ATLANTIC DIVISION

New Jersey Nets (52-30): Miraculous is the only way to describe the turnaround engineered by the New Jersey Nets in 2001-02. Sparked by the presence of Jason Kidd, who was named First Team All-NBA for the fourth consecutive season and finished second in the MVP voting behind Tim Duncan, the Nets made their first trip to the NBA Finals in franchise history. New Jersey also won its first Atlantic Division crown while registering the team’s first 50-win season. The signing of Todd MacCulloch provided New Jersey with a serviceable center in an Eastern Conference devoid of talented big people. The draft-day trade that sent the draft rights to Eddie Griffin to Houston for Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins and Brandon Armstrong paid dividends as Jefferson was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team, while Collins became a steady front line contributor as the season wore on. Kenyon Martin showed significant improvement during his second season, while Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles, who returned from a career-threatening knee injury, were solid throughout.

Boston Celtics (49-33): Pierce and Walker. Sounds like a perfect blend of scotch, but for the Celtics in 2001-02, it was a perfect blend of talent and exuberance that vaulted Boston into the playoffs for the first time since 1995 and brought the team within two games of a trip to the NBA Finals. Paul Pierce, who finished third in the NBA in scoring (26.1 ppg), was named to the All-NBA Third Team. Antoine Walker was one of only four players in the league (Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett) to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. As with any franchise resurgence, there were other contributing factors. The midseason trade with Phoenix that netted Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk brought much-needed depth, while Kenny Anderson, Eric Williams and Tony Battie made significant contributions.

Orlando Magic (44-38): The good news for the Orlando Magic in 2001-02 was that Tracy McGrady continued to emerge as one of the best all-around players in the league, being named to the All-NBA First Team. The bad news was that Grant Hill was once again a spectator during McGrady’s magnificent campaign. Hill appeared in only 14 games before being put on the shelf with the same ankle problems that limited him to four games in 2000-01. The combination of McGrady (25.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 5.3 apg) and Mike Miller (15.2 ppg), along with the league’s highest scoring bench was enough to vault Orlando into the playoffs, but the lack of an established inside presence led to a first round-exit at the hands of the Charlotte Hornets.

Philadelphia 76ers (43-39): The Sixers were never able to recapture the same magic they had in 2000-01 when they opened the season with 10 straight victories and advanced to the NBA Finals. Philadelphia opened the 2001-02 campaign with five consecutive losses as Allen Iverson recovered from offseason surgery. The team spent most of the season hovering around the .500 mark and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Boston. Iverson did lead the NBA scoring (31.4 ppg) for the third time in four seasons, but managed to play in only 60 games. Other members of the team’s core missed significant action—Aaron McKie (34 games), Eric Snow (21) and Derrick Coleman (24).

Washington Wizards (37-45): Through the first 52 games of Michael Jordan’s second comeback, the Wizards were 27-25 and had their sights set on a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Jordan then succumbed to knee trouble, appearing in only eight games after February 24 as the Wizards went 10-20 over their last 30 games to miss the playoffs in Doug Collins’ first season as coach. When healthy, Jordan proved he could still play at a high level, though not nearly as high as he once soared. For a while, his supporting cast, led by Richard Hamilton (20.0 ppg), exceeded expectations, but injuries to Jordan, Hamilton, Christian Laettner, Brendan Haywood and Hubert Davis, as well as the slower than expected development of 19-year-old rookie Kwame Brown, put an end to the team’s playoff hopes.

Miami Heat (36-46): The return of Alonzo Mourning, though inspirational, wasn’t enough for the Heat to overcome an abysmal 5-23 start, and Pat Riley missed the playoffs for the first time in his 20-year head coaching career. Mourning did manage to appear in 75 games and was voted to the All-Star team for the seventh time in his career, after playing in only 13 games in 2000-01 due to a kidney ailment. Eddie Jones paced the Heat in scoring (18.3 ppg), followed by Mourning (15.7 ppg). Injuries to Kendall Gill, LaPhonso Ellis, Jim Jackson and Chris Gatling prevented Miami from establishing chemistry until it was too late in the season.

