The Derrick I'm most familiar with was the guy in Philadelphia. This DC wore the black uniform with wide-set sleeves. The jersey looks like a muscle tank. That Derrick was older, bigger, calmer, and more mature (I’m guessing). He was a good player, but it was fairly visible that he wasn’t what he could've been, or even what he once was.
It’s hard for me to look or even think about Derrick Coleman now and not think about Rasheed Wallace. They weren’t that far apart in skill level or their peak athleticism. Rasheed was freakish, but Derrick had an understated freak in his own game. The jump shots, the ability to shoot from long-range, the power to bang and score with ease in the post, the knack for grabbing boards (when he felt like it, in Derrick’s case)… they were similar in style and court philosophy. But this isn’t about Rasheed. This about DC.
I’m not going to go into great detail about what he was when he was young and what potential he had –- that’ll just be an exercise in nostalgic disappointment and mild depression. I want to emphasize that for all of what Derrick Coleman could have become as a player (the Hall of Fame wasn’t out of reach for him, at his sustained best), he was nonetheless a very good player. He was a talent, one that often played for teams that persistently dwelled in mediocrity; and he, like many players, wasn’t happy playing and not winning. He enjoyed the paycheck, sure, but losing wears on talented players who know winning as their experience.
I’m not going to begrudge Derrick of the credit he’s owed as a talented player in the league. He was an All-Star in 1994. He was a consistent 20-10 player in his five years in New Jersey. He put up some great numbers and was a valued part of the Philadelphia 76ers when they were beginning to hit their stride. I mean, I wanted his Nets jersey, and to me, that counts for something.
The legacy of Derrick Coleman inevitably rests on what he didn’t do, at least in a macro sense. But the truth of the matter is, Derrick Coleman was usually good, at times really, really good, and in select moments, great. Coleman may never have lived up to those lofty expectations -- for multiple reasons, many his own undoing -- but he nonetheless put together a good career. And, he was a New Jersey Net. Most players don’t get even that opportunity.