3 Things Each Southwest Division Team Must Do Following NBA All-Star Break
After the All-Star break is when the NBA season truly begins. It marks the beginning of the playoff race. It's important that teams do what must be done to push forward and continue their season into the postseason. Some teams make big moves and make runs. Others stumble down the stretch and watch the playoffs from home.
The Southwest Division is arguably the deepest in the NBA. In it are the defending champion Dallas Mavericks. The division also includes the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets, the Memphis Grizzlies and the New Orleans Hornets. Only one team in the division is under .500. There's not much separating the other four in terms of talent.
This slideshow will focus on three things each Southwest Division team should do following the NBA All-Star break:
New Orleans Hornets
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Where to begin? The Hornets are by far the worst team in the Western Conference. They currently have five less wins than the second worst team, the Sacramento Kings. The Hornets are on an island of disappointment all by themselves.
Eric Gordon, the centerpiece player the Hornets received back in the Chris Paul trade, has played in only two games due to injury. To make matters worse, Gordon and the Hornets couldn't agree on a contract extension by the January 25 deadline, making him a restricted free agent at the season's end.
The Hornets have no shot at making the playoffs. When a team is out of the playoff race this early in the season, it's time to start thinking about how to improve the team for next year.
Here are three things the Hornets must do after the All-Star break:
1. Trade Chris Kaman
Kaman has an expiring contract. He could be a valuable asset to a contender that needs another big man. According to Yahoo! Sports, the Hornets are seeking expiring contracts and a draft pick for Kaman.
That will be a tough trade to pull off. Most teams wouldn't be willing to send one of their valuable draft picks or promising young players for Kaman, who will become a free agent after the season. The Hornets can't be too picky about what they get back for Kaman, because he can just leave at the end of the season, leaving the team with nothing.
2. Give the Young Guys the Bulk of Playing Time
Because this season is a lost cause, they need to give the younger players the bulk of the playing time. This way, the Hornets can evaluate which young players are keepers and which ones are movable. You know what you're getting out of Trevor Ariza and Jarrett Jack.
See how Xavier Henry and Lance Thomas play when they are given a larger role.
3. Do Everything they Can to Make Gordon Want to Stay Long Term
Gordon will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, so the Hornets can match any offer he his given. But teams like the Indiana Pacers will be ready to give Gordon a big contract, according to The Sporting News.
Will the Hornets match the offer?
If they do, they need to make sure they are bringing back a happy player. The last thing this Hornets franchise needs is another Chris Paul situation. If they trade Kaman for a young player with potential and get lucky in the lottery draft, the Hornets rebuilding process could be a short one.
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The Grizzles were a win away from facing the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals a season ago. Even though the team was eliminated in the second round, the Grizzlies had a lot to look forward to in the 2011-12 NBA season. The return of Rudy Gay, along with the rise of Marc Gasol and the eruption of Zach Randolph, made the Grizzlies an on-paper favorite.
But so far in this shortened season, the Grizzlies haven't played anywhere close to their capabilities.
With the early-season injury to Randolph, the Grizzles have been playing .500 ball. His injury is the main reason for the Grizzlies' inconsistent play. Pairing him with Gasol in the low post gives most opposing teams fits. Without Randolph, it takes away one of the Grizzlies biggest strengths.
Another reason for the Grizzlies inconsistent play is they don't distribute the ball well; averaging only 18.5 assists a game.
Here are three things the Grizzlies must do after the All-Star break:
1. Get Healthy
Randolph is expected to return to the lineup in early March, according to Yahoo! Sports If he can play like he did in last spring's playoffs, the Grizzlies are a real threat to surge into the playoffs and do a lot of damage. Their big three (Gasol, Gay and Randolph) forms one of the best frontcourts in the NBA.
Other than the Los Angeles Lakers, the Grizzlies generate the biggest mismatch problems in the low post. It will be difficult for other teams to match their physicality, which is huge come playoff time.
2. Distribute the Ball
The Grizzlies average only 18.5 assists a game. That's 25th in the league. When Randolph returns, Mike Conley will need to do a better job of distributing the ball to the big guys. There's no reason he shouldn't average double-digit assists with such a good front court.
Backup point guard Jeremy Pargo is averaging only 1.8 assists per game. For a position that is supposed to get other guys involved, that's unacceptable.
3. Play Together
When was the last time Gay and Randolph played with each other on a consistent basis?
