It took a while for the Warriors to adjust to the change from Alex Hannum, the tactician, to Bill Sharman, the fundamentalist. Hannum used a few set plays, but for the most part he expected players to improve with experience. Sharman worked his men hard on precise execution of set plays, the way he used to work himself as a Celtic, and he took the time to pick on individual faults, with the aid of an instant-playback TV set. At first this embarrassed some players and was resented, but in the long run it was appreciated and certainly has paid off. Another of Sharman's practices that inspired gripes was his insistence on calling morning workouts after a tough game or long plane ride the night before. He believes that, if left alone, many players will sleep all day before a game and will approach it in a lethargic state. One may sleep on his arm or in a cramped position or uncomfortably in a strange bed and not realize he isn't completely himself. The workout, Sharman feels, shakes out the deadness, and if his players do not agree, they are not complaining about it as much as they did. Sharman also favors a balanced attack; last year, even with Barry averaging 36, seven of his men were in double figures. Without Rick and two other starters, Tom Meschery and Paul Neumann, the Warriors are still the class of the West, and the chief reason, of course, is Nate Thurmond. Sharman will not have to change his offense much; Thurmond will get the ball again and start the fast break. This may well be the year Nate becomes the best big man in the league; he has always been the key man for the Warriors. Last year they were nine games ahead of St. Louis and pulling away when he broke his hand on February 10. He missed 16 games and the Warriors won by only five. In the offseason, San Francisco acquired Rudy LaRusso, one of the NBA's foremost policemen, to strengthen their tall young forecourt of Fred Hetzel and Clyde Lee, and they drafted powerful but unskilled Dave Lattin. At the guards, Sharman will start Jeff Mullins, a better percentage shooter than Barry, and Al Attles, who is speedy and a good defender. Jimmy King, who is losing his hair but not his touch, comes off the bench well. At a Nevada nightspot last month, Comedian Don Rickles told an audience that included some touring NBA players: "Without Barry, the San Francisco Warriors will be working at summer camps." True enough, with Rick this would be a great team. Without him it is merely excellent.
All together now, sing along with Rich. Let's try that old favorite, Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis. Indeed, Hawk fortunes will fluctuate with the number of times Coach Richie Guerin can meet his star, Lou Hudson, in St. Louis rather than in some Army orderly room. Hudson went on reserve active duty in September and will be in for at least four months. Guerin is hoping Hudson can get a few passes for spot play early in the season, for Lou's scoring and rebounding make St. Louis a threat against anybody. But the Hawks cannot count on a full-time Hudson until January, and the team will be further impeded by the absence of Guerin as a player. If Seattle hadn't drafted him in the expansion pool, Guerin certainly would have suited up after the Army snatched Hudson. Now St. Louis is drastically short on experienced guards and, more important, lacks leadership on the floor. The Hawks will be better defensively in backcourt, for Guerin relied on brains rather than speed, but Richie's "instant" coaching—spying openings from backcourt, reacting to defensive changes, passing on knowledge of offensive mistakes gave this young team a unique advantage last season. It cannot help but be missed. St. Louis has an old guard, a new guard and a kind of blue guard in Len Wilkens, Dick Snyder and Joe Caldwell. Wilkens, still a sleight-of-hand artist at 30, is less than rugged and needs rest more frequently. On nights when he is on the bench, the Hawks will be forced to go with Snyder, who is a natural forward and a strong defender, and Caldwell, who is a natural forward and is not happy when he plays elsewhere. Ball handling on these occasions will be at a premium. St. Louis made little effort to sign Duke's Bob Verga, who ended up at Dallas in the ABA, but George Lehman, from the Eastern League, is a good shooter and may solve some of the playmaking difficulties. On the boards the Hawks are not doves. Only Philadelphia is stronger. Paul Silas and Bill Bridges, who could be the league's best rebounding forward, start in the corners, and Zelmo Beaty is a center who can shoot. Gene Tormohlen adds even more muscle. Help may come from Jay Miller, who played with Akron in the AAU last winter, but without Hudson and with Caldwell in backcourt the Hawks have little scoring power up front. Their most serious problem, however, may be at the box office. Owner Ben Kerner, apparently tired of changing coaches, has been hinting wistfully at changing cities. If the Hawks' shopping-center visits, postgame band shows and similar promotions don't stir up some more fans, Kerner may have Guerin singing a different tune. Maybe Moon Over Miami.
