The Southwest Division was the toughest and most competitive of all the NBA divisions last season. All five teams finished above .500 which led to all five teams making the playoffs. The 2015/16 season could well have the same outcome, with all five teams still looking strong, though one may argue (and rightly so) that the Mavericks won't be as good as last season after a pretty disastrous off-season. San Antonio have had a very impressive off-season, Houston have added some nice pieces, New Orleans have wrapped up Anthony Davis for a few more years and our own Grizzlies fetched in Matt Barnes for virtually nothing and did a great job of replacing the outgoing Kosta Koufos.
Ranking the Southwest by off-season success
1st Place: San Antonio Spurs
It's hard to look beyond San Antonio for having the best off-season in the Southwest division, I'd even go as far as saying they probably had the best off-season in the entire NBA. The Spurs lost in the first round of the playoffs this year, they then went into free agency with their eyes on signing one of the two biggest prizes, Marc Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge. Gasol said he wouldn't be meeting with any team other than the Grizzlies, San Antonio concentrated solely on Aldridge and got their man despite competition from the Phoenix Suns. Aldridge will become part of a menacing frontcourt, which includes himself, Tim Duncan (who has taken another pay cut to help out his team), and David West, who will back up Timmy and LaMarcus after leaving $12 million on the table in Indiana to sign a minimum contract in Texas for a shot at winning the title.
Add to this Kawhi Leonard signing a five year deal to stay with the Spurs, Danny Green resigning and Manu Ginobili staying on after accepting a reduced salary it becomes hard to pick anyone else as favourites to be division champions next season. Ray McCallum and Jimmer Fredette have also been added to the roster, they may not be stand out additions to the Spurs roster, but they could well thrive in the Spurs system.
They've lost some important role players in Tiago Splitter, Cory Joseph and Marco Belinelli. But the quality of their incoming players should be enough to offset the loss of these rotation guys.
After a disappointing end to the 2015/16 season, I fully expect San Antonio to come back strong and make a run at reclaiming their NBA crown.
2nd Place: Memphis Grizzlies
The main objective for the Grizzlies this summer was resigning Marc Gasol. Mission accomplished. Marc never even looked like leaving and will stay in Memphis for another five years (providing he picks up his player option for the fifth year). Great piece of business for both the team and the player himself, this should keep the Grizzlies championship window open for a few more years at least.
The Grizzlies had to find another big man to back-up Marc after Kosta Koufos left in search of a starting role. I'll never understand why he chose Sacramento, though he should average more than the 16 minutes per game he averaged for the Grizzlies last season. Brandan Wright signed a three year deal to play in his home state. Wright will add something different to the Memphis front court. He has tremendous athleticism and should provide some highlight plays for us on both ends of the floor. With some of the contracts that have been thrown around this summer, signing Wright for $6 million per year is a great move from the front office.
Matt Barnes arrives in Memphis after the Grizzlies gave up practically nothing to obtain him. Barnes should fit in extremely well with Memphis' 'Grit 'n' Grind'. He will give his all every time he pulls on that jersey and will (hopefully) add some much needed three point shooting from the small forward position. Be it coming off the bench or starting, Matt Barnes should be a fine addition to the roster.
The Grizzlies draft picks didn't quite turn out as predicted, but I'll reserve judgement on that until the end of the season and there may be another trade that happens before the new season starts, but it has been a great off-season for Memphis. One which should enable the Grizzlies to make a good run in next years playoffs.
3rd Place: Houston Rockets
After losing out to eventual champions Golden State in last seasons Western Conference Finals, the Rockets will look to go one better next year. Last week Houston gave up a few role players and in return received the much troubled Ty Lawson. How Lawson performs next season could have a big say on how the Rockets' season pans out. There are many questions that need answering from October and beyond. Can Ty Lawson and James Harden work together in the same lineups? Both players are very dominant ball handlers. If not will Lawson be happy with a sixth man role off the bench? Will Lawson realise this could be his last shot at playing on a contending team?
Josh Smith bolted for LA and will be struggling to live on the $6.9 million he will receive next year. Losing Smith will likely help Houston in the long run. The Rockets took Sam Dekker in the draft, he looks a promising player and could work himself into the rotation before the end of the season.
