Southwest Division team-by-team capsules
Capsules for the NBA’s Southwest Division teams, listed in predicted order of divisional finish by AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski:
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
LAST SEASON: 62-20, won NBA title.
STARTING FIVE: G Tony Parker (16.7 ppg, 5.7 apg, 2.3 rpg), G Danny Green (9.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 41.5 percent 3s), F Kawhi Leonard (12.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.7 spg, 52.2 percent FG), F Tim Duncan (15.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.9 bpg, 3.0 apg), C Tiago Splitter (8.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 52.3 percent FG).
KEY ADDITIONS: Assistant coach Ettore Messina, assistant coach Becky Hammon.
KEY LOSSES: None.
COACH: Gregg Popovich, 19th season.
EYES ON: Leonard. He took his game to another level in the NBA Finals, performing brilliantly on both ends of the floor to win the MVP award and set himself up for a big-money extension. Popovich has already called him the next face of the franchise, and the unflappable Leonard has given no one a reason to doubt the sage coach’s confidence.
OUTLOOK: Everyone is back, because that’s what the Spurs do. About the only thing the Spurs haven’t done yet is win back-to-back titles. Why not this year? With Popovich managing minutes and having his team ready to roll in the playoffs better than any other coach, and an unselfish and seemingly ageless trio of stars in Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili, the Spurs are primed to make a run at a sixth championship.
LAST SEASON: 49-33, lost to San Antonio Spurs 4-3 in first round.
STARTING FIVE: G Jameer Nelson (12.1 ppg, 7.0 apg), G Monta Ellis (19.0 ppg, 5.7 apg), F Chandler Parsons (16.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.0 apg), F Dirk Nowitzki (21.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg), C Tyson Chandler (8.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.1 bpg).
KEY ADDITIONS: G Nelson (free agent, Magic), F Parsons (free agent, Rockets), C Chandler (trade, Knicks), G Raymond Felton (trade, Knicks), F Al-Farouq Aminu (free agent, Pelicans), F Richard Jefferson (free agent, Jazz).
KEY LOSSES: F Shawn Marion (free agent, Cavaliers), G-F Vince Carter (free agent, Grizzlies), G Jose Calderon (trade, Knicks), C Samuel Dalembert (trade, Knicks), F-C DeJuan Blair (trade, Wizards).
COACH: Rick Carlisle, seventh season.
EYES ON: Parsons. Essentially got a max contract at three years, $46 million when the Mavericks signed him to an offer sheet that Houston declined to match. He says he wants to be a marquee player now that he’s out of the shadow of James Harden and Dwight Howard. He’ll get to ease into that role since the Mavericks still have Nowitzki and Chandler is back.
OUTLOOK: Several factors are fueling expectations of a high finish in the tough Western Conference, starting with the return of Chandler, the emotional leader for the franchise’s only championship in 2011. Ellis and Parsons give the Mavericks their best chance yet to have a leading scorer not named Nowitzki for the first time since 2000.
LAST SEASON: 50-32, lost to Oklahoma City Thunder 4-3 in first round.
STARTING FIVE: G Michael Conley (17.2 ppg, 6.0 apg, 1.51 spg), G Courtney Lee (9.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.5 apg), F Tayshaun Prince (6.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.6 apg), F Zach Randolph (17.4 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2.5 apg), C Marc Gasol (14.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.6 apg).
KEY ADDITIONS: G/F Vince Carter (free agent, Mavericks), G Jordan Adams (draft, UCLA), F/C Jarnell Stokes (draft night trade/Jazz).
KEY LOSSES: G/F Mike Miller (free agent, Cavaliers), F Ed Davis (free agent, Lakers), F James Johnson (free agent, Raptors).
COACH: Dave Joerger, second season.
EYES ON: Gasol. He played only 59 games last summer after hurting his left knee, but he spent the summer losing some weight and getting stronger. He is going into the final year on his contract making fans worried this might be his last season in Memphis. The Grizzlies keep saying signing Gasol to a new contract is their top priority once they can start talking numbers in mid-December.
OUTLOOK: Controlling owner Robert Pera shook up the front office in May, gave Joerger an extension and spent some money to support his Grizzlies with a mental endurance coach. The Grizzlies will not be satisfied with extending the franchise-record four straight playoff berths, and they believe their bench is deep enough to help them make a run back to the Western Finals even in the stacked conference.
LAST SEASON: 54-28, lost to Portland Trail Blazers 4-2 in first round.
STARTING FIVE: G Patrick Beverley (10.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.7 apg), G James Harden (25.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 6.1 apg), F Trevor Ariza (14.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.5 apg), F Terrence Jones (12.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.1 apg), C Dwight Howard (18.3 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg).
KEY ADDITIONS: F Ariza (trade, Washington), G Jason Terry (trade, Sacramento), F Kostas Papanikolaou (trade, Portland), F Jeff Adrien (free agent, Milwaukee).
KEY LOSSES: F Chandler Parsons (free agent, Dallas), F Omri Casspi (free agent, Sacramento).
COACH: Kevin McHale, fourth season.
EYES ON: Harden. He was fifth in the league in scoring last season, but received plenty of criticism for his defense this offseason after the Rockets were eliminated by Portland in the first round of the playoffs. He starred for the USA team that won the World Cup in 2014 and has vowed that he’ll improve as a defender this season. He’s also focused on becoming more of a leader in his third season with the Rockets.
OUTLOOK: With Howard and Harden the Rockets have a core for success and are almost guaranteed another trip to the playoffs. The key will be if the other starters can step up and if Ariza can improve their lackluster defense. If those two things happen, the Rockets could make it to the second round — or beyond — for the first time since 2009.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
LAST SEASON: 34-48, 12th in Western Conference.
STARTING FIVE: G Jrue Holiday (14.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 7.9 apg), G Eric Gordon (15.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.3 apg), F Tyreke Evans (14.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.0 apg), F Anthony Davis (20.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 2.8 bpg, 1.6 apg), C Omer Asik (5.8 ppg, 7.09 rpg, 0.8 bpg)
KEY ADDITIONS: Asik (trade, Rockets), F John Salmons (free agent, Hawks), G Jimmer Fredette (free agent, Bulls)
KEY LOSSES: G Anthony Morrow (free agent, Thunder), F Al-Farouq Aminu (free agent, Mavericks), C Jason Smith (free agent, Knicks).
COACH: Monty Williams, fifth season.
EYES ON: Anthony Davis. He improved significantly last season, being named to his first All-Star squad in only his second season as a pro. The 21-year-old also was among the leaders on Team USA en route to winning the FIBA World Cup in Spain in August. Davis won a national title with Kentucky in college and also was part of a gold medal squad at the 2012 London Games. But he’s still seeking his first taste of the NBA playoffs, and knows that doing so will likely hinge on his production and leadership.
OUTLOOK: The Pelicans expect the inside presence of the 7-foot Asik to give Davis the freedom to provide help defense farther from the basket, release quicker on the fast break and expand his all-court game. Williams is also trying to determine whether the 6-6 Evans can thrive as an undersized small forward. If so, that would give New Orleans four proven double-digit scorers in its starting lineup. If the club can stay healthy — something it couldn’t do last season — it could emerge as a playoff contender.