The man over there in the checked sports coat, tapered slacks and tassels on his shoes is Butch van Breda Kolff, lately of Princeton. He coaches the Lakers. The man sitting at midcourt yelling and high-signing it at the players and referees is Jack Kent Cooke. He owns the Lakers. The girl over there, the blonde, is Doris Day. She likes to see the Lakers win. Doris, however, is the only superstar in the Lakers' camp not disposed to crippling injury and, presumably, one of very few that JKC has not been of a mind to trade or drive out of the city. Cooke has gotten rid of six from the squad that came within a basket of a world championship in 1966, and in return has acquired 7' Mel Counts, who is slow and fouls too much, and Bad News Barnes, who, though 40 pounds lighter these days, has a knee that is really bad news. Cooke lost the Lakers' first draft choice this year when the league office penalized him for trading Rudy LaRusso and then trying to get him back. He has two first-rate men in General Manager Fred Schaus and Van Breda Kolff, but past performance does not indicate he will let them run the show. The new coach played a corner for the Knicks 17 years ago and, though he has been in the college game ever since, he has always been an advocate of the running, freelance style that marks the pros. VBK is tougher and more abrasive than Schaus and highly critical of the league generally. "Veteran pros," he says, "are notoriously weak on fundamentals. They don't know how to move without the ball, and their passing is terrible. They have an idea that if they click with a sensational pass they have accomplished something. I want them to make passes that figure to work at least 80% of the time, not one time in 10." Considering the opposition in the NBA, van Breda Kolff may be dreaming fondly of the glory days at Princeton by the end of the season. The Lakers' one-two punch scored 55 points a game last year, but Elgin Baylor can no longer go to his left the way he used to, and now Jerry West will miss the first four weeks of the season with a fractured hand. Archie Clark and Jerry Chambers are two improving young players, and Gail Goodrich has the incentive to prove Cooke was right in keeping him over Walt Hazzard and Jim King. But Tom Hawkins is slowing down, and Darrall Imhoff tires easily and does not score enough. A hale and hearty West and Baylor could keep this team in contention in its comparatively weak division. The prolonged absence of either is a sure guarantee that the Lakers could slip out of sight.
Last season the new Chicago Bulls not only made the Western Division playoffs, but they made it in Chicago. Notorious for their low opinion of pro basketball, Chicagoans had bought only 350 season tickets, and it looked for a time as if the Bulls would be the third Chicago team in the NBA either to move or disband, fortunately, they developed a strange charisma that fascinated local citizens—quite possibly as a result of Coach Johnny Kerr's relaxed but sparkling performances at press conferences—and by the end of the season they were averaging 6,200 a game. As one Chicagoan put it, "We still don't like pro basketball, we just like the Bulls." The team combined speed, defense and hustle to surprise the rest of the league. "We called it SDH," says Kerr. "It's like LSD and it affected us in the same way. It put us out of this world." But this is their second year, season-ticket sales are up to 1,000, the Bulls have a new home in the Chicago Stadium, which seats 17,910—and they will be expected to win games. Surprise was their chief asset last season. "This season," says Kerr, who always has an answer, "we have experience." The Bulls are led by All-Star Guard Guy Rodgers, who sets up scores like Johnny Unitas does for the Colts. He averaged 42 minutes a game last season and set an NBA record with 908 assists. In the backcourt with him is Jerry Sloan, who improved remarkably when he started playing regularly for Kerr. Johnny picked up Reggie Harding from Detroit to back up 6'8" Erwin Mueller at center. Last season Kerr had Mueller use his 235 pounds just to block out the opposing center while the other Bulls fought for the rebound, and the Bulls outrebounded the opposition in 50 of their games, with Sloan, a guard, the team leader. But in games against the supercenters (Chamberlain, Russell, Thurmond) the Bulls could win only five of 22. Bob Boozer, the scoringest Bull, will start at one forward, and returnees Barry Clemens, McCoy McLemore and Jim Washington will alternate at the other. Smart, steady Keith Erickson will swing. A fine all-round athlete, Erick-son did not concentrate on basketball until he entered the pros two years ago. He appears to have caught up with his contemporaries at last. The Bulls will need a lift since they did not fare well in the draft. Unaccountably passing up Walt Frazier, who was just downstate, they chose Clem Haskins of Western Kentucky. A college forward, Haskins is still a bit unsure of himself at guard and will not help the team much while he adjusts. With Kerr and Rodgers, the Bulls have skillful leadership and should make the playoffs again. That is, if some upstart expansion team doesn't surprise them too often.
