Tim Tested
In a tight race for SI's annual honors, Tim Duncan retains his
MVP crown

Will the finally surging Lakers four-peat? Or will the Spurs or
the Kings win it all? The playoffs can be tough to predict, but
here, without any doubt, are the award winners of 2002-03:

MVP Tim Duncan, Spurs. Yes, Kevin Garnett had the finest season
of his eight-year career, carrying the Timberwolves. But Duncan's
supporting cast is not much better than Garnett's, his numbers
are comparable, and at week's end San Antonio had the league's
best record--and nine more wins than Minnesota.

COACH OF THE YEAR Gregg Popovich, Spurs. The triple crown for any
coach is to make the most of his roster, have his team peaking
before the playoffs and clinch home court advantage throughout
the playoffs. Popovich has done the first two and as of Sunday
was closing in on the third.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR Yao Ming, Rockets. The 7'5" Yao proved to be
the rare player who can put up good numbers and consistently make
his teammates better.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR Ben Wallace, Pistons. At week's end
he had a shot at becoming the first player to lead the NBA in
both boards (15.4 per game) and blocks (3.15) in successive

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER Jason Williams, Grizzlies. He had been
written off as erratic and grossly overpaid--until Hubie Brown
became his coach in November. Through Sunday, Williams ranked
third in the league in assists (8.2 per game) and first among
starting point guards in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.71).

EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR Joe Dumars, Pistons. Dumars brought in a
new starting backcourt by dealing Jerry Stackhouse to the Wizards
for Richard Hamilton and signing free agent Chauncey Billups.
Detroit claimed the Central Division crown--and it still has room
under the luxury-tax threshold to improve this summer.

SIXTH MAN Bobby Jackson, Kings. He could start for many teams,
but he's content to spark a title contender with his playmaking,
scoring and defense.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD Jerry Sloan, Jazz. Though he hasn't
won a championship or a Coach of the Year award, Sloan's teams
have epitomized selflessness and hard-nosed play while averaging
52 wins in 15 seasons with Utah.

LIFETIME BONEHEAD AWARD Ricky Davis, Cavaliers. One rebound shy
of a triple double, against the Jazz on March 16, Davis tried to
get it by retrieving his own intentional miss--at the wrong

WORST ACQUISITION Vin Baker, Celtics. Sending Kenny Anderson to
the Sonics was a horrible trade for Boston even before Baker (5.2
points per game, $56.3 million guaranteed through 2005-06) left
the team on Feb. 27 to "address personal issues."

REALITY BITES AWARD Michael Jordan, Wizards. No matter that he
averaged 20 points at age 40, Jordan missed the playoffs for the
second straight season since coming back. Whichever team he runs
next year--the Wizards or the expansion team in Charlotte--expect
MJ to gamble less on young and unproven talent.

BIGGEST SURPRISE Eric Musselman, Warriors. The youngest coach in
the league at 38, Musselman breathed life into Golden State,
which finished second to the Mavericks in scoring while making a
run at the postseason.

BIGGEST FLOP Clippers. By refusing to re-sign any of his free
agents last summer, owner Donald Sterling removed any hope of
cohesion on a team with enough talent to advance a round or two
in the playoffs.

Blazers. Portland police say that Woods, a rookie forward, was
pulled over last month for driving 83 mph in a 55-mph zone and
was asked to show his license. Woods, whose license had been
revoked, instead handed over two credit cards and his basketball
trading card. When police found a small amount of marijuana in
the car, Woods said that he had been smoking pot for three years
and had tried to quit but was "addicted."

Miami's Caron Butler
Proving to Be a Worthy Choice in the Draft

Heat forward Caron Butler won't be named Rookie of the Year, even
though he led his class in scoring (15.5 points per game) and
steals (1.78) at week's end. He also became only the third rookie
to start for coach Pat Riley on opening night, joining James
Worthy and Sasha Danilovic. "He reminds me of James," says Riley,
"from the way he's come in and played right away, to his

A comparison of more recent vintage would be the Celtics' Paul
Pierce, a swingman who tumbled in the draft only to emerge as a
star. Rated in the top five on most predraft lists, Butler came
out from UConn as a sophomore and lasted until the 10th pick. The
day after the draft he arrived in Miami and began working out six
days a week. "What happened in the draft drove me," says the
6'7", 216-pound Butler. "It gave me an extra edge to start so
early and work so hard."

Butler has run through the rookie wall as if it were made of
paper; he averaged 20.1 points in March and led the Heat in
scoring for eight straight games. He has proved to be a strong
finisher and a decent rebounder (5.1 per game) capable of taking
the ball baseline to baseline on the break. With $7 million of
cap space this summer, Riley hopes that a key free-agent signing
and Butler's growth--especially as a defender--will lift the Heat
into the playoffs next season. "The losing has been hard," Butler
says, "but I've been learning so much."

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN By leading his team to more victories, Duncan edged the equally gifted Garnett. COLOR PHOTO: VICTOR BALDIZON/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES Whatever the Heat asked of its prized rookie this season, Butler delivered.

around the Rim

He'll receive few MVP votes, but Michael Finley is invaluable to
the Mavericks. Through Sunday's games Dallas was 7-6 since Finley
was sidelined by a strained left hamstring, a stretch that
allowed the Spurs to seize the lead in the race for home court
advantage throughout the playoffs. Finley is expected to be back
for the postseason.... Good behavior means everything in
Portland. Over the last two seasons the Trail Blazers have gone
45-45 (.500) when a player or coach has been called for at least
one technical, and 53-19 (.736) when no one has acted up. "We
have to get mentally stronger," says co-captain Scottie Pippen.
"When we attack officials, we don't play our best."