New Orleans Hornets (46-36)
With the loss of Chris Paul to the Clippers, the Hornets are losing their key player entering the season, and hoping to start anew with an abundance of fresh signings. Finishing over .500 last season, the Hornets gave the Lakers some scares, but were eventually forced out of the first round of the playoffs in a six game series.
With the Clippers shipping over Kaman, Aminu, and young high-scoring guard Eric Gordon, the Hornets definitely have a lot to work with. Aminu is still young, being a first round draft pick from last season, and still has a lot to prove, especially with a new squad that needs to prove themselves to their city and the league as a whole.
Then again, the three were not able to boost the Clippers over a 32-50 record, which is always hard to swallow. The prediction for the refurbished Hornets is probably an under .500 season performance, probably finishing at around 28-38 this season. Expect the Hornets to have to take time to rebuild and rediscover themselves as a team and an organization, finishing last in the division.
Memphis Grizzlies (46-36)
The Grizzlies have finally made an imprint on the league since the departure of Pau Gasol to the Lakers in 2008, pushing themselves to a positive league finish and post-season birth. The Memphis Grizzlies had an impressive playoff run, knocking out the Spurs in the first round with some outstanding play from Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Shane Battier. It was the first time in five years that Memphis had made a post-season appearance, and many records were broken. Not only did they win their first playoff games, but they won their first playoff series in franchise history when they beat San Antonio in six games, making it the fourth time in NBA history for an eighth seed to knock out a first seed.
Although they were knocked out in the second round to Kevin Durant’s Thunder, it took a seven game series to finally push the Grizzlies away from their Cinderella story ending. With Marc Gasol and Hamed Haddadi rejoining after free agency, Shane Battier is the only casualty as he signed a contract with the Miami Heat.
The Grizzlies still have a lot to prove, but seeing their strength and impressive team charisma throughout the last season, they are definitely ones to watch, and may even survive more than two rounds of the playoffs. It should be another positive season, finishing around 37-29.
Expect the Grizzlies to make a huge improvement this season, finishing behind the San Antonio Spurs at third in the division.
Houston Rockets (43-39)
The Rockets are still trying to overcome the loss of big man Yao Ming due to forced retirement from repetitive injuries to both his foot and ankle. Within the past few seasons there have been a lot of new players coming and going, including Shane Battier, Aaron Brooks, and Trevor Ariza. Ariza, who was signed to replace Metta World Peace after the Lakers 2009 Championship, was shipped to New Orleans after one season in Houston in a four-team, five-player trade.
Their current roster includes key players like Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, and Hasheem Thabeet. While having a young bench that includes Goran Dragic, Chase Buddinger and numerous other players below the age of 25, it’s definitely a time of rebuilding and growth for the Rockets. Although they finished last year with a winning record, they failed to reach the playoffs for the second season in a row.
Under new head coach Kevin McHale, Rockets fans can only hope that some of their younger players will begin to help the starters out, finally making bigger impacts versus veteran opponents. As the southwest division may be the all-around strongest in the league, the Rockets finished last season at the bottom of the table. Whether the players take this as incentive to work harder and improve will be told in time. As of now it’s possible to still see them finishing with a positive season, probably finishing around 34-32.
Expect the Rockets to continue trying to find themselves this season, finishing fourth in the division.