His wrist healed, Anderson back to breaking defenses


January 11, 1994|By JERRY BEMBRY

Reaching the NBA playoffs and playing before a big audience is the goal of every player, and particularly satisfying when you play for the New Jersey Nets -- who don't get a lot of national exposure.

So imagine the frustration of Nets point guard Kenny Anderson as he sat on the sidelines with a broken left wrist, watching his teammates extend the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers to five games in a first-round playoff series last season.

"It was very difficult, seeing us take Cleveland to a final game," Anderson said. "Knowing what I did earlier [last] season, I know I could have helped the team. It's just something I had to chalk up and better myself for this season."

So far in the 1993-94 season, Anderson is better than ever. Coming off that season-ending injury Feb. 28, caused by a flagrant foul by New York guard John Starks, Anderson is averaging 18.3 points and 9.3 assists going into tonight's game against Washington. They're better numbers than last year's breakthrough season, in which the 6-foot-1, left-handed guard averaged 16.9 points and 8.2 assists.

"I was playing so well before the injury," Anderson said. "I was really nervous how I would perform. I think I've erased all doubters."

And apparently gained a lot of supporters, based on the initial returns for next month's All-Star Game. Anderson had 52,680 votes, tops among guards and second in the Eastern Conference behind teammate Derrick Coleman (57,135). Perhaps the Meadowlands Arena was the only Eastern Conference site where the NBA collected ballots. Still, whether he earns a spot on fans' votes or not, Anderson's play should merit his first All-Star appearance.

"I feel good about myself," Anderson said. "After my injury, I thought my hand would bother me. But it's holding up. . . . Individually, I'm having the best year of my career."

The Nets can't make the same claim. Despite some obvious talent, New Jersey has a 13-18 record. Even coach Chuck Daly hasn't been able to work his magic with the Nets, who are 8-7 at home.

"I take a little blame for that," Anderson said. "I'm the point guard, I control the ball and sometimes I get lackadaisical and don't get the ball to the right people at the right time.

"But we lost Drazen [Petrovic, who was killed in a car crash in the off-season], and we have a lot of new faces," he added. "We still have two talented players [Anderson and Coleman], and the others have to define a role. It's a learning period."

And Anderson is happy to have the opportunity to play through the learning period, an opportunity he didn't have as a rookie. A first-round pick after a solid career at Georgia Tech, Anderson found himself mostly on the bench (7.0 points a game in 17.0 minutes) under then-coach Bill Fitch.

"He put a damper on the start of my career, but I have no grudges," Anderson said.

He carries a huge responsibility in turning the Nets into the solid team many expected this season. It's a lot to place on a 23-year-old who would be a rookie this season had he stayed in school. Anderson, however, is not backing down.

"If I come through," he said, "it'll make me a better player and person."

Money player

Speaking of the Nets, last week Coleman distributed black T-shirts to his teammates. On the front was his name and the number 69 with a slash through it. On the back were the words "I don't think so."

Coleman apparently was making a statement about the $69 million contract he rejected before the season. The rejection came during the time that Larry Johnson (Charlotte) Anfernee Hardaway (Orlando) and later Chris Webber (Golden State) were signing mega-dollar contracts.

There's no doubt that Coleman, who has tremendous talent, will get his money. But at last glance, the Hornets, Magic and Warriors all had winning records -- not the Nets. Maybe Coleman should concentrate on taking care of business on the court so he can justify his big-money requests off it.

A Tree grows in Orlando

How desperate is the Magic for another big man? Yesterday, the team signed assistant coach Wayne "Tree" Rollins to a 10-day contract.

At 7-1, Rollins does have size. And during his 16-year career, he did block 2,471 shots, fourth-best in NBA history. But, being that Rollins wasn't the most graceful athlete, couldn't the Magic have found a younger, more active front-line player in the CBA?

Apparently not. Rollins practiced Friday for the first time in six months. With the losses of Greg Kite (ruptured Achilles') and Larry Krystkowiak (sprained foot), Jeff Turner has been the starting power forward -- not the answer for an Orlando team looking to secure the first playoff berth in franchise history.

Perhaps there's a Grant in Orlando's future. Chicago Bulls forward Horace Grant said the Magic are at the top of his list when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. He would be an ideal fit along with Shaquille O'Neal on the front line.

The temporary answer is Rollins. At least he knows the plays.

"I look forward to it," said Rollins, in his first year as an Orlando assistant. "It's almost a dream situation."

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