2001-02: HEAT Fights For Position
During the summer of 2001, the Miami HEAT traded long-time point guard Tim Hardaway to Dallas in a sign-and-trade deal in which they acquired a second-round draft choice in either 2003 or 2004 and a trade exception. The team also selected Ohio State University center Ken Johnson with the 49th pick of the 2001 NBA Draft. The HEAT brought in veteran free agents Rod Strickland, LaPhonso Ellis and Kendall Gill to support stars Eddie Jones and Brian Grant. Alonzo Mourning also returned to the HEAT for the entire 2001-2002 season after missing the first 69 games of the 2000-01 campaign.
On November 6, the HEAT defeated the Seattle SuperSonics, 87-85 in overtime, at the AmericanAIrlines Arena to record the 500th win in franchise history. On December 2nd, the HEAT signed free agent Jimmy Jackson to bolster the bench. The HEAT would struggle, though, throughout December. By December 30th, the HEAT was 5-23. After that point, the HEAT would pick-up in intensity as the squad reeled off a 26-12 record to bring its record to 31-35 by March 20th and was within a few games of the final playoff spot. The HEAT stumbled after that point as the Toronto Raptors grabbed the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The HEAT ended the season with a 36-46 record, 18-23 on the road and 18-23 at home.
As the team struggled, HEAT players and staff continued to reach impressive milestones. Guard Rod Strickland moved into sole possession of seventh place on the the NBA’s all-time assists list, surpassing Lenny Wilkens, with his first assist of the night and 7,212th of his career with 8:54 remaining in the opening quarter of Miami’s 92-79 home victory over Chicago. Radio Announcer José Pañeda broadcasted his 1,000th HEAT game in Spanish as Miami defeated Orlando 112-95 on February 13th. LaPhons Ellis was named the winner of the NBA’s 2001-2002 Atalntic Division Sportsmanship Award, designed to honor a player who best represents the ideals on the court. Alonzo Mourning was selected as a reserve for the 2002 Eastern Conference All-Star team, marking the seventh appearance in his career. The NBA named Alonzo Mourning the recipient of the NBA’s 2001-02 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for his outstanding community service.