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Archive for Saturday, October 21, 2000

2000-2001 SEASON ATGLANCE

October 21, 2000

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Editor's note: Capsule looks at each of the 29 NBA teams with their order of finish as predicted by Associated Press sports writer Chris Sheridan.




Eastern Conference


Atlantic Division

MIAMI HEAT
LAST SEASON: 52-30, eliminated 4-3 by New York in second round of playoffs.
COACH: Pat Riley, sixth season with Heat, 243-135; 18th season overall, 999-434.
ADDED: G Eddie Jones, F Anthony Mason, G Ricky Davis, F Dale Ellis (trade with Hornets), F Brian Grant (trade with Trail Blazers), G Rick Brunson (free agent, Knicks), F Todd Fuller (free agent, Hornets), F Don MacLean (free agent, Suns), G Eddie House (draft, No. 37, Arizona State).
LOST: C Alonzo Mourning (illness), F P.J. Brown, F Jamal Mashburn, F Otis Thorpe, F Tim James (traded to Charlotte), G Voshon Lenard, F Mark Strickland (traded to Denver), F Clarence Weatherspoon (traded to Cleveland).
STRENGTHS: Even without Mourning, there is enough talent, size and experience to win the division again. Grant can make the transition from power forward to center, especially in an Eastern Conference lacking talented big men. Riley thrives on challenges, and this is one of his biggest.
WEAKNESSES: Mourning is out for the season with a kidney disorder. There are so many new players, Mason to Jones to Grant to Davis, and there will be plenty of unfamiliarity to overcome. Tim Hardaway's durability will be a question mark, as always.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Overachieve their way to 54-56 victories in a weak conference.

NEW YORK KNICKS
LAST SEASON: 50-32, lost 4-2 to Indiana in Eastern Conference finals.
COACH: Jeff Van Gundy, sixth season, 180-128.
ADDED: F Glen Rice, C Travis Knight (trade with Lakers), C Luc Longley (trade with Suns), G Erick Strickland (trade with Mavericks), C Felton Spencer (free agent, Spurs), F Lavor Postell (draft, No. 39, St. John's), F Pete Mickeal (draft, No. 58, Cincinnati).
LOST: C Patrick Ewing (traded to Seattle), C Chris Dudley (traded to Phoenix), F John Wallace (traded to Dallas), G Rick Brunson (free agent, Miami), C Andrew Lang (free agent).
STRENGTHS: Perimeter shooting. The addition of Rice gives the Knicks, who already had Allan Houston, two outstanding pure shooters alongside a third player, Latrell Sprewell, with more versatile skills. Team chemistry could be better once the post-Ewing shock wears off.
WEAKNESSES: The Knicks, one of the worst rebounding teams in the league last season, traded their best rebounder. Marcus Camby will need to stay healthy while being banged around in the low post. Having three similar players in Rice, Sprewell and Houston might cause problems.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Move into the post-Ewing era, with no chance to win a championship unless they find a better replacement for Ewing than Longley.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
LAST SEASON: 49-33, lost 4-2 to Indiana in second round.
COACH: Larry Brown, 4th season with Sixers, 108-106; 18th season overall, 732-586.
ADDED: G Speedy Claxton (draft, No. 20, Hofstra).
LOST: G Kevin Ollie (free agent, New Jersey).
STRENGTHS: Of the four teams that made it to the conference semifinals, the Sixers are the only one that returns intact. With the Heat, Knicks and Pacers all having made major changes, the 76ers will have a big edge in familiarity. If he tries, Theo Ratliff can be an All-Star.
WEAKNESSES: Allen Iverson showed up at training camp almost 20 pounds lighter than expected after spending much the summer wondering whether the Sixers would trade him. Unless Toni Kukoc becomes a bigger part of the equation, the Sixers will again lack a secondary scorer who can ease some of Iverson's load.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Have a make-or-break season that will allow them to decide whether it's time to continue building the team around Iverson.

