DERRICK'S THE ONE
I am not crazy about the idea of choosing the Nets' Derrick Coleman as the NBA's Rookie of the Year. He engaged New Jersey in a protracted preseason contract battle, ultimately holding up the Nets for about $15 million over five years, an absurd price for any young, lefthanded frontcourt player not named David Robinson. Coleman subsequently said that he might like to renegotiate the contract after two years. And he has already stated, "I am the franchise."
Nevertheless, I hereby jump the gun and name Coleman, the first pick in the 1990 draft, Rookie of the Year (box, below). Unequivocally. And, barring injuries more serious than the sprains to his left knee and left ankle that he has suffered so far this season, I expect almost every other voter to do the same when he or she submits a Rookie of the Year ballot in March. Sure, we're only talking about New Jersey here, but Coleman is the franchise. He's a strong rebounder (a team-leading 10.2 a game through Sunday) and the Nets' second-leading scorer (15.7) behind Reggie Theus (18.7).
Still, like all rookies, Coleman has drawn mixed reviews. While Cleveland Cavalier coach Lenny Wilkens said of him, "I like his personality for the game," another coach, speaking anonymously, declared, "He's a great talent but a funny kid." And he wasn't referring to Coleman's one-liners.
Predictably, Coleman and his coach, Bill Fitch, will not be exchanging Valentine's Day cards next month. "Yeah, Derrick's mad at me right now," Fitch said last week, "because I've been talking about what horrible shape he's in." Coleman denies he is out of condition, but he has missed five games this season because of those nagging injuries. Nugget rookie Chris Jackson, the third draft pick behind Coleman and the Sonics' Gary Payton, has had ups and downs with his bosses, too. After Jackson complained about playing time early in the season, Denver general manager Bernie Bickerstaff said, "Chris should stop bitching and start working." For the most part, he has.
This time of year the phrase tossed around most often about the newcomers is, "They've hit that rookie wall." The Hawks' Rumeal Robinson has hit it particularly hard, perhaps even knocking himself unconscious; after starting at point guard early in the season, he has disappeared into the Land of Deep Garbage Time.
But there have been pleasant surprises: Foremost among them are guard Dee Brown of the Celtics, forward Lionel Simmons and guard Travis Mays of the Kings, and 7-foot, 270-pound center Felton Spencer of the Timberwolves. The steal of the 1990 draft may have occurred in the second round when the Suns landed guard Negele Knight. It's hard to show much when Kevin Johnson is playing ahead of you, but Knight has proved to be a capable, confident backup.
It's time for the NBA Competition Committee to expand the rosters for the All-Star Game from 12 to 14 or 15 players. Consider the plight of Trail Blazer point guard Terry Porter, the quarterback—some say the MVP—of what is unquestionably the best team in the NBA, who has only an outside shot of being among the Western Conference All-Stars. Porter would be a shoo-in in the East, where there is just one All-Star point guard, Isiah Lord Thomas of the Pistons. But in the West, Porter is boxed in by the Lakers' Magic Johnson, the Suns' Kevin Johnson and the Jazz's John Stockton. Is Porter better than any of them? Not really. And is he better than Portland running mate Clyde Drexler, who also figures in the backcourt picture? Not really.
If Porter does make the All-Star team as a fifth backcourtman behind that formidable foursome, it would leave no room for the Warriors' Tim Hardaway, whom some observers—though not this one—believe to be better than Porter.