The once all-around toughest division in the NBA will be top heavy for the second straight season with the Spurs and Rockets chasing Golden State for Western Conference supremacy, while the Grizzlies change their identity and the Pelicans and Mavericks try to claw their way back to respectability.
Team On The Rise
Houston Rockets -- Already elite, but if Chris Paul stays healthy, they have firepower to threaten the Warriors.
Team On The Decline
Memphis Grizzlies -- With the end of the Grit-and-Grind era, they need to find a new direction and playoffs could be unrealistic.
James Harden, Houston Rockets -- In a tossup between The Beard and Anthony Davis, the guy who consistently leads his team to the playoffs gets the nod.
Player On The Rise
Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs -- With Tony Parker out for at least half the season, last year’s rookie will get a chance to show that his flashes in the playoffs were the real thing.
Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs -- The king of the grumps also sits on the throne as the best in the business, game to game, year to year, decade to decade.
Coach On The Hot Seat
Alvin Gentry, New Orleans Pelicans -- Year Three must start out fast and end in the playoffs or there won’t be a Year Four.
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks -- The No. 9 pick by the Mavs dazzled in Summer League with his talent and poise at the point and is an early favorite for Kia Rookie of the Year.
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.