NEW JERSEY NETS
LAST SEASON: 31-51, missed playoffs.
COACH: Byron Scott, first season.
ADDED: F Kenyon Martin (draft, No. 1, Cincinnati), F Soumaila Samake (draft, No. 36, IBL), F Aaron Williams (free agent, Wizards).
LOST: G Kerry Kittles (injured), F Jayson Williams (retired), F Scott Burrell (free agent).
STRENGTHS: Kendall Gill moves to shooting guard and Keith Van Horn to small forward as both players adopt more natural positions. Stephon Marbury remains perhaps the best point guard in the conference, and Scott worked the team hard during training camp to improve their conditioning.
WEAKNESSES: The injury bug has already hit hard, with Van Horn breaking his leg in a preseason game and being forced to sit out for up to six weeks, Kittles probably out for the season with a knee injury and Jamie Feick and Lucious Harris undergoing surgery during training camp. The center position remains a big weakness.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Hope a change in coaches will help them win a few more close games. They were 10-24 last season in games decided by five points or less.

ORLANDO MAGIC
LAST SEASON: 41-41, missed playoffs.
COACH: Doc Rivers, second season, 41-41.
ADDED: F Grant Hill (trade with Pistons), G Tracy McGrady (trade with Raptors), F Andrew DeClercq (trade with Cavaliers), F Mike Miller (draft, No. 5, Florida), G Dee Brown (free agent, Magic), G Troy Hudson (free agent, Clippers), C Don Reid (free agent, Wizards).
LOST: F Ben Wallace, G Chucky Atkins (traded to Detroit), G Corey Maggette, F Derek Strong (traded to L.A. Clippers), G Chauncey Billups (free agent, Minnesota), G Ron Mercer (free agent, Chicago), G Matt Harpring (traded to Cleveland), G Anthony Johnson (waived).
STRENGTHS: Upgraded talent considerably by acquiring Hill and McGrady after clearing room under the salary cap. Rivers turned the Magic into a tough team last season and won coach of the year honors. Darrell Armstrong becomes more dangerous with Hill and McGrady around.
WEAKNESSES: All that salary cap space and all those promises of easy Florida living failed to land Tim Duncan, the top prize of the summer free-agent class. Making matters worse, several key players left most notably Wallace and Atkins to leave the Magic weak in the frontcourt and off the bench.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Give the ball to McGrady or Armstrong more than Hill at the end of close games.

BOSTON CELTICS
LAST SEASON: 35-47, missed playoffs.
COACH: Rick Pitino, fourth year with Celtics, 90-124; sixth season overall, 180-198.
ADDED: G Robert Pack (trade with Mavericks), F Jerome Moiso (draft, No. 11, UCLA), G Randy Brown (free agent, Bulls), G Chris Carr (free agent, Bulls).
LOST: F Danny Fortson (traded to Golden State), G Dana Barros (traded to Dallas), C Pervis Ellison (free agent, Seattle).
STRENGTHS: Paul Pierce has developed into one of the game's better all-around players, while Antoine Walker seems to have forged a lasting peace with Pitino. Pierce has been recovering quickly from stab wounds from a nightclub assault.
WEAKNESSES: Not enough talent and not many options via trades or free agency because of the big contracts held by the current players. Pitino isn't exactly a lame duck, although he says he'll leave if Celts don't improve.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Wonder whether Pitino would make a good replacement for Bob Knight at Indiana University.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS
LAST SEASON: 29-53, missed playoffs.
COACH: Leonard Hamilton, first season.
ADDED: G Felipe Lopez, F Cherokee Parks, F Obinna Ekezie (trade with Grizzlies), F Popeye Jones (trade with Nuggets), F Mike Smith (draft, No. 35, Louisiana-Monroe).
LOST: G Tracy Murray (traded to Denver), C Ike Austin (traded to Vancouver), F Aaron Williams (free agent, New Jersey), C Don Reid (free agent, Orlando).
STRENGTHS: Things can't get much worse. Haven't won a playoff game since 1988.
WEAKNESSES: Tied down by the salaries being paid to Juwan Howard, Mitch Richmond and Rod Strickland. Got little in return for two of their most tradable assets: Austin and Murray.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Tarnish Michael Jordan's reputation as a winner.




