Off-Season Report Cards: Shake Ups in the Southwest

Two MVPs united in Houston, the prevailing consistency of Greg Popovich’s Spurs, and a trio of ongoing rebuilds- there’s a lot to dissect down in the Southwest division, and with the Western Conference’s competitiveness ramping up once again, each and every team on this list has made moves to stay relevant. Remember, no off-season is without change, so let’s dive into our off-season grades for the Mavericks, Rockets, Spurs, Pelicans, and Grizzlies.

Houston Rockets

Last Season’s Record: 53-29 (4th in the Western Conference)

Key Additions: Russell Westbrook, Tyson Chandler

Key Losses: Chris Paul, Every draft pick under the sun

Give Daryl Morrey and the Houston Rockets credit; they always seem to be adapting their roster rather than rebuilding. And boy, did they adapt this summer. In what looks to be the final massive move of the off-season, Russell Westbrook was traded to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Chris Paul and multiple first round picks. This move has been met with mixed reactions from analysts everywhere, as James Harden’s fit next to the ball-dominant Westbrook is questionable. However, the two MVPs teaming up in Houston undoubtedly raises the ceiling for the Rockets’ upcoming season.

Despite the acquisition of Westbrook, the Rockets failed to make any notable signings or trades that will have an immediate impact, and their lack of depth could prove crucial in a seven game series. If this experiment works, Houston will have two of the most explosive and unstoppable guards in the league sharing the floor and creating open shots for long-time snipers Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker. Westbrook’s fit with Clint Capella is also promising, as Capella and Steven Adams have a similar skill set and playing style. However, if this pairing fails to meet its potential, then Houston may have just given up a metric ton of first-round selections for what many consider to be an untradable contract in Russel Westbrook. I believe the two superstars can make it work, especially under the coaching of Mike D’Antoni, but it’s a gamble nonetheless. 

The loss of Chris Paul isn’t to be skimmed over; the future hall-of-famer pushed the Rockets to new heights while continuing to prove his worth as a playmaker and defender. However, his loss will likely be counteracted by the addition of Westbrook, and that gives Rockets’ fans something to look forward to. 

Grade: B-

San Antonio Spurs

Last Season’s Record: 48-34 (7th in the Western Conference)

Key Additions: Trey Lyles, DeMarre Carroll

Key Losses: Davis Bertans

Outside of the Marcus Morris fiasco, the Spurs had a relatively quiet off-season. DeMarre Carroll was added after a solid season with the Brooklyn Nets, and his solid defense will make Greg Popvich a happy camper. Trey Lyles is a weak consolation prize for Morris, but has good height and won’t get bullied in the post on defense.

The one move that can be pointed out as questionable would be the loss of Davis Bertans, who San Antonio flipped to the Wizards in an attempt to clear cap space. Bertans is an elite three-point shooter, firing at a 42.9% clip last season and stretching the floor for the likes of DeMar Derozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. With Morris backing out of his reportedly done deal with the Spurs to head to New York, the Spurs settled for Lyles, who is a downgrade from Bertans on the offensive side of the ball. 

Greg Popovich’s teams have never been one for three-point shooting, but this roster has a distinct lack of it. The improvement of Derrick White and the recovery of Dejounte Murray will determine if this Spurs’ team can reach the playoffs for a 21st straight season. 

Grade: C-

Memphis Grizzlies

Last Season’s Record: 33-49 (12th in the Western Conference)

Key Additions: Ja Morant, Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke, Andre Iguodala 

Key Losses: Mike Conley Jr, Delon Wright, Chandler Parsons

At this point a year ago, the Grizzlies seemed aimless. Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol spearheaded a veteran group of guys on large contracts that simply didn’t have enough talent to contend for a playoff spot. Jaren Jackson Jr. was one of the quieter top-five picks we’ve seen in recent years, and the hype surrounding Memphis was practically non-existent. 

