With the NBA championship underway, we are officially at the end of the season and what an unusual year it has been. Across the league, there were a lot of changeups and surprises on the way to the playoffs but in the end, it was mostly familiar faces who made it. Now with the NBA season over for most teams, we can reflect on their strengths and weaknesses and predict how they might turn it around for next year.
Though we have a long time before then and no way to know what trades will take place in the future, we can certainly speculate on the needed changes on these teams. Paying attention to the latest NBA picks will let you know who the analysts expect to be great next season. In the Southwest Division, things are murkier than ever. Let’s review the five teams of this division and see what they can do to turn things around before next season.
San Antonio Spurs
As a franchise, the Spurs are entering into an uncertain time. This season was the first time since 1997 that the team did not make the playoffs and to rebuild the team from here is going to be a process. That aside, there were some memorable moments this season and the Spurs absolutely put in the effort towards the end.
In the last weeks of the season, the Spurs pushed for a playoff run that looked promising. This effort started with a win over the Sacramento Kings, an important rival for the 9th seed placing. After this, they triumphed over the equally as important Memphis Grizzlies in an excruciatingly close 108-106 game. These two wins showed what the Spurs were capable of, but they would ultimately fall flat in their next two outings.
To really demonstrate that they are a top-tier team this year the Spurs were tasked with beating the 76ers and Nuggets next. While these games were close they both ended up being losses for the Spurs, effectively killing their playoff hopes. Now the questions are, where do the Spurs go from here? What can this squad do to turn things around for next year?
The Spurs have two solid former All-Stars, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, but they cannot plan their future offense around these aging players. Aldridge is 35 years old now, and the best years of his career are surely behind him. It goes without saying that the Spurs need some new talent they can build around, and will certainly be looking deep into the draft this year.
In the upcoming draft, the Spurs have two picks they can use. These are the #11 pick in the first round and the #41 pick in the second. The positions they need to fill are definitely the center, as it is unlikely that they will resign Aldridge, and they need someone that can shoot the 3-pointers. There are some very talented prospects that are rumored to be considered. Recently, Jalen Smith from Maryland has been discussed as a possible fit for the squad. Being 6’10” makes him a strong option as their center replacement.
The Rockets started off well in the playoffs this year, beating Oklahoma City Thunder in a close series before moving on to face the Lakers. With the All-Star lineup the Lakers currently have, it was never going to be an easy affair. While they lost outright, they showed some strong points and weak points. Let’s review what the Rockets can do to refresh this squad for next year.
First, there was some serious speculation about the future of former head coach Mike D’Antoni. His contract was set to expire and it was looking likely that his time may be up with the Rockets. Although this was initially shot down as just rumors, the news of his departure was made official not long ago. This goes along with the expectations that there will be some big changes happening in the future for this team. A fresh start is needed if the Rockets are going to be a championship-caliber team.
The combination of Russell Westbrook and James Harden was anticipated to be a very strong force. However, this duo seems to have failed in the playoffs multiple times and the team’s small-ball game plan is not holding up. Both players could possibly be traded and Houston is looking at what they stand to receive if they let them go. This could be the big move Houston needs to build the foundation for their future.
The Mavericks were another hopeful playoff team but they were quickly disbanded by the Clipper in a 4-2 series. The first four games were close and there were some highlights including a dramatic buzzer-beater game-winning basket from Luka Doncic. After these first four games the series was 2-2, but the next two games were non-competitive. The Mavericks failed again to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
Kristaps Porzingis’ knee injury was a big blow to the Maverick’s chances for sure, but it doesn’t excuse that the Mavericks were unable to make anything happen in the final games of the series. From here, the Mavericks clearly need another big star to stand alongside Doncic and Porzingis if they are going to be a real competitor. The rest of the team is unproven younger talent. Many analysts have suggested they should trade away their 2020 first-round pick and instead try to make a deal for a big-name player.
The Grizzlies were beat out by the Portland Trailblazers for the last spot in the playoffs. While this was a disappointing end to an otherwise promising season, the good news is the Grizzlies are in a good position heading into 2020-2021 and have many different options on the table. They definitely don’t have a lot of picks in the upcoming draft, but they have a lot of room to maneuver with their lineup. If they want to let some players like De’Anthony Melton go, they have that option. They also have three strong players, Morant, Clarke, and Jackson jr, on rookie contracts. As they phase out older players they will make a lot of cap space.
New Orleans Pelicans
With their 30-42 record, the Pelicans were snuggly in the bottom three of the Western Conference. One upside is that with Derrick Favors, the Pelicans finally had a strong defense. The problem is he is signed on a 1-year contract and is due to enter free agency. It would make more sense for them to bring him back on another short contract. There is a similar story with center Jahlil Okafor who is also due to enter free agency after a middling year that left the Pelicans management wanting more. Some big changes could be coming to this team in the offseason.