Central Division



CHARLOTTE HORNETS
LAST SEASON: 49-33, eliminated 3-1 by Philadelphia in first round of playoffs.
COACH: Paul Silas, third season with Hornets, 71-46; fifth season overall, 149-214.
ADDED: F P.J. Brown, F Jamal Mashburn, F Tim James, F Otis Thorpe (trade with Heat), G Hersey Hawkins (free agent, Bulls), F Jamaal Magliore (draft, No. 19, Kentucky), F Lee Nailon (rookie, Olympia Milano, TCU).
LOST: G Eddie Jones, F Anthony Mason, F Dale Ellis, G Ricky Davis (traded to Miami), C Todd Fuller (free agent, Miami), C Brad Miller (free agent, Chicago).
STRENGTHS: One of the few teams in the East with size (Elden Campbell, Derrick Coleman, Brown, Thorpe), the Hornets might play even bigger than usual if Silas sticks with his plan to use Mashburn at shooting guard instead of small forward. David Wesley is solid, and Eddie Robinson and Baron Davis are ready to contribute more.
WEAKNESSES: Coleman will start slowly after missing all of the preseason while adapting to new heart medication. Miller will be missed in the middle, and Robinson is an unproven commodity who might get the majority of minutes at shooting guard.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Find out how much size is going to be an advantage in the undersized Eastern Conference.

TORONTO RAPTORS
LAST SEASON: 45-37, eliminated 3-0 by New York in first round of playoffs.
COACH: Lenny Wilkens, first season with Raptors; 28th season overall, 1,179-981.
ADDED: G Mark Jackson (free agent, Pacers), F Corliss Williamson (trade with Warriors), G Morris Peterson (draft, No. 21, Michigan State).
LOST: G Tracy McGrady (traded to Orlando), G Dee Brown (free agent, Orlando), G Doug Christie (traded to Sacramento), F John Thomas (free agent).
STRENGTHS: Have the most dynamic player in the game in Vince Carter, who for the first time will have a true point guard, Jackson, getting him the ball in position to score. With Kevin Willis, Antonio Davis, Williamson and Charles Oakley, the Raptors have size.
WEAKNESSES: Will miss McGrady, who was developing into a big-game player who could be counted on to perform in the clutch. Will miss Christie's all-around contributions, especially 3-point shooting.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Have the league's leading scorer, Carter, and possibly the league leader in assists, Jackson.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS
LAST SEASON: 42-40, eliminated 3-2 by Indiana in first round of playoffs.
COACH: George Karl, third season with Bucks, 70-62; 14th season overall, 573-388.
ADDED: F Jason Caffey (trade with Warriors), C Joel Przybilla (draft, No. 9, Minnesota), G Lindsey Hunter (trade with Pistons).
LOST: F Billy Owens (traded to Detroit), F Danny Manning (free agent, Utah), G Vinny Del Negro (traded to Golden State), F J.R. Reid, F Robert Traylor (traded to Cleveland).
STRENGTHS: Once they started to play defense like an NBA team some 70 games into last season, they were pretty good. They even came awfully close to knocking the Pacers out of the postseason. Ray Allen is the best NBA player toiling in obscurity. Przybilla will become a decent successor to Ervin Johnson at center.
WEAKNESSES: Haven't won a playoff series since 1989, coming up short in each of Karl's first two seasons as head coach. Glenn Robinson remains suspect on defense; Sam Cassell is always prone to an ankle sprain that could force him to miss 20 games; and front line remains a huge question mark.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Challenge for the division title as long as they play defense like they mean it.

