SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Lost: C Tim Duncan (Pour One Out, All Of You), PF Boris Diaw, C Boban Marjanovic, PF David West, Maybe PG Andre Miller It’s Unclear Yet If He’s Immortal Or Not, Heck No One Has Signed SG Kevin Martin Either Like What’s Up

Gained: PF/C Pau Gasol, PG Dejounte Murray, PF David Lee, C Dewayne Dedmon, C Joel Anthony

Transition. Change. How do you replace the greatest power forward of all time?

Obviously with a grubby neckbearded Pau Gasol that’s how, load up the train the Spurs are coming for the championship again.

I’m sorry Pau I’m not trying to be mean, there’s literally no one that they could have got that would have been an adequate replacement for Timmy D, y’know what, we respect what you bring to the table. You don’t bring a full course meal to it at this point in you career, but you’re bringing some appetizers and we really respect that so thanks man.

I know the Warriors are winning the championship this year. I know they’re probably going to coast to 60 wins easy and then decide in March if they want to push it further or just top out at like 69 wins (that’d be so great I’m praying for it), leaving no room for anyone else. But do you think the Spurs will just concede that? This team won SIXTY-SEVEN games last year. The Warriors didn’t have the #1 seed locked up until they had won seventy games. That’s just absurd. The Spurs were right there, ending up with one of the top ten records of all time behind the highlight reel Dubs. They would have been the belle of the ball in any other year, and they settled for a quiet unassuming second place.

However, there’s no way that the Spurs can replicate that this year. Duncan is gone and near no one on this roster is getting better at what they do apart from Kawhi. LaMarcus Aldridge has already peaked, the old guard Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are DEFINITELY riding off into the sunset (I’d put half my bank account on the bet that Manu retires next summer), and Danny Green has already reached his potential as a role player. I don’t doubt that Gregg Popovich is aware and cognizant of all of this. He’s been the best coach in this sport for over ten years and he’s easily on the NBA coaching Mount Rushmore. He’s gameplanning, moving the right pieces around and acquiring talent to bounce back from Duncan’s retirement.

It’s no secret that much of Pop’s success can and should be attributed to lucking out with the right acquisition of the perfect combination of size, athleticism, basketball IQ, leadership, selflessness, and flowing talent. For twenty years the Spurs were able to build around a generational player and continually retool. Pop and Duncan won five titles total over the span of fifteen years. There’s no fluke there. That’s just the best organization in all of professional sports doing their thing. And who knows, maybe Dejounte Murray is the next Tony Parker. Maybe Kyle Anderson jumps up in a couple years and makes a leap as a borderline all-star guy. You can’t count out the Spurs for a while. Kawhi is that possible spiritual heir apparent to Duncan. He already has a Finals MVP, two DPOYS, first team All-NBA and All-Star selections under his belt. He’s shown to be a no-nonsense basketball-focused-and-obsessed type of player that they want to build around. The Spurs will most likely hibernate for a couple years while the Warriors go category five on the league. Win around 50 games a year, and then be best prepared to come out of the hurricane ready to reclaim the Larry O’Brien trophy. Championships: It’s the Spurs way.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

Lost: C Dwight Howard, PF Terrence Jones, PF Josh Smith, SG Jason Terry, PF Donatas Motiejunas, PF Michael Beasley,

Gained: PG Pablo Prigioni, PG Tyler Ennis, SG Eric Gordon, PF Ryan Anderson, C Nene

The Houston Rockets are more polarizing than an emperor penguin. Half of the people I talk to love their chances and think that they can easily get into the playoffs with Mike D’Antoni opening a run and gun system. The other half thinks they’re set to crash even further, falling below .500 by quite a few games. That second group of fans also tend to say things like “Harden isn’t that good, all he does is shoot lucky free throws and he NEVER plays defense, he sucks so bad”. I tend to believe that the Rockets will end up more in the middle of those two projections but I must bear impassioned testimony of what Harden can do on the basketball court.

