It already has. Point Guard Maurice Cheeks sat out the first week of the preseason until Williams and owner Harold Katz agreed to rework his contract. But Katz believes there's more than enough money to go around. "Comparing our salary structure from last year to this year is a wash," Katz says. "When we traded Dawkins, who was making $800,000 a year, we got $700,000 from the Nets. CJ was making $500,000 a year. Plus we're saving the salaries of Steve Mix [waived to Milwaukee] and Mike Bantom [waved bye-bye]." The bottom-line net gain from all those moves: $2.5 million, or $300,000 more than Katz is paying Malone each season.
Erving reportedly was irked when he learned of Malone's contract, but now seems mollified. He also doesn't buy the argument that he and Malone can't play together.
"I don't understand the logic in that kind of thinking," Erving says. "It's not like he's Bernard King and we're playing the same position. Mo has been one of the fellas from the first day of camp. He said, 'Don't worry about getting the ball to me, I'll just go to the offensive boards and get in shape.' Now that might not be as newsworthy, but the team will be successful."
While it will take time for Philadelphia to find the right blend of fast break, free lance and post down to Malone, the look probably won't be as striking as people expect. "We won't prepare for them any differently," says Boston Coach Bill Fitch, who didn't have his tongue in cheek. "When he has it going good, Dawkins is every bit as powerful as Malone."
In Philadelphia they're treating such comments as sour grapes. "Moses has a much better concept of the game and how it should be played than I anticipated," 76ers Assistant Coach Jack McMahon says. "Making the right pass, being in position to help other players. He's got good hands; the others aren't afraid to pass him the ball."
"I didn't know he could do all the things he's done so far," says Coach Billy Cunningham. "His work habits are excellent. He's gotten up and down the floor, been a force defensively, done all we've asked."
Malone may not be very eloquent, but he's no fool. He knows he's this close to a championship, and he'll do everything he can to win. Suggest to him that his slow-and-easy style on the court will slow the 76ers down, and he'll ask when was the last time you saw the Lakers fast-break with Abdul-Jabbar leading the way? And just for good measure, he'll keep up with Parish step-for-step in Providence. Mention that other teams don't fear his defense, and he'll block a few shots in no time.
"I can do so many things that people don't recognize yet," Malone says. "If people want to find something bad about Moses this year, they won't be able to find it. I'm not gonna fool anybody, not gonna promote myself to people. I just want them to respect me."