Thursday , Dec , 30 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Year in Review

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

(Sports Network) – It’s hard to believe that 2005 is just days away. With the
new year quickly approaching, it is the perfect time to take a look back at
what occurred in the NBA during the past 12 months.

Here is a list of 10 major events that made 2004 a memorable year in the NBA:

1. DETROIT PISTONS UPSET THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS IN THE NBA FINALS.

Detroit head coach Larry Brown and the Pistons dominated the heavily-favored
Lakers in the championship round, as they beat LA in five games to capture
their third title and first since 1990.

Chauncey Billups was named the MVP of the NBA Finals. He averaged 21 points
and 5.2 assists in the five contests, plus made 50.9 percent of his shots from
the floor, including an impressive 47.1 percent from three-point range.

The decisive Game 5 of the series marked the last time that LA head coach Phil
Jackson and All-Stars Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant would be together as
Lakers.

2. THE HEAT ACQUIRE SHAQUILLE O’NEAL FROM THE LAKERS.

On July 14th, the Miami Heat, who played their first season in the NBA in the
1988-89 campaign, made their biggest trade in franchise history when they
acquired O’Neal from the Lakers in exchange for forwards Lamar Odom, Brian
Grant, Caron Butler and a first-round draft pick.

O’Neal was originally selected out of Louisiana State in the first round (1st
overall) of the 1992 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic. He spent four seasons
with Magic before being signed as a free agent by the Lakers on July 18, 1996.
The All-Star center won three championships during his eight seasons with the
Lakers.

The 32-year-old O’Neal, who averaged a career-low 21.5 points and 11.5
rebounds in 67 regular-season games for LA in 2003-04, has fit in well with
his new teammates in Miami. Shaq’s new partner is point guard Dwyane Wade, who
has teamed up with the All-Star center to form arguably the most potent one-
two punch in the league. If O’Neal can stay healthy, the Heat could be headed
toward their first NBA Finals appearance.

3. START OF A NEW CHAPTER IN LAKERS’ HISTORY.

After falling in five games to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals, the
Lakers and head coach Phil Jackson, who guided the storied franchise to three
championships during his five years at the helm, mutually agreed to part ways
and O’Neal was traded to the Heat in the blockbuster deal of the summer.

When the soap-opera like events of Jackson and O’Neal officially behind them,
the Lakers signed six-time All-Star Kobe Bryant to a reported seven-year
contract worth an estimated $130 million and hired former Houston Rockets head
coach Rudy Tomjanovich to replace Jackson.

With O’Neal and Jackson gone, the Lakers officially became Bryant’s team and a
new chapter in the club’s history had begun.

4. SEXUAL ASSAULT CHARGES AGAINST KOBE BRYANT ARE DROPPED.

Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert announced on September 1st that
sexual assault charges against Bryant had been dismissed. The charges were
reportedly dropped with prejudice, meaning that the charges cannot be refiled
at a later date.

Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a then 19-year-old woman while in
Colorado in June 2003 for surgery on his right knee. If he was convicted of
the Class 3 felony, Bryant, who was forced to play virtually all of the
2003-04 season while traveling between Colorado and Los Angeles, could have
faced penalties ranging from four years to life in prison or 20 years to life
on probation.

5. NOVEMBER 19TH BRAWL AT THE PALACE OF AUBURN HILLS.

The Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers were scheduled to play a competitive
game on November 19th at The Palace. However the contest turned into an out of
control melee. Indiana won 97-82, but the game had to be stopped in the final
minute because of the fracas.

NBA Commissioner David Stern showed no mercy as he suspended Indiana’s Ron
Artest for the remainder of the season for his part in the brawl. Stern also
suspended eight other players for their roles in the melee that started on the
court and eventually found its way into the seats and included the fans at The
Palace of Auburn Hills. Artest’s teammate, Stephen Jackson received a 30-game
suspension, while Indiana All-Star Jermaine O’Neal originally received 25
games and reserve Anthony Johnson got five .

Detroit suffered it biggest loss with a six-game suspension to Ben Wallace,
whose two-handed shove to Artest’s face instigated the incident. Four other
players received a one-game penalty for leaving the bench during an on-court
altercation. The list included Indiana’s Reggie Miller, and Detroit’s Elden
Campbell, Chauncey Billups and Derrick Coleman.