New York Knickerbockers (30-52): In the city that never sleeps, the Knicks went to bed pretty early, missing the playoffs for the first time since 1987. Don Chaney took over the head coaching duties from Jeff Van Gundy, who resigned on December 8, when the team was 10-9. Marcus Camby appeared in only 29 games, forcing the Knicks to play Kurt Thomas at center for much of the season. But Thomas (13.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg) had the best season of his career. Allan Houston (20.4 ppg) and Latrell Sprewell (19.4 ppg) were not enough to combat the lack of size and the season ended with the Knicks in search of an inside presence.

CENTRAL DIVISION

Detroit Pistons (50-32): Three undrafted players in the starting lineup. A shooting guard who shoots too much. A rookie head coach. Several castoffs from other teams. Put it all together and what do you have? The second biggest surprise of the 2001-02 season outside of New Jersey. The Pistons, who many predicted would be lucky to win 30 games, ran away with the Central Division and advanced to the second round of the playoffs, where they were defeated by Boston. Ben Wallace was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year and Third Team All-NBA. Corliss Williamson was voted the league’s Sixth Man of the Year. Rick Carlisle was tabbed NBA Coach of the Year. Zeljko Rebraca earned All-Rookie Second Team honors. Jerry Stackhouse didn’t receive any hardware, but his solid and unselfish play was perhaps the biggest reason why the Pistons were able to turn things around.

Charlotte Hornets (44-38): The season began with Jamal Mashburn and George Lynch missing significant time with injuries. Then it was David Wesley’s turn to miss some games, then Elden Campbell. The Hornets, despite the injuries and persistent talk about pending relocation, hung tough and advanced to the second round of the playoffs, losing to the Nets. The biggest reason for the team’s success was the spectacular play of Baron Davis, who in addition to being named to the All-Star team, became the team’s unquestioned leader. Jamaal Magloire and Lee Nailon saw significant playing time and showed vast improvement. Mashburn returned to the lineup in February, which gave the team a much-needed spark, but he appeared in only one playoff game due to a bout with vertigo.

Toronto Raptors (42-40): When Air Canada (Vince Carter) was grounded late in the regular season, most figured the Raptors would sink even further from playoff contention, having already lost 12 of 15 with the services of Carter. Instead, the Raptors ripped off 14 wins in 18 games to sneak into the playoffs as the seventh seed, but they were soon bounced by Detroit. It was a frustrating end to a difficult season for Carter, who battled injuries and criticism throughout. The season did end on a positive note, with young players like Morris Peterson (14.0 ppg), Alvin Williams (11.8 ppg, 5.7 apg) and Keon Clark (11.3 ppg. 7.4 rpg) stepping up.

Indiana Pacers (42-40): The Pacers made strides last season, advancing to the playoffs for the second straight year under Isiah Thomas and stretching the Eastern Conference champion Nets to five games in the opening round, with Game 5 needing two overtimes. Jalen Rose and Travis Best were traded to Chicago for Ron Artest, Brad Miller, Ron Mercer and Kevin Ollie, a move that brought a more defensive-minded approach. Without Rose, Jermaine O’Neal became the team’s first option and the 23-year old was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player as well as an All-NBA Third Team selection. Reggie Miller once again followed a steady regular season with a brilliant playoff performance, averaging 23.6 points against New Jersey.

Milwaukee Bucks (41-41): No team had a more disappointing end to their season than Milwaukee, which led the Central Division for the majority of the regular season before falling into a complete tailspin and missing the playoffs. Part of the reason was injuries. Ray Allen, who hadn’t missed a game during his first five NBA seasons, missed 13 with knee trouble. Glenn Robinson was limited to 66 games, while Sam Cassell limped his way to 74 appearances, despite an injured toe. There were some bright spots, most notably the play of Michael Redd, who averaged 11.4 points off the bench.

Atlanta Hawks (33-49): No team was hit harder by the injury bug than the Hawks, who lost Theo Ratliff, Toni Kukoc, Dion Glover, Emanual Davis, Alan Henderson and Chris Crawford for a significant amount of time with injuries. Ratliff appeared in three games, his only three in a Hawks uniform since being acquired midway through the 2000-01 season. Shareef Abdur-Rahim came over from the Grizzlies and continued to put up solid numbers (21.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg), making his first appearance in the All-Star Game. Jason Terry averaged close to 20 points (19.3 ppg) for the second straight season.

