People have been jumping on the Don Chaney bandwagon for Coach of the Year honors as his Houston Rockets have won 17 of 18 games to challenge the San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz for the Midwest Division title.
Chaney deserves the praise, particularly for making his team competitive despite the loss of All-National Basketball Association center Hakeem Olajuwon, who was sidelined for two months with an eye injury.
But overlooked in monitoring the Rockets' dramatic turnaround has been the contribution of general manager Steve Patterson, who was responsible for making several key acquisitions.
Patterson gave up two little-used players, guard Derrick Chievous and center Tim McCormick, to obtain Vernon Maxwell and Kenny Smith, who now form the Rockets' explosive backcourt.
There was also addition by subtraction, as Patterson weeded out such erratic performers as Lewis Lloyd and Mitchell Wiggins, who had drug problems. At the same time, Patterson resisted pressure to swap veteran guard Sleepy Floyd, who has finally accepted his off-the-bench role and given Houston what might be the best backcourt trio in the league.
"The biggest difference is we now have a group of guys who are committed to Coach Chaney's style of defense," Patterson said. "Obviously, we have more talent now, but you still need the right kind of attitude."
Perhaps the greatest change has been Olajuwon's accepting a less-dominant role in the Rockets' offense.
"The other players saw they could win without Hakeem," Patterson said. "Once their confidence was raised, it became a different team. With Hakeem back, it got even better."
Said Olajuwon: "I like my new role. I'm making a lot of new discoveries. It's like the game has opened up. I used to be posting up 95 percent of the time. Now I get points on the pick-and-roll and in the open court.
"I've said before that a truly great player can fit in with any team. If you set a pick and get someone free for a shot, you're as important as the one scoring."
Downbeat Dallas: The Mavericks are reeling from Roy Tarpley's latest brush with the law, a driving-while-intoxicated charge that threatens to end the drug- and alcohol-troubled star's NBA career.
"What happened really brings into focus how much Roy's problems affect this team," said center James Donaldson. "You have to wonder when his next slip-up will be."
The Mavericks looked like contenders this season after adding Fat Lever and Rodney McCray, but they will miss the playoffs. There are rumors that the team will need another reshuffling. Said star guard Derek Harper: "Sure I'm concerned. You have to wonder what they're going to do."
English lesson: When the Jazz played the Washington Bullets at the Capital Centre last month, friends of Jazz rookie center Walter Palmer turned out carrying signs that read, "Put Walt In!" Said Palmer, "I appreciate their support, but I can't believe they ended a sentence with a preposition."
Bank shot: The Golden State Warriors were forced to find quarters in Greencastle, 50 miles west of Indianapolis, for a game with the Indiana Pacers. The National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament's Final Four was being played in the city, and teams and fans had taken all the rooms in town.
But 50 residents of Greencastle turned out to greet the Warriors. As the hometown paper, the Banner-Graphic, said, it was the biggest event in town since John Dillinger relieved the local bank of its assets.