Lowly Nets show signs of drive
Given a strong hub, a person can take a surprising number of bumps and bruises on the rim of his equilibrium without sustaining permanent damage.
I can't remember where I first read that, but it certainly seems possible to apply the theory to the New Jersey Nets, who opened 1981-82 National Basketball Association season under new Head Coach Larry Brown with a disappointing 2-11 record.
However, in recent weeks New Jersey, at one point, managed to win 10 of 16 games; score back-to-back victories against the powerful Philadelphia 76ers; and play with enough gusto to have the fourth best home attendance in the NBA.
''The thing you have to remember is that we were never as bad a team as we looked,'' explained Brown, who spent his last two years coaching at UCLA. ''Any time you have a situation where there is a new coach, a new system, and a lot of new players, you're going to have problems.''
''We didn't have a good training camp, mostly because some of our people reported late, which meant that they didn't have time enough to learn the moves and preferences of their teammates,'' Larry continued. ''Then we complicated the situation further by making several trades. But even though we're still growing as a team, we're finally starting to show some consistency.''
Brown, who never had a losing season in seven previous years as a pro coach with Carolina in the old American Basketball Association and Denver in the NBA, is a teacher-type who always seems to forge close relationships with his players. You rarely see people who work under Brown dog it on defense; fail to dive for loose balls; or neglect going all-out at both ends of the court.
''What has probably hurt us most so far as a team has been our youth - the very thing that is going to help us most further down the road,'' Brown said. ''We have a tendency to get careless sometimes when we're ahead and, instead of keeping the pressure on, let our opponents back into the game. Even though we're less guilty of that than we used to be, we still do it to some extent.
''We also have a tendency when we fall behind by maybe eight or 10 points to panic and try to get those points back all at once,'' Larry continued. ''The right way, of course, is not to take yourself out of your game plan, to concentrate more on defense, and to make up that scoring gap gradually. But no matter how often you tell that to young players, they usually don't become believers until they discover this for themselves.''
Asked if the NBA had changed much while he was away, Brown replied:
''Basically pro basketball is bound by a set of rules like the 24-second shooting clock that keeps things relatively the same. What I'm having to learn are the moods and preferences in certain situations of all the new coaches who have come into the league since I left.''
Larry also said that with different personnel, the Nets would probably run more and try to be more like Boston and Philadelphia, which have such great transition games and get so many cheap baskets off the fast break.
Right now New Jersey is more apt to try to slow things down, the idea being to make the other team play the Nets' kind of game.
Part of Brown's problem is that he has only a journeyman center in 6 ft. 9 in. Len Elmore, who has already made NBA stops with Indiana, Kansas City, and Milwaukee, and who is not that strong a rebounder. Sam Lacey and Mike Gminski back him up.
Even though Elmore's scoring average this season has been nearly double his career total, a little more than eight points a game by your pivotman isn't apt to get your team into the playoffs.
New Jersey's starting guards are Otis Birdsong, a bona fide All-Star who hasn't played much because of injuries, and Ray Williams, who has played well with the Nets but who was often out of control in four previous seasons with the New York Knicks.
Where the Nets' future probably lies is in its two rookie forwards, 6-6 Albert King (brother of Golden State's Bernard King) and 6-8 Buck Williams, who leads the team in rebounds. Williams, who played the pivot at Maryland, has the kind of body and aggressive personality that can move opponents around. Buck has made the transition from college center to NBA power forward in record time. He was also named to the East's All-Star squad this year.
While Brown is probably right in assuming that the Nets will continue to get better, it's still an open question whether the improvement will be enough to earn a playoff berth.