Published May 27, 2023
The NBA Time Machine:
All That Jazz
After four years of no compositional change for the NBA, they admitted an eighteenth team in the off-season – the New Orleans Jazz. The name was a clever double entendre. Not only were they located in the jazz music capitol of the world, but the core characteristic of the genre – improvisation – correlated with the sudden, unexpected birth of this franchise.
To generate interest in the club, LSU alum Pete Maravich was acquired from the Atlanta Hawks. The flashy scorer could not provide a winning season, but he quickly captured the hearts of Louisianans looking to experience professional basketball.
The Jazz were placed in the Central Division, which made it a direct counterpart to the Pacific Division – both had five teams. This increase in league size caused the playoff format to be reworked. A new “First Round” was added, consisting of a best-of-three series between the fourth and fifth seed in each conference. The winner would go on to play the first seed in the Semifinals.
The off-season was unpleasant for the Milwaukee Bucks. After being unable to negotiate a new contract with free agent Oscar Robertson, the future Hall of Famer chose to retire from professional basketball entirely. This stripped the Western Conference Champions of their starting point guard, a change that had destructive implications.
To make matters worse, franchise cornerstone Kareem Abdul-Jabbar seemed interested in an exit of his own. While he did not have any publicized issues with the city of Milwaukee, he claimed it could not fit his cultural needs. He informed the franchise of three teams he favored in a trade – the New York Knicks, Washington Bullets, and Los Angeles Lakers, in that order. New York was an especially unsurprising choice, given Abdul-Jabbar was a Harlem native.
Immediately after pitching his trade request, Abdul-Jabbar was struck with a corneal abrasion – or in simple terms, eye scratch – while playing against Don Nelson of the Boston Celtics. This infuriated the superstar, who punched the backboard frame and broke his hand. This caused him to miss the first month of the season, in which the Bucks went 3-13.
His return – complete with protective goggles – was not enough to bolster Milwaukee. Their remaining record of 35-31 was still lukewarm, and morale around the team was at an all-time low. This cemented their first playoff absence since 1969.
A late-season loss to Los Angeles was a notable breaking point for the roster. Abdul-Jabbar’s desire to play elsewhere was confirmed to the press shortly after, and it seemed inevitable that he had played his final season as a Buck.
Four core members of the two-time-champion New York Knicks core officially retired during this off-season – Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas, and Dick Barnett. These players were all integral to the success of New York at different times in the past five years. The sudden collapse of their roster resulted in a poor forty-win campaign, the franchise’s worst since the late-60’s.
The 1975 M.V.P. winner led all players in scoring for the second straight season, also locking Buffalo into a top three record league-wide. His dominance on both ends rendered the Braves as a serious entity to consider come playoff time.
Hayes proved a lot of people wrong this year. He was the most productive individual on a sixty-win Washington squad, finishing in the top-ten for all five major stat categories besides assists. He had cemented his place as the best defensive player in the world.
The Warriors’ forty-eight wins was their highest since Barry returned to the organization. He finished second in scoring while averaging career highs in assists and steals – 6.2 and 2.9, respectively. His efforts lifted Golden State to the best record in the Western Conference.
While Cowens missed his first seventeen matches, it only made his impact more obvious. Boston’s record was painfully average in that timeframe, and they went 51-14 with him in attendance. The former M.V.P. also saw career highs in assists and steals.
After being unhealthy for a large portion of the ’73-’74 season, Archibald was back and motivated. He once again asserted himself as the best offensive engine in the NBA – a breakthrough that earned the Kings their first winning record since 1966.
This was a rough run for Abdul-Jabbar, who missed the first sixteen games of the season with a self-inflicted hand injury. Milwaukee got off to a putrid start and never quite gained momentum, causing him to miss the playoffs for the first time in his career – however, he was still effectively the best player in the NBA.
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An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.