NBA Daily: Post-Deadline Rankings – Southwest Division
Jordan Hicks continues Basketball Insiders’ division-by-division Post-Deadline Rankings series with a breakdown of the five teams in the Southwest.
Throughout the week, Basketball Insiders has released post-deadline rankings on teams in various divisions around the NBA, and next up is the Southwest Division.
The Southwest is incredibly diverse this season. It features a team that is gunning for the NBA Finals, teams that can’t decide to what extent they want to tank and everything in between.
Regardless of where the teams stand, there was plenty of movement throughout. Let’s take a look at what changes occurred and how it will affect their respective team’s record through the end of the season.
Houston Rockets (33-24)
Deadline Moves: Acquired Iman Shumpert from the Kings
The Rockets are certainly in a different place compared to where they were at this point last season. They still have a winning record, they still appear to be headed to the playoffs and James Harden is still playing ball at a historical level – yet they have about 10 less wins.
Harden is in the midst of one of the greatest offensive stretches of all time. He’s now notched 30 or more points for 30 straight games, joining an elite list featuring himself and Wilt Chamberlain. Despite his heroic efforts, injuries to key players Chris Paul and Clint Capela – coupled with the offseason departure of key players Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute – have severely limited any success the Rockets were due.
The Rockets were able to acquire Kenneth Faried in the buyout market a few weeks before the trade deadline and his presence has helped the hobbled Rockets to a 7-5 record over the period. He’s playing the best basketball of his career, likely a result of being on the same court as Harden.
Adding Shumpert via trade allowed the Rockets to get below the luxury tax as well as bolster their defensive presence on the wing. Losing Ariza and Mbah a Moute severely hurt the Rockets’ defensive abilities, so adding Shumpert will certainly hamper the bleeding on that end of the court. With Harden, Eric Gordon and Chris Paul healthy, the Rockets are quite productive on offense, so Iman will certainly help Houston get key stops on the defensive end of the court.
While Shumpert doesn’t totally improve the Rocket’s chances of a repeat to the Western Conference Finals, his acquisition definitely doesn’t hurt.
Projected Finish: 1st Place
San Antonio Spurs (33-26)
Deadline Moves: N/A
The Spurs decided to stand pat this trade deadline – just like they have the last few years. This wasn’t necessarily a bad move as they would’ve likely needed to make some major moves to essentially move the needle, and that just wasn’t going to happen.
Pau Gasol has fallen out of the rotation, but he’s getting too old to garner any serious interest in the trade market. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan were both likely off the table due to the fact that they are the main reasons the Spurs are even still in the playoff race. And if the Spurs keep up their play, their first-round pick in 2019 will likely not be that prized as it would essentially unfold in the latter half of the upcoming draft.
With the sudden departure of Kawhi Leonard, most Spurs followers were probably expecting to miss the playoffs in the stacked West. Lo and behold, they are in the thick of the playoff race and don’t appear to be dropping out anytime soon.
In order to get back to championship contention, San Antonio will likely need to retool their roster. Aldridge and DeRozan are both leaving their primes, and their only significant young piece to build off of is Dejounte Murray, who was sidelined the entire season to an ACL tear.
The Spurs clearly have a lot of questions to tackle this offseason, so not wasting resources for a potential first-round exit was likely a smart move.
Projected Finish: 2nd Place
Dallas Mavericks (26-31)
Deadline Moves: Acquired Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. from the Knicks and Justin Jackson from the Kings
The Mavericks likely made the biggest splash during the trade deadline and were certainly responsible for the first major domino falling.
They essentially traded their entire starting five – sans Wonderboy Luka Doncic – and added valuable assets for the future. Porzingis will likely not suit up this season as he continues to rehab his knee from an ACL tear last season at this time. But pairing him with a shoo-in Rookie of the Year winner in Doncic can definitely lead to a fun dynasty in Dallas.
Taking on Hardaway’s contract was definitely part of the deal, but Hardaway at least adds a decent amount of value on the offensive end.
