The NEW YORK KNICKS will begin the season with centers Bill Cartwright (stress fracture of the left foot) and Marvin Webster (probably out for the season with acute hepatitis) in sick bay. That means they'll be relying even more than ever on phenomenal Bernard King and will find out quickly whether high-priced ($600,000 a year) free agent Pat Cummings is worth it. Coach Hubie Brown will have his starting team—now including Trent Tucker, who's taking over for the unsigned and unwanted Ray Williams—apply the traps that, last season, were the tool of the second unit.
Under new coach Cotton Fitzsimmons, the SAN ANTONIO SPURS are calling their new game Cotton Ball. Among other things, that means everyone must abide by a dress code on road trips, and George Gervin won't be able to bag the occasional practice, as has been his wont. It's most important that the Spurs not repeat the lousy start that led to last season's embarrassing 37-45 record. With pricy rookie guard Alvin Robertson, the Olympic defensive hound, joining Gervin, John Paxson and Johnny Moore, San Antonio suddenly has a strong backcourt.
Bob Lanier's retirement and the trade of Marques Johnson, Junior Bridgeman and Harvey Catchings to the Clippers for Terry Cummings means that the MILWAUKEE BUCKS won't have to put Geritol in the squirt bottles anymore. They will, however, have to spend a while rebuilding. Although Milwaukee coach Don Nelson wasn't happy that Johnson's replacement, Kenny Fields, reported out of shape, he was encouraged by the superb summer-league seasons of Lanier's heirs apparent, 7-foot Alton Lister and 7'3" Randy Breuer.
Remember the old PHOENIX SUNS, all patterns, finesse and high-post play, before they were broken up for chronically disappearing in the playoffs? The addition of rugged Rick Robey last season helped little. Phoenix got off to a plodding 5-13 start in keeping with its Clydesdale style. Now the Suns have an identity crisis. They want to run, as they did with some success in the latter part of last season. And in Larry Nance and Walter Davis (after his ailing knee recovers) they have the fast-break finishers. But even if unsigned Maurice Lucas returns, Phoenix—17th in defensive rebounding last season—won't have anyone who can throw the electric outlet.
The WASHINGTON BULLETS have added two mobile scorers, Cliff Robinson (from Cleveland) and Gus Williams (from Seattle), to Washington Monuments Jeff Ruland and Rick Mahorn. The result: a more experienced team that certainly won't finish No. 21 in the league in offense again. Between them, Williams and Robinson averaged almost 37 ppg last season. Coach Gene Shue's challenge is to find the proper backcourt running mates for Williams.
By trading Vandeweghe for bangers Natt (6'6", 220) and Cooper (6'10", 220), the DENVER McNUGGETS—the NBA's fast-hoop franchise—will be more physical. Coach Doug Moe says he'll play a pressure defense and gushes about the third man in that Blazer swap, Lever. But many question Denver's commitment to D, of which less has always been Moe. New club president Vince Boryla calls last season's offense "scatterass." If these Nuggets don't get cooking early, Moe will be done by January.
After being let go by Indiana, Jack McKinney is the KANSAS CITY KINGS' new coach. His is a complex offensive system, and at one preseason practice he got so frustrated with the Kings' inability to execute it that he sent them home. However, once molded in McKinney's style, the Kings should improve. They'll have rookie forward Otis Thorpe and runnin' Reggie Theus for a full season. Problem is, SACRAMENTO KINGS bumper stickers have cropped up around Kansas City, in reference to the home of absentee owners Joseph Benvenuti and Gregg Lukenbill. They haven't renewed the Kings' Kemper Arena lease and are thought to want to move the team west.
The SEATTLE SUPERSONICS' recent housecleaning was a purging of the guards. They sent Williams to Washington for Ricky Sobers and forced Fred Brown into retirement. But even with veterans Henderson and Sobers, Seattle is thin in the backcourt. It's rebuilding around towering towhead center Jack Sikma, but for now the Sonics are likely to be bad and boring. That thud, thud, thud you hear is the echo of a Seattle guard bringing the ball up against a press in an empty Kingdome.
The ATLANTA HAWKS sent point guard Johnny Davis packing (to Cleveland) and Roundfield likewise (to Detroit), vowing to emphasize youth—Dominique Wilkins, Doc Rivers and their two acquisitions from the Pistons, Levingston and Carr. Word is that owner Ted Turner, whose WTBS snared the league's national cable-TV package (55 regular-season plus 20 playoff games) for the next two seasons, is willing to bide his time until '86, when Atlanta, by then theoretically much improved, may return to the SuperStation and pull big ratings as a creditable America's Team. Meanwhile the Hawks, losers of an estimated $3 million last season, will play 12 games in New Orleans (giving them a total of 53 games away from home), and Turner has had Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young phoning around town delivering season-ticket pitches to corporations.
Having sailed up the San Diego Freeway to the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena, the LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS hope to avoid getting swamped in the Lakers' wake. To that end, they're underselling the smug club from across town ($15 for a top ticket versus the Lakers' $27.50), and the deal with Milwaukee brings former UCLA star Johnson back home. He'll join with his old college mate Bill Walton, who seems hale and hardy, and erstwhile Laker Norm Nixon to give the Clippers three local face cards—and to make them almost as appealing a bet as they are a buy. To get Marques the Clippers gave up the talented Cummings, a player the team's veterans had lost patience with.