Harden is a top six player in the league. I mean that. It goes LeBron alone, then Curry and KD, followed by Kawhi and Westbrook, and then Harden. What he brings to a team is phenomenal. It was an all-out travesty that he wasn’t selected to an All-NBA team last year and that must be rectified. He puts up a near triple-double almost every other night on fantastic efficiencies. He’s a fantastic three-point shooter whether it’s off the dribble or catch-and-shoot. He is a supernal creator, finding teammates all across the court throughout their offensive sets. He was second in MVP voting only 15 months ago! The players themselves voted him as the league MVP that same year. Harden is fantastic. The defense thing is overblown and overrated. No one is going to argue that Harden is a good defender. I won’t try because it’s not true. He’s merely adequate. But a few vines of his less than stellar defense and effort ensconce him as an absolute sieve and menace to society, when in reality he just isn’t good at it, nothing more. And while we’re on the subject, perimeter defense is overrated. One player being ho-hum at defense on the three-point line won’t submarine an entire team. Interior defense is much more important and leads to defensive cultures more often. Kawhi is an anomaly in even winning the DPOY award, he’s the last perimeter player to win it since prime Ron Artest, and before that it was Gary Payton. Defenses are predicated around the big man defining schemes and defending the rim. If someone’s really good at shooting a three-pointer then an outside defender can’t really stop it that often. They can slow them down but it’s not enough to deter or stop an offensive attack. And for that reason, Harden’s defensive shortcomings are overblown. Harden is a seminal talent. Respect him.

NOW if you don’t want to believe in this team then that’s fine because your ammunition is there. They won’t be defending much at all anyway, what with losing Dwight Howard and Dwight Howard’s Shoulders from the frontcourt, and replacing it with still fresh-from-the-womb Clint Capela and Ryan Anderson, a defender who makes a bouncy house look tough. They aren’t planning to grind out wins, they’re planning to light the arena on fire, creating a blazing maelstrom that they emerge out of win a final score of 140-129. They’re going to shoot and run and pass, over and over. Harden is one of the best replacements for Steve Nash in the SSOL offense and they’re surrounding him with shooters and role players. Eric Gordon could go through a renaissance. Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer might only shoot three-point attempts all year long. GM Daryl Morey has assembled a quasi-analytic friendly team, albeit a different style. Run and gun baby. Let’s see where they go this time with it.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

Lost: C Chris Andersen, SF Matt Barnes, PG Bryce Cotton, SG Jordan Farmar, SF PJ Hairston, SG Lance Stephenson

Gained: PG Wade Baldwin, SG Troy Daniels, SF Chandler Parsons, SF James Ennis, C Deyonta Davis

The Grizz are probably going to turn into what the Spurs were six years ago, namely the team that everyone says “these guys have to get old SOMETIME” year in and year out before being proved wrong. I remember writing off the Spurs in 2010 after they lost to the Grizzlies in the first round. Now they’re still a top two team in the conference and have gone to two finals since then. The Grizzlies have never reached the heights that the Spurs did but they sure are going for sustained excellence. This team was old when they assembled it. Zach Randolph has been on the wrong side of 30 since the first Bush administration it seems. Tony Allen eats Werther’s Originals at halftime. These guys just won’t die. And they’re fine to keep proving every pundit wrong. I have them falling a bit but certainly not out of the playoffs. They’ll grind their way to 49 wins again, sliding in and taking their cushioned and well-worn recliner spot in the playoffs next May.

