Dress British and think Yiddish" is what BOSTON CELTICS Assistant Coach K.C. Jones says he has learned from Red Auerbach, who always seems to be getting something for nothing. By swapping the retired 34-year-old Dave Cowens to Milwaukee for Quinn Buckner, a first-rate 28-year-old guard, Auerbach, Boston's president and general manager, undoubtedly improved his team—and its 63-19 record was the league's best last season. Buckner is a defensive stopper √† la Don Chaney and K.C. himself; the Celtics could have used him last spring when Philadelphia's Andrew Toney single-hothandedly eliminated them. "The humility of answering 'What happened?' questions is good for us," Coach Bill Fitch says. "When you're the champs you don't realize what you have. But when you give up that championship, you're sure as heck aware of what you've lost." Fitch does realize that no team outrebounded its opponents as emphatically as Boston did last season (averaging 45.6 per game against 42), with Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Cedric Maxwell, Kevin McHale and Rick Robey up and grabbing. They'll be joined by M.L. Carr, who's being moved from the backcourt. Possible starters at guard: the new, mustachioed Danny Ainge, who hit .357 (of his shots) last season, an average that would have delighted the Blue Jays but disappointed the Celtics; Gerald Henderson; Tiny Archibald; and Buckner. Thirty-three-year-old Chris Ford isn't in Fitch's future. "We could start Buckner and Archibald together," he says. "We have no 'point guards.' They're 'left guards' or 'right guards,' though I don't want Gillette mad at me." Boston should win the division again, but the 76ers will make them work up a sweat.
Philadelphia 76ers owner Harold Katz did some profitable high rolling over the summer at a Las Vegas blackjack table, then anted up $13.2 million over six years for free agent Moses Malone. But he surrendered defensive specialist Caldwell Jones, which has had the Sixers asking, "Do you have any fours?" (In basketball parlance, a four is a power forward.) So Coach Billy Cunningham has been rummaging through a pile of rookies and free agents for the frontcourt men who'll supplement Julius Erving and Bobby Jones and give Malone help on the boards. Darryl Dawkins was shipped to the Nets, and forwards Mike Bantom and Steve Mix were let go, so 6'10" Russ Schoene from Tennessee-Chattanooga, 6'7" Mitchell Anderson (a coast-to-coaster with a soft touch from Bradley), 1'1" Mark McNamara (a snake collector from Cal), 6'9" Charles Jones (Caldwell's brother) or 6'10" horse Marc Iavaroni (Katz: "He has an alltime pro body") will have to prove himself early. "Anyone who makes this team is capable of handling the task," says Dr. J. "In my first year with the Nets we started two rookies and made it to the finals." Even with a green starter at forward, Philly will have three great scorers in Malone, Erving and Toney. "We're not as good a shot-blocking team without Caldwell," says Cunningham. "We're going to ask Moses to do some of that. He won't play 41 minutes like he did in Houston, and I'll expect him to foul out of some games. I want him to be more aggressive." But how will the league's two most recent MVPs, Malone and Erving, blend? "Like a good ice-cream sundae," Detroit GM Jack McCloskey says. Adds Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson: "The 76ers will be awesome. They may win 70 games." But the Celtics may win 71.
Some plain old-fashioned enthusiasm helped the NEW JERSEY NETS lead the league in steals, finish 44-38 and gain the team's first playoff berth since 1979. But just before the miniseries with Washington, starting Point Guard Foots Walker twisted his ankle and reserve Shooting Guard Darwin Cook had to play the point alongside play-alike Guard Ray Williams. Williams and Cook shot a combined 27-for-80 in the Nets' two-straight loss to the Bullets. To bolster the point, Coach Larry Brown drafted Georgetown's Sleepy Floyd and brought in Phil Ford from Kansas City in a trade for Williams. "We had Otis Birdsong coming back [after a knee injury]," Brown says, "so the way I look at it, we got Phil and Otis for Ray." Rookie-of-the-Year Buck Williams led the league's forwards in rebounding (12.3 per game). Now the Nets have Dawkins, who's expected to be as much a defensive clog as an offensive cog. "Darryl might have picked up some of the things we teach had he gone to college," says Brown, one of three former college head coaches on the Nets' staff. "I've told him to come to every practice with the idea that he'll be learning." Of his matriculation at East Rutherford State, Dawkins says, "I have a coach who'll constantly stay on me. I have a chance to learn some things I never had a chance to learn before." With frontcourt men Mike Gminski, Len Elmore, Albert King, Mike O'Koren and rookie Eddie Phillips, Jersey has never had such depth—but neither has the Atlantic Division.
"Last year we had the bad start," says Frank Johnson, point guard for the WASHINGTON BULLETS, who, like his team, blossomed in the playoffs. "The year's experience is going to contribute a lot. Philly, New York, Boston and New Jersey all have new people they're going to have to get used to." But in fact the Bullets do, too. Coach Gene Shue, who has a reputation for salvaging the league's flotsam, reeled in moody Scoring Guard Billy Ray Bates on Sept. 30 after Portland cast him off. "We haven't had a guy we could go to when we needed either a basket or a foul shot," Shue says. "Billy will be able to do that for us once he's learned our system." First pick Bryan Warrick could also be that clutch scorer. A likely starter alongside Johnson, he won or tied games with late shots 12 times during his career at St. Joseph's. Now that San Antonio has broken up the Bruise Brothers, Washington's centers, Rick (nicknamed Leon, for the Spinksian gap between his front teeth) Mahorn and Jeff (Cooney, for the facial resemblance) Ruland, rank as two of the league's most aggressive frontcourt men. They're going to be known as the Beef Brothers.
The new NEW YORK KNICKS coach, Hubie Brown, calls it The Game Bible of the Six Things. It helped him lead a patchwork Atlanta Hawks team to the playoffs three years ago. But for the Knicks, who suffered through a 33-49 season, these commandments will be as much riot act as scripture: I) Thou shalt block shots. II) Thou shalt rebound offensively. III) Thou shalt force turnovers. IV) Thou shalt take a lot of free throws. V) Thou shalt make a lot of free throws. VI) Thou shalt score off the break. That last item means as much to Gulf + Western, the Knicks' owner, as to the coach. "Even if you win you can't have a lousy style, or people stay at home and watch cable TV," Pastor Brown says. "We've given our players a total picture of the situation here. There could be less than 7,000 season tickets sold in an arena that holds 19,500 in a city of 7 million." The Knicks have talent and experience—Paul Westphal, Marvin Webster, Bill Cartwright, Truck Robinson and Bernard King all have All-Star-caliber seasons behind them—but vets tend to balk at Brown's strict coaching style. And to get King from Golden State, the Knicks had to part with their point guard, Michael Ray Richardson. They have a surfeit of small forwards (including former free agents Ernie Grunfeld, Sly Williams and Louis Orr) and few proven guards (Reggie Carter and Edmund Sherod are green), so the likelihood of another trade looms. "I like our talent," Brown says. "If I could be optimistic about our $800,000 team in Atlanta, I can be optimistic about this one." Amen...perhaps.