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June 25, 2007

The tough Southwest looking to get tougher

The Southwest was the only division in the NBA to have three teams win 50 games. It also featured a fourth team that was in the playoff hunt until the last two weeks of the season.

Looking at the draft, the Southwest has a chance to solidify itself as the toughest division in the NBA.

The Grizzlies failed to win the lottery, but will be able to add an impact player with the No. 4 pick. They struggled with injuries this season, but were a playoff team just two years ago.

The Hornets pick 13th overall, and the Rockets and Spurs also draft during the late first round.

Dallas had an outstanding regular season, and the Mavericks can improve their depth now or in the future with three second-round picks.

Rivals.com has partnered with NBA Draft experts draftexpress.com to analyze the needs of each NBA team. Here is our analysis of the Southwest Division's needs on a team-by-team basis:

Southwest Division:
Dallas Mavericks | Houston Rockets | Memphis Grizzlies | New Orleans Hornets | San Antonio Spurs

Dallas Mavericks (67-15 in 2006-07)
Draft picks: No. 34, No. 50, No. 60
Depth chart
PG: Devin Harris / Jose Juan Barea
SG: Jason Terry / Jerry Stackhouse* / Maurice Ager
SF: Josh Howard / Devean George / Greg Buckner
PF: Dirk Nowitzki / Austin Croshere* / Pops Mensah-Bonsu
C: Erick Dampier / Desagana Diop / DJ Mbenga / Kevin Willis
*Potential free agent
Could use help at: Shooting Guard, Power Forward
Bottom line: After putting together a fantastic regular season, the Mavs struggled in the first round of the playoffs. Dallas was eliminated by No. 8 seed Golden State in one of the greatest upsets in the history of the NBA. Dallas has all the major pieces in place to contend for a championship, but they must add toughness and depth at a couple positions. A quality backup power forward would come in handy, as would a younger scoring guard to replace aging free agent Jerry Stackhouse.
Draft outlook: Dallas should be able to grab a quality rotation player with the fourth pick in the second round. Jared Dudley, Aaron Gray, or Nick Fazekas could all work for Dallas to replace Croshere off the bench. They could also choose to look long term here by drafting Petteri Koponen, or they could grab Dominic McGuire or Alando Tucker to back up the swing positions. Since the Mavericks will likely have a full roster, they will probably go international with at least one of their two late picks. Joao Gomes could be an interesting gamble for the Mavs late in the draft, and they could leave him in Europe for a couple years before bringing him to Texas. Ryvon Covile or Jermareo Davidson could also be worth a look late in the draft.
Houston Rockets (52-30 in 2006-07)
Draft picks: No. 26
Depth chart
PG: Rafer Alston / Luther Head / John Lucas
SG: Tracy McGrady / Vassilis Spanoulis / Bob Sura
SF: Shane Battier / Kirk Snyder / Bonzi Wells
PF: Juwon Howard / Chuck Hayes* / Steve Novak
C: Yao Ming / Dikembe Mutombo* / Jake Tsakalidis*
*Potential free agent
Could use help at: Power Forward, Center, Point Guard
Bottom line: After failing to make it past the first round of the playoffs, the Rockets brought in a more offensive-minded coach in Rick Adelman. They will likely look for upgrades at point guard and center during the offseason. Dikembe Mutombo says he will return for another year, but the Rockets could use a younger backup center to groom for the future. With two superstars, the Rockets have been built to win now. They will try and find the pieces to get them to the second round and beyond for the 2007-2008 season.
Draft outlook: Many future rotation big men will be available during the late first round of the draft - should the Rockets decide to go that route. Sean Williams could turn into a steal at No. 26 if he can solve his off-the-court problems. Jared Dudley would also provide good value here, as he would be able to step in and play 15 minutes off the bench as a rookie. Taurean Green and Petteri Koponen could prove to be solid picks at point guard, though the Rockets may be better off trying to fill that need in free agency. Morris Almond could be another interesting pick here. His shooting would nicely complement both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady.
Memphis Grizzlies (22-60 in 2006-07)
Draft pick: No. 4
Depth chart
PG: Damon Stoudamire / Kyle Lowry / Chucky Atkins* / Junior Harrington
