When last season ended, Chuck Daly, tired of coaching the New Jersey Nets, left. Now barely two weeks into this season, it appears the Nets' players have tired of new coach Butch Beard.
The Nets have started the season 1-5, and it'll probably be 1-6 when the Seattle SuperSonics get through with them tonight. And suddenly a team that dared to think -- and had people believing -- that it could beat the New York Knicks in the first round of last season's NBA playoffs appears headed for a long season.
"I can't put my finger on it; sometimes when I'm sleeping in my bed I try to figure it out," Nets point guard Kenny Anderson said after a recent loss to the Washington Bullets. "We have the same personnel as last year, so I don't know why we're struggling. I don't know, man. We're just losing and it's frustrating."
Anderson and forward Derrick Coleman were both All-Stars last season, so the Nets appear to have a good nucleus. Anderson is averaging 19.0 points and 7.5 assists -- but has had problems getting the offense running smoothly. Coleman's 12.2 rebounds ranks sixth in the league, yet he has had problems scoring. Asked whether the team is having problems getting acclimated to a new coach, Anderson shook his head and selected his words carefully.
"It's not a difference," Anderson said, then paused for a long time. "I don't know."
Beard, who coached at Howard University last season, already has been undermined. He implemented a dress code for the team when it travels but Coleman, who prefers the casual look, instead gave Beard a blank check to take care of his fines.
"It disappointed me," said Willis Reed, the team's general manager. "If Derrick feels that's the way he wants to live his life and he wants to be his own individual as opposed to being a part of the team, he'll never be a champion."
Even if Coleman did follow the code, he won't be a champion with this cast of characters. Forward Chris Morris, who's high on talent but low on achievements, has demanded 20 shots a game. The team appears to have wasted a first-round draft pick with Yinka Dare.
"We realized with Dare that it would take time," Beard said of the former George Washington center. "It might take a few years before he makes an impact."
Anderson, reminding all about the team's slow start last year, said the season still is young.
"Last year we struggled through November, so we'll find a way," Anderson said. "That's the positive thing out of this. Personally, I'll find my way. I'll find that fine line."
There was one player who did offer some advice.
"I think what the Nets need to do is to start playing Dwayne Schintzius more," he said.
And who was making the recommendation for New Jersey's seldom-used center? Schintzius himself.
Rockets blast off
There's a lot of talk out West about the strength of the Phoenix Suns, and the slight improvements made by the Sonics, Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs during the off-season. But quietly, the defending champion Houston Rockets have started the season 6-0 -- with five of those wins coming on the road.
Once again the Rockets are winning with defense, holding five opponents to fewer than 100 points and limiting foes to a league-low .405 field-goal percentage.
However, the highlight last week came on the offensive end when Hakeem Olajuwon, who's fifth in the league in scoring (27.2) and eighth in rebounding (11.2), scored 21 points against Cleveland to become the team's all-time top scorer.
He capped his record-breaking evening (Calvin Murphy had held the record with 17,949 points) with an 18-foot fadeaway jumper with 3.1 seconds left that gave Houston a two-point win. The winning play was not called by Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich -- but by former Dunbar star Sam Cassell.
"That's what makes Rudy a great coach," Cassell said. "He guides us, he gives us direction. But he also knows when it's time to give us a little room and a little input."
Taking a shot at coaching
"It'll be at least for a few more weeks, maybe longer, depending on the players' improvement and how hard they're working at it," said Enfield, who made 431 of 466 free throws in four years at Hopkins.
Enfield joined the team on Oct. 23, and the Bucks have improved their free-throw shooting from 61 percent to 70 percent.
"The team lost five games during the preseason by two or three points, missing about 20 free throws a game," Enfield said. "They finished 2-6, but could have been 7-1."
The Dallas Mavericks, 13-69 last season, are 3-1. Yes, it's early. But the Mavericks beat the Nets in their home opener -- last season their first home win didn't come until Jan. 29. . . . Phoenix (3-2) got some criticism from Charles Barkley after a pair of losses that he missed with a stomach muscle pull. Overhearing a reporter ask a trainer whether the team was OK physically, Barkley responded, "The bodies are OK, but check the hearts."