NEW YORK - The Basketball Hall of Fame included no former players in this year's class. Not Chris Mullin. Not Adrian Dantley. Maybe someday.

Maybe someday . . . Maurice Cheeks?

The 76ers coach, the preeminent defensive point guard of his era, considers himself in a group that "teeters" somewhere just below that level. He has been on the ballot several times, but that's as far as the quarterback of the 1982-83 champion Sixers ever got.

"I think it's safe to say, on that Philadelphia team, they probably wouldn't have won the championship had he not been the guard on that team," said New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, a Hall inductee who won two championships playing for the Detroit Pistons. "The way he was able to manage the egos and keep everyone happy and execute the game plan, he had a tough job, maybe one of the toughest ones on a championship team as a point guard.

"But I think defensively, in our era, he set the standard in terms of how to defend the point guard position. Defensively, he was one of the toughest opponents I had to play against, if not the toughest. I thought the two guys who gave me the most difficult time were he and [onetime Villanova star] Rory Sparrow. I remember my first 3 years, I couldn't even get the ball upcourt. [Cheeks] was really, really good, and he definitely deserves a nod."

Cheeks, as is his wont, laughed nervously and shrugged. Of his '82-'83 teammates, current assistant Moses Malone and Julius Erving are in the Hall, as is coach Billy Cunningham. Bobby Jones, that team's invaluable sixth man, has been on the ballot.

"Players who go in the Hall of Fame are particularly deserving," Cheeks said before last night's game against the Knicks. "Players you might mention, like myself, teeter on that; I don't want to diminish the things players who go into the Hall [have done]. I realize how good [Thomas] was, Moses; those players stood so far above everyone else.

"I would love to be in the Hall of Fame, [but] those players are so far above everyone else, it's not even close."

Oh, about Thomas' reference to Cheeks and Sparrow . . .

"Is Rory Sparrow getting in?" Cheeks said, laughing again.

Uhhh, no. *