Johnson may well have become the league's most complete forward in his two NBA seasons, having averaged 22.4 points and 9.1 rebounds for Milwaukee. But Coach Don Nelson says, "The Bucks have never been a one-man team."
Johnson vastly enhances the Bucks, as do their two good shooting guards, Brian Winters and Junior Bridgeman. Milwaukee also took Sidney Moncrief of Arkansas No. 1 in the draft. Moncrief was too good a player to pass up, but unless he can supplant Quinn Buckner as the playmaker, Nelson had better start figuring how he's going to sneak a three-guard offense past people.
But what Milwaukee most needs is the kind of performance from Center Kent Benson that it has never gotten from the big redhead since drafting him first in 1977. Benson began to show modest improvement last season, but lest that pattern not continue, the Bucks got Harvey Catchings from New Jersey as insurance. "He gives us a new dimension at center," Nelson says. "A shot blocker, a good transition player and an intimidator." Although Catchings stands 6'11", he weighs only 220 pounds, and though he can jump, the only person in the NBA he's likely to intimidate is Benson.
In fact, when it comes to intimidation, the best the Bucks may be able to hope for is the reemergence of Dave (Crash) Meyers at power forward. Meyers missed all of last season with a back injury. If he is able to regain his form of two seasons ago, when he was often mistaken for a rabies victim as he thundered to the basket, Milwaukee has a chance to rise in the standings.
The Utah Jazz, formerly the New Orleans French Quarter, may or may not tear the league apart, depending on how long Coach Tom Nissalke can maintain peace—that is, keep his passel of gunners passing to one another.
Utah General Manager Frank Layden wasted little time acquiring a whole new front line to go with Pete Maravich and Ron Lee in the backcourt. Layden's first coup was signing 6'7" Forward Alan Bristow, who had become a free agent after four seasons in San Antonio. Bristow is one of the best in the league coming off the bench, and he will get a chance to do just that because Layden engineered a trade with New Jersey for a formidable starter at small forward, Bernard King. King has had his share of off-court problems since entering the NBA two years ago, but he is one of the best shooters around, with 22.8 points.
In between those two moves, Layden picked up Adrian Dantley for Spencer Haywood in a deal with Los Angeles; he also got Center John Gianelli—while giving up Rich Kelley—in the King deal. What Nissalke will do with the wild bunch Layden has assembled for him is anybody's guess. The first thing he must do is find a way to give Maravich, King and Dantley each his own ball.
The Chicago Bulls should be less dreadful than they were last year (31—51), but that won't help matters much. Rickey Sobers has been acquired from Indiana to bring some stability to the backcourt, where Reggie Theus is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the premier big guards in the league. Artis Gilmore is back in the middle, after having been dangled about as trade bait all summer, and he will get his points, as usual, and probably lead the league in either blocked shots, rebounds or frustration, as usual. If Forward Scott May's knee finally stops bothering him, the Bulls could be respectable. But not good. Fiery Jerry Sloan is in his first year as the Chicago coach and has announced that, "I won't be as disappointed if we lose this season as I will be if we take it casually. If there's a loose ball and nobody goes for it, I don't care if the score is 100-50—I'm going to come down on somebody hard."