You have to give Chuck Daly and Jack McCloskey credit. For three months, Daly and McCloskey, the Detroit Pistons' coach and general manager, observed the happenings in the Eastern Conference, and they were not encouraged by what they saw.
The more they saw of the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks, the more uneasy they became. They sensed the balance of power shifting, like an earthquake gathering force, and realized the imminent peril of standing still.
And so, while others talked about deals, they made one. They sent Adrian Dantley to Dallas for Mark Aguirre and made the defending conference champions a better team.
Say what you want about Aguirre. He is moody and taciturn, a whimpering paradox, but he also is one of the best scorers in the game.
When he puts his mind to it--and certainly he will do that in the short term--there isn't a more effective small forward in the game.
"We needed a good post-up player," Daly said, "if we were going to return to the NBA finals."
Dantley is one of the finest low-post scorers in the game's history, but he will be 33 in two weeks, and his skills have been diminished by more than a decade of pounding at the hands of taller, more physical players.
Aguirre, on the other hand, just turned 29. He is a better rebounder and passer than Dantley and a three-point shooting threat. He also will help the Pistons' running game, which was often slowed by Dantley's mechanical offensive style.
Acquiring Aguirre is a risk, of course. The Mavericks could tell you that. But Aguirre, united at last with his old buddy from Chicago, Isiah Thomas, should be motivated by the prospect of playing for a championship.
And don't forget: People also raised their eyebrows when the Pistons acquired Dantley a few years back. It's no secret Dantley and Thomas didn't see eye-to-eye, but there are a lot of forceful characters in Detroit--Rick Mahorn, Bill Laimbeer--to keep Aguirre in line.
"I'm going to Detroit to play basketball," Aguirre said. "Isiah and I always talked about playing on the same team, since grade school."
One of Aguirre's problems in Dallas was that he played on a team that was essentially leaderless. He was unwilling and unable to play that role, and it made his periodic sulks even more pronounced.
There's no such problem in Detroit, a team filled with strong-willed leaders. The Pistons are the league's acknowledged Bad Boys, and Aguirre might find comfort in the company of rogues--as just another loathed and reviled athlete on a team filled with them.
Now the world has yet another reason to detest the Pistons. But the league also has further reason to fear them. The balance of power has shifted again, and Aguirre's arrival is bad news indeed for Detroit's rivals in the East.
Dantley's departure might not make Dallas a more competitive team, but it should momentarily ease the strain on embattled Mavericks Coach John MacLeod, whose job was recently rumored to be in jeopardy.
A week ago, there were reports that Dallas owner Donald Carter had grown so dismayed by his team's recent slump that he was considering firing MacLeod. But Carter approached MacLeod in Houston and assured him that that was not the case.
"He made that abundantly clear," MacLeod said, "and in no uncertain terms. I felt good about that. . . . He just told me, 'You're my coach,' and that's strong enough for me."
When the Clippers beat Houston to snap their 19-game losing streak, it was the second time in this decade they'd come within a game of tying the league record of 20 straight losses, set by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers.
In 1981-82, the Clippers, then in San Diego, also lost 19 in a row before breaking the streak on the final day of the season.
"I was reading about the Clippers during the streak and I felt so bad for those guys," said the Phoenix Suns' Tom Chambers, a rookie on that 1981-82 Clippers team. "I said, 'I'm so glad I'm not there.' "
Chambers was traded to Seattle a year later, and he still wonders what might have happened if the Clippers hadn't traded so much promising talent during those years.
"If they had kept me and Terry Cummings and Byron Scott, plus all those other guys (Ricky Pierce and Craig Hodges, to name two), we could have had a pretty good team, couldn't we?"
Does Heat Coach Ron Rothstein ever entertain second thoughts about his decision to leave his assistant coaching job with Detroit? "Yes," he said, "every time I look up at the scoreboard and see us down by 30 points." .
Now that the Rockets' Buck Johnson has returned from the injured list, it'll be interesting to see how minutes are distributed on the team.
The word is that Walter Berry will continue to play regularly off the bench, with rookie Derrick Chievous seeing more action at off guard. The big loser might be veteran off guard Mike Woodson, who's shooting a miserable 43.4%.