It's early in the season, but the NBA ball has already begun to take some funny bounces. In Kansas City, Phil Johnson, the Kings' coach from 1973 to 1978, is back in the job following the retirement of Jack McKinney.
McKinney, hired by the Kings last summer to replace Cotton Fitzsimmons, was a victim of the lapses in memory that have plagued him since a 1980 bicycling accident in Los Angeles, according to a team source.
Although he is still considered one of the better strategists in the league, the lapses frequently got the better of McKinney, according to the source.
"Trying to turn the team around has become very frustrating. The stress has given me many sleepless nights until I've reached a point of burnout," McKinney said the day he resigned. "To protect my own well-being, it's best for the team to look elsewhere."
Johnson, before assuming the Kansas City job, had been serving as an assistant with the Utah Jazz. Johnson was replaced by Jerry Sloan, former head coach of the Chicago Bulls, who in his time in Chicago had an assistant named . . . Phil Johnson. The change probably came just in time for the flashy Reggie Theus, who had begun to quarrel openly with McKinney over the team's slowdown style of play.
But even with the change in coaches, Theus still has to play in Kansas City, which isn't quite metropolitan enough for his tastes. Said Theus: "It's a nice place, but things are so slow that I find myself wanting to sit around and talk about basketball, of all things . . . "
Things aren't getting any easier for Theus' old team, the Chicago Bulls. Along with a three-game losing streak, all of the defeats coming at home, Bulls management is still uneasy over the recent one-game disappearance of guard Quintin Dailey, one of the league's top shooters.
Absent for an Oct. 29 contest against the Milwaukee Bucks, Dailey has been erratic on the court ever since. One player said Dailey, who missed six games in December of 1982 and subsequently spent the following summer undergoing treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, was AWOL because he wants to be traded.
And why might that be? Said the player: "Remember the game before Q was absent? We lost by two to the Bucks and missed the tying shot at the end of the game. Who took that shot?" Last season, it would almost have unquestionably been Dailey. That night however, the answer to the question was rookie sensation Michael Jordan.
The Detroit Pistons, considered by many observers to be the team most likely to join Philadelphia, Boston and Los Angeles among the NBA elite, is presently in third place in the Central Division with a 6-6 record.
Power forward Dan Roundfield, thought to be the missing piece in the Pistons' pie, has been hobbled for the last two weeks with a pulled hamstring muscle and has yet to return to the lineup. Another costly absence has been that of guard John Long, whose free agency has produced some domino-like effects.
To replace Long, the team moved small forward Kelly Tripucka to the back court, with super sub Terry Tyler moving into the starting lineup. Although both men have played well, according to one observer, "We're just a step off, on the fast break, on defense, on everything. They're both fine, but Kelly's better up front and Terry would be more effective off the bench . . . "
Finally, this definition, courtesy of the Bullets' Jeff Ruland, of what a player is doing when he refuses to acknowledge the presence of his teammates on the court by passing them the ball. "Romancing the Stone," of course.