David Robinson is still in the Navy, Frank Brickowski is still holding out, and the San Antonio Spurs are battling through November at 3-6. Just look at this team, though. Alvin Robertson and Johnny Dawkins are one of the best young guard teams in the NBA, forward Willie Anderson is a Rookie of the Year candidate, and second-year power forward Greg "Cadillac" Anderson keeps improving. And they knocked off Atlanta Wednesday. All of which is why, in every interview, Larry Brown says, "We've got a great chance to be good in about a year's time . . . They'd better get us this year."
No doubt, the Spurs have the makings of another Cleveland. By the time Robinson arrives next season, San Antonio may have the people surrounding him to threaten the Midwest Division leaders.The only trouble is, this is not the usual Larry Brown timetable. When he took the Spurs' five-year, $3.5 million offer and left Kansas University after five seasons, he was expecting something different. "It's certainly not the team I was hoping we'd have," says Brown, who was interviewed recently in Dallas and brings the Spurs to the Salt Palace to play the Jazz tonight.
"That could be a blessing in disguise, his not coming out now," Brown adds of Robinson. "We can get the other players better around him, to where there's not as much pressure put on him."
With the same goal in mind, Coach Bob Weiss did a respectable job last season, when the Spurs won 31 games and made the NBA playoffs. But new owner Red McCombs fired Weiss and went after Brown, calling him "the best basketball coach in the world."
Brown's record almost backs up that statement.
From Carolina in the ABA to Denver on both sides of the ABA-NBA merger to UCLA to the New Jersey Nets to Kansas, Brown has won everywhere. And fully expects to do the same in San Antonio, with three assistant coaches he brought from Kansas.
"He made his point from the first day that he doesn't want to lose," said Willie Anderson.
Brown works the sidelines with a rolled-up program in his hand, pointing, yelling, coaching. After the game in Dallas, his assistants were demonstrating a play to Dawkins in the locker room, while Brown met with reporters. When Brown finished the interview, he immediately popped the game videotape into a VCR and started making notes.
"He's very demanding, a perfectionist like all coaches are, but he's a players' coach," notes Anderson.
"He's an easy man to play for," says veteran forward David Greenwood. "He just asks you to come out and learn and play hard every night - that's not asking a lot."
Some players have had trouble adjusting from the more easy-going Weiss to Brown, but that's Brown's game.
"We're constantly harping on them and yelling at them . . . I love to teach; I love the practice time," said Brown. "The beauty of this (the NBA), is it's all basketball. You don't have to worry if this is a violation or whether your kids are going to class."
Ah, violations. Brown talks openly about the probation the NCAA leveled against Kansas this fall, for payments to a recruit, Vincent Askew, who went to Memphis State. Brown's defense is that part of the money was for an airline ticket for Askew to visit his dying grandmother.
"It was just bad judgment on our part, but it wasn't a cheat," says Brown. "And that's sad, because no one will see that (explanation)."
In any case, Kansas is behind Brown, just like New Jersey, UCLA and the rest. NBA coaches warmly welcomed him back into the league last June, knowing his contract immediately changed the coaching salary structure, but they may have a different view of Brown and Spurs in coming years. One publication already forecasts San Antonio as the 1991-92 Midwest Division champion.
For now, Brown is adjusting to the late-'80s NBA, with trapping defenses and isolation offenses. "A big change," he says of his return to the pros. "The league's changed, coaching's changed - it's a lot different concept than I'm used to."
So is losing for Larry Brown. We'll see how long that lasts.