Al Bianchi played (occasionally) under Alex Hannum at Syracuse, first coached (briefly) when Hannum would get booted out of a game and last year assisted (modestly) his buddy John Kerr with the Chicago expansion team. The Righteous Brothers, as Kerr and Bianchi were known, took the Bulls to the playoffs employing the fluid, penetrating Hannum offense and some defensive innovations of their own. Chicago, for instance, used the switch on defense more than any other team in the league and overcame some of the resulting bad match-ups in their scrappy stride. In Seattle, with his own expansion team, Bianchi is using the same general style. "Hey, who's going to change the plays, you or me?" he asked Kerr the other day. Actually, the SuperSonics won't have many plays anyway, but will depend on a running game, with snappy Walt Hazzard at the controls. The trouble with that idea is that the team lacks a good rebounder to get the ball for the break, and without the boards Seattle may fall down and go Sonic-boom. Tom Meschery, diverted from the Peace Corps, will lead the team in rebounding from one forward spot, but the other cornermen—Bud Olsen, Henry Akin and first-draft choice Al Tucker—are all better shooters than retrievers. Tucker is the only speedy forward to fill the lanes on the break. Dorie Murrey could be the starting center, but he is only 6'8", and while his hands are quick they are not so sure. The backup, George Wilson, is also 6'8", with an unnerving tendency to foul everything that moves in his vicinity. The Sonics are hoping that their second college-draft pick, Bob Rule of Colorado State, will turn out to be a sleeper. He comes prepared for that role, since he has not been in shape since high school. Trainer Jack Curran was amazed to discover that Rule, who carries 230 pounds on his 6'9" frame, somehow supports that massive superstructure with underdeveloped, flabby thighs. If he stays determined, Rule could give the Sonics a big lift in their battle with the other expansion team, San Diego, to escape the cellar. Any further advancement is difficult to imagine, since the NBA owners displayed a measure of generosity toward the expansion teams this year that has not been witnessed since Oliver Twist was denied seconds on gruel. Seattle did manage to secure a decent backcourt. Rod Thorn is fine company for the clever Hazzard, while Tommy Kron and Bob Weiss have shown promise, and Plummer Lott, a fifth-round choice out of Seattle U., is another pleasant surprise.
The San Diego International Sports Arena has fresh, slimy locker rooms with thick green wall-to-wall carpeting and a pine-paneled sauna room featuring dry and steam heat, among other luxuries that are going to stun NBA veterans when they come to town. San Diego has another novelty named Hambone—Art (Hambone) Williams, 6'2", 28 years old, formerly of the San Diego playgrounds and the Convair shipping department. Hambone is a local hero and very likely the oldest rookie in NBA history. He can run and pass and play pretty good defense, and he won't hurt you too much with his shooting. San Diego also has probably the last of pro basketball's coaching general-managing ticket-selling program-peddling jack-of-all-pro-motions practitioners, Jack McMahon. An easygoing, chipper type with a penchant for drinking beer with the gang and a talent for making friends everywhere, McMahon came to grief after three years in Cincinnati when his team stopped listening to him and became undisciplined on the court. So now in San Diego, it's challenge time again. McMahon would appear to be the ideal choice to coach an energetic group of young rookies and second-year pros who won't need much of a push to get hustling. This is their big chance. The Rockets on court will be dedicated enough, knowing that their teammates are just as good and just as hungry to play. Still, McMahon cannot afford to be as lenient as he was in Cincinnati. "I know I have to change somewhat," he says. "I can't do too much fraternizing because the relationship will have to be different. On the other hand, these guys can't come in at contract time to the general manager, who happens to be me, and blame a bad season on the stupid coach, who also happens to be me." McMahon surprised many with his first choice from the expansion pool, 6'9" Center Toby Kimball. He undoubtedly wanted a strong rebounder to build around. But Kimball had a knee operation in the off season, and when he reported to camp his right thigh still was two inches smaller than his left. As a result, John Block has taken over in the middle. Block scored well during the exhibition season, and he, Johnny Green and Don Kojis make the Rocket front line one of the fastest in the pros. Jon McGlocklin and Jim Barnett are good shooters in backcourt, but it is going to take awhile for McMahon to convert Pat Riley, his first draft choice from Kentucky, into a guard. The Rockets got little else from either draft; while waiting for next year when some big-name college help arrives, they will have to console themselves with those fancy home furnishings. And Hambone.
Short of guards, Coach Richie misses player Guerin.
Butch may yearn for the happy days at Old Nassau.
The affable Jack of San Diego is really of all-trades.