INDIANA PACERS
LAST SEASON: 56-26, lost 4-2 to L.A. Lakers in NBA Finals.
COACH: Isiah Thomas, first season.
ADDED: C Jermaine O'Neal (trade with Trail Blazers), C Terry Mills (free agent, Pistons), G Rex Walters (free agent, Heat).
LOST: C Rik Smits (retired), F Dale Davis (traded to Portland), G Mark Jackson (free agent, Toronto), F Chris Mullin (waived).
STRENGTHS: Still have one of the best pure shooters and clutch players in the game, Reggie Miller, and a 6-foot-8 point guard in Jalen Rose who will cause serious matchup problems. Austin Croshere will get more playing time, and O'Neal, Jonathan Bender, Jeff Foster and Al Harrington will get chances to prove they belong in the NBA.
WEAKNESSES: Lost three-fifths of their starting lineup and a head coach, Larry Bird, thereby going from a team that nearly won the title to one that could struggle to win 45 games. Miller is already unhappy despite a new three-year, $36 million contract. Davis and Smits will be almost impossible to replace.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Drop back into the middle of the pack in a conference they won last season.

DETROIT PISTONS
LAST SEASON: 42-40, eliminated 3-0 by Miami in first round.
COACH: George Irvine, first full season with Pistons, 14-10. Fifth season overall, 68-140.
ADDED: F Ben Wallace, G Chucky Atkins (trade with Magic), F Cedric Ceballos, F John Wallace (trade with Mavericks), F Billy Owens (trade with Milwaukee), G Mateen Cleeves (draft, No. 14, Michigan State).
LOST: F Grant Hill (traded to Orlando), F Christian Laettner (traded to Dallas), C Terry Mills (free agent, Indiana), G Lindsey Hunter (traded to Milwaukee), G John Crotty (free agent, Utah).
STRENGTHS: With Hill gone, Jerry Stackhouse gets a chance to become the No. 1 option on offense for the first time in his pro career. Ceballos will be a more consistent scorer than Laettner. Atkins could blossom as a starter.
WEAKNESSES: The starting lineup will be almost completely different than it was a year ago, and the Pistons will need some time to mesh. They remain undersized, just as they were when Hill was there, and have added several players who are not exactly known for their defense.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Mediocrity in Motown. Playoffs look like a long shot.

ATLANTA HAWKS
LAST SEASON: 28-54, missed playoffs.
COACH: Lon Kruger, first season.
ADDED: G DerMarr Johnson (draft, No. 6, Cincinnati), G Anthony Johnson (free agent, Magic), F Hanno Mottola (draft, No. 40, Utah).
LOST: F LaPhonso Ellis (free agent), G Bimbo Coles (free agent, Cleveland).
STRENGTHS: Has the league's hottest tradable commodity in C Dikembe Mutombo, who seems almost certain to be traded as the Hawks plunge further into a rebuilding mode.
WEAKNESSES: They're bad, they're boring, and they're only going to get worse before they get better.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Depends on what they get for Mutombo.

CHICAGO BULLS
LAST SEASON: 17-65, missed playoffs.
COACH: Tim Floyd, third season, 30-102.
ADDED: G Ron Mercer (free agent, Magic), C Brad Miller (free agent, Hornets), G Bryce Drew (trade with Rockets), F Marcus Fizer (draft, No. 4, Iowa State), G Jamal Crawford (draft, No. 8, Michigan), F Dragan Tarlac (rookie, Olympiakos), G A.J. Guyton (draft, No. 32, Indiana), C Jake Voskuhl (draft, No. 33, Connecticut).
LOST: C Chris Anstey (waived), G Hersey Hawkins (waived), G Matt Maloney (waived), G Randy Brown (free agent, Boston), C Will Perdue (free agent, Portland), G Chris Carr (free agent, Boston), F Dickey Simpkins (free agent, Seattle), G B.J. Armstrong (retired).
STRENGTHS: In Crawford and Fizer, have added two players who can produce if they can get their hands on the ball with Elton Brand and Mercer expected to take the bulk of the shots. Plenty of salary cap space to use next summer, unless next summer turns out to be like last summer with few players wanting to take Chicago's money.
WEAKNESSES: One of the league's youngest teams, the Bulls are being forced unreasonably, some might say to run the triangle offense that Floyd inherited from Phil Jackson. Morale is low, just like expectations. Expected to have first non-sellout at home since early '90s.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Place bets on whether Brand or Mercer takes more shots.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
LAST SEASON: 32-50, missed playoffs.
COACH: Randy Wittman, second season, 32-50.
ADDED: F Clarence Weatherspoon, F Chris Gatling (trade with Heat), F J.R. Reid, F Robert Traylor (trade with Bucks), C Chris Mihm (draft, No. 7, Texas), G Bimbo Coles (free agent, Hawks), F Matt Harpring (trade with Magic).
LOST: F Shawn Kemp (traded to Portland), C Andrew DeClercq (traded to Orlando), G Bob Sura (traded to Golden State), F Danny Ferry (free agent, San Antonio).
STRENGTHS: Lead the league in retread power forwards.
WEAKNESSES: Traded their best player and got nothing of value in return.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Achieve the impossible be worse than the Bulls.




