For points from up front, there are Bingo Smith and the ever-improving Campy Russell, and for muscle there is Jim Brewer. Last season Fitch won by sending his Cavs at the enemy in waves. Going into the playoffs, Cleveland's top scorer was Chones (15.8). The Cavs made up for their lack of a superstar with seven players in double figures. To repeat, they'll need every bit of that again.
The new lad on the block—if you can call trips to Cleveland (1,404 miles), Washington (1,559) and Atlanta (983) down the street—is San Antonio, one of the ABA Four, and a lot stronger than most NBA oldtimers expect.
The Spurs will be coming in with a new coach, former Denver assistant Doug Moe, who is an advocate of the pressure defense and a fast-breaking offense. And Moe has got the studs to work with. For openers, up front there is Larry Kenon, a powerful 6'9" ex-New York Net who averaged 11 rebounds and 18.7 points; and George Gervin, a 6'7" All-Star, who averaged 21.8 points. Billy Paultz, another ex-Net, should be more mobile at center now that he has pared down to a svelte 240. The backcourt is well supplied with James Silas, another All-Star; muscular Mike Gale, a 6'4" defensive specialist; and seven-time All-Star Louie Dampier, late of Kentucky, in reserve. If Moe can teach that crew to play defense, it will make all those long trips worthwhile.
At one point the irrepressible Butch van Breda Kolff was predicting no less than an 81-1 season for his New Orleans Jazz. But that was before Sidney Wicks, supposedly en route from Portland in a straight cash deal, elected not to report. Still, the Jazz now have the extraordinary services of Gail Goodrich, another free shooter, and if he and Pete Maravich discover they can work together in the same backcourt, well, things should be super in the Super Dome.
Goodrich is no stranger to being paired with another fine ball-handling guard. For most of his time with the Lakers, the guy on the other side was a dribbler named Jerry West. Butch's first worry is to get his stars healthy. Goodrich has been suffering from an Achilles tendon injury, and Maravich, seldom healthy before the season opens, this time discovered a pinched nerve in his neck.
After two nonproductive seasons under Johnny Egan, Houston finally went to the trade mart in an effort to escape the dreariness of seasons like 41-41 and 40-42. First off, they replaced Egan with Tom Nissalke, formerly of Seattle, Dallas, San Antonio and Utah.
Nissalke inherits a wingding shooting team, which last season averaged 106.2 points a game. The Rockets' problem was that they gave up 107. Being charitable, Nissalke said the Rockets played a soft defense; in the last three years only one Rocket has ever been involved in a fight. The lone battler was Calvin Murphy, the 5'9" guard who has suffered no worse than a draw against some of the giants of the league.
From the ABA, the Rockets picked up five-year veteran Tom Owens, who is expected to push Kevin Kunnert at center, and added Dwight Jones, a part-time swingman up front from Atlanta. But their best move was to use their No. 1 pick in the whole NBA draft to take John Lucas, the All-America guard from Maryland. "John will step in and play," Nissalke says. "He's got great floor sense and he directs a team. He and Scott May were the only players in the draft with no weakness."
Until the owners stop sitting on their money, nothing will help Atlanta, not even bringing in Hubie Brown as the coaching replacement for Cotton Fitzsimmons. Desperate for a center, the Hawks had chances for good big men in both the college draft and the ABA dispersal draft—and both times opted for less costly guards. With an attitude like that, they deserve what they get.
Which can be nothing. A year ago they drafted David Thompson and Marvin Webster and lost both to Denver in a one-sided bidding contest. In this year's college draft they had the No. 1 pick and traded their draft rights to Houston for 6'10" Joe Meriweather, a forward-center in his rookie year. Then they used their other first-round pick (No. 9) to choose Guard Armond Hill of Princeton. In the ABA dispersal draft, with such big men as Moses Malone, Maurice Lucas and Marvin Barnes available, Atlanta traded its No. 2 pick to Portland and got in return All-Star Geoff Petrie, yet another guard.