Cleveland Cavaliers (29-53): Aside from Andre Miller doing his best Jason Kidd impersonation, leading the NBA in assists (10.9 apg) in addition to scoring points (16.5 ppg) and rebounding (4.7 rpg), there wasn’t much to get excited about in Cleveland. Zydrunas Ilgauskas did appear in 62 games, but started only 23 as John Lucas tried to keep his minutes at around 20 per game. Ricky Davis (11.7 ppg) developed into a solid performer off the bench, and Wesley Person (15.1 ppg) enjoyed his best season in years.

Chicago Bulls (21-61): Though the number of losses didn’t change much, the overall atmosphere improved in Chicago last season. Bill Cartwright took over as head coach during the season and speeded up the process of developing the team’s young talent, mainly Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry. The team traded away its nucleus of Ron Artest, Ron Mercer, Brad Miller and Kevin Ollie to Indiana in exchange for Jalen Rose and Travis Best. In 30 games with the Bulls, Rose averaged 23.8 ppg.

MIDWEST DIVISION

San Antonio Spurs (58-24): All Tim all the time would be an apt way to describe last season for the Spurs, who edged out Dallas to win the Midwest Division, then fell to the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs. Tim Duncan was named the league’s MVP, narrowly edging out Jason Kidd, while being selected First Team All-NBA for the fifth consecutive season. He led the NBA in double-doubles (67), finished second in rebounding (12.7 bpg), third in blocks (2.5 bpg), fifth in scoring (25.5 ppg) and 10th in field goal percentage (.508). Surprising help came in the form of 19-year-old French point guard Tony Parker, who took over the starting job early in the season and was one of the NBA’s top rookies. David Robinson played the fewest minutes of his career during a full season and announced the 2002-03 season will be his last.

Dallas Mavericks (57-25): With 57 victories and a second consecutive trip to the second round of the playoffs, Dallas concluded the best season record-wise in team history. The Mavericks were the talk of the town for much of the season with their bold player moves and their considerable improvement. And a lot of that talk was in German, as Dirk Nowitzki continued to develop into one of the league’s best forwards; he was named to the All-NBA Third Team after leading the Mavericks in scoring and rebounding. Steve Nash joined Nowitzki on the All-Star team and was named All-NBA Third Team. Michael Finley averaged better than 20 points for the fifth straight season. A midseason trade with Denver netted Raef LaFrentz and Nick Van Exel, who added depth to the lineup.

Minnesota Timberwolves (50-32): From the category of where have we seen this before comes the Minnesota Timberwolves, who turned in another solid regular season followed by a first round exit from the playoffs – for the fifth consecutive season. Kevin Garnett had a typical KG season, averaging better than 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for the third straight year and was named to the All-NBA Second Team. Wally Szczerbiak shifted to shooting guard and had a career year, making his first All-Star Game appearance. An injury to Terrell Brandon thrust Chauncey Billups into the starting point guard role. Though Billups played well, the team missed Brandon’s poise and leadership.

Utah Jazz (44-38): For a while last season, it looked like Utah was on course to miss the playoffs for the first time in the John Stockton/Karl Malone era. We should know better. Stockton and Malone defied Mother Nature again, posting numbers within striking distance of their career averages. Stockton and Malone led the team to the eighth seed in the Western Conference, but the Jazz retreated in the first round for the second straight season. One bright spot for Utah was the play of rookie Andrei Kirilenko, who the team originally drafted in 1999. Kirilenko brought an infusion of youth, excitement and athleticism to an aging roster and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.

Houston Rockets (28-54): Last season was one giant headache in Houston, most of all for Steve Francis, who suffered through migraines for much of the season as the Rockets missed the playoffs for the third straight year. Francis did make his first All-Star appearance, while backcourt mate Cuttino Mobley averaged a career-high 21.7 points. The team lost Maurice Taylor for the entire season, but got solid contributions on the front line from Kenny Thomas (14.1 ppg) and rookie Eddie Griffin (8.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg).

Denver Nuggets (27-55): A midseason shakeup in Denver sent Nick Van Exel, Raef LaFrentz and Avery Johnson to Dallas. This, coupled with the loss of Antonio McDyess for all but 10 games and the dismissal of Dan Issel, made for an extremely difficult season in Denver. The team’s makeover continued in the offseason as General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe traded McDyess to the Knicks for Marcus Camby and the draft rights to Nene Hilario. With its own first-round pick, the team selected Nikoloz Tskitishvili.

