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COMMENTARY : K.C. Jones Quietly Returns to Boston

December 04, 1990|BART WRIGHT | MCCLATCHY NEWS SERVICE

"K.C. was coaching the Bullets when they beat the Celtics in the playoffs, in the Garden. We were the last two out of the locker room. We walked out to go to Tecce's and there was Charlie Scott and Jo Jo White, leaning on Charlie's Mercedes, laughing and joking. K.C. saw that and couldn't believe it. They were just beaten at home in the playoffs by a former Celtic and they were happy."

Horowitz, a broker who deals in lumber and building materials, doