Some people think Cowens bolted the Celtics a year too soon. He says he will take no more unscheduled leaves. "I feel good, how about you?" he says to anyone who asks. He took a less active role in his network of summer camps that so consumed him last year, made a trip to Japan, attended the weddings of two of his brothers, did some light farming in Kentucky and installed seven Nautilus weight machines in his Wellesley apartment, on which he enjoys "relaxing" workouts. Unfortunately, the Celtics have no one better than Jim Ard or Tom Boswell to relieve him, a situation that forced Cowens to average 42 minutes in Boston's nine playoff games.
Havlicek is back (of course) to play small forward and some guard for his 16th season in his 38th year. He joined the team late, after an appendectomy and some fishing, and in his first exhibition game ran all over Philadelphia like a rookie. He still has a bad knee, which flared up at times last year, so he will need help, and the only source of that is Saunders, whom Boston rescued from free agency last year.
The Celtics used Wicks, unsigned, last season at strong forward, but when Sidney demanded a salary in the $250,000 range Boston told him where to go. Now he is back, along with Rowe, Boswell and the rookie Maxwell, a sensation in last year's NCAA playoffs with UNC-Charlotte.
Desperate is not too strong a word for how Boston felt about the guard position until the Celtics pulled one of the year's steals and signed a "retired" Dave Bing to relieve Jo Jo White and Charlie Scott. The 33-year-old Bing quit the Washington Bullets after sitting on the bench last year. "It was an insult to me," he says. White has painful heel spurs, Scott can still get into foul trouble, and reserve Kevin Stacom has yet to fulfill his promise, so Bing will surely get plenty of time. "Don't anybody think Dave Bing can't play," he says.
The Buffalo Cookie Monster took the money and ran, leaving the Braves a smoldering 30-52. That would be Paul Snyder, erstwhile Nabisco king, famed for selling Bob McAdoo, Jim McMillian, Tom McMillen and Moses Malone in a single season. He sold his share of the club to John Y. Brown, onetime Kentucky Fried Chicken baron and ABA president, who—quick as you can get an order of extra-crispy—built the Braves back up again.
First he re-signed All-Star Guard Randy Smith, who had threatened to jump ship. Then he traded the Braves' first-round draft pick (No. 3 overall) to Milwaukee for Center Swen Nater, a bruiser, but unproven in the NBA. He let Guard Ernie DiGregorio go to Los Angeles.
Next in one day Brown traded Rookie-of-the-Year Forward Adrian Dantley to Indiana for Forward Billy Knight, the NBA's No. 2 scorer last season, and four hours later he sent Center George Johnson and a 1979 first-round draft pick to the Nets for Guard Tiny Archibald. So with Smith, Knight, Nater, Archibald and Forward John Shumate, the Braves had a respectable starting five—until Archibald tore the Achilles tendon of his right foot in an exhibition against Detroit and was down for the season. This left ABA veteran Chuck Williams, rookie Larry Johnson ( Kentucky) and veteran Ted (Hound) McClain to fill Archibald's not-so-tiny shoes. Along the way, Brown somehow remembered to hire a coach, Cotton Fitzsimmons, ex-Phoenix, ex- Atlanta. Where will these Braves be a year from now? A bad guess is Buffalo. If the Braves fall below 4,500 season tickets—they're now at 2,300—Brown has the right to take them out of town. The smart money is on either Hollywood, Fla. or Dallas.
Where—and who—are the Nets? It is not true that the Nets offered to sign any player who could locate Piscataway on a map of New Jersey. That is where the Nets will play this season and next—on the Rutgers campus, where they will likely be the second-best team. The NBA should grant them a leave of absence while their new home is being built in the Hackensack Meadowlands. Maybe by that time No. 1 draft pick Bernard King, the 6'7" inside terror from Tennessee, will be a superstar and they will have filled the rest of their roster with players.
New Jersey will just be another stop for three of the guards who will join veteran Al Skinner. Bird Averitt, Dave Wohl and Bubbles Hawkins have played on 11 different teams. Hawkins, who didn't do at all badly last year with a 19.3 average after being retrieved from the Detroit City Courthouse, where he almost went to work handing out summonses, finally signed after an initial request for a two-year, $200,000 no-cut. "Is he kidding?" asked GM Bill Melchionni.
The Nets made a modest improvement in their frontcourt, which—with the potentially great King—only underscores how bad it was. Center George Johnson, from Buffalo, joins free agent Bob Carrington and Kim Hughes, who averaged seven rebounds and shot 27% from the foul line in 81 games. Darnell (Dr. Dunk) Hillman, from Indiana, augments a stronger, heavier Jan Van Breda Kolff and enforcer Tim Bassett. But there are sure to be many long nights in Piscataway to try Coach Kevin Loughery's patience.