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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Man Behind the Suns' Rise

John MacLeod lifted the Suns from expansion team status all the way to the 1976 NBA Finals. Although he never made it back to the Finals, his tenure in Phoenix consisted of much more than that one playoff run; he helped build the Suns into perennial Western Conference contenders. Later, he coached the Dallas Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals, that team's best playoff performance until Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas to the 2006 NBA Finals. MacLeod coached several All-NBA and All-Star performers but you may be surprised to learn who he says "had the softest shot of anybody I've ever seen." You can read all about his career in my newest article for HoopsHype.com:

The Man Behind the Suns' Rise

posted by David Friedman @ 6:56 PM


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At Thursday, July 19, 2007 3:42:00 AM, Anonymous jn said...

Great article. Isn't it a shame tha Glenn McDonald's finest hour got cut out of all the re-released versions of the game? I guess it never made it to the original TV broadcast.

For obvious reasons, much is made during the game of the Charlie Scott for Paul Westphal trade, which is said to have been caused by something wrong in Westphal's contract with the Celtics (much like Paul Silas later on). I've always wondered what was wrong with the contract, could you help me?

At Thursday, July 19, 2007 5:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I'm not sure what may have been "wrong" with Westphal's contract. The Suns were disenchanted with Scott and that was the main impetus behind the deal, while the Celtics wanted to get Scott to replace Don Chaney, who had jumped to the ABA. The deal truly worked well for both teams: Scott was a key contributor to the '76 title run, while Westphal blossomed into an All-Star with the Suns.

I think that what was "wrong" with Silas' contract is that Boston was not willing to pay him what he wanted, so the Celtics traded him to Denver. If I'm not mistaken, Auerbach later called that one of his biggest mistakes, saying that he underestimated Silas' value. Silas proved to be a good veteran mentor to Seattle's young frontline when the Sonics made two Finals appearances and won the '79 championship.

At Thursday, July 19, 2007 6:14:00 AM, Anonymous jn said...

I agree that probably "contract issues" was the problem with Silas, I read somewhere that Auerbach threatened to punch Bob Ryan after he wrote a column defending Paul Silas.

But I am pretty sure I have read it in several places that the Celtics were "forced" to deal away Westphal, whom they had been grooming for a couple seasons and who seemed to fit the "Celtic spirit" much better than Scott. The Celtics never truly took a shine to Charlie Scott, and it did not help that Scott had a poor championship series vs the Suns.

I think the official line was something like the Celtics were still working very much on handshake agreements and contracts scribbled on napkins, and there was something wrong with Westphal's. I've seen it in several places, one book I am pretty sure that mentions it is Powers' The Lost Season, a chronicle of the disastrous 77-78 season when Havlicek retired, Scott was traded and the Celtics ended up out of playoffs and Auerbach mulled a contract offer from the Knicks.

It is also a sort of eulogy of the '76 championship, as most of the players from that game left the team that season:Kuberski, Ard, Stacom... (and also Brian Cook's father, Norm Cook, who arrived after the title).

At Thursday, July 19, 2007 8:27:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

You may be right regarding Westphal-Scott but that is not the version given in Joe Gilmartin's "The Little Team That Could...," a look at Phoenix' rise from expansion team to NBA Finalist. Scott had an up and down playoffs but he actually played well in each of the closeout game 6s, including the Finals versus Phoenix. He fouled out of a lot of games in that year's playoffs and felt like he was not treated fairly by the officials.

Bob Ryan's 1989 history of the Celtics (titled simply "The Boston Celtics"), a gorgeous coffee table book, makes no mention of anything funny about Westphal's contract; it simply says that Auerbach felt that Scott would be a more suitable replacement for Chaney than Westphal, even though Westphal was viewed as a promising player. Ryan does mention that Silas departed in a salary dispute.

I think that I read that Powers' book a long time ago but, again, I don't recall that a contract situation was central to Westphal being traded. Several books (including Ryan's and Gilmartin's) note that the Scott-Westphal deal was viewed skeptically in Boston at the time that it happened. I think that it clearly was a good deal for both teams: the Celtics squeezed one more title out of that group and Westphal delivered several good seasons before being traded for another All-Star (Dennis Johnson). The downfall of the 70s Celtics happened because of age, not retaining Silas and the questionable acquisitions of Wicks and Rowe. Auerbach was very much at odds with ownership at that time, which is why he seriously considered leaving for the Knicks. He wanted to stockpile draft picks and rebuild (which he eventually did, nabbing Bird, McHale and Parish), but the owner kept bringing in veterans who did not fit the program.


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