A response to Tuesday's post about the Mavericks season.
If I were an NBA GM and I thought I had the pieces to maximize Wright's talents, I would throw an unreasonable amount of money at him. At the very worst, he's an ideal third big man off the bench who would be absolutely murder next to a bruising center like Marc Gasol.
But I digress. What makes the Western Conference so intriguing this year is how many teams you can make plausible cases for contention. The Mavericks are going to have a lot of competition for the No. 3-7 spots out West (we'll get to the Lakers and the Thunder later).
The San Antonio Spurs, as you noted, are coming off a season where they went 50-16 in the regular season and 10-4 in the playoffs.
The Denver Nuggets should benefit from another year of seasoning for Javale McGee (it's not impossible) and Kenneth Faried and they made a dramatic upgrade with the addition of Andre Iguodala on the wings.
The Memphis Grizzlies, with Zach Randolph and Dallas native Darrell Arthur healthy, are one of the biggest teams in the NBA, which always makes them a threat.
The LA Clippers will be in Year 2 of the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era, although I'm skeptical of having so many aging players (Jamal Crawford, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Grant Hill) in their rotation. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are also going to have to become a lot more savvy players if they're going to take the next step.
There isn't a huge amount of separation between those teams in my mind, and the lower portion of the West is much improved as well. Utah could be well positioned to enjoy a breakout year from Derrick Favors, who has DPOY potential at 6'10 250. Golden State has a tremendous amount of shooting and playmaking -- Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee -- around an excellent (when healthy) two-way center in Andrew Bogut. Minnesota might be able to hold the fort with Kevin Love and their two Russian imports (Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved) until Ricky Rubio returns from an ACL injury at mid-season.
But why bury the lead any further? All eyes out West will be on LA and Oklahoma City next season, and for good reason. There's a lot of ifs in this sentence, but if Howard can return from his back injury at 100% and if Kobe can not shoot the ball fiftyleven times andif Nash can stay healthy at the age of 39, the amount of talent the Lakers have assembled is jaw-dropping. Here's an interesting way to look at Howard's impact on a game: imagine if he had Bosh and Wade on his team or Westbrook and Harden.
Which isn't to minimize the ability of Kevin Durant, Thunderstruck star. There's certainly enough talent in Oklahoma City to merit the "super-team" tag. They have the best scorer in the NBA in Durant, but to win a title they're going to have to go through teams built around the NBA's best all-around player and its best big man.
And while it may not make a big impact this season, the Thunder hit another HR in the draft in 2012. They took Baylor's Perry Jones III, a wondrously talented 6'11 235 do-everything forward who I thought was a top 5 talent, at No. 28. When you consider that Miles Plumlee (who scored 4 points against a Lehigh team with no scholarship player above 6'8 in the NCAA Tournament) went No. 26, the Jones selection was larceny of the highest order.
In three years, an Ibaka / PJ3 / Durant / Harden / Westbrook lineup would be absolutely unstoppable. That's why I don't think it will ever come to be. If I'm the Mavericks front office, I'm doing everything short of faxing a contract to James Harden's camp to signal my interest in signing him to a max deal.
Harden is a young Manu Ginobili without any history of durability issues: he's the perfect guy to put next to Dirk and begin building around for the future and there's no way Oklahoma City can afford to sign him to the type of front-loaded contract the Mavericks will be positioned to give him.
As much as I like the short-term roster Dallas has put together for 2013, there's no one on this roster not named Dirk I wouldn't give up to get Harden. That, to me, is the logical next step for the Mavericks. What say you? Should the organization keep "their powder dry" for a big move like Harden in the summer of 2013 or go back to the more incremental approach they used to picking players after they lost out on Deron Williams this summer?
Check back on Friday for a look at the Mavericks salary cap situation over the next few years.