What to expect in NBA's Central Division

DETROIT PISTONS

  • LAST SEASON: 50-32, eliminated 4-1 by Boston in second round.
  • COACH: Rick Carlisle, second season, 50-32.
  • ADDED: G Richard Hamilton, G Hubert Davis (trade with Wizards), G Chauncey Billups (free agent, Timberwolves), F Mehmet Okur (2001 draft, Turkey), F Tayshawn Prince (Draft, No. 23, Kentucky).
  • LOST: G Jerry Stackhouse (traded to Washington), F Rodney White (traded to Denver), G Dana Barros (free agent), F Mikki Moore (free agent, Spurs), G Damon Jones (free agent, Sacramento).
  • STRENGTHS: The deepest team in the East, with plenty of big guys who can shoot from outside to complement the rebounding and defense of Ben Wallace. There is depth in the backcourt, too, with Chucky Atkins providing instant offense off the bench. Carlisle turned this team into a winner last season, earning the team some much-needed playoff experience.
  • WEAKNESSES: The biggest question is who will take over Stackhouse's role of carrying the offense down the stretch of tight games. Hamilton is a good offensive player, but Stackhouse was a more proven scorer. At times, they couldn't buy a basket during last season's playoffs. Working in a new point guard, Billups, might take some time.
  • WHAT THEY'LL DO: Another 50-win season is well within reach despite their lack of star power.

TORONTO RAPTORS

  • LAST SEASON: 42-40, eliminated 3-2 by Detroit in first round.
  • COACH: Lenny Wilkens, third season with Raptors, 89-75, 30th season overall, 1,268-1,056.
  • ADDED: F Lamond Murray (trade with Cavaliers), G Lindsey Hunter (trade with Lakers), C Nate Huffman (free agent, Maccabi Tel Aviv), C Jelani McCoy (free agent, Lakers), F Chris Jefferies (draft, No. 27, Fresno State).
  • LOST: C Hakeem Olajuwon (expected to retire), C Keon Clark (free agent, Sacramento), G Tracy Murray (free agent, L.A. Lakers), G Chris Childs (free agent, New Jersey), F Dell Curry (free agent), C Michael Stewart (traded to Cleveland).
  • STRENGTHS: Vince Carter has vowed to come back strong this season after a knee injury hampered him throughout last season and kept him off the playoff roster. Veteran-laden starting lineup among the most solid in the conference when healthy. Wilkens is an underrated playoff tactician.
  • WEAKNESSES: Roster is filled with players on lucrative, long-term contracts who performed better before they signed their extensions. Outside shooting is a question mark, especially if Hunter's two-year slump continues. Clark brought a shoot-blocking presence that hasn't been replaced.
  • WHAT THEY'LL DO: If Carter returns to his form of 2000-01, he'll re-emerge on the NBA superstar radar.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

  • LAST SEASON: 41-41, missed playoffs.
  • COACH: George Karl, fifth season with Bucks, 163-133; 16th season overall, 666-459.
  • ADDED: F Toni Kukoc (trade with Atlanta), G Marcus Haislip (draft, No. 13, Tennessee), C Dan Gadzuric (draft, No. 34, UCLA), G Kevin Ollie (free agent, Pacers).
  • LOST: F Glenn Robinson (traded to Atlanta), C Greg Foster (free agent, Indiana), G Greg Anthony (free agent), F Darvin Ham (free agent, Atlanta), C Mark Pope (free agent, New York), G Rafer Alston (free agent, Golden State).
  • STRENGTHS: Team chemistry can only improve, as it has become clear in the past few weeks that there is no love lost between Allen and the recently departed Robinson. Anthony Mason will have had an entire training camp to get acclimated, unlike last year.
  • WEAKNESSES: No team imploded last season more than the Bucks, collapsing down the stretch after being in first place in the division in early March. That failure will be difficult to shrug off, especially if the losses are frequent early. Tim Thomas will be asked to replace the offense of Robinson, who averaged 20.7 points last season.
  • WHAT THEY'LL DO: The Bucks are the East's mystery team, so it's too hard to say.

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

  • LAST SEASON: 44-38, eliminated 4-1 by New Jersey in second round.
  • COACH: Paul Silas, fifth season with Hornets, 161-120; eighth season overall, 239-278.
  • ADDED: G Courtney Alexander (trade with Wizards).
  • LOST: None.
  • STRENGTHS: If able to keep their best players healthy for an extended period of time, the Hornets have enough talent, chemistry and experience to finish atop the division. There will be an increase in fan support now that the team has relocated from Charlotte, where the franchise fell out of favor.
  • WEAKNESSES: Injuries were a big factor last season, especially in the playoffs when Jamal Mashburn was sidelined, and this preseason has brought more of the same. Elden Campbell, P.J. Brown, Alexander and Baron Davis are among the walking wounded as the season begins.
  • WHAT THEY'LL DO: Enjoy their new surroundings as the NBA returns to New Orleans for the first time since the Jazz left in 1979.