They’re trying to change up their identity a little bit and if their team can stay healthy they could surprise everyone en route to a homecourt advantage first round. Chandler Parsons will be an interesting addition to the clubhouse, bringing much-needed shooting but definitely not much-needed health with him. Last year the Grizzlies had to suit up 28 players throughout the season. That’s almost twice as many as a roster can ever have. Bad luck brought them down to the 7th seed but you must assume that regression to the mean will help this team stay on the court more often. Parsons fits right in with that aspect, barely getting on the floor during his tenure in Dallas. If he’s healthy he can help the offense open more. Keeping Parsons as a threat near the three-point line will force teams away from doubling up on Randolph or Marc Gasol, allowing them to continue to play their high-post game with each other. Gasol and Randolph have a fantastic chemistry as they work up and around the blocks, setting back picks and off-ball screens to free up the other. When each one works alone on the block they can take their defender to church, Gasol with an extended shooting game and Randolph with his array of low-post moves and the seismic force that is his butt. That thing has a gravitational pull akin to Jupiter’s fifth moon. Mike Conley got paid (rightfully so) and he’ll continue to do fabulous point guard things despite never being able to earn any all-star recognition playing in a conference stacked with great guards. Tony Allen on offense remains the ugly duckling who has no chance to become a swan. If he developed any semblance of a reliable outside shot this offense could bend minds and hearts, but as they are currently constituted they’ll just have to rely on his grindfather tactics on the other end to be enough for them. Their bench is stocked well-enough and even under new coach David Fizdale their schemes will stay similar to what they’ve been successful at in the past. The Grizzlies must have watched The Revenant and then didn’t take inspiration from their bear counterpart but rather Leonardo DiCaprio-they just won’t die.

DALLAS MAVERICKS

Lost: PG Raymond Felton, PF David Lee, C Zaza Pachulia, SF Chandler Parsons, SF Jeremy Evans, C Javale McGee

Gained: PG Seth Curry, SF Harrison Barnes, C Andrew Bogut, PF Quincy Acy, C AJ Hammons

The Mavericks are a true chameleon in the league. The organization has revolved around two celestial bodies (I’m aware I make a lot of solar system references okay just ride it out) in Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Cuban since the turn of the millennium. Other all-stars have made their requisite appearances either before or after their best days, namely pre-Phoenix Steve Nash, post New Jersey Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, and for that one wack year when Josh Howard was lights-out. They can’t stop doing it, continuing to roll the dice with veterans Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Wes Matthews and Andrew Bogut. The names on the Mavericks’ roster swirl around with complete inconsistency, as you’d be hard pressed to find someone not named Dirk on the team who was here even three years ago. Every other year Cuban restocks his pantry with new “pretty good” players. Matthews will hopefully be better than he was last year as he’s still recovering from a nasty 2015 Achilles injury. Harrison Barnes is the newest and flashiest car in Dallas and he could end up proving every internet comedian wrong after an abysmal Finals and absolutely absent appearance in the Olympic games. There’s never been a down year since Dirk was drafted and Cuban will have to die on the set of Shark Tank for him to ever consider the other meaning of his show’s second word. They want to make the playoffs and hope that the shots get hot when it matters most, riding a wave exactly like they did in 2011.

And maybe they can get their surfboards out and do it all over again this year. The talent could be there; we just don’t know yet. Bogut was a huge piece of the Warrior’s defensive scheme (don’t bring up injury excuses to any Cavaliers fan but after he went down in the Finals Cleveland never looked back) and if he can anchor a beautifully matched frontcourt then they’ll be fine there. Harrison Barnes is now named The Oft-Maligned Harrison Barnes for how much scorn he’s had to endure, but if we’re being honest and dropping all sorts of memes from the conversation, Harrison is a great young talent. He makes some boneheaded decisions out there but he’s 24 years old, has a good shot and can take the ball to the rack. Sure we want to rag on him for going sub-Antarctic cold on the biggest stage and still getting almost $100 million thrown his way, but the fact remains that Barnes is a respectable player in this league. Twelve other teams would’ve given him the same contract and most of them would’ve gladly welcomed him onto their squad at a smaller pricetag. It remains to be seen how much Dirk has in the tank but if he’s running on fumes right now then he’s a German Prius, making the most out of small amounts. Dirk is an all timer and so is head coach Rick Carlisle so it’s hard to see this team free-falling into lottery hell.