SG: Mike Miller / Tarence Kinsey / Dahntay Jones*
SF: Rudy Gay / Brian Cardinal
PF: Pau Gasol /Hakim Warrick / Alexander Johnson
C: Stromile Swift / Lawrence Roberts*
*Potential free agent
Could use help at: Point Guard, Center
Bottom line:The Grizzlies struggled last season in a big way, thanks in part to an injury to Pau Gasol that sidelined him for most of the year. Memphis instead focused on developing their young talent last season, and could regroup this year to go on a playoff run. At point guard, the Grizzlies will need to upgrade from an aging Damon Stoudamire and an unproven Kyle Lowry. Center also appears to be a big position of concern for Memphis, who could look to fill the need in this deep draft.
Draft outlook: The only pick belonging to the Grizzlies at No. 4 should yield a high quality player. The likely route is to go with a big man such as Brandan Wright, Al Horford, or Joakim Noah, all players who could complement Pau Gasol's game very nicely. Noah or Horford would both provide the defensive presence Memphis has lacked up front. If the Grizzlies look to upgrade at point guard, they could look at Mike Conley Jr. - the best pure point guard in the draft.
New Orleans Hornets (39-43 in 2006-07)
Draft picks: No. 13, No. 43
Depth chart
PG: Chris Paul / Bobby Jackson / Jannero Pargo
SG: Desmond Mason* / Devin Brown* / Rasual Butler
SF: Peja Stojakovic / Linton Johnson* / Marcus Vinicius
PF: David West / Cedric Simmons / Brandon Bass*
C: Tyson Chandler / Hilton Armstrong / Marc Jackson*
*Potential free agent
Could use help at: Shooting Guard, Point Guard Depth
Bottom line: Injury riddled seasons from Chris Paul and David West ruined the chances for the Hornets to make the playoffs, but they are now in a perfect spot to add a key piece and become a playoff team for the 2007-2008 season. Health will be an important factor with this team. Bobby Jackson and Peja Stojakovic have spent time on the injured reserve. They need to look for a starting quality shooting guard in addition to a younger backup point guard during the offseason. The draft will be a good place for them to start their search.
Draft outlook: Nick Young seems to be a perfect fit for the No. 13 pick. Young could become the dynamic scorer the Hornets have been lacking, and he would thrive in transition running with Chris Paul. Julian Wright, Al Thornton, and Rodney Stuckey could all be worth a look here as well. Gabe Pruitt could be a nice fit with their second round pick. A potential combo guard, Pruitt could play at either backcourt position for the Hornets. A guy like Trey Johnson or Reyshawn Terry could deserve some consideration at No. 43.
San Antonio Spurs (58-24 in 2006-07)
Draft pick: No. 28, No. 33, No. 58
Depth chart
PG: Tony Parker / Jacque Vaughn* / Beno Udrih
SG: Manu Ginobili / Brent Barry / James White
SF: Bruce Bowen / Michael Finley
PF: Tim Duncan / Robert Horry/ Melvin Ely* / Matt Bonner*
C: Fabricio Oberto / Francisco Elson / Jackie Butler
*Potential free agent
Could use help at: Center, Point Guard, Youth
Bottom line: After another great season, the Spurs appear to be on their way to a fourth championship during the Tim Duncan era. They have a well-balanced roster with international flavor and plenty of veteran experience. During the offseason the Spurs may look to add some younger pieces for the future. They could use a younger backup at point guard, assuming Udrih has fallen out of favor with coach Greg Popovic.
Draft outlook: The Spurs are in a position where they can take the best player available. If they choose to go the safe route, Jared Dudley or Morris Almond could become solid contributors very early. A high IQ point guard, Petteri Koponen, seems like the type of player the Spurs would draft in the first round. With the 34th overall pick in the draft as well, San Antonio can look for a high-risk, high-reward project that could pay off down the road. Daequan Cook could be an interesting player here, and Dominic McGuire could be a good option as well. The Spurs will likely take an international product or trade the 58th pick in the draft, with Mirza Begic being an interesting option here if the keep the choice.

Mike Schmidt of DraftExpress covers the NBA Draft for Rivals.com. Schmidt's work can also be found at www.draftexpress.com, where they offer a free NBA Draft scouting service.

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