ATLANTA HAWKS

  • LAST SEASON: 33-49, missed playoffs.
  • COACH: Lon Kruger, 3rd season, 58-106.
  • ADDED: F Glenn Robinson (trade with Bucks), G Dan Dickau (draft, No. 28, Gonzaga), F Darvin Ham (free agent, Bucks), F Rod Grizzard (draft, No. 39, Alabama).
  • LOST: F Toni Kukoc (traded to Milwaukee), G DerMarr Johnson (neck injury), G Jacques Vaughn (free agent, Orlando), F Hanno Mottola (free agent, Tau Ceramina/Spain).
  • STRENGTHS: The acquisition of Robinson, along with the return of Theo Ratliff to play alongside Shareef Abdur-Rahim, gives the Hawks a formidable frontcourt. Jason Terry is a proven scorer, which gives Atlanta three starters capable of contributing 25 points on any given night.
  • WEAKNESSES: If Terry plays at shooting guard, the point guard position will be a huge question mark. Kruger begins the season on the hot seat, with management already having guaranteed a playoff berth. Expectations are much higher than they've been in three years.
  • WHAT THEY'LL DO: If Ratliff stays healthy, should deliver on guarantee.

INDIANA PACERS

  • LAST SEASON: 42-40, eliminated 3-2 by New Jersey in first round.
  • COACH: Isiah Thomas, third season, 83-81.
  • ADDED: G Erick Strickland (free agent, Celtics), G Fred Jones (draft, No. 14, Indiana), C Oliver Miller (free agent), C Greg Foster (free agent, Bucks).
  • LOST: G Kevin Ollie (free agent, Milwaukee), C Bruno Sundov (free agent, Boston).
  • STRENGTHS: With Al Harrington back after season-ending knee surgery, a key component has returned. Indiana has one of the biggest young front lines with Jermaine O'Neal, Brad Miller and Harrington, along with one of the best clutch shooters ever -- Reggie Miller.
  • WEAKNESSES: Have been floundering around .500 while going through a rebuilding process ever since Larry Bird left. The talent is there, but the Pacers haven't achieved much during Thomas' tenure.
  • WHAT THEY'LL DO: Should be in contention for playoff spot, but major improvement seems unlikely.

CHICAGO BULLS

  • LAST SEASON: 21-61, missed playoffs.
  • COACH: Bill Cartwright, 1st full season, 17-38.
  • ADDED: G Jay Williams (draft, No. 2, Duke), F Donyell Marshall (free agent, Jazz), F Lonnie Baxter (draft, No. 44, Maryland), C Corie Blount (free agent, 76ers).
  • LOST: F Charles Oakley (free agent, Washington), G Travis Best (free agent, Miami), G A.J. Guyton (free agent, L.A. Lakers).
  • STRENGTHS: Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler got their feet wet in the latter half of last season after the Tim Floyd era came to an end, and the Bulls are now able to field their most competitive starting five since the dynasty was dismantled.
  • WEAKNESSES: There are already questions about whether Williams and Jalen Rose can coexist on the court. The team remains among the youngest in the league, and the rebuilding process will continue to proceed slowly.
  • WHAT THEY'LL DO: An improvement over 21 wins is likely. A .500 season is not.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

  • LAST SEASON: 29-53, missed playoffs.
  • COACH: John Lucas, second season with Cavs, 29-53, sixth season overall, 165-224.
  • ADDED: F Darius Miles (trade with Clippers), G Dajuan Wagner (draft, No. 6, Memphis), G Milt Palacio (free agent, Suns), C Michael Stewart (trade with Raptors), G Nick Anderson (trade with Grizzlies), F Carlos Boozer (draft, No. 35, Duke), G Anthony Johnson (free agent, Nets).
  • LOST: G Andre Miller (traded to L.A. Clippers), G Wesley Person (traded to Memphis), F Lamond Murray (traded to Toronto), G Trajan Langdon (free agent, Benetton Treviso/Italy), Michael Doleac (free agent, New York), G Bryant Stith (free agent, Clippers), F Brian Skinner (free agent).
  • STRENGTHS: The Cavs still have one of the best offensive centers in the league -- when Zydrunas Ilgauskas' feet aren't giving him trouble. Ricky Davis came on strong at the end of last season, earning himself millions, and Darius Miles has impressed in the preseason.
  • WEAKNESSES: The top three scorers from last season are gone, and Cleveland got little of immediate value in return for two of those players -- Murray and Person. There will be a big dropoff at point guard with Miller gone.
  • WHAT THEY'LL DO: Miles and Davis will be fun to watch, but Cleveland won't win much.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)