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

Lost: PF Ryan Anderson, PG Norris Cole, PG James Ennis, SG Eric Gordon, SF Jordan Hamilton, C Kendrick Perkins

Gained: SG Buddy Hield, PG Langston Galloway, SG E’Twaun Moore, SF Solomon Hill, PF Terrence Jones, C Cheick Diallo, C Robert Sacre

As much as one annoying subset of NBA fans would want you to believe, one superstar can NOT win a championship let alone contend all by themselves. Every contender since the stone age has had at least two all-stars on their roster. LBJ/Kyrie/Love this year, pretty much the entire Warriors roster right now, Duncan/Parker/Ginobili for the past fifteen, LBJ again but with Wade and Bosh, Kobe with Pau or Shaq, the Big 3 in Boston. The list goes on all the way back until the league’s inception. A singular talent can’t win alone. It’s a modern marvel that LeBron was able to drag that sorry Cavaliers team to the 2007 Finals. Sidekicks make success.

All of which lends itself more to the Anthony Davis problem. The Brow is spectacular, a modern player for a modern age. He can stretch out to the three-point line (not for entire games, but the range is coming), defend the rim, post up or drive on players. He’s a glorious unicorn that the Pelicans are #blessed to have snagged in 2012 (blessed or David Stern’s meddling, whatever you want to believe in). The only problem has been in finding a running mate to go along with him on their way to contention. Austin Rivers was supposed to be his roommate to grow with, selected nine spots after Davis that year, before he flamed out as quick as he turned it on (which was pretty much just one game against North Carolina). The Pels brass wanted to expedite the process, trading their sixth overall pick in 2013 to take point guard Jrue Holiday away from Philadelphia. It made sense, rather than getting another young piece in a horrible draft why not grab an all-star to run with? Well everything changed when the injury nation attacked. Jrue has been off the court much more than he has been on it, and Davis himself has been woefully absent from most pregame shootarounds. Eric Gordon apparently wished for the knees of a 70-year-old man on his birthday because he’s had countless surgeries down there. Tyreke Evans has been relatively healthy but he’s also been Tyreke Evans which isn’t the best thing to ever happen to basketball. If the Pelicans had all stayed healthy then maybe we’d be looking at a precocious young upstart to challenge the Warriors. Instead we got one playoff appearance and a sharpshooting four-year collegiate player to plug in and start firing away.

The Pelicans shouldn’t be absolutely abysmal, especially if the injury bug stays away. Davis is still a Norse warrior, a Viking with a wide array of clobbering weapons. Building around him is too easy, he can plug so many holes on offense or defense that you really only need talent to exist for productive things to start happening. Unfortunately NOLA is stuck on a horse pill sized contract attached to the Lump of Flesh Formerly Known as Omer Asik and doesn’t have many other big man options to pair next to the brow. If health stays in the backcourt they could pull something together. All three guards are typically ball-dominant but if Jrue is given the green-light to freewheel (postscript note: I forgot about Jrue’s current medical situation. His wife is pregnant but also has a brain tumor and so Jrue has taken an indefinite leave of absence to look after her and make sure she and the baby turns out okay. As always, there are many things more important than basketball and I respect and applaud his decision. Best of luck Jrue to you and your family, we’re cheering for a full recovery and no medical complications) and Buddy understands his role is to catch and shoot then the offense could start humming. There’s not much to do with Tyreke Evans and looking to ship him out for some sort of return (even though I just ragged on him six sentences prior he’s a good trade piece on a decent contract who could start for most teams) to bolster their frontcourt should probably be their first priority. I loved the Solomon Hill signing and even though he’s mostly unproven, he seems to do everything you want from that position, namely defend, rebound and hit at long distance. They may have overpaid him but that’s just the reality under this new cap, and it’s only going to go up even higher next year. If coach Alvin Gentry can take a little bit of what helped the Golden State offense hum under him and bring it to New Orleans, then they can talk themselves back into contention for the 7/8 seeds. For now however they’re looking at a titch above the horrid teams, winning around 35-40 games, and they’ll be stuck there unless Hield turns out to be some secret superstar or Jrue stays on the court and takes it to another level.

Just get the Brow some help please. Don’t waste this Pelican on the oil spill that your management has been for the past three years.

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