Western Conference


Midwest Division

SAN ANTONIO SPURS
LAST SEASON: 53-29, eliminated 3-1 by Phoenix in first round.
COACH: Gregg Popovich, fifth season, 163-115.
ADDED: G Derek Anderson (free agent, Clippers), F Danny Ferry (free agent, Cavaliers).
LOST: G Mario Elie (free agent, Phoenix), C Felton Spencer (free agent, New York), F Jerome Kersey (free agent).
STRENGTHS: No team matches up better with the defending champion Lakers, who strike no fear into the likes of Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Anderson is a much-needed upgrade from Elie at shooting guard, and Sean Elliott plans to be back for an entire year after missing most of last season with a kidney ailment.
WEAKNESSES: Duncan, who missed the playoffs last season, is coming off knee surgery. Robinson is a year older. Elliott is fragile. Plenty of question marks on the bench, including aging guards Terry Porter and Steve Kerr.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Hope that the road to the championship round goes through Los Angeles, not Portland.

UTAH JAZZ
LAST SEASON: 55-27, eliminated 4-1 by Portland in second round.
COACH: Jerry Sloan, 13th season with Jazz, 637-296; 15th season overall, 731-417.
ADDED: F Donyell Marshall (trade with Warriors), G John Starks (free agent, Bulls), F Danny Manning (free agent, Bucks), G DeShawn Stevenson (draft, No. 23, Washington Union HS, Fresno, Calif.), G John Crotty (free agent, Pistons).
LOST: G Jeff Hornacek (retired), G Howard Eisley (traded to Dallas), F Adam Keefe (traded to Golden State), F Armen Gilliam (free agent).
STRENGTHS: Stockton and Malone, together again and ready to pick-and-roll their way through another winning season. Marshall and Starks should be able to replace the scoring that Eisley and Hornacek had provided, and Hornacek has hinted that he might come out of retirement and rejoin the team for the playoffs.
WEAKNESSES: Last season's loss to Portland showed that there are certain teams that just seem to have Utah's number, and the Jazz's postseason success could come down to whether they have a favorable draw in the Western Conference seedings.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Hope Starks isn't as washed up as he looked last year. Hope Marshall isn't the stiff he was in the late '90s.

DALLAS MAVERICKS
LAST SEASON: 40-42, missed playoffs.
COACH: Don Nelson, fourth season with Mavs, 75-123; 23rd season overall, 926-752.
ADDED: F Christian Laettner (trade with Pistons), F Loy Vaught (trade with Pistons), G Howard Eisley (trade with Jazz), G Courtney Alexander (draft, No. 13, Fresno State), F Etan Thomas (draft, No. 12, Syracuse), F Donnell Harvey (draft, No. 22, Florida), F Eduardo Najera (draft, No. 38, Oklahoma).
LOST: G Robert Pack (traded to Boston), F Cedric Ceballos (traded to Detroit), C Sean Rooks (traded to L.A. Clippers), G Erick Strickland (traded to New York), G Damon Jones (free agent).
STRENGTHS: Loaded up over the summer with a horde of promising draft picks and an established big man in Laettner. One of the hottest teams in the NBA over the second half of last season, Dallas has become one of the league's preferred destinations among players eager to be coddled with creature comforts by owner Mark Cuban.
WEAKNESSES: Despite all their power forwards, they will be at a disadvantage in the low post against the better teams in the West. Will have to fight hard for a playoff berth in a tough conference.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Live in luxury, with flat-screen DVD players in their lockers and special chairs on the bench courtesy of Cuban's Internet fortune.

