With his team only a few days away from the start of the National Basketball Association season, Golden State Coach Al Attles probably wishes he had never heard of on-the-job training.
Instead of being able to use his pre-season training camp to improve the Warriors, who missed the NBA playoffs last year by only one game, Attles is still assembling his squad. Basically he is still trying to determine who plays best together and what rookies he will keep.
The worm of discontent got its first free lunch off Al when owner Franklin Mieuli didn't move to retain free agent Bernard King, a second team All-NBA forward last season. King signed a multi-year $4.5 million offer sheet with the New York Knicks, which Mieuli has since matched. But according to the league office, Bernard has still not inked a formal contract or seen any action yet, and there is a possibility he may be traded.
Meanwhile No. 1 draft pick Lester Conner of Oregon State remains unsigned. Conner, a guard whose flair for defense had Golden State thinking that he probably could come in and play regularly, has really fouled up Attles' timetable. Even if Lester eventually signs and reports in perfect shape, he'll still have to learn a new system as well as the moves of his new teammates.
''Any time you're forced into what I call on-the-job training with rookies, it often takes weeks to catch up and is tough on everybody,'' Attles explained. ''The point is you try to get everything that needs to be done accomplished in training camp, because once the regular season starts there aren't that many opportunities to practice.
''I don't care how well a kid played in college, pro basketball is a different environment, particularly on defense. If Conner lives up to our scouting reports, then he'll adjust eventually. But in the meantime we'll have lost part of the season waiting for him to get ready.''
A year ago, primarily because of the scoring of King and guard World B. Free, the rebounding of forward Larry Smith, plus the help they got off the bench from swingman Purvis Short, the Warriors won 45 of 82 games. They did this despite a defense that ranked only 16th in a 24-team league and a down year from center Joe Barry Carroll, whose rebounding and scoring totals fell off from his rookie season.
''Offensively we should be able to move the ball well enough to score consistently against anyone,'' Attles said. ''But defensively we still have to prove that we can stop other teams. Working hard and working together is part of it, but so is attitude.''
The fact that the Warriors gave up an average of 109.8 points per game last season does not reflect Attles' strong personal feeling about the importance of team defense or his ability to teach it.
Where Attles hopes the Warriors make their biggest improvement this season is on the road, the scene of 24 of their 37 defeats last year.
''There has always been so much talk in this league about how hard it is to win on the other team's home court that a lot of players not only accept this, they never try to do anything about it,'' Al said.
''Well, every good team finds a way to win on the road, so it's not impossible,'' he continued. ''What sometimes seems impossible is getting your players to believe it can happen. Winning on the road is something we definitely have to learn to accomplish early if we're going to have a good season.''
Asked to evaluate his team's progress so far, Attles replied: ''We're young; we make too many mistakes; we don't talk enough on defense; and we also have several unsettled areas. At this point it's hard to know how much not having all of our players in training camp hurt us.
''But if we improve on defense; if we can win more games on the road. And if we play reasonably well at the beginning of the season while we're still getting it all together, I would like to think we can make the playoffs. Mostly, though, we're just going to have to wait and see.''