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The NBA preseason is right around the corner. Between the short training camp (compared to NFL or MLB) and the preseason games, it’s a chance for coaches and front offices to sort through their rotations and rosters. While the NBA features much smaller rosters than NFL or MLB, there are still decisions to be made. We’re going to go through the biggest rotation and roster decisions each team has ahead of them over the next month or so. We’ve already covered the Southeast Division teams.

Dallas Mavericks

Who are the non-Luka and non-Kyrie starters? 

Dallas has their two superstars locked into starting positions with Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. The other three spots seem to be at least somewhat up for grabs. The good news? The Mavs have lots of options.

The one we’re most confident in is Grant Williams grabbing the starting power forward spot. Dallas can use his defense in the opening lineup, and his spot-up game and passing ability are nice fits on offense. Maxi Kleber is a good player, but the team has generally preferred him in a bench role.

At center, it seems like Dwight Powell will get the first crack. He’s an excellent screener, solid defender and he knows how to play with Luka Doncic. Those are all important things. But Dallas has some other options to at least take a look at. Richaun Holmes seems poised for a career rejuvenation. Dereck Lively II is oozing with potential, but he probably needs a year or so of seasoning. And the Mavericks have done well with Kleber playing some small-ball five too.

On the wing is where things get really interesting. Tim Hardaway Jr. is the long-time veteran option. He’s had that QB-WR connection with Doncic where the Mavs star can just trust Hardaway will be there when he throws a pass. But Hardaway doesn’t bring a lot defensively, and he trended more toward being a three-point specialist than ever last season. The latter is probably fine, but the former is a worry.

Josh Green is ready for a bigger role. He’s the best perimeter defender the Mavericks have. And Green put up 54/40 shooting splits last season. The guess is that even if he doesn’t start to open the season, Green will snag that starting wing spot by Christmas.

Other players like Seth Curry, Derrick Jones Jr., Jaden Hardy and rookie Olivier-Maxence Prosper will probably all factor in at some point too. But the guess is the Mavs will ultimately settle on Doncic, Irving, Green, Williams and Powell as their regular starting group.

Related: What is the wing rotation? 

As stated above, we know Josh Green and Tim Hardaway Jr. are going to factor in heavily in the Mavericks wing rotation. Seth Curry will see plenty of off-ball minutes as a designated shooter too. But Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving are both going to play somewhere in the range of 36-38 minutes too. That doesn’t leave a lot of extra playing time. Who snags it?

Jaden Hardy is going to be hard to keep off the floor. He really started to show some stuff as his rookie season went along. Dallas likes his creation ability. If he can cut down on his turnovers and improve defensively, he may eventually surpass Hardaway in the rotation.

Olivier-Maxence Prosper is going to factor in here as well. He’s NBA-ready as a defender, but the shot needs work. Eventually, Prosper will see rotation minutes, but they may take a little bit to come his way.

Houston Rockets

Who is the backup point guard? 

The Rockets busy summer established a pretty clear pecking order for a team that was previously made up of a lot of young guys fighting for roles. Things are much cleaner now, minus backup point guard.

That spot would have likely been Kevin Porter Jr.’s, but that’s clearly no longer the case. With Houston being legitimately at least two-deep at every other spot, Ime Udoka has to figure out the backup point guard spot.

The guess here is that Houston would like Amen Thompson to grab that role. His size, defense and passing fits really well with both Jalen Green and Fred VanVleet in a three-guard rotation. Thompson needs to shoot it better, but the Rockets can be patient while his shot develops.

If Thompson doesn’t prove ready out of the gate, veteran journeyman Aaron Holiday can handle the initial backup minutes. The only other option is two-way player Trevor Hudgins. That means it’s really on Thompson to claim that role for his own.

It’s not just the in-game backup minutes where this matters. VanVleet is a good bet to miss at least a handful of games. If Udoka can comfortably plug Thompson in as a starter, or can increase his minutes as a backup, on those nights, that’s a win for the Rockets.

Will Cam Whitmore get minutes? 