HOUSTON ROCKETS
LAST SEASON: 34-48, missed playoffs.
COACH: Rudy Tomjanovich, 10th season, 387-267.
ADDED: F Maurice Taylor (free agent, Clippers), C Jason Collier, (draft, No. 15, Georgia Tech).
LOST: F Charles Barkley (retired), F Tony Massenburg (free agent, Vancouver), G Bryce Drew (traded to Chicago), F Anthony Miller (free agent).
STRENGTHS: Steve Francis will be the focal point of the offense right from the get-go, unlike last season when his role was defined as the season wore on. The Rockets got Taylor for next to nothing, signing him for the $2.25 million salary cap exception after it seemed certain he'd end up elsewhere.
WEAKNESSES: The core of this team is not used to winning, and it'll be an uphill battle to compete against the bigger, more experienced teams in the conference. Hakeem Olajuwon is on his last legs.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: End the Olajuwon era somewhere slightly south of .500.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
LAST SEASON: 50-32, eliminated 3-1 by Portland in first round of playoffs.
COACH: Flip Saunders, fifth season, 180-178.
ADDED: G Chauncey Billups (free agent, Magic).
LOST: G Malik Sealy (deceased), G Bobby Jackson (free agent, Sacramento).
STRENGTHS: Kevin Garnett has evolved into one of the most complete players in the game; Terrell Brandon remains one of the best point guards in the league; and the supporting cast is solid if unspectacular.
WEAKNESSES: Facing huge penalties from the league amid accusations Joe Smith was signed to a secret side contract that violated the salary cap. Could lose draft picks and money, and owner Glen Taylor could be suspended a huge cloud hanging over a franchise that has been running in place for three years.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Have a tougher time in the race for the playoffs than they did last season.

DENVER NUGGETS
LAST SEASON: 35-47, missed playoffs.
COACH: Dan Issel, fifth season, 131-149.
ADDED: G Robert Pack, G Calbert Cheaney (trade with Celtics), F Mark Strickland, G Voshon Lenard (trade with Heat), G Tracy Murray (trade with Wizards), C Mamadou N'Diaye (draft, No. 26, Auburn).
LOST: G Bryant Stith, G Chris Herren (traded to Boston), F Popeye Jones (traded to Washington), F Chris Gatling (traded to Miami).
STRENGTHS: On paper, it appears they got the better of the deal in each of their three trades. Their 3-point shooting will be improved, and they have an underrated top threesome of Antonio McDyess, Raef LaFrentz and Nick Van Exel.
WEAKNESSES: Tended to go adrift for long stretches last season, turning a nice start into a season of mediocrity. Size will be a problem in their conference, especially at center.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Possibly be the sleeper team in the West.

VANCOUVER GRIZZLIES
LAST SEASON: 22-60, missed playoffs.
COACH: Sidney Lowe, first season with Grizzlies, third season overall, 33-102.
ADDED: F Stromile Swift (draft, LSU, No. 2), F Tony Massenburg (free agent, Rockets), C Isaac Austin (trade with Wizards), G Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (free agent), G Damon Jones (free agent, Mavericks).
LOST: G Felipe Lopez, G Dennis Scott, F Obinna Ekezie, F Cherokee Parks (traded to Washington), F Antoine Carr (free agent).
STRENGTHS: Deep at power forward, with a very tradable commodity in Othella Harrington. Michael Dickerson is coming off a breakout year, Shareef Abdur-Rahim would be an All-Star if he played elsewhere.
WEAKNESSES: Many of the players aren't particularly happy to be playing in NBA Siberia, and it sometimes shows in a lack of effort. Fans are convinced the team will be moved in two years, and many have stopped attending games.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Lay claim to the same spot in the cellar that has become their permanent habitat.




