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Rockets gaining on Mavs, Spurs in Southwest Division

Posted: Tuesday September 4, 2007 11:27AM; Updated: Tuesday September 4, 2007 2:40PM
How much will 35-year-old Eddie Jones help the Mavs in their latest quest to win a title?
How much will 35-year-old Eddie Jones help the Mavs in their latest quest to win a title?
AP
NBA Offseason Report Cards
BURNS: Flurry of moves has Atlantic dreaming big
ASCHBURNER: Young talent piles up in Northwest
BURNS: Lazy summer for strong Central Division
FORRESTER: Southeast is looking wide open
BURNS: Suns still clearly the class of the Pacific
ASCHBURNER: Rockets primed for Southwest run

Dirk Nowitzki didn't get much help, but Pau Gasol did. Houston and Memphis have added intriguing foreign-born players who might help right away, while San Antonio -- which should have patented that sort of move -- let one slip away.

The Hornets are back in New Orleans, which is a good thing because that keeps them a lot farther away than Oklahoma City from the scarier-than-ever Texas Triangle teams. Four of the head coaches in this division have taken teams to the Finals, and the fifth -- Memphis' Marc Iavaroni -- is a newbie with a strong résumé and heavyweight references.

In other words, the Southwest did not get easier this offseason. Just harder.

Here are the summer grades for the five teams:

Dallas Mavericks

What Went Right:

Mark Cuban is looking like Jose Canseco.
Like Canseco throwing around steroid allegations in baseball when no one wanted to listen, the Mavericks' owner was ranting about NBA referees, and paying dearly for it in fine money, in those more innocent days before Tim Donaghy went canary. Now people who wrote off Cuban as an overfunded fanboy have started looking not only at the "one rogue criminal'' but also at the whole system of training, monitoring and evaluating the referees. That's one way something good could come out of this summer's mess.

They signed Brandon Bass and first-round pick Nick Fazekas.
Somebody has to bring the doughnuts and push the ball cart now that Pops Mensah-Bonsu is gone.

What Went Wrong:

They signed Eddie Jones.
Look, Jones is a nice guy who was terrific player for a long time. But at 35, he's analog in a digital league and the Mavericks are doing him a bigger favor than he likely will do them. Even if he's only taking up Austin Croshere's roster spot.

Erick Dampier has another reason to not play strong.
Or maybe to play at all, for a while anyway. Dampier had shoulder surgery in June and might not be ready for the start of the season.

The Kevin Garnett rumors proved to be just that.
At least Garnett wound up in the Eastern Conference, rather than with Phoenix or the Lakers. Not shredding their core probably was the wise choice, but without much change, the Mavericks will be playing another whole season just to prove something in May and June. Tough way to go.

Grade: D+

Forget Cuban appearing on Dancing with the Stars. We're more concerned with Donnie Nelson tap-dancing through his offseason.

San Antonio Spurs

What Went Right:

There is both an "I" and a "me" in this team.
Signing Ime Udoka was one of those low-wattage moves, in terms of flash and dash, at which the Spurs excel. He is the backup shark's tooth, ready to move into place whenever Bruce Bowen transitions out. Udoka is aggressive, defends well and can hit three-pointers.

They got themselves a desperate housewife.
Maybe some of the spotlight and paparazzi-stalking will abate now that Tony Parker and Eva Longoria officially are husband and wife. Until, of course, she runs out of the stands and gives one of those leaping, legs-wrapped monkey hugs that we saw at the end of the Finals to, oh, Jeff Van Gundy. You know, the kind Van Gundy once gave to Alonzo Mourning.

What Went Wrong:

This eye of Texas hurts like hell.
Big man Francisco Elson got elbowed in the left eye while playing for the Dutch national team in August, suffering a facial fracture that will force him to play in a Rip Hamilton mask all season. Bad as it was, this still ranks as Elson's second-most-painful on-court blow, lagging behind the rabbit punch Kevin Garnett gave to Elson's groin in the 2004 playoffs.

Tony Parker had a working honeymoon/vacation.
Parker played for the French national team again, which had San Antonio's brain trust fretting about injuries or fatique. He sprained his left ankle and sought treatment back in San Antonio in early August, but he's playing in the European Championships that began this week.

Luis Scola got away. So did Jackie Butler.
Admit it, you were as surprised as we were that San Antonio not only didn't hang onto Scola, the ready-to-go Argentine power forward, but also that Scola wound up being dealt to intradivision rival Houston. The 5XL Butler went along with him. Butler has the size and raw ability to make someone pay one of these days.

They lost P.J. Carlesimo.
It was with Gregg Popovich's blessing, of course, that Carlesimo will get his third chance as an NBA head coach and first since he attacked Latrell Sprewell's hands with his neck. But Carlesimo gave the Spurs a second head coach, as needed, and the pecking order of Popovich's staff will shake out over the first month or two.

Grade: B-

Udoka was a nice addition for the defending champs, but the Spurs needed to upgrade their bench way beyond that.

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