Offseason grades: Breaking down the moves in the Southwest Division
The NBA offseason did not disappoint, and following a frenzy of draft-day movement and busy free-agency period, the 2021-22 season has started to shape up. Here, we look at the changes that each team made during the summer and what it means for the upcoming campaign.
The Southwest division is currently one of the league's weaker five-team groupings. The Mavericks remain the clear-cut division favorites, while young clubs like the Grizzlies, Pelicans, and Spurs could make things interesting in the play-in tournament race. The Rockets are the only squad that's clearly far from contending, but they did enjoy a tremendous offseason that should get the organization back on track in the years to come.
Check out the previous editions here:
Last season: 42-30 (.583)
Departed: Josh Richardson (BOS); JJ Redick (Retired)
Re-signed: Luka Doncic; Tim Hardaway Jr.; Boban Marjanovic
Added: Moses Brown (BOS); Reggie Bullock (LAC); Sterling Brown (HOU); Frank Ntilikina (NYK); JaQuori McLaughlin; Eugene Omoruyi
How far Dallas goes this season will largely hinge on freshly minted $200-million man Luka Doncic's continued growth, particularly in terms of whether he's able to develop more chemistry with Kristaps Porzingis. While Doncic ascended last postseason, Porzingis' numbers regressed significantly. The 7-foot-2 Latvian averaged just 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 29.6% from 3-point range in a seven-game first-round series loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, and he took a large brunt of the blame for the Mavericks' early exit.
When the dust settled on Dallas' season, reports trickled out that the former Knicks big man felt like an afterthought rather than a co-star when playing with Doncic. Improving the pair's dynamic could prove to be more important than any of the club's offseason additions.
One of the Mavs' biggest changes this summer saw longtime bench boss Rick Carlisle depart for Indiana. Jason Kidd, who won a championship as a player with Dallas in 2011, was hired as Carlisle's replacement. The Hall of Fame floor general should provide a refreshing locker room voice, especially for Porzingis, who may have felt he wasn't utilized properly under the previous regime.
In terms of notable roster moves, Dallas signed sharpshooter Reggie Bullock to replace a more defensive-minded wing in Josh Richardson. Richardson was sent to Boston as part of a deal that netted Dallas young center Moses Brown. The Mavs also re-signed wing Tim Hardaway Jr. to a four-year, $72-million deal after he averaged 17 points on 40.7% shooting from deep during an impressive seven-game playoff stint. The move was especially crucial in the wake of 3-point marksman JJ Redick's retirement.
Last season: 38-34 (.528)
Departed: Jonas Valanciunas (NOP);
Drafted: Ziaire Williams (No. 10 via NOP); Santi Aldama (No. 30 via UTA)
Re-signed: Killian Tillie
Added: Steven Adams (NOP); Jarrett Culver (MIN); Kris Dunn (BOS); Sam Merrill (MIL); Yves Pons
The Grizzlies seemingly lowered their ceiling by swapping consistent double-double threat Jonas Valanciunas for Steven Adams. Valanciunas looked dominant at times last season as an elite rebounder and a strong pick-and-roll partner with Ja Morant, while Adams' skill set isn't as refined on either end. The rest of the roster is noticeably similar entering the new campaign, with Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Dillon Brooks remaining as Memphis' key rebuilding pieces.
After missing most of the 2020-21 campaign due to a lengthy meniscus injury rehab, Jackson should be able to hit the ground running in 2021-22. The talented 6-foot-11 forward possesses a unique skill set for his size, with an ability to provide both elite floor spacing and rim protection, as well as a soft touch in the paint. If he can fully put his injury concerns behind him, Jackson and Morant should once again resemble one of the league's more exciting young duos.
Memphis also brought in Jarrett Culver from the Minnesota Timberwolves. While the sixth overall pick in 2019 hasn't realized his 3-and-D potential, new surroundings may help Culver develop further. Meanwhile, first-round pick Ziaire Williams figures to be a long-term project considering how raw his skills are.
Memphis' management is playing the long game by developing its young talent. Once the team's building blocks, primarily Morant and Jackson, take another step forward, general manager Zach Kleiman may finally feel the Grizzlies are ready to enter the Western Conference contender conversation and try making a flurry of moves to improve the roster. But for now, with Memphis' core players still a ways away from their prime years, continuing to exercise patience is key.
