much better than Z and Smits. These comparisons were made when Yao was a rookie and quickly disappeared. Yao is a legit 23/10/2 and readily commands double teams. Hes been a member of the 2nd team all NBA and a ready MVP candidate. His mid range jumper is more hype than anything else based on his FTs shooting and as seen in his early failures in RA's system. His offensive numbers took a dip this season until RA stuck him on the low block and let him go to work. Yao is not a jump shooting center. He is too tall and talented.

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Joined: 01/06/2009
Points: 0
All i can say is small but

All i can say is small but terrible. These two can be dangerous inside the court. Looks can be deceiving.
alarm monitoring

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Joined: 03/06/2009
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Re:Houston Rockets

Yhe Houston Rockets are looking like a lock for the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean they’re getting complacent. While other teams are making crafty free agent signings, the Rockets have a trick up their sleeve to make themselves better. payday cash advance

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