Here are the key developments—from the breaks and bold strokes in the West to the blunders in the East—that have contributed to the power imbalance
?1995: Glen Taylor buys the T-Wolves, then drafts high school forward Kevin Garnett. Taylor is soon joined in the West by such fellow free-spenders as Sacramento's Maloof brothers (1999) and Dallas's Mark Cuban (2000).
?1996: In a one-week span in July, the Lakers sign Shaquille O'Neal from Orlando and acquire the rights to Kobe Bryant from Charlotte. Washington also ships Rasheed Wallace, 21, to Portland for Rod Strickland, 30.
?1997: A decade after winning the lottery to get No. 1 pick David Robinson, San Antonio again gets the No. 1 pick, Tim Duncan. With the second choice, Philadelphia chooses Keith Van Horn and trades him to the Nets.
?1998: In an off-season deal for Mitch Richmond, 32, Washington sends Chris Webber, 25, to Sacramento. Milwaukee drafts Dirk Nowitzki—then unloads his rights to Dallas for Robert (Tractor) Traylor.
?1999: Following the breakup of the Bulls and a year off, Phil Jackson turns down an offer to coach New Jersey and takes over the Lakers. Under the zen master, Los Angeles rolls to three straight championships.
?2000: Tracy McGrady breaks up a potential title twosome by leaving Vince Carter in Toronto to sign with Orlando, joining star swingman Grant Hill. An injured left ankle prevents Hill from playing 212 of the next 259 games.
?2001: Atlanta drafts 7-foot Pau Gasol, then trades his rights to Memphis in a deal for forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Gasol wins the Rookie of the Year award and increases the West's stockpile of towering talent.
?2002: Houston wins the lottery and selects Yao Ming. With the No. 2 pick, Chicago chooses Jay Williams, who one year later injures his left leg and pelvis in a motorcycle accident, placing his NBA career in serious jeopardy.