Shedding Harrison Barnes salary in a trade with Sacramento can very well open up a max slot this summer, and Dallas is banking on bringing in a third star to pair with the future Porzingis-Doncic duo.
The trade was definitely not made to bolster their chances of the playoffs this season – if anything it made the odds of them making it much worse – but Dallas is in a good a place as any team in the league moving forward.
Projected Finish: 3rd Place
Memphis Grizzlies (23-36)
Deadline Moves: Acquired Delon Wright, CJ Miles and Jonas Valanciunas from the Raptors and Avery Bradley from the Clippers
This was a very strange deadline for the Grizzlies. Both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the two players essential to the aging Grit-and-Grind era, were made heavily available in the weeks leading up to the deadline. Memphis ended up sending Gasol to Toronto, but for whatever reason couldn’t find a home for Conley – despite heavy interest from a handful of teams.
Conley, who isn’t getting any younger, is now stuck on a team that isn’t quite sure what direction they want to go in. It seemed very apparent that he was going to be traded – you could see it in his face during his last couple of interviews as a Grizzly – but for whatever reason, Memphis decided that no team was willing to offer their specific asking price.
There is still a chance that Conley is moved over the summer, but it’s obvious Memphis will not get nearly the same haul they were asking for this past deadline.
Keeping Conley on the roster will certainly not improve their chances of a higher draft pick, so it will be interesting to see how Memphis uses him through the rest of the season.
As for new additions to the team, Wright has an opportunity to get more minutes at point guard than what he was getting in Toronto. Valanciunas will automatically be plugged into the starting center role, and if you look at his numbers so far this season, he’ll likely provide the same punch Gasol did on offense.
Avery Bradley is an ideal fit for Memphis, but are the Grizzlies still trying to win? Only time will tell.
Projected Finish: 4th Place
New Orleans Pelicans (25-33)
Deadline Moves: N/A
While the Pelicans didn’t make any moves, one could argue that keeping Anthony Davis in and of itself was an acquisition. After he demanded a trade, it felt almost imminent that he would be sent elsewhere. We know that the Lakers actually offered multiple deals, and other teams showed a legitimate interest, but at the end of the day, general manager Dell Demps decided to hold onto Davis until at least the summer.
They ended up sending Nikola Mirotic off for four second-round picks but weren’t able to find homes for Julius Randle or Davis – players they were actively shopping.
Reports are surfacing that the Pelicans wanted to sit Davis out the entire rest of the season, but that NBA did not want them to do that. This makes things even more difficult for a franchise that for some reason couldn’t find success with arguably a top-five player on their roster.
New Orleans would be better off losing a handful of games as the season continues in hopes of landing a higher draft pick in the summer. But being forced to play Davis could certainly complicate things. Look for a few teams to call the Pelicans in the summer about both Davis and Jrue Holiday – each has at least one year left on their contracts and will likely want to play for teams competing for a championship.
They probably could have gotten decent offers for both Holiday and Randle before the deadline, but by not pulling the trigger, it’s obvious they are hoping for some better offers after the season.
Projected Finish: 5th Place
Like mentioned previously, this division is diverse with both win-now and build-now teams. A lot can change in a short time, as the Pelicans were likely penciled in as the second best team in the Southwest to start the season. The future didn’t look all that bright in Dallas at the end of last season, but after drafting a future perennial All-Star in Doncic and pulling multiple savvy moves before the deadline, their future is gleaming.
While none of these teams appear ready to make a championship run this postseason, let’s not forget that the Rockets were only one game – some may say one hamstring – away from dethroning the Golden State Warriors in the West last year. They are clearly a less talented team than last season, but their mainstays are still there. If healthy, they could definitely make noise a second year in a row.
As for the rest of the conference, no one really made any “win-now” acquisitions. As such, the remaining four teams will look to develop their current rosters over the break. That, coupled with any surprise free agent signings, could easily have just about every one of them back in the postseason next year.
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