Pacific Division



PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
LAST SEASON, 59-23, eliminated 4-3 by Los Angeles Lakers in Western Conference finals.
COACH: Mike Dunleavy, fourth season with Blazers, 140-74; 10th season overall, 348-358.
ADDED: F Shawn Kemp (trade with Cavaliers), F Dale Davis (trade with Pacers), C Will Perdue (free agent, Bulls), G Erick Barkley (draft, No. 28, St. John's).
LOST: F Detlef Schrempf (retired), F Brian Grant (traded to Miami), C Jermaine O'Neal (traded to Indiana), G Gary Grant (traded to Cleveland), F Antonio Harvey (free agent).
STRENGTHS: If not for their fourth-quarter meltdown in Game 7 of the conference finals, they might be the defending champs. The addition of Kemp and Davis to the nucleus of Arvydas Sabonis and Rasheed Wallace makes them even better, with enough weapons in the low post to match anything the Lakers or Spurs can throw at them.
WEAKNESSES: The point guard duo of Damon Stoudamire and Greg Anthony is a notch below the NBA standard, and it remains a big question how Kemp and Davis will respond to significantly reduced roles from the ones they're used to.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: They'll win the West and the title.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS
LAST SEASON: 67-15, won NBA championship 4-2 over Indiana.
COACH: Phil Jackson, second season with Lakers, 11th season overall, 612-208.
ADDED: F Horace Grant, C Greg Foster, G Emanuel Davis (trade with Sonics), G Isaiah Rider (free agent, Hawks), F Mark Madsen (draft, No. 29, Stanford).
LOST: VP Jerry West (retired), F Glen Rice, C Travis Knight (traded to New York), F A.C. Green (free agent), G John Celestand (free agent, Dallas), C John Salley (retired), G Brian Shaw (free agent).
STRENGTHS: On the verge of losing Rice and getting nothing in return, general manager Mitch Kupchak pulled off a great trade to land Grant an upgrade over last year's starter, Green. In Foster, Kupchak also found an adequate backup for O'Neal, who developed into an all-around force last season en route to the championship.
WEAKNESSES: Will have to fight the letdown syndrome after winning the title in Jackson's first season. Brought in Rider, who has been a headache wherever he has played.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Stay neck and neck with the Blazers, see even more Hack-a-Shaq defenses.

PHOENIX SUNS
LAST SEASON: 53-29, eliminated 4-1 by Lakers in second round of playoffs.
COACH: Scott Skiles, second season, 40-22.
ADDED: C Iakovos Tsakalidis (draft, No. 25, AEK Greece), C Chris Dudley (trade with Knicks), G Tony Delk (free agent, Kings), G Mario Elie (free agent, Spurs), G Paul McPherson (rookie free agent, DePaul).
LOST: C Luc Longley (traded to New York), G Kevin Johnson (re-retired), G Toby Bailey (free agent, Bulls), F Don MacLean (free agent, Heat), G Todd Day (free agent), C Oliver Miller (free agent).
STRENGTHS: After being hurt by injuries last season, should have a healthy cast back by December when Tom Gugliotta returns. Jason Kidd and Penny Hardaway comprise one of the best backcourts in the league, Shawn Marion is the real deal and Cliff Robinson is an exceptional defender.
WEAKNESSES: Scoring in the middle will be an even bigger problem than it used to be, and there's no big rebounder at the starting power forward spot or off the bench. Hardaway is recovering from knee surgery and might start slowly.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Wish they were in the East, where they'd win 60 games.

SEATTLE SUPERSONICS
LAST SEASON: 45-37, eliminated 3-2 by Utah in first round of playoffs.
COACH: Paul Westphal, second season with Sonics, 70-62; seventh season overall, 236-125.
ADDED: C Patrick Ewing (trade with Knicks), F Desmond Mason (draft, No. 17, Oklahoma State), C Pervis Ellison (free agent, Celtics), G Randy Livingston (free agent, Suns), F Dickey Simpkins (free agent, Bulls).
LOST: F Horace Grant, F Chuck Person, G Emanuel Davis, C Greg Foster (traded to L.A. Lakers), F Lazaro Borrell, C Vladimir Stepania, G Vernon Maxwell (traded to New York).
STRENGTHS: After years of trying, finally found a dominant center albeit one who hasn't been dominating for the past three seasons. Gary Payton is coming off the best year of his career, and Vin Baker isn't carrying around 15 extra pounds. Rashard Lewis and Shammond Williams are two of the better unheralded players in the NBA.
WEAKNESSES: Will miss Grant and his durability and might rue trading him to a conference contender. Baker still has a distaste for banging around in the low post. The bench is not deep. Ewing is 38.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Give it a shot with Ewing, and tear it apart again next summer if things don't work out.

SACRAMENTO KINGS
LAST SEASON: 44-38, eliminated 3-2 by L.A. Lakers in first round of playoffs.
COACH: Rick Adelman, third season with Kings, 71-61; eighth season overall, 428-313.
ADDED: G Doug Christie (trade with Toronto), G Bobby Jackson (free agent, Timberwolves).
LOST: F Corliss Williamson (traded to Toronto), G Tony Delk (free agent, Phoenix), F Tyrone Corbin (free agent).
STRENGTHS: Play a wide-open style that can frustrate opponents into playing down to the Kings' level. Vlade Divac and Chris Webber are on par with some of the other big-man tandems in the conference, and Christie will be an improvement over the disappointing Nick Anderson.
WEAKNESSES: Jason Williams has already run afoul of the league's drug program and will serve five-game suspensions for any subsequent violations. Webber is in the final year of his contract and could demand a trade.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Be known as last year's flavor; drop in popularity.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
LAST SEASON: 19-63, missed playoffs.
COACH: Dave Cowens, first season with Warriors; fifth season overall, 136-111.
ADDED: F Danny Fortson (trade with Celtics), F Adam Keefe (trade with Jazz), G Bob Sura (trade with Cavaliers), G Vinny DelNegro (trade with Bucks), F Chris Porter (draft, No. 51, Auburn), F Chris Mullin (free agent, Pacers).
LOST: F Jason Caffey (traded to Milwaukee), F Donyell Marshall (traded to Utah), F Bill Curley (traded to Dallas), F Billy Owens (traded to Milwaukee), F Mark Davis (free agent).
STRENGTHS: Will have Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison playing alongside each other for the first time, as Jamison missed the second half of last season due to injury. The bench will be stronger.
WEAKNESSES: Very weak at center, and loaded with players on the bench who are past their peak. Didn't have a first-round draft pick, having sent it to Orlando to complete the Chris Webber-Penny Hardaway trade of many years ago.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Be the answer to the question: Whatever happened to so-and-so?

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
LAST SEASON: 15-67, missed playoffs.
COACH: Alvin Gentry, first season with Clippers; fifth season overall, 88-93.
ADDED: F Darius Miles (draft, No. 3, East St. Louis H.S), G Keyon Dooling (draft, No. 10, Missouri), G Quentin Richardson (draft, No. 18, DePaul); F Derek Strong, G Corey Maggette (trade with Magic), C Sean Rooks (trade with Mavericks), G Earl Boykins (free agent, Cavaliers), C Zendon Hamilton (free agent).
LOST: G Derek Anderson (free agent, San Antonio), F Maurice Taylor (free agent, Houston), G Eric Murdock (traded to Dallas), C Keith Closs (suspended), F Pete Chilcutt (free agent, Miami).
STRENGTHS: Making yet another fresh start under a new coach. should at least be fun to watch with their baby-faced cast of players 22-and-under.
WEAKNESSES: Everyone who comes there eventually wants to leave,.
WHAT THEY'LL DO: Appear on national television vs. Minnesota on Dec. 20. Really.

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