Training camps open in less than a week as the NBA prepares for the 2014-15 season.
Each of the five teams in the Southwest Division have high expectations for the year ahead.
The San Antonio Spurs (62-20) are hoping to repeat as champions for the first time in franchise history.
The Spurs have 17 players under contract, but have yet to resolve the status of restricted free agent Aron Baynes. If Baynes returns, San Antonio would have the maximum of 15 guaranteed players — but the team is reportedly looking for sign-and-trade options, while Baynes is considering playing overseas.
Rookies Bryce Cotton, JaMychal Green and Josh Davis are all hoping to get that final roster spot — each with minor guarantees. Those cut could end up in the D-League on the Austin Toros as affiliate players of the Spurs.
Outside of who makes the team, it will be interesting to see how Coach Gregg Popovich chooses to play UCLA rookie Kyle Anderson, who may be a point guard, forward or even a Boris Diaw-type undersized center.
The Houston Rockets (54-28) have swapped out Chandler Parsons for Trevor Ariza, while adding Jason Terry and rookies Nick Johnson, Kostas Papanikolaou and Clint Capela.
The tricky part for the Rockets is the 15-man limit when the team already has 16 (including the non-guaranteed Patrick Beverley, the probable starter at the point on opening night).
One guaranteed player will have to go, either by trade or outright waiver. Given the team acquired or re-signed Troy Daniels, Jeff Adrien, Ish Smith, Joey Dorsey, Francisco Garcia, Ariza, Terry, Johnson, Papanikolaou and Capela — they would all presumably be safe.
The roster crunch doesn’t bode well for non/partially-guaranteed players like Josh Powell, Robert Covington or Tarik Black.
All of Isaiah Canaan’s salary this season is guaranteed and most of his $947k for next season is as well. One of Canaan, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas could fall victim to the Rockets’ roster glut.
While the Memphis Grizzlies (50-32) were just the seventh seed in the West, they still managed to win an impressive 50 games — better than all but two squads in the Eastern Conference.
Memphis has 14 guaranteed players with one roster spot available to five players, including high-scoring forward Michael Beasley. Other camp invites include Earl Clark, Kalin Lucas, Patrick Christopher and Luke Hancock. Beasley is an interesting get for a team that sometimes struggles to put points on the board.
Another battle to watch: Beno Udrih vs. Nick Calathes for the role of primary backup to starting point guard Mike Conley.
The Dallas Mavericks (49-33) were right behind the Grizzlies in eighth place. The return of Tyson Chandler should help Dallas reestablish a defensive identity on a team loaded with scorers.
The Mavericks are already at the maximum of 15 guaranteed players, which won’t help non/partially-guaranteed players like Ivan Johnson, Charlie Villanueva, Eric Griffin or Doron Lamb.
The starting point guard spot may be decided by Raymond Felton’s four-game suspension (gun charges) — opening the door to veteran Jameer Nelson.
The Mavs are also overloaded at small forward with Chandler Parsons, Jae Crowder, Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson. Aminu can play at the four but lacks shooting range.
The New Orleans Pelicans (34-48) believe they’re a playoff team, with the ever-improving Anthony Davis. New Orleans added Omer Asik from the Rockets, which should help make the Pelicans extremely tough defensively.
Only 12 players are fully guaranteed but small forward Darius Miller has a solid $400k locked in, likely leaving up to two spots for Luke Babbitt, Patric Young, Kevin Jones, Vernon Macklin and Dionte Christmas. Both Babbitt and Young are the favorites to make it to opening night.
The bigger issue for the Pelicans is small forward. Will Tyreke Evans start with a Jrue Holiday/Eric Gordon backcourt?
Will newcomer John Salmons fit that role or will the team go big with Ryan Anderson at the three?
The camp questions will be answered in late October, but regardless of the decisions, the Southwest Division was the best in the NBA last season. There’s little reason to think that will change through 2014-15.
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