Another forward who can break in is 6'9" rookie Larry Moffett out of UNLV, especially if Ed Ratleff is slow to recover from a ruptured disk. "I guess there'll be no surprises this year," says Nissalke. The only surprise will be if the Rockets don't fly.
"Fly" was once a popular jive word used to describe Walt Frazier when he was living high in New York and helping lead the Knicks to two world championships. That was before all the misery and derision from three losing seasons fell heavily on Frazier and ended New York's love affair with Clyde. Now Clyde will be doing his flying in Cleveland, sent there by the Knicks for last year's Cav playmaker Jim Cleamons.
At 32, Frazier is in good shape and still may call up another splendid year or two. In the Cavalier backcourt he teams up with quality youngsters like Foots Walker, a quick penetrator, rookie Ed Jordan and veterans Austin Carr and Dick Snyder. At forward Cleveland has 6'8" Campy Russell, still trembling on the verge of stardom after three seasons, Bingo Smith, bruiser Jim Brewer and Terry Furlow, who can also play guard. In the middle are Jim Chones, now a solid center, and the sometimes brilliant, sometimes awful. Elmore Smith.
Frazier at first was stunned by the idea of leaving the Big Apple, then said diplomatically, " Cleveland isn't New York, but I'm more concerned with being on a winning team."
San Antonio should have no trouble scoring, but keeping the other team from scoring more will present a problem. The schizoid Spurs averaged 115 points a game but allowed 114.4—first in offense and last in defense. And they easily led the league in crazy fans. The Spurs went 44-38, finished third in the division and made the playoffs, losing 2-0 in the first round to Boston.
"How'd we do it?" says Coach Doug Moe. "We just ran." They might have been even better but for the absence of Guard James Silas, who missed 60 games after knee surgery. "Maybe the best guard in the game and the NBA still hasn't seen him," says Moe. In his first game on returning, Silas scored 28 points against Denver. The next day he couldn't walk. This year he reported healthy, but after four days the knee flared up and Silas was rushed to a specialist.
Without him, Moe will again be forced to use 6'7" All-Star George (Iceman) Gervin (23.1 points a game) in the backcourt, along with Mike Gale and the ageless Louis Dampier. The starting forwards are powerful Mark Olberding and graceful Larry Kenon, who averaged 21.9 points and set an NBA record last year with 11 steals in a single game. Center Billy Paultz had a down year so Moe picked up free agent Jim Eakins. Even if the Spurs don't improve, their home-court edge will as soon as renovations are completed in the HemisFair Arena. That will increase its capacity from 10,000 to 16,000 crazies.
New Orleans has never been a factor in its three years in the NBA. At least this year the Jazz made the move that saved the franchise. That was signing Pete Maravich to a new five-year contract, lucrative enough (reportedly $500,000 per) to persuade the Pistol to finish his career playing virtuoso solos with a high school band. Maravich proved last season that he is the best guard on the planet, leading the NBA in scoring with 31.1 points a game, and in one dizzying, not-soon-to-be-forgotten night, hitting 26 of 43 from the floor for 68 points against the Knicks. So much for the Pistol, but what about his sidemen?
Leonard (Truck) Robinson, a formidable strong forward, comes from Atlanta as a free agent, with Ron Behagen going to the Hawks as compensation. Gone too is E. C. Coleman, one of the best defensive forwards in the league, to Golden State. The starting small forward is 6'5" Nate Williams, quick and a decent shooter. Other survivors are 6'9" second-year man Paul Griffin and 6'8" Aaron James. Center Rich Kelley is second-rate, but a late deal brought Joe C. Meriweather and faint hope from Atlanta. While 34-year-old Gail Goodrich tries to come back after an Achilles tendon injury, Maravich will team up in the backcourt with Goodrich; Jim McElroy, Freddie Boyd and Gus Bailey are in reserve. All in all, a typical Jazz year. Watch the Pistol.
When Atlanta's sailorman owner Ted Turner returned home from the seas this summer, he found his coach, Hubie Brown, and his general manager, Mike Storen, at each other's throats. At issue was a botched deal with Portland for rookie Forward Rich Laurel, the loss of Truck Robinson, and Brown's accusation that Storen was trying to tap his office telephone. Storen was fired, and Brown began trying to improve a team that won only 31 games and led the league in empty seats. By the end of the preseason, he had moved 25 players through the Hawks' camp.