Texas Triangle still dangerous

by July 15, 2008

by Earl K. Sneed

The wheelings and dealings of the three teams that makeup the Texas Triangle have resembled a game of Texas Hold Em’ this summer.

Dallas, Houston and San Antonio have all kept their “poker faces” on, while quietly making moves this offseason to address immediate and future needs. This decade has proved one thing true in the state of Texas, if you win the state you become a legitimate contender to take the Southwest Division and make a serious run through the Western Conference. While these teams may continue dealing – since each still has one or two more holes left to fill – it is safe to say none of the three has done anything detrimental to their playoff chances. With that said, making the playoffs and winning a championship are two completely different things, and in a state as BIG as Texas, simply making the playoffs will not suffice. So which team is title ready?

Analyze this.

San Antonio
The Spurs are the one team in the state with a surefire Big 3, and with Duncan, Parker and Ginobili at the core, you don’t have to do much to add the right championship pieces. Throw in an aging defensive stopper in Bruce Bowen, and the Spurs headed into this offseason knowing that they needed to get younger and more athletic, with young Lakers, Hornets and Blazers squads coming strong next season. So GM R.C. Buford and Coach Greg Popovich turned their attention to adding youth and athleticism to their bench by trading the draft rights of guard Goran Dragic for 6-6 forward Malik Hairston, and then drafting guard Gorge Hill and forward James Gist. All moves that will probably not have immediate dividends. The Spurs are expecting a lot, however, from their major summer acquisition, former Wizard guard Roger Mason, Jr.

Last season, Mason proved to be a valuable reserve in the Wizards’ backcourt, averaging 9.1 points in 21.4 minutes a game, while also shooting .398 from behind the arch in 80 of 82 games. The Spurs are expecting that same contribution from Mason, which could signify the end of the Michael Finley era in San Antonio. With Finley, Robert Horry, DerMarr Johnson, Damon Stoudamire and Kurt Thomas all free agents, it remains to be seen how many more new faces will be walking along the River Walk, but after missing out on the Brent Barry sweepstakes, the Spurs will certainly have to make moves to replace the timely three point shooting that he provided. If San Antonio is once again to be “Titletown, TX” the Spurs can no longer rely solely on the Big 3 for scoring.

The draft day trades that Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey made to get Donte Greene and Joey Dorsey created a lot of buzz around “Clutch City”, but luring sharpshooter Brent Barry away from San Antonio spoke volumes throughout the state, and more importantly around the league.

While Barry is not a No.1, 2 or 3 scorer, he is a proven winner and a clutch shooter in a city that has been everything but clutch of late. While getting Yao Ming back from the left foot stress fracture injury that he suffered in February is atop the Rockets’ concerns list, putting enough talent around Yao and T-Mac to make it out of the first round of the playoffs is a close No.2. Re-signing Dikembe Mutombo seems to be all but a done deal, but re-signing free agent forward Carl Landry may or may not be apart of that puzzle. The 6-9 forward adds versatility and range to a position that is becoming crowded with Louis Scola, Chuck Hayes and Joey Dorsey, so Landry may become the odd man out, due to his avoidance of getting an MRI on his injured knee. If the Rockets decide not to re-sign Landry, it could be to make a serious play at free agent forward James Posey, but don’t count on it. Expect to see Landry remain with the team and transition into the 3 position over time.

After missing out on Corey Maggette the Rockets seem primed to make a big move still, and with the trade rumors of T-Mac to Detroit for Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace circulating, you have to believe that Houston will make more waves before the summer concludes. T-Mac changing zip codes probably won’t happen, but actively pursuing a mid-level exception free agent may be the answer. Also, keep an eye on forward Mike Harris to make a push for a roster spot this offseason.

New Head Coach Rick Carlisle may have the toughest task on his hands to win with what he already has. Dallas’ offseason moves speak less about pushing to win now, and more about building young talent for the future. In recent years, the Mavs’ have not done a great job of grooming young pieces to be key players in the future. Signing low risk, high reward Gerald Green showcases a changing of the guard.

Green is not a go to scorer, and he is becoming a journeyman, now on his fourth team in as many years, but he is still a good young talent, as the 22-year-old is showing in the Las Vegas’ summer league. Green has yet to find the right fit in a team that can win without him being a key contributor while he progresses, so Dallas maybe the right place. Dallas needed to add a go-getter to meet Jason Kidd’s lob passes at the rim, and Green can do that. If he develops a consistent jumper than he could be a valuable piece to the Mavs’ bench, and could be a quiet but key piece of the Mavs’ future.

Re-signing J.J. Barea and Antoine Wright, while also bringing back DeSagana Diop may not make a lot of splashes around the league, but they were moves that needed to be done to add sufficient backups to the point guard, shooting guard and center positions behind Jason Kidd, Josh Howard and Eric Dampier.

Someone to keep an eye out for is forward James Singleton, who may prove to be this year’s Brandon Bass in the summer league averaging 15 points. At 6-8, Singleton’s post play could take the last roster spot that was expected to be challenged by Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who is weighing his options to play in Europe.
If Ron Artest can talk his way into a trade, which is becoming more and more inevitable each day, expect for Rick Carlisle and Owner Mark Cuban to be willing and active players in the trade discussions. Otherwise, what you see is pretty much what you’ll get come October for this Mavs’ squad.

And the Winner is….
At face value, you have to like what Houston hands down in comparison to Dallas and San Antonio. The Rockets have made the best long-term moves, while also giving themselves a legitimate chance to challenge now in the West, but as far as winning the state of Texas, it’s all in how they play the cards they’ve been dealt.

Earl Sneed is a SLAMonline Contributor, covering the “Texas Triangle” of the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs.