It figured to be at the very least a changing of the fashion
guard on the Knick bench. Out was the immaculately coiffured Pat
Riley, the walking Giorgio Armani suit rack who always came to
the arena toting an extra ensemble just in case. In was Don
Nelson--he of the graying blond hair invariably described as a
"thatch"--whose trendsetting attire has included fish ties and
that saucy sneaker-and-sport coat look.

Thankfully, New York's garment-district stylists will still be
able to stroll into Madison Square Garden without having their
sensibilities assaulted. Nelson has signed a deal with designer
Tommy Hilfiger, who will outfit him in everything from suits to
sweats. Vows Hilfiger, "I want to give him a stately but
approachable look that conveys his commitment to his team and to
the city of New York."

After Riley's departure, commitment might not be a word that
Knick fans like to hear. After leading the once woeful Knicks to
three Atlantic Division titles, two Eastern Conference finals
and one championship series in four seasons, Riley skipped out
on the last year of his contract. To replace him, New York first
made a pitch to Chuck Daly, then settled on the 55-year-old
Nelson, a three-time NBA Coach of the Year who was essentially
run out of Oakland when the Warriors got off to a 14-31 start
last season. "I think they made a great choice," Riley says.
"Nellie is a hell of a coach."

Nelson's image, however, has suffered more than Calvin Klein's
recently. First, Golden State forward Chris Webber said Nelson
did not show him any respect, and demanded to be traded (which
he was, to the Bullets); then, with his pal dealt away, All-Star
guard Latrell Sprewell openly sulked. Nelson is clearly out to
make over his reputation: Instead of living off the $1 million
buyout of his Warrior deal in the comfort of his home on Maui,
he phoned Knick general manager Ernie Grunfeld, one of his
former players, and asked to be considered for the coaching job.

"My players won't have a problem with me," Nelson says. "For my
entire career I was considered a good players' coach until last
year, when I supposedly couldn't get along with anyone."

Most of the Knicks say they welcome Nelson's approach. For all
of Riley's plotting and prodding, it's not likely New York
could have gone any further with his bump-and-grind system.
Nelson offers a slightly looser grip and a more freewheeling
attack. But this is a creaky-limbed crew with some intractable
personalities who may have jelled only because of Riley's whip
cracking.

Take hot-tempered Anthony Mason, the NBA's top sixth man in
1994-95. Whereas Riley gave him a limited role in the offense,
Nelson plans to deploy him as a starting "point forward" to take
advantage of his passing and ball-handling skills. So far, Mason
is delighted with Nellie--"I know [Warrior] Chris Mullin, and I
know Tim Hardaway, and both said I would love playing for
him"--but Mason's mood changes about as often as those tonsorial
billboards he sports. It's some measure of the Knicks'
desperation that they coughed up $20 million over five years to
re-sign Mason, who does lots of things that don't show up in the
box score but doesn't do one rather significant thing that does:
score.

Although the productivity of 33-year-old center Patrick Ewing is
a given, New York needs points from someone else to maintain
Nelson's more frenzied pace. Guard John Starks, 30, who fired a
career-low 39.5% from the floor last season, has all but given
up his mad dashes to the hoop and degenerated into an erratic
jump shooter; he set a dubious NBA standard for threes last
season, hitting 217, but on a record 611 attempts--a figure that
dwarfed his 451 shots from within the arc. Point guard Derek
Harper, 34, isn't the scorer he used to be; he hasn't averaged
more than 11.5 points per game since the '92-93 season.

Up front, power forward Charles Oakley, 32, was slow to recover
from toe surgery, and his per-game rebounding dipped from 11.8
to 8.9. And Charles Smith, 30, has long been hindered by brittle
knees and more brittle confidence. Nelson may turn to his
25-and-under crew--guards Charlie Ward and Hubert Davis, and
forwards Monty Williams and Doug Christie--whose minutes Riley
doled out with an eyedropper.

But no matter how Nellie dresses up this team, it isn't likely
to go far in the postseason.

--H.H.

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Ewing is one of several Knicks who could be held back by advancing age. [Patrick Ewing]

1994-95 Team Statistics

PPG (Rank) FG% (Rank)

OFFENSE 98.2 (20) .467 (13)
DEFENSE 95.1 (2) .437 (1)

A RARE DOUBLE PLAY

Why would Patrick Ewing, a nine-time All Star, seek advice from
former journeyman center Mike Smrek, who in seven NBA seasons
played for five different teams and ended his career in 1992
with a 2.9-points-per-game average? Because Smrek is the only
man to have started an NBA game for both Ewing's recently
departed coach and his new boss. In all, eight men have played
for both Pat Riley and Don Nelson, including John Starks, who
hopes his second go-round with Nellie is more successful than
the first.

For Riley
Team, years G/GS

Jerome Henderson Lakers, 1985-86 1/0

For Nelson
Team, years G/GS

Bucks, 1986-87 6/0

[For Riley]
Earl Jones Lakers, 1984-85 2/0

[For Nelson]
Bucks, 1985-86 12/0

[For Riley]
Jeff Lamp Lakers, 1987-89 40/0

[For Nelson]
Bucks, 1985-86 44/1

[For Riley]
Steve Mix Lakers, 1982-83 1/0

[For Nelson]
Bucks, 1982-83 57/20

[For Riley]
Swen Nater Lakers, 1983-84 69/0

[For Nelson]
Bucks, 1976-77 54/46

[For Riley]
Mike Smrek Lakers, 1986-88 83/5

[For Nelson]
Warriors, 1989-92 20/3

[For Riley]
John Starks Knicks, 1991-95 301/183

[For Nelson]
Warriors, 1988-89 36/0

[For Riley]
Billy Thompson Lakers, 1986-88 68/0

[For Nelson]
Warriors, 1991-92 1/0

PLAYER TO WATCH

After winning the Heisman Trophy as a senior quarterback at
Florida State, Charlie Ward was demoted to third-string
quarterback with the Knicks. As the No. 26 pick in the 1994
draft, he backed up Derek Harper and Greg Anthony at point
guard, playing only 44 minutes in 10 games and making more
turnovers (eight) than shots (four). But Anthony was taken by
Vancouver in the expansion draft, and new coach Don Nelson is
committed to expanding Ward's role. "There are a lot of people
who think I'm still a football player," Ward says. "Hopefully I
can be a steady backup." His new coach, for one, thinks he can.
"He's got the ability and the mental toughness," says Nelson.
"He just needs the experience."

PROJECTED LINEUP

STARTERS 1994-95 Key Statistics

SF Anthony Mason 9.9 ppg 8.4 rpg 56.6 FG%
PF Charles Oakley 10.1 ppg 8.9 rpg 1.20 spg
C Patrick Ewing 23.9 ppg 11.0 rpg 2.01 bpg
PG Derek Harper 11.5 ppg 5.7 apg 36.3 3FG%
SG John Starks 15.3 ppg 5.1 apg 35.5 3FG%

TOP RESERVES

F Charles Smith 12.7 ppg 4.3 rpg 1.25 bpg
G Hubert Davis 10.0 ppg 1.8 apg 45.5 3FG%
F Monty Williams 3.3 ppg 2.4 rpg 1.2 apg

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)