We won't know exactly how the 2015 off-season went for Houston until later on in the season. If Ty Lawson can go on and prove to himself and us that his head is in the right place and he's capable of playing at a high level then this off-season could be fantastic for Houston.
Right now I'm placing them third in the rankings, if I revise the rankings later on in the season they may well move down a spot.
4th Place: New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans' biggest move this summer was the extending of Anthony Davis' contract. Just having him on their team should be enough to keep them challenging for the eighth seed next year. Until they put some better players around him they likely won't be making much noise around the top end of the Western Conference.
They've added Alonzo Gee and Kendrick Perkins to their squad this summer, the two of them will be nothing more than rotation players.
A quiet summer for the Pelicans, but they could still end up in the playoffs next year with Anthony Davis leading them.
5th Place: Dallas Mavericks
The summer of 2015 for Dallas has been nothing short of a circus. DeAndre Jordan agreed to join the Mavericks before he was locked in a room with his ex-team mates. He then went on to reverse his decision and rejoin the Clippers, leaving Dallas in limbo after all the top free agents had been snapped up. They were left scraping the bottom of the free agent barrel to try and get a competitive team together.
Jordan's decision to turn his back on the Mavs was the best thing to happen to Wesley Matthews. He has since gone on to sign a max-deal in Dallas. Matthews will be returning from an Achilles tear next season and may never reach the same level of play for the remainder of his career. Giving him a max-contract could quite easily turn out to be a foolish move from Dallas.
Mark Cuban finally got his man. Deron Williams signs for Dallas three years after turning them down to join the Nets. The one saving grace for Cuban is that Williams is joining on a relatively small salary. If Williams can give them around 15-16 points and 7-8 assists per game Dallas fans should be happy considering his lack of production and his big salary in Brooklyn for the past three seasons.
Tyson Chandler left for Phoenix and will be replaced by Zaza Pachulia, which can only be seen as a downgrade. On the whole it's been a shocking summer for Dallas and I'm predicting them to fall out of the playoffs next season and become a lottery team.
Whilst in the middle of writing this article I was pointed towards the 'nERD' metric. If you are unfamiliar with nERD it is a system that combines offensive, defensive and usage factors to produce a single number that is seen to project a player's overall value to his team. The final number is an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would win over an 82 game season, with the player in question as one of its starters. It's similar to win shares, but is meant to be predictive (in an 82 game season) as opposed to descriptive (how many wins the player has contributed to his team).
The nERD scores for the Southwest divisions teams new additions make a mockery of the rankings I have for the teams.
Take Dallas, for example, their new additions, Wesley Mattehews (nERD 4.6), Jeremy Evans (1.7), Zaza Pachulia (1.3), John Jenkins (0.8) and Deron Williams (-1.8) combine for an incoming nERD of 6.6. Whilst their outgoing players, Tyson Chandler (10.6), Amar'e Stoudemire (2.3), Al-Farouq Aminu (1.2), Richard Jefferson (-0.4), Monta Ellis (-4.8) and Rajon Rondo (-5.1) combine for an outgoing nERD of 3.8.
This gives Dallas a net nERD of 2.8, which would imply, in theory at least, that Dallas would in fact have a better season than they had last season.
In contrast the San Antonio Spurs' new additions, LaMarcus Aldridge (6.5), David West (0.6), Jimmer Fredette (-1.8) and Ray McCallum (-3.4) combine for and incoming nERD of 1.9. Whilst their outgoing players, Tiago Splitter (3.8), Cory Joseph (3.2), Aron Baynes (3.2) and Marco Belinelli (0.2) combine for an outgoing nERD of 10.4, giving the Spurs a net nERD of -8.5 which would imply that San Antonio have in fact had by far the worst off-season in the Southwest division.
The Grizzlies incoming nERD scores are; Brandan Wright (6.8) and Matt Barnes (-0.6). Their outgoing nERD scores are; Kosta Koufos (1.2), Jon Leuer (-0.6) and Nick Calathes (-1.1). This gives the Grizzlies a net nERD of 6.7.
The Pelicans net nERD is -2.7 whilst the Rockets is a Southwest division best of 10.0.
As far as nERD numbers go the Rockets have had the best off season in the Southwest, whilst the Spurs, despite some great additions have had the worst. The Grizzlies come in second with Dallas third and New Orleans fourth.
I'd rather stick to my own personal rankings though. Sometimes maths can be unreliable!