San Antonio Spurs
Last season: 33-39 (.458)
Departed: DeMar DeRozan (CHI); Gorgui Dieng (ATL); Quinndary Weatherspoon
Drafted: Joshua Primo (No. 12); Joe Wieskamp (No. 41)
Re-signed: Keita Bates-Diop
Added: Bryn Forbes (MIL); Doug McDermott (IND); Thaddeus Young (CHI); Al-Farouq Aminu (CHI); Zach Collins (POR); DaQuan Jeffries (HOU); Jock Landale
Following DeMar DeRozan's departure, it appears the Spurs are ready to build toward the future. No move signified that desire more than San Antonio's surprising selection of Alabama product Joshua Primo, the draft's youngest player at 18 years old, with the 12th overall pick.
While the Spurs did acquire a number of veteran players on short-term deals to help the squad remain competitive, it's clear Gregg Popovich and Co.'s primary focus is seeing what their younger talent - namely Dejounte Murray, Jakob Poeltl, Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker, and Devin Vassell - are capable of. Primo will be an intriguing name to follow, too, although he's by far the roster's rawest prospect.
Murray took a major leap offensively last season and should continue progressing in the right direction, especially with a higher usage rate headed his way without DeRozan. The talented 25-year-old is also a tremendous defender, giving him the makings of a player San Antonio can build around. Additionally, Poeltl's elite defensive skills at his position, along with Johnson's high motor and athleticism, give the Spurs the makings of an intriguing frontcourt.
San Antonio's dynastic run, led by Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, now feels like a very distant memory. This current group of Spurs won't come anywhere close to emulating that level of success, although the retooling squad could be in the mix for a play-in tournament spot if all goes well.
New Orleans Pelicans
Last season: 31-41 (.431)
Departed: Steven Adams (MEM); Lonzo Ball (CHI); Eric Bledsoe (LAC); James Johnson (BKN); Wesley Iwundu (CHA)
Drafted: Trey Murphy (No. 17 via MEM); Herbert Jones (No. 35)
Re-signed: Josh Hart; Willy Hernangomez; Daulton Hommes; Didi Louzada
Added: Devonte' Graham (CHA); Jonas Valanciunas (MEM); Tomas Satoransky (CHI); Garrett Temple (CHI); Jose Alvarado
On paper, the Pelicans' roster is a noticeable downgrade from last season. The only defensible transactions David Griffin made were swapping Adams for Valanciunas and re-signing Josh Hart. But aside from that, New Orleans' offseason was rather discouraging.
Letting Lonzo Ball walk as a restricted free agent was puzzling, especially considering New Orleans was never a serious contender to land Kyle Lowry. Instead, the Pels signed Devonte' Graham to a four-year, $47-million deal, then acquired Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple as part of the sign-and-trade agreement involving Ball and the Bulls.
The biggest storyline to follow in The Big Easy is Zion Williamson's future, specifically whether he eventually signs a rookie-scale extension or takes his talents elsewhere. Williamson has reportedly been questioning his relationship with the Pelicans, citing internal dysfunction and the organization's failure to make him and his family happy. How New Orleans' medical staff handled the All-Star forward's rehab from a meniscus injury during his first season also apparently caused "significant tension."
Last season: 17-55 (.236)
Departed: Avery Bradley (GSW); Kelly Olynyk (DET); Sterling Brown (DAL);
Drafted: Jalen Green (No. 2); Alperen Sengun (No. 16); Usman Garuba (No. 23); Josh Christopher (No. 24)
Re-signed: Dante Exum; David Nwaba
Added: Daniel Theis (CHI); Daishen Nix; Matthew Hurt; Anthony Lamb
General manager Rafael Stone led the Rockets through a productive offseason, largely due to him and his staff's work in the 2021 draft. Houston landed four picks within the top 24 selections, most notably Jalen Green with the No. 2 overall pick and intriguing Turkish big man Alperen Sengun at No. 16. The team also added former five-star recruit and G League Ignite point guard Daishen Nix on an Exhibit 10 contract.
For a team less than one year removed from trading away former franchise star James Harden, recouping this many assets in such a short time has to be regarded as a clear win. The Rockets are still nowhere near contending, but at least they now have numerous intriguing, high-upside players to build a foundation around.
Green, who's already starting his career with a chip on his shoulder after Detroit passed on him in favor of Cade Cunningham, has all the makings of a future franchise star. He'll be an explosive scorer from the outset, which should provide Houston's fan base with plenty of excitement in what will surely be another losing campaign for the rebuilding club.