DETROIT -- By hiring Chuck Daly as coach yesterday, th New Jersey Nets might have done irreparable damage to their reputation as one of the cheapest -- and most inept -- organizations in the NBA.
Daly's three-year contract is believed to be worth nearly $4 million, but the Nets are confident of a healthy return on their investment. Daly, who resigned as Pistons coach more than three weeks ago, took Detroit to two NBA titles.
"Orlando got Shaquille O'Neal in the lottery," Nets general manager Willis Reed said, "but I think we won the lottery as far as coaches are concerned."
And that was important, considering the New York Knicks hit the lottery last summer by hiring Pat Riley, Daly's longtime coaching and clothing rival. Reed hopes Daly can do for the Nets what Riley did for the Knicks, who went from 39 victories two seasons ago to 51 this season, and nearly upset the defending champion Chicago Bulls in the playoffs.
"We're kind of like country cousins," Daly said, "and we'd like to move uptown a little bit. I think we're going to have some very competitive games with the people across the river."
To accomplish that, Daly will have to massage the egos of a number of players -- most notably star forwards Derrick Coleman and Chris Morris. Both refused to enter games late in the season when coach Bill Fitch asked them to, even though a playoff berth was a stake.
Guard Drazen Petrovic pulled the same stunt in a playoff game against Cleveland, which eliminated the Nets in the first round, 3-1.
aly tiptoed softly around the issue, saying, "You have to learn some things about your personnel, and I've felt for a long time that you really don't know anything about a player until you coach them. Then you have to learn about them."
As for what he already knows about the team he is inheriting, Daly said, "It has a blend of youth and a certain amount of maturity. They certainly have a chance to be a championship contender. But that's not promising anything."
Daly is unlikely to abandon his defensive philosophy. Neither is he likely to alter his halfcourt offensive game, not with Coleman, Morris and 7-foot center Sam Bowie in the low post.
And in point guard Kenny Anderson, Daly might have another Isiah Thomas.
"Your personnel dictates what you're able to do from an offensive and defensive standpoint," Daly said. "And we're going to learn everything we can about them. You can learn a lot about a team playing against them, but we're going to learn a lot more and capitalize on what they're able to do."
As expected, Daly hired Brendan Suhr as his top assistant. Suhr was Daly's top assistant with the Pistons.
And Daly won't have to wait long to see his former team. The Pistons will play the Nets in their exhibition opener Oct. 16 at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Daly's negotiations with Reed and David Gerstein, vice chairman of the Nets' board of directors, began last week in Windsor, Ontario. Reed acknowledged that an agreement should have been reached sooner, "but when you're out trying to catch a big fish, you have to be patient."
Daly was said to be holding out for more of Reed's power, but Daly insisted that wasn't an issue.
"The most important thing is to have a team of coaches, general manager and owners; everybody contributing to major decisions," Daly said. "You're not always going to agree, but you're going to come out saying, 'This is a decision we made.'
Big decisions aren't pending. The Nets don't have a first-round draft pick, and Morris and former Michigan forward Terry Mills won't become restricted free agents until July 1. Pistons forward Dennis Rodman has said he will play only for Daly, but it's unlikely the Nets would go for a Rodman-Coleman trade.
"I want this to be a fun thing," Daly said. "I want this to be an experience where we're not grating on each other."
Daly avoided references to the Pistons, but he did seem to sum up his nine-year career in Detroit at the conclusion of his opening statement.
"I've got to pass this along to you," he said, smiling. "There have been three interesting movies out the last few years; a couple of them were kind of raunchy.
"One was 'Fatal Attraction.' That's what happens to a franchise. They become fatally attracted to a player or a coach. The second movie is 'Basic Instinct.' They feel their basic instinct about their decisions is very, very good."
"The third movie is 'Sleeping With the Enemy.' What happens is, as soon as we lose two games, the coach becomes the enemy of the entire organization. And I understand that.
"Now I'm hopeful, as much as possible, we can avoid that."