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NETS MADE RIGHT MOVE PICKING COLEMAN FIRST

IT WOULD have been just like the Nets to trade the pick. After all, New Jersey didn't become the worst team in the NBA -- even worse than the four expansion teams -- by making a lot of intelligent moves over the years. It took a decade of bad drafts, weak trades and all-around poor judgment to land the Nets in their current sad predicament.

But for once, they made the wise decision in the end. They dismissed all the trade offers, dismissed all the talk about Derrick Coleman's dubious attitude and made him the first selection in Wednesday's draft.

Coleman was the unquestioned treasure of this year's draft. Don't think for a minute half a dozen or more general managers weren't hoping the Nets somehow would decide otherwise. They'll talk down a player behind his back, raising questions about his game and his character, all the while scheming for a chance to grab him themselves.

Is Coleman an impact player? Well, it depends on how you define it. Patrick Ewing wasn't an impact player in his first two seasons. Ewing had serious deficiencies in his game when he came into the NBA, and the Knicks missed the playoffs in those seasons while waiting for him to find himself.

Coleman won't make the Nets an instant winner, but he surely will have an impact. He's too talented to do otherwise. Coleman has no appreciable weaknesses as a player. He can run the floor like a small forward, rebound like a power forward and -- perhaps most vital of all -- block shots like a center.

Rarely does a player come along with all those skills. Talk all you like about the importance of guard play, but it is still big men who make the difference, and Coleman easily was the best big man in a guard-oriented draft.

He wasn't just the best in this draft. He was the best player drafted since San Antonio made David Robinson the first pick in 1987.

Yes, Coleman's attitude is of some concern. While at Syracuse, he tended to drift at times. He didn't always express his full talent in the big games. He had problems with his temper, both on and off the court. Of course, they always say that when a player emerges from college with great talent and an ego to match.

Coleman's hubris will serve him well in the NBA. It is a league where massive egos thrive, and only powerful personalities dare to tread. On a nightly basis, he'll go against the likes of Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Larry Bird and Xavier McDaniel. None of those fellows ever has been accused of being shy or modest.

There will be challenges waiting, and Coleman isn't the sort to back down. He'll learn his share of lessons, along with some much-needed humility, but he will learn. And in time, he'll occupy his place among the game's top front-line players.

Coleman has been called inconsistent, but in four years at Syracuse he became an adequate ballhandler and skilled passer. By his senior year, he had become the Orangemen's top foul shooter and a reliable three-point threat.

He also can play all three front-line positions. In that way, Coleman brings to mind another 6-foot-9 lefty, Dallas' Sam Perkins, who is about to become a $3 million player. Coleman is a better rebounder and potentially a better player.

They say Coleman will have trouble with Nets coach Bill Fitch, a notorious taskmaster. Perhaps, but remember Fitch is one of the most respected big-man teachers in the game. When you think about great post-up men, players who have mastered the fundamentals and footwork, you think of Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Akeem Olajuwon. All three learned under Fitch.

Coleman wasn't always the most gracious college player. He had a chip on his shoulder, and at times he seemed bored, impatient for more compelling challenges. That time is upon him now. Talented and defiant, he's ready to step into the NBA where such players belong.

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