Yes. After putting together a superb regular season, they had a real chance to beat the Lakers and get to the NBA Finals last year, but injuries to invaluable guard Fat Lever and off-the-bench scorer Jay Vincent derailed them in the Western semis against Dallas. This season, despite the acquisition of Walter Davis, whose veteran eyes must have lit up when he heard he was heading for Doug Moe's motion offense, the Nuggets will continue a trend of one good season followed by one so-so season.
Why? Lever is coming back from knee surgery, and veteran forward Calvin Natt is still game but still gimpy. Michael Adams will again be given Moe's blessing to fire up three-pointers, but opponents will be more prepared for them than they were last season, when Adams made at least one three-pointer in a record 43 consecutive games. Finally, the main man, 34-year-old Alex English, who scored 25 points per game last season, can't go on forever, although Moe seems to think that he can. "He's probably halfway through his career," Moe says. "He'll play till he's 48 or 49."
When center Danny Schayes is ready to earn his new million-dollar-per-year contract, and rookie Jerome Lane, the top rebounder in college basketball two seasons ago, gets the chance to eat some glass, the Nuggets will be back to challenge. That will probably be next season.
How much help does Otis Thorpe bring Akeem Olajuwon?
Plenty. But the Rockets are still a shooting guard, a small forward and a big man off the bench away from title contention. Then there's the question of how Joe Barry Carroll, who's either an underachieving center or an underachieving power forward, fits in.
After a soap-opera-ish 1987-88 season, in which Olajuwon feuded with coach Bill Fitch and publicly castigated teammates Sleepy Floyd and Carroll, Houston sacked the Wicked Fitch of the Southwest and declared Olajuwon the winner in their battle of wills. While the acquisition of Thorpe should prove beneficial, the cost was not small—small forward Rodney McCray and inside banger Jim Petersen were sent to Sacramento. Olajuwon, according to new Rocket coach Don Chaney, is "a happy person this year." What Chaney has to do now is send out a call for better supporting actors.
Now that the Suns have cleaned house, how does the place look?
Pretty good. Phoenix traded for point guard Kevin Johnson in February, signed high-scoring forward Tom Chambers as a free agent in the offseason and drafted forward Tim Perry and swingman Dan Majerle. All will have pivotal roles, but Chambers's will be the most important. "He'll be the guy we have to go to to win," says coach Cotton Fitzsimmons.
The chuckling you hear is emanating from Seattle, where Chambers took the blame for everything except the rainfall. Perhaps all he needed was a change of scenery. We'll see.
Ultimately, though, the Suns will only rise if power forward Armon Gilliam, the second choice in the '87 draft, is a real player. His rookie season was marred by a broken toe, but he's healthy now and should be helped in his development by Chambers, who has a way of drawing most of the heat.