The Southwest Division for the last few years has been up and down.
You always knew what you were getting from the San Antonio Spurs led by Gregg Popovich. They were going to play the game right and be in the playoffs.
Up until two years ago, the Memphis Grizzlies were a lock to be in the playoffs as well. With Dirk Nowitzki on the roster, more often than not you could count on the Dallas Mavericks to be a player in the Western mix.
The point is, the division has never been easy. Over the last few years the landscape has changed, other than the boring yet consistent Spurs.
The Rockets have ascended and were perhaps a Chris Paul injury away from a shot at a championship. The Pelicans snuck in as an 8 seed two seasons ago only to find themselves in the midst of Brow drama and no playoffs.
The Mavericks have been on the decline with an aging Dirk, while the Grizzlies attempt at a big three, post Core Four, was cut down at the knees.
Summer 2019 has flipped this division on its head.....
The Future is Here
“With the third pick, the Dallas Mavericks select, Luka Doncic.”
“With the fourth pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Memphis Grizzlies select, Jaren Jackson Jr.”
(Fast forward to May 14, 2019)
The New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies all had a 6% chance to win the lottery and sat 6-7-8 in the lottery order respectively.
“And picking second in the 2019 NBA Draft, the Memphis Grizzlies! Which means the New Orleans Pelicans will have the first selection in this year’s draft.”
(Fast forward to June 20, 2019)
New Orleans takes Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker in the first round of the draft.
Memphis takes Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke in the first round.
Dallas conveys their pick to Atlanta but takes Isaiah Roby in the second round.
Spurs land Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson in the first round.
Rockets have no draft picks.
Three of the five teams in the division drafted talent that will help right away, two of them selected franchise cornerstones and one of them sat and watched all night.
Which leads us to what lies in the future. Lets look at the cores of each team in the division moving forward, then the cap space and potential moves.
The Mavericks have 2019 Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic paired alongside restricted free agent Kristaps Porzingis. Jalen Brunson proved to be a solid backup point guard with Dwight Powell and Tim Hardaway Jr. being above average rotation pieces. The biggest piece in their favor is cap space. They have been linked with Al Horford and Kemba Walker as possible free agent targets.
Regardless of who they sign in free agency, the duo of Doncic and Porzingis going forward could be lethal. Dallas won't be down long.
At the moment, their future is not so bright. Strapped by the insane contract given to Chris Paul, the Rockets seem to be what they are. James Harden was the best offensive player in the NBA this past season and Clint Capela is a perfect system fit for them. But this team has mortgaged their future for a shot at a ring now. There are no exciting young pieces and they don't seem to be in the lottery any time soon. They will be a tough match up for the next few years, but come 2022-23, where will they be?
After a 7 year run in the playoffs, including an appearance in the Western Conference Finals, the Grizzlies have officially moved on from the core of that team. With trades of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, Memphis is full steam ahead into the future.
Drafting Jaren Jackson Jr. last season seemed lackluster that night, but the young man proved quickly he was a star in the making. After lucking into Jaren, Memphis’ fortunes continued as they landed the #2 pick in this years draft, landing them a franchise point guard in Ja Morant. That tandem very quickly will be able to rival the duo in Dallas.
Memphis was also able land Grayson Allen, a 2018 first round pick, and a future first round pick from Utah that is projected to convey in 2022, the all coveted Double Draft. With a core of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Grayson Allen, Brandon Clarke and Kyle Anderson the Grizzlies’ outlook is a lot better than this time last year. This doesn't include the current cap space and possible returns of Jonas Valanciunas or Delon Wright. Chandler Parsons finally falls off the books next year as well. The Grizzlies are here and they mean business.
New Orleans Pelicans
Just look at this
Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
Do I need to say more? Is there is any team in the division better set up for the future as far as star power and depth? I don't think so. The Pelicans are about to be a problem.
San Antonio Spurs
As long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, the Spurs will be the Spurs. They still have DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. They struck gold with Derrick White and still have DeJounte Murray. They have four young pieces in Jakob Poetl, Lonnie Walker IV, Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson. When the time comes to replace Aldridge, there is little doubt that San Antonio’s great front office will be able to do it with ease. The Spurs will be around for a while, still.
In The End
This division just became a gauntlet for years to come. You are looking at potentially half of the Western Conference play off teams coming from this division alone in a matter of 2-3 seasons. It will be interesting to watch Ja and Jaren grow up in this division. Competition breeds success, there will be plenty of competition in the Southwest.