The Addition of a Complementary Star.
Conventional wisdom holds that no superstar can lead a team to a championship without the support of at least one sidekick who can relieve him of some of the burden of carrying the team. That's what Phoenix had in mind when it signed Manning: He would share the load with Barkley. The Rockets didn't have the look of a repeat champion last year until they acquired guard Drexler to play that supporting role for center Hakeem Olajuwon. Drexler gave the Rockets a second star, an alternative to Olajuwon late in games, which helped make Olajuwon even more effective. Other contenders, particularly New York, which was also interested in Drexler before Houston traded for him, had no one to perform that function. In what amounted to his farewell speech after the Knicks' playoff loss to Indiana last year, coach Pat Riley, who has moved to Miami this season, admitted that New York's failure to make a deal for someone to complement center Patrick Ewing was a big part of its downfall. "Each one of the recent championship teams has had two great players," Riley said. "Somewhere along the way we have to find that one player who's going to support the greatness of Patrick."
The road to the championship is littered with contenders who failed to find the final ingredient. The most obvious example is the Utah Jazz, a perennial contender that actually does have two superstars, guard John Stockton and forward Karl Malone. Utah has searched vainly for the right player to add to that tandem. The latest hope is that ex- New Jersey Net Chris Morris, a talented scorer with a questionable attitude who signed as a free agent in October, will help Utah take the last step.
Which of these teams has done the best job of piecing together a championship puzzle? That's what we'll spend the next eight months finding out.