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Speaking of overhauls, the Celtics didn't do badly in that department following a season in which they lost 50 games and missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years. When the dust had cleared from the Great Swap, not only did Barnes wind up in Boston Garden, but Billy Knight and Tiny Archibald did, too. "What we have here," said Celtic Trainer Frank Challant, "are a bunch of guys with a bunch of things to prove." Sure enough, both Knight (knee) and Archibald (Achilles tendon) are coming off injuries, as is veteran Jo Jo White (heel). Though White and Archibald are quarterback types, Coach Satch Sanders says they have exhibited "a commonality of respect close to Utopia." Celtic observers only hope cornerman Knight, a scoring machine during previous NBA stops at Indiana and Buffalo, can play close to the Utopian form of the retired John Havlicek.
Unfortunately, there is concern over Dave Cowens' back, which he re-injured on a weight machine last month. In Cowens' absence, Barnes has played erratically in the pivot and muscleman Earl Williams has been a revelation. The Celtics don't get all that many rebounds even with a sound Cowens; without him, the team may exhibit a commonality of despair. But Cowens said he was feeling better toward the end of the exhibition season, which was good news for Sanders—and Barnes.
Down the coast, there is nothing but jubilation now that Knick Coach Willis Reed has the rebounding, shot-blocking center he lusted after. Reed figured that last season his team lost 21 of 28 games to opponents with effective big centers. "It's not so much what Marvin Webster is going to do for us," says Reed. "It's what he's going to keep the other people from doing against us."
Which is all fine and good on the defensive end, where the Knicks were much the worst team in basketball last year. But how is Webster, who was effective in Seattle's slow, deliberate, walk-the-ball attack, going to react in the Big Apple when he looks around and finds McAdoo and the helter-skelter Knicks racing upcourt for those hurry-up jumpers and making foolhardy turnovers?
Reed didn't pay much attention to holdouts by veterans Jim McMillian and Earl Monroe, inasmuch as he wants to play sophomore Glen Gondrezick and rookie surprise Greg Bunch at small forward and get fewer shooters and more passers and handlers into the backcourt. Michael (Sugar) Ray Richardson, who is coming off a hairline fracture of his right ankle, is this year's Walt Frazier, hoping to succeed where Ray Williams, last year's Walt Frazier, failed. If they are not the answer, playmaker Jim Cleamons and shooter Mike Glenn might be an even better combination.
And keep an eye on the New Jersey Nets, who might be the most improved team in the league. Coach Kevin Loughery's self-described "total backcourt" can suddenly stand proud with other guard combinations because John Williamson and Eric Money can score. Fast Eddie Jordan can pass and smooth rookie Winford Boynes looks like a budding star who can do both. Money came over from Detroit in exchange for league assist leader Kevin Porter, whom he used to understudy in mal-contentedness in Motown. Williamson, of course, is that modest fellow who took a leave of absence from Indiana last season and then came back to lead the NBA in scoring over the second half. "I am one of the top players in this league," says Williamson. "The guys I play against tell me what kind of talent I have. That's why they call me Supe." (And you thought it was because he played defense like a vegetable.)
Last season's quick-striking rookie, Bernard King, balances the score sheets at forward, and when Williamson isn't wearing out his arm, King will be. From 12 feet in, he's an automatic two points. The same cannot be said for the other Nets, specifically Center George Johnson, who led the league in blocked shots. Considering his shooting percentage (.395), Johnson may have been better off blocking some of his own outrageous deliveries.
Last season, Wilson Washington typified the sad-sack Nets when he showed up for practice one day only to be told by a custodian there was no practice. The custodian failed to mention that instead of a practice there happened to be a game. Washington did not show up for that. This year the Nets need not be so embarrassed when they arrive at games. "This division has all the good teams in it," says Jordan. "That means we're one of the good teams." Not so fast. Fast Eddie. Back to, uh, practice.