Cam Whitmore had a shocking fall at the 2023 NBA Draft. He was projected as a high lottery pick and ended up falling to Houston with the 20th pick. Health concerns, along with some vague attitude worries, were cited as the reasons Whitmore fell.

At Summer League, the 6-foot-7 forward seemingly took any lingering draft frustrations out on his opponents. Whitmore looked terrific on both ends of the floor. It’s pretty clear already that his draft misfortune was a massive stroke of good luck for the Rockets.

But earning regular season minutes is a different thing entirely. Jabari Smith and Dillon Brooks project as the starting forwards. Tari Eason, Jae’Sean Tate and veteran addition Jeff Green will all open camp ahead of Whitmore in the rotation too. But Ime Udoka is going to have to find some minutes somewhere for Whitmore. He’s too good to sit for too long. Look for Whitmore to force the issue, in a good way, sooner rather than later.

Memphis Grizzlies

Who starts while Ja Morant is out? 

Ja Morant will miss roughly the first third of the season for the Grizzlies. That’s rough, but Memphis has had success without Morant in the past. Marcus Smart is more than capable of handling the point guard role while Morant is out. The real question is who replaces Dillon Brooks to open the season?

Yes, the Grizzlies had tired of Brooks antics and were ready to move on. And, yes, Smart is probably the long-term answer as to who replaces Brooks on the wing. But the team has to get through two months of the season before that can happen.

Two seasons ago, it looked like Ziaire Williams was going to be the long-term answer at small forward. Williams really settled in midway through his rookie year, and looked like the future was bright. Unfortunately, Williams’ sophomore season was a lost one, as he struggled with injuries and never really got healthy. He could re-grab that starting spot with a strong preseason.

Another option is Luke Kennard, if Memphis wants some additional shooting and playmaking in the opening group. The Grizzlies have more than enough defense to cover for Kennard, and he’d help open up the floor for Desmond Bane, who projects as the primary on-ball creator with Morant out.

For other options, John Konchar is a favorite of the coaching staff. David Roddy and Jake LaRavia could be second-year breakout guys. Mostly, Memphis has a bunch of options, even if none are perfect. This could be a spot where Taylor Jenkins does some experimenting with various players while Morant is out.

Related: What is the wing rotation? 

As covered above, Dillon Brooks is out. But Memphis has one wing spot covered with Desmond Bane. He’s somehow still underrated, even after getting essentially a max extension this past summer.

The lead guard depth is good with Ja Morant, Marcus Smart and Derrick Rose all in the fold. The frontcourt depth is solid enough, even with Brandon Clarke likely out for most, if not all, of the season. Look for Santi Aldama to continue to build on what was a really good second season.

That second wing spot is still a question mark. Eventually, Smart will probably slide off-ball and will take on the role Brooks held down for years. But the Grizzlies need more. It’s all of the same options we covered for the fifth starter spot. But two or three of them will need to emerge as reliable wing contributors, and it’s a guess right now as to who that will be.

New Orleans Pelicans

How does the wing rotation shake out? 

New Orleans has a lot of talent, but how that talent all fits together is still a question due to them rarely being healthy over the past few seasons. Nowhere are those questions bigger with the wing group.

Zion Williamson and Jonas Valanciunas will start in the frontcourt, with Larry Nance Jr. in reserve. C.J. McCollum is the primary lead guard, with Jose Alvarado and, maybe, Kira Lewis Jr. behind him, along with some on-ball minutes for Dyson Daniels too.

The wing group has talent, but who gets those minutes and in what combinations? Brandon Ingram and Herb Jones will start. Ingram is probably the team’s best all-around player (pending your confidence and belief in Williamson) and Jones is an all-world defender. Behind them, there are a lot more questions.

Had Trey Murphy III been healthy, he would have made the starter question a really interesting one. That’s because he’s ready to start, as he did for most of last season. But that would have pushed someone to the bench. The guess here is that would have been Jones, but maybe Murphy would have played big minutes as a reserve 2-4? As it stands, Murphy’s role and impact on others won’t be known for several weeks, as he recovers from a knee injury.