Other than the first four games this season, it's literally been a year. Gay went down with his season-ending injury February 15 last year against the Philadelphia 76ers. If Randolph returns and is unable to coexist with Gay, the Grizzlies could be in danger of not making the playoffs.
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Like the Denver Nuggets, the Houston Rockets win without a superstar. Instead, they are loaded with many quality young players. The most notable is Kyle Lowry, who some consider to be an All-Star snub after he didn't make the western reserves.
As ESPN's Bill Simmons said in a recent podcast, the Rockets may have dodged a bullet in the cancellation of the Chris Paul trade. If the trade went through, the Rockets would have sent Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a 2012 first-round pick to the Hornets, while receiving just Pau Gasol back in return.
Here are three things the Rockets need to do after the All-Star break:
1. Avoid Trading for Pau
According to Yahoo Sports!, Rockets still covet Gasol, and would be willing to give up Scola and Martin. I don't believe acquiring Gasol makes the Rockets better. This trade would make sense if Gasol were still the type of player that you could build a team around. But at this point in Gasol's career, he is more suited as the second fiddle.
2. Trade Jonny Flynn
The Rockets acquired Flynn in a trade during the 2011 NBA Draft. Since he's joined the Rockets, he's done very little. With two good point guards ahead of him, there's little playing time available for the former sixth pick in the draft. The Lakers could be interested in trading for his services. Trading Flynn would be better than having him rot on the end of the bench.
3. Trade for Chris Kaman
The Rockets could use some depth in the front court. They have two decent centers now, Samuel Dalembert and Jordan Hill. Adding Kaman could make Houston a dangerous playoff team. The Rockets probably wouldn't have to give up either Scola or Martin in order to get Kaman. Having that many big men capable of playing valuable minutes could make Houston dangerous.
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When the Mavericks started the season slow, it looked like Father Time may have finally caught up with them. After struggling early, the Mavericks appear to have finally gotten everything back on track. They've won their last four games and look like one of the better teams in the Western Conference.
Here are three things the Mavericks need to do after the All-Star break:
1. Find a Way to Incorporate Lamar Odom
I was just as shocked as anyone when the Lakers traded Odom to the Mavericks for basically nothing. Adding Odom to an already deep Mavericks roster looked great on paper. In reality, the addition has yet to pay off.
Last year's Sixth Man of the Year isn't a great fit on the Mavericks. He's a power forward playing on a team with one of the best power forwards of all time, Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks need to find a way to incorporate Odom into the offense. He's too good of a player for it to not be a priority.
2. Get Dirk Going
Nowitzki made the All-Star team largely on reputation. He hasn't been playing anywhere close to the level he played in the playoffs a season ago. After starting the season out of shape, he appears to have finally found his stroke again. He's scored over 20 points in each of his last six games.
If the Mavericks have any shot at making a post season run, Nowitzki will once again need to be in top form.
3. Stand Pat
The Mavericks should play out the season without making too many moves. They have their minds set on a big offseason acquisition—Deron Williams. The Mavericks have a lot of salaries coming off their books in the offseason, which will open space for them to land Williams if he leaves the New Jersey Nets.
The Mavericks are one of the teams on Williams' list as a possible destination, according to CBSSports.com.
San Antonio Spurs
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Here's something you've probably never heard before—the Spurs have one of the best records in the NBA. The Spurs are like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Every season seems the same with them. They're always good, no matter who's on the team. Because of Greg Popovich, they always play smart. Even though the big three (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbili) is aging, Popovich always finds ways to make no name guys real players.
Here are three things the Spurs need to do after the All-Star break:
1. Hope Manu Can Produce
Ginóbili is returning from a broken hand. Popovich has said that Ginóbili won't get as many minutes until he's back in shape, as Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News tweeted on Tuesday.
2. Continue to Get Production From the Young Players
As Michael A. De Leon said, Ginóbili's injury may have been a blessing in disguise. Because Ginóbili missed so much time with his hand injury, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard had to step up and produce.
With the return of Ginóbili, it's important that the Spurs find enough playing time for the two players so they can continue to improve. Both will supply valuable depth for the Spurs come playoff time.
3. Incorporate T.J. Ford
Ford hasn't played since January 10, when he injured his hamstring against the Milwaukee Bucks. His return will give the Spurs great depth at point guard. He could also be a valuable trade piece. Some teams (i.e. Lakers) could be desperate to acquire a veteran point guard.