The old order changeth, yielding place to new," said King Arthur as he sailed off on his barge. So it may well be in the Atlantic Division, where Buffalo's star is rising while New York's fades—one Eddie Donovan-built team eclipsing another.
Donovan's Braves doubled their win production last season with 42 victories, becoming the first 1970 expansion franchise to make the playoffs. Now they are better than ever as a result of Donovan's wheeling and dealing, the same tactics that brought championship talent to New York.
By the middle of last season, Bob McAdoo had established himself as a top scoring center, and Memorial Auditorium rang with shouts of "Two for McAdoo." His range, agility and accuracy led John Havlicek to call him the best shooter of any size he has seen in a dozen years. The Braves have added Dale Schlueter from Atlanta, a capable backup center. Jim McMillian, to no one's surprise, has become the team leader and captain. In the other corner, balancing McMillian's offensive skill, is first-rate rebounder Gar Heard. Jack Marin, a fine runner and perimeter shooter, comes off the bench. Buffalo is equally deep and balanced at guard. Ernie DiGregorio, the passer and playmaker, starts with Randy Smith. When Ernie gets in foul trouble or needs rest, Coach Jack Ramsay now can bring in veteran Bobby Weiss (obtained from Chicago in the off-season, one of Donovan's real steals). Weiss is a sound team player and experienced quarterback who can shift from a setup to a running game. Still, Ramsay insists, "I'm reluctant to vault us into the higher echelons. We have to prove we can beat tough teams. It's an uphill battle."
At Boston, the question is Dave Cowens, no longer the tallest redhead in the league. Until he broke a bone in his right foot during preseason play, he was the most powerful center in this division, and the key to another Celtic title. Losing him for two months, without a backup man anywhere near his class, is a rough way to start a season. Otherwise, Hondo Havlicek shows no signs of slowing down and is still of All-Star caliber at two positions. The Celtic family remains close for the time being, though it has been through a rare public feud: Don Chaney became the first Celtic ever suspended, ultimately jumping to the ABA, where he will join the Spirits of St. Louis (at more than double his present salary) after he plays out his option in Boston. Chaney is as good a defensive guard as any in the game today. One Boston reporter observed it would be "easier to replace Jo Jo White's 20 points a game than it will be to replace Chaney." But Chaney will have to be replaced. Paul Westphal, also an early holdout, is a much-improved player. Rookie Guard Kevin Stacom from Providence arrived already experienced in the fast break and Glenn McDonald, from Long Beach State, "has the potential to be a great one," according to Coach Tommy Heinsohn.
The Knicks are only a shadow of their former selves without Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas (all retired) and Dean Meminger (lost in the expansion draft). They will have to struggle to finish third. Encouraging rumors flew all summer. The Knicks would sign George McGinnis. They didn't. The Knicks would sign Wilt Chamberlain. They didn't. They did pick up Howard Porter from Chicago, but he is not Red Holzman's kind of team player and will not fill the gaping holes in the front line. Porter can't put the ball on the floor, and can't play defense. He does have hot streaks with his 15-footers, but that is not what the Knicks need.
With Bill Bradley and Phil Jackson at forward, John Gianelli at center and Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe at guard, the starting lineup is respectable though hardly overpowering. And from there? Tom Riker is getting another go-round, this time at center. Mel Davis is a long way from shoring up the middle a la DeBusschere. An even stickier question is how the Knick veterans will perform in a deteriorating situation. Trainer Danny Whelan summed things up while the Knicks were taking a preseason whipping from the hapless 76ers: "It's going to be a long season if we keep playing like this."
The 76ers look better than they did last year—not pro basketball's most difficult trick—and they will look better still if they win an expected legal battle with the Spirits of St. Louis over the rights to All-Star Forward Billy Cunningham. For the rest, Coach Gene Shue must make what he can out of a generally ragtag bunch. At guard, Doug Collins finally is healthy, but must learn to play under control. Fred Boyd, the second guard, and Forward Tom Van Arsdale are journeyman pros. Also up front, Steve Mix is better than he is usually given credit for, and Allan Bristow is eager and improving. As he has for various teams over the past 12 years, Center Leroy Ellis will be doing his level best. But his best is barely adequate. The surprise of the camp was ninth-round choice Perry Warbington, a 6'2" guard from Georgia Southern who can handle the ball and penetrate. The surprise of the season would be Philadelphia finishing ahead of New York—and they just might.
BOB MC ADOO