Memphis Grizzlies (23-59): The Grizzlies subtracted Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Mike Bibby from their lineup and added Pau Gasol and Jason Williams in their place, then won the same amount of games as the season before. Not bad, considering Michael Dickerson missed all but four games and Lorenzen Wright appeared in only 43 games. Gasol was named NBA Rookie of the Year and fellow rookie Shane Battier was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. Following the season, owner Michael Heisley named Jerry West President of Basketball Operations.

PACIFIC DIVISION

Sacramento Kings (61-21): A spectacular season ended in heartbreak for the Kings, who led the Lakers 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals before losing the series in seven games. Sacramento was seconds away from a commanding 3-1 lead, but watched as Robert Horry made a clutch three-pointer as time expired in Game 4 to even the series at 2-2. Chris Webber continued to be an all-around force (24.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 4.8 apg), while sharp-shooting Peja Stojakovic (21.2 ppg) made his first All-Star appearance. Mike Bibby replaced Jason Williams at point guard and after a modest regular season, exploded in the playoffs, averaging 20.3 points. Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Bobby Jackson, Hedo Turkoglu and Scot Pollard rounded out a rotation that led Sacramento to one of its best seasons in franchise history.

Los Angeles Lakers (58-24): The season began with two new starters (Lindsey Hunter and Samaki Walker), but ended in similar fashion to the previous two—with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant leading the way, and Derek Fisher and Robert Horry making clutch shots on the way to a third consecutive championship. O’Neal struggled with nagging injuries for much of the regular season, but rounded into form for the playoffs and was simply unstoppable in the Finals against New Jersey. Bryant showed more patience on the court and continued to develop all areas of his game. Both were named to the All-NBA First Team. In addition to Fisher and Horry, Rick Fox and Devean George gave quality minutes at small forward, while Hunter and Walker added depth.

Portland Trail Blazers (49-33): Maurice Cheeks replaced Mike Dunleavy as coach and the result was a more harmonious team that played extremely well over the second half of the season before being swept by the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year. Rasheed Wallace amassed fewer technicals on his way to another productive season (19.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg). Bonzi Wells returned from a torn ACL to have his best season as a pro, ranking second on the team in scoring (17.0 ppg). Ruben Patterson, Derek Anderson and Scottie Pippen shared time at the wing positions, while Dale Davis did his best to replace Arvydas Sabonis in the middle.

Seattle SuperSonics (45-37): One of the surprising stories last season was the play of the Sonics, who used a center-by-committee alongside Gary Payton (22.1 ppg, 9.0 apg) and Rashard Lewis (16.8 ppg) to get back to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus. Jerome James, Art Long, Vladimir Radmanovic and Predrag Drobnjak took turns at center while the rest of the team made shots—Seattle led the NBA in team field goal percentage (.469). Brent Barry (14.4 ppg) and Desmond Mason (12.4 ppg) brought consistent scoring to complement Payton and Lewis.

Los Angeles Clippers (39-43): This was supposed to be the year the Clippers put all the pieces together and made the playoffs. Unfortunately, Seattle and Utah were more consistent down the stretch, edging Los Angeles for the final two playoff spots. Elton Brand (18.2 ppg, 11.6 rpg) fit perfectly alongside Michael Olowokandi (11.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg), who showed vast improvement over the second half of the season. Quentin Richardson (13.3 ppg) and Darius Miles (9.5 ppg) anchored the second unit. Unfortunately for the Clippers, Lamar Odom appeared in only 29 games, while Keyon Dooling played in only 14.

Phoenix Suns (36-46): Things didn’t go so well in Phoenix without Jason Kidd. Scott Skiles was replaced by Frank Johnson. Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk were traded to Boston. Tom Gugliotta missed much of the season recovering from injury. Though Stephon Marbury (20.4 ppg, 8.1 apg) and Shawn Marion (19.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg) performed well individually, the team struggled. The trade with Boston brought to the Suns Joe Johnson, who along with draft picks Amare Stoudemire and Casey Jacobsen, help comprise a young nucleus for the future.

Golden State Warriors (21-61): Though the Warriors improved their win total by four games from their previous season, it still only meant tying Chicago for the worst record in the NBA. There were some bright spots, mainly the development of exciting NBA All-Rookie First Team selection Jason Richardson, who was named MVP of the Schick Rookie Challenge at All-Star Weekend, in addition to winning the Slam Dunk Contest. Larry Hughes started the season at point guard, but was replaced by second-round pick Gilbert Arenas (10.9 ppg) late in the season.