Naji Marshall is next up, but Daniels will factor in too. Marshall is a known quantity at this point. He’ll play defense, run the floor for buckets and give the Pelicans 20-25 solid minutes a night.

Daniels is still a mystery box. Is he really an on-ball playmaker? Is he a defense-first wing? Will the jumper ever come around? Daniels has a ton of potential, but it’s all still so theoretical. And for a team trying to win, opportunities to hand out “figure it out” minutes are getting fewer and fewer.

Lastly, rookies Jordan Hawkins and E.J. Liddell are going to be players to monitor. Liddell missed all of last season, but he looked really solid at Summer League. Right now, he’s a small four, but if he can get the jumper working, Liddell could be in the wing mix. Hawkins is a scoring guard. He doesn’t have tremendous size, but he’s big enough to play the two. If he’s making shots, Hawkins could push his way into early-season minutes while Murphy is out.

Is backup center an issue? 

Jonas Valanciunas has been remarkably durable, but he’s also 31 years old now and his minutes dropped off to 25 per game last season. If that’s where Valanciunas is now, the Pelicans need a reliable option behind him.

Larry Nance Jr. can soak up some backup minutes at the five, but will he hold up all season long? Playing Zion Williamson as a small-ball five has been done in spurts, but there are questions there too. That seems like a very low-usage thing, if we see much of it at all.

The Pelicans signed Cody Zeller in free agency, following the vet’s late-season career rebirth with the Miami Heat. If Zeller can give the Pelicans 10-15 minutes a night in the regular season, it would keep the wear and tear off Nance. Once the playoffs roll around, if Zeller is productive, he can stick. If not, New Orleans can shrink the rotation and go smaller behind Valanciunas.

San Antonio Spurs

Who is the fifth starter? 

We can safely plug in the following four players as starters for the Spurs most nights: Victor Wembanyama, Devin Vassell, Zach Collins and Tre Jones. The first two are the team’s best building blocks. Collins is going to start at the five, because San Antonio wants to keep Wembanyama at the four. And Jones is the best (only?) pure point guard on the roster.

The easiest answer for the fifth starter is Keldon Johnson. He’s been a starter for the last three seasons, and Johnson has improved each year he’s been in the NBA. He’ll probably get the first crack at starting, and he should. Johnson is good.

But Jeremy Sochan is coming. As a rookie, Sochan started 53 of the 56 games he played. His season was up-and-down due to injuries, but the potential is very evident. He’s probably the best big perimeter defender that San Antonio has. Sochan is also a better-than-you-think passer, good rebounder and he’s a tricky scorer. If the jumper was better, he’d probably overtake Johnson right now.

Maybe, and who knows what Gregg Popovich will surprise us with, someone else emerges as a starter. The team remains high on Malaki Branham and starting someone like Julian Champagnie just feels like a Pop move. Starting Reggie Bullock would give the team a veteran shooter, as would Doug McDermott. There are a lot of options here, and that will make it a fun competition to monitor throughout the year.

Who gets cut? 

As it stands as of this writing, the Spurs are plus-two in terms of their regular season roster. They have 17 fully guaranteed standard contracts and the regular season maximum is 15 players on standard deals.

Khem Birch seems likely to go, as San Antonio has Zach Collins, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Charles Bassey, and whatever minutes Victor Wembanyama gets in the pivot, at center. Birch was more or less a throw-in to make the Jakob Poeltl trade work, so he’s probably one of the cuts.

The other one isn’t so cut and dry. Maybe it’s a competition between Reggie Bullock and Cedi Osman, where one stays and one goes. The team has nothing invested in either player, as both were acquired as part of salary-dumping trades this past summer.

If the Spurs feel they’ve seen what they need from Charles Bassey, and they want more wing options, he could be let go. Devonte’ Graham would be a surprise, but he’s not exactly entrenched as a part of the future in San Antonio either. Some have even suggested it could be a surprise like Doug McDermott, but that doesn’t seem as likely.

There’s also a chance the Spurs hold everyone and see if a need develops elsewhere for a trade opportunity. That could involve Birch, Bullock, Osman, Graham or McDermott as an outgoing veteran.