Fast-forward to present day, and the Grizzlies finally have a clear direction. Marc Gasol was shipped to Toronto at the trade deadline for Jonas Valancuinas and Delon Wright, the former breathing fresh air into his playing career with consistent 20 and 10 performances after last season’s trade deadline. Mike Conley found a new home in Utah this Summer, and the Grizzlies found their new face of the franchise; Ja Morant, the sparkling 19-year-old out of Murray State. Morant will bring lethal playmaking and a natural scoring ability to the table, two talents should bode well in the pick-and-roll with Jaren Jackson Jr. The Grizzlies also picked up Brandon Clarke with the 21st overall pick, who appears to be one of the most NBA ready prospects out there right now. 

Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala were brought in as the result of other trades, and both could be serviceable on the wings if they’re not flipped for more assets. Tyus Jones will replace Delon Wright as the backup point guard, and the Grizzlies finally slipped out from under the disastrous Chandler Parsons mega-deal, shipping him to Atlanta for Solomon Hill and Miles Plumlee.

Overall, the Grizzlies created cap space for the future, retained breakout star Jonas Valanciunas to a team-friendly deal, and added a few bright young pieces to build around Jaren Jackson Jr. Things are finally looking up in Memphis, and tickets should finally start to sell. 

Grade: A-

New Orleans Pelicans

Last Season’s Record: 33-49 (13th in the Western Conference)

Key Additions: Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, JJ Redick, Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Derrick Favors

Key Losses: Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Solomon Hill, Elfrid Payton, Cheick Diallo, Ian Clark, Stanley Johnson

It was a busy Summer down in The Bayou. New Orleans lucked out on the first overall pick via the draft lottery, snagging projected superstar Zion Williamson to replace the departing Anthony Davis. Going young, the Pelicans finally swung a deal with the Lakers to acquire essentially Los Angeles’ entire future, nabbing Ball, Ingram, Hart, and a basket of first round picks that included the fourth overall pick in this years draft. 

Jaxson Hayes was phenomenal in Summer league, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who was selected with 17th overall pick, should get minutes as a scoring spark plug off of the bench. The amount of talent the New Orleans young core has is impressive, and if they can make it fit, the Pelicans should be elite for years to come. 

New Orleans rounded out the Summer by coaxing J.J Redick away from the Sixers and swinging a sign-and-trade for Derrick Favors, both of whom will be strong veteran pieces to help guide the young bucks in the locker-room. Some are saying New Orleans could sneak into the playoffs as soon as this year, but that will entirely hinge upon just how good Zion Williamson is in his rookie year. It may not be as big of a stretch as people think- New Orleans has a ton of good pieces, for the present and future. 

Grade: A+

Dallas Mavericks

Last Season’s Record: 33-49 (14th in the Western Conference) 

Key Additions: Seth Curry, Delon Wright, Boban Marjanovic 

Key Losses: Trey Burke, Salah Mejiri

Dallas’ off-season started a few months earlier than every other team around the league, when they swung a trade with the Knicks for Kristaps Porzingis, giving Luka Doncic a bonafide second star to defer to. The contracts of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee were a tough pill to swallow, and gave the Mavs little to no flexibility for this Summer. 

Dallas focused on resigning their guys, with Maxi Kleber, Devin Harris, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Dwight Powell rejoining the team on moderate deals. Seth Curry also jumped aboard, providing some spacing and ball-handling, two skills that are always needed in the modern NBA. Delon Wright and Marjanovic are depth signings that will bolster the Maverick bench and allow Rick Carlisle to stagger minutes for Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, when needed. 

Overall, the Doncic-Porzingis combo should be fascinating to watch unfold, especially if Kristaps can get healthy. Doncic is undeniably the best overall player out of last year’s draft, and should take another step forward this coming season. Will the Mavs be a playoff team? Unlikely. But Mark Cuban’s club has made the right moves to build for the future, while winning a few more games now. 

Grade: B

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