6. NBA PLAYERS FAIL TO CAPTURE GOLD FOR UNITED STATES AT ATHENS OLYMPICS.

Led by San Antonio’s Tim Duncan and Philadelphia’s Allen Iverson, the United
States won the Bronze Medal at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. The United
States defeated Lithuania, 104-96 in the Bronze Medal Game, while Argentina
took home the Gold Medal with an 84-69 win over Italy in the Gold Medal Game.

The United States, which also had Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, LeBron James
Richard Jefferson, Stephon Marbury, Shawn Marion, Lamar Odom, Emeka Okafor,
Amare Stoudemire and Dwyane Wade on its roster, suffered losses to Argentina
and Lithuania during the Summer Games. Head coach Larry Brown, who had won his
first NBA Championship as the general of the Pistons prior to the Olympics,
failed to lead the United States to its fourth straight Gold Medal as this
team became the first with NBA stars to not capture Olympic gold.

7. KEVIN GARNETT WINS FIRST MVP.

Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett captured his first Most Valuable Player award in his
nine-year career. A seven-time All-Star, Garnett had a fantastic season for
the Timberwolves in 2003-04. Minnesota’s power forward started all 82 games
and averaged career-highs in points (24.2 ppg), rebounds (13.9 rpg) and blocks
(2.17 bpg).

Originally selected out of Farragut Academy High School by Minnesota in the
first round (fifth pick overall) of 1995 NBA Draft, Garnett ended Tim Duncan’s
two-year reign as MVP. Garnett led the Timberwolves to their first-ever
playoff series win and helped Minnesota reach the Western Conference finals
for the first time in franchise history.

8. LEBRON JAMES TAKES HOME ROOKIE OF THE YEAR HONORS.

Cleveland’s LeBron James, who was selected out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High
School in the first round (first pick overall) of the 2003 NBA Draft by the
Cavaliers, made a huge splash in his first season in the NBA. The 6-8 James
had a fantastic rookie campaign, which saw him average a team-high 20.9
points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists. He started all 79 contests that he
appeared in, and shot 41.7 percent from the floor, 29 percent from beyond the
arc and managed to register 1.65 steals per game.

The Cavaliers hope the reigning Rookie of the Year can lead them to the
playoffs in 2004-05 for the first time since 1998. Even though Cleveland did
not make the playoffs in 2004, it did win 35 games, the most for the franchise
since the Cavaliers won 47 games in the 1997-98 regular season. James lived up
to the hype in his rookie campaign and the future of NBA basketball in
Cleveland looks very bright.

9. NBA DRAFT.

High School phenom Dwight Howard was selected by the Orlando Magic with the
top overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. Howard became the third high school
player taken No. 1, joining Kwame Brown (Washington, 2001) and LeBron James
(Cleveland, 2003).

The expansion Charlotte Bobcats, who moved up two spots in the draft via a
trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, took University of Connecticut
center/forward Emeka Okafor with the second pick. The All-America center led
the Huskies to the 2004 national championship and skipped his senior campaign
for NBA stardom.

The Chicago Bulls selected Connecticut’s Ben Gordon at No.3, while the Los
Angeles Clippers grabbed high school star Shaun Livingston and the Washington
Wizards picked Wisconsin’s Devon Harris, who was later traded to the Dallas
Mavericks in a blockbuster deal that saw Antawn Jamison land in Washington.

Phoenix picked Duke’s Luol Deng at No. 7 and traded him to the Chicago Bulls,
while the Boston Celtics had three first-round picks and selected high school
forward Al Jefferson, Saint Joseph’s guard Delonte West and Oklahoma State’s
Tony Allen.

10. PHOENIX SUNS AMAZING START TO NEW SEASON.

In the offseason, the Suns inked two-time All-Star Steve Nash and swingman
Quentin Richardson to lucrative, multi-year contracts. The idea was that Nash
and Richardson would team with forwards Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion to
once again make Phoenix a playoff contender.

The experiment has become a huge success. Phoenix, which owned a 24-3 record
after 27 games to mark the best start in the league since the 1995-96 Chicago
Bulls began the campaign 41-3, will head into 2005 with an NBA-best 25-4
record.

Stoudemire is the team’s leading scorer (25.6 ppg), Marion is the top
rebounder (11.2 rpg) and Nash is averaging a league-best 10.9 assists per
game. The Suns are a high-powered offensive machine and it will be fun to see
if they can carry over the momentum into the new year.