NBA offseason grades: Breaking down the moves in the Southwest Division

NBA offseason grades: Breaking down the moves in the Southwest Division

On the cusp of a new campaign, we’re recapping the summer moves made by each NBA franchise, whether through the draft, trades, or free agency.

The pecking order in the Southwest Division could go all kinds of ways. While the Memphis Grizzlies head into the 2023-24 campaign as front-runners, both the New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks boast the talent to claim the top spot. Meanwhile, expect the young cores of the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs to take a step forward after each team won just 22 games.

Be sure to check out our breakdowns for all six NBA divisions.

Atlantic | Central | Southeast
Northwest | Pacific | Southwest

Memphis Grizzlies

Last season: 51-31 (.622), lost in first round.

David Dow / National Basketball Association / Getty

Thirteen years ago, the Grizzlies lured Tony Allen away from the Boston Celtics, inking the scrappy wing to a multi-year deal in free agency. “The Grindfather” quickly won the hearts of fans in Memphis as his tenacious defensive play helped the organization reach seven straight postseasons.

The Grizzlies are hoping Marcus Smart can ignite a similar culture change and provide guidance to a young roster that showed its immaturity at times last season. The former Defensive Player of the Year will also assume Dillon Brooks‘ role as the club’s primary perimeter stopper and take over lead playmaking duties until Ja Morant returns from his 25-game suspension. Once the All-Star guard comes back, Smart won’t have any problems playing off the ball as he isn’t a high-usage player.

However, Smart’s acquisition came at a high price. Memphis sent premium backup guard Tyus Jones to the Washington Wizards and two first-round selections to Boston in the three-team deal. The Grizzlies later brought in veteran floor general Derrick Rose to fill the void, but he’s undoubtedly a downgrade at this stage of his career. Rose managed to get a fully guaranteed two-year contract despite recently turning 35 and coming off his worst NBA campaign.

Memphis subsequently made a smarter business decision, signing Desmond Bane to a five-year, $207-million max extension. The move keeps the 3-point sniper under team control alongside Morant, Smart, and Jaren Jackson through at least 2025-26.

Grade: B

New Orleans Pelicans

Last season: 42-40 (.512), lost in play-in tournament.

Sean Gardner / Getty Images Sport / Getty

New Orleans was fairly quiet as it prepared for Year 5 of the Zion Williamson era. Most notably, the Pelicans locked in Herb Jones to a four-year, $54-million contract. It’s a win for both sides. The Pelicans kept one of the Association’s top defenders through 2026-27 at a solid price, and he’ll outplay his contract if he continues on the same trajectory. Meanwhile, he can test the market again in his prime years.

The club also managed to address a glaring need in the draft, taking Jordan Hawkins with the No. 14 pick. The UConn sharpshooter shot nearly 40% from deep during the Huskies’ national championship run last season and should help a New Orleans unit that finished 23rd in threes per game (11) in 2022-23.

Ultimately, the Pelicans’ season hinges on their health. Zion Williamson has been limited to only 29 appearances over the past two campaigns. Key rotational pieces Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy both sustained injuries during the offseason, with the latter set to be sidelined until approximately mid-November.

Grade: B

Dallas Mavericks

Last season: 38-44 (.463), missed playoffs.

Ron Jenkins / Getty Images Sport / Getty

While the Kyrie IrvingLuka Doncic tandem didn’t yield immediate success, the Mavs had little choice but to keep the pairing together. It’s their best route to winning with Doncic, especially after surrendering two starters and draft capital to pry Irving away from the Brooklyn Nets.

With their starting backcourt in place, Dallas’ front office did a pretty good job replenishing its depth. Seth Curry and Grant Williams are proven 3-point marksmen who should benefit from Irving’s and Doncic’s elite isolation play. Both players were extremely efficient from the corner in 2022-23, each draining over 40% of their triples.

After dropping from seventh to 25th in defensive efficiency, bringing in Williams’ physical brand of play was a step in the right direction. However, the Mavs didn’t stop there, acquiring the rights of rim-protector Dereck Lively and lockdown perimeter defender Olivier-Maxence Prosper in a pair of draft-day deals. As an added bonus, the team got off the final two years of Davis Bertans‘ contract when it traded down two spots to select Lively. Dallas’ defense should be closer to what it was two years ago with its latest additions and a healthy Maxi Kleber in the rotation.

Dante Exum is an intriguing flier following his strong stint in Europe. The former No. 5 pick’s cutting ability, perimeter defense, and improved outside stroke could make for a pleasant surprise.

Grade: A-

Houston Rockets

Last season: 22-60 (.268), missed playoffs.

Carmen Mandato / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Something needed to change in Houston following another campaign with little progress. The Rockets fired head coach Stephen Silas after he guided the club to a third consecutive bottom-five finish in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Ime Udoka assumes Silas’ role following a season-long suspension. The Celtics went to The Finals and owned the top-ranked defense during Udoka’s lone campaign at the helm. His tactical acumen and willingness to hold players accountable might just be what Houston needs.

The Rockets ensured their young nucleus was surrounded by vets. Fred VanVleet brings championship pedigree and stabilization at the point. Dillon Brooks could single-handedly change the team’s defensive culture with the way he competes on each possession. Reggie Bullock will bolster last season’s worst 3-point attack. Jeff Green has always been highly regarded by his peers, and the locker room will undoubtedly benefit from his mentorship.

Sure, Houston definitely overpaid to secure all three of those free agents, but that won’t matter if their presence helps the club’s foundational pieces in the long run. By the time Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, and Jabari Smith need new deals, most of the contracts from this summer’s free agency could be off the books.

The Rockets also had a strong showing in the draft. Amen Thompson has the makings of a dynamic two-way force, especially if his jumper comes around. Meanwhile, Cam Whitmore‘s Summer League MVP performance was a further indication he was the steal of this year’s draft.

Grade: A-

San Antonio Spurs

Last season: 22-60 (.268), missed playoffs.

Brian Babineau / National Basketball Association / Getty

San Antonio made the obvious choice with this year’s No. 1 pick, taking French phenom Victor Wembanyama. The hype surrounding the 7-foot-4 big man is warranted as he truly has the potential to be a generational two-way talent.

It would’ve been easy for the Spurs to accelerate their rebuild, but they’ve exercised patience instead. The front office used its cap space to absorb the expiring contracts of Cedi Osman, Cameron Payne, and Bullock in three separate trades. By taking on some unwanted salaries, San Antonio managed to net an unprotected first-round pick swap and two second-rounders.

Although Payne and Bullock are no longer on the roster, San Antonio still has an opportunity to flip Osman at the deadline for more assets. In the meantime, the former Cavs forward provides some much-needed outside shooting and a veteran presence.

The Spurs’ inactivity in free agency meant most of last season’s squad returned. Tre Jones made strides in his first campaign as the club’s starting point guard and was rewarded with a two-year, $19-million contract. Sandro Mamukelashvili and Julian Champagnie were also brought back for a deeper look after impressing down the stretch in a limited sample.

San Antonio’s largest financial commitment was a five-year, $146-million contract extension handed to Devin Vassell. The Florida State product was enjoying a breakout 2022-23 campaign before a knee injury shut him down for two months. If Vassell continues to grow as a defender and floor-spacer, this deal could become great value for the Spurs.

A successful 2023-24 season isn’t entirely dependent on a certain number of wins, but more on determining who can be part of the franchise’s big picture alongside Wembanyama.

Grade: A

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