The common perception about the 2012-13 NBA season is that it’s only a four-horse race. There’s the champion Miami Heat, the loaded Los Angeles Lakers, the talented Oklahoma City Thunder and maybe the Chicago Bulls — if Derrick Rose returns to full strength.
At least a few members from the Southwest Division might have something to say about that. The 50-win San Antonio Spurs will make a case, while the Dallas Mavericks, who are just one year removed from their championship-winning season, are aiming for a return to glory.
Let’s have a closer look at the NBA’s Southwest Division and gauge what to expect in the 2012-13 season:
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs’ 50 wins were the most in the Western Conference last season, but even in a lockout-shortened season, age caught up with them. They have been built around the greybeards Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and have supported them with plenty of youth. Unfortunately, they still haven’t discovered any primetime players who can be the cornerstones of the next generation.
That means they’re still relying on the big three, which should result in another regular season full of wins. However, they don’t match up very well against younger, more athletic rosters like Oklahoma City and Los Angeles.
The Mavericks entered last season as the reigning champs but took a significant dive, finishing just 36-30 and getting swept in the first round of the playoffs.
They overhauled their roster and this year’s version will feature only two players who were regular contributors on the championship team from 2011 in Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion.
Plenty of new faces are in town, including Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman and Darren Collison. Consistency and chemistry are key in the NBA, which means it’s probably too much to expect the Mavericks to be significantly better given the amount of turnover they’ve endured.
The Grizzlies have one of the best frontcourts in the NBA with All-Stars Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, but unfortunately they haven’t put enough pieces around them. That didn’t change in the offseason as the Grizzlies most significant move was replacing Mayo with former first-round bust, Wayne Ellington.
The hope here is that young players like Mike Conley Jr. and Rudy Gay, who are both 26 years old, take a step forward. Even if they do, the Grizzlies are short on depth to truly compete in the West.
The Rockets tried to hit a home run in landing All-Star center Dwight Howard this offseason, but instead struck out big time. They had to amnesty Luis Scola in order to clear cap space for the chase for Howard, and it cost them Scola, who was the team’s best inside scorer and rebounder.
They did manage to pry point guard Jeremy Lin away from the New York Knicks and they’re hoping he can rejuvenate the organization as he did the Knicks last season.
The youth movement is on in full force as four first-round picks from 2010 or later will be occupying significant roles in the Rockets frontcourt. Expect plenty of growing pains.
New Orleans Hornets
The Hornets had a productive offseason as they managed to keep cornerstone Eric Gordon while adding first-round picks Anthony Davis (first overall) and Austin Rivers (10th overall) to try and fill out the roster. Acquiring veteran power forward Ryan Anderson was a shrewd, under-the-radar move as well.
Much is contingent on Davis and Rivers contributing right off the bat. If Davis is the real deal, the Hornets could push for 30-40 wins. In any case, the fan base in New Orleans should feel revitalized as the team is heading in the right direction.