Milwaukee without Marques Johnson has not been the shattering experience many had believed and, despite a number of injuries, the Bucks have overcome the loss of their best player to settle into their customary spot on top of the NBA Central Division standings.
When Johnson demanded a renegotiated contract worth $6.5 million for the next five seasons, the Bucks stopped.
Jim Fitzgerald, the club president, has said the demand is out of line, considering the Bucks' seating capacity of 11,052 in Milwaukee Arena.
Coach Don Nelson, who also serves as director of player personnel, says that he won't trade his all-star forward, and that Johnson's only alternative if he doesn't accept a lesser offer is to stay in Los Angeles and count sunsets.
Despite the absence of Johnson, the Bucks have won six of eight games. They will attempt to repeat a 98-90 victory over Washington 13 days ago in Milwaukee when they play the improving Bullets at Capital Centre tonight at 8:05 (WTOP-1500).
Nelson has learned to live without Johnson, but will have to shuffle his lineup again to compensate for the Bucks' latest injuries.
Bobby Dandridge, let go by the Bullets this summer after four seasons, will get his first starting assignment because Junior Bridgeman resprained a lateral ligament in his right knee against Cleveland Sunday night. He was placed on the injured list yesterday.
Playing sporadically in six games, Dandridge, 34, is averaging 4.8 points per game. While waiting for someone to offer him a contract, he missed the entire exhibition season and says he won't be in top physical condition until Dec. 1.
In another effort to strengthen Johnson's quick forward spot, the Bucks signed free agent Scott May yesterday. He was released by Chicago Oct. 27 after playing in seven preseason games. In five injury-filled seasons with the Bulls, May, a former Indiana University star, averaged 14 points a game.
Brian Winters, Milwaukee's top scorer with a 19.4 average, has missed the last three games with a pulled groin muscle and is questionable for tonight's game. He will test the injury during warmups.
With Dandridge joining Bob Lanier and Mickey Johnson on the front line, Sidney Moncrief (19.0 points per game) will play in Winters' spot alongside Quinn Buckner in the back court.
"We're still going to be a good team without Marques," said Nelson. "Sure, we'll miss him. He's a great player, but we can still win the division once we get everyone else healthy.
"I've told Mr. Fitzgerald that I want Marques if at all possible. I'm not going to trade him because I can't possibly get another small forward as good as him and nobody will give up a power forward of equal value."
"I'm just preparing myself the best I can," the coach said when asked about the signings of Dandridge and May. "I don't want to get into the same situation that Seattle did last year. They kept waiting for Gus (Williams) to come back and never went out and got a replacement for him. And they finished last.
"We're going to be prepared if Marques doesn't come back. The last thing I want is an excuse if we don't win."
Johnson was the team leader last season in scoring (20.3), rebounding (6.8), field goal percentage (.552) and minutes played (33.4).
Although the former UCLA all-America has his father screening all calls to his Los Angeles home, he called the Milwaukee Journal last Thursday and reiterated his stand that if the situation is not resolved to his satisfaction, he will sit out the entire season.
"Marques wants the glitter of L.A. on one hand, but on the other, he wants to be left alone," said Lanier, who is trying to nurse his aching knees through one more season in pursuit of his first championship.
After being the third player selected in the 1977 draft, Johnson signed a six-year contract with escalating salaries that don't approach what average players now are making. He stayed away from training camp in 1979, insisting the Bucks renegotiate his contract after he averaged 25.6 points per game.
Fitzgerald said he would renegotiate before this season and has offered a considerable raise. It is far short of Johnson's demands, however, and although there has been almost daily contact the past two weeks, nothing has been resolved.
Johnson fired his agent in August and is being represented by Willie Naulls, a former UCLA star who played 11 years in the NBA and now is a successful real estate broker. But even if Johnson doesn't play this season, he still will have one more year on his current contract with the Bucks.
"As far as I know, Marques hasn't talked to any of the players," said Winters.
"None of us knows what he's going to do, but it doesn't make much sense to sit out a whole season. His contract runs through next year and he certainly won't sit out two years."
Buckner, who directs the Bucks' offense, says he hasn't changed anything this season: "We just play with whoever is on the court. I try to get the ball to the hot shooter. I guess without Marques, I distribute the ball a little more evenly."
Moncrief took over as the starting guard last season when Winters was injured and averaged 14 points a game in the playoffs. He opened the season at Johnson's spot and scored 19 points a game before shifting to the back court when Winters was hurt.