Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly has passed away from cancer at the age of 78. While most of the tributes you read will focus on his two titles with the Bad Boy Pistons and the job he did leading the Dream Team in Barcelona, his career also included another chapter worth noting.
He coached the New Jersey Nets for two years in the early-90’s, at a time when the team looked poised to become the league’s next elite franchise, before tragedy derailed them.
the 1992-93 Nets featured Derrick Coleman, Kenny Anderson and, of course, the great Drazen Petrovic. The underrated Chris Morris and Sam Bowie rounded out the starting five. Bernard King and Mo Cheeks came off the bench.Â This was a team headed for greatness. Even their broadcasts, on the old Sportschannel,Â were exciting. Spencer Ross and Bill RaffertyÂ had nicknames for everyone: D-C Kenny the Kid, Draz. (I didn’t say they were creative nicknames, but they were certainly fun when Rafferty was yelling them at full volume.)
But, late in that season, Anderson hurt his wrist against the Knicks. The team faltered without him and fell a bit in the standings. Then they lost a tough 5 game series to the Cavs in the first round of the playoffs.
It was during the resulting offseason that Petrovic was killed in an accident in Germany. The team never really recovered. Kevin Edwards came from Miami to fill Drazen’s role in the starting lineup, but the magic was gone. Bowie was traded to the Lakers for Benoit Benjamin. It was a trade of starting centers that meant nothing to no one. Still, D-C and Kenny Anderson were voted as starters in the All Star Game (along with BJ Armstrong, Scottie Pippen and Shaq. That has to be the worst starting five in All Star Game history.) And the team qualified for the playoffs again, this time losing to a Knicks team headed to the finals.
And that was it. Daly left. The team wasted first round picks on Rex Walters and Yinka Dare in consecutive seasons. Anderson started skipping practice to get lap dances, and eventually got dealt for Kendall Gill. Coleman was eventually sent to Philly for Shawn Bradley. And the Nets returned to laughingstock status, until the Jason Kidd trade at the dawn of the next decade.
So, as we remember Chuck Daly for a brilliant coaching career, its important to mark that two year footnote that meant almost nothing in the grand scheme of things, but meant everything to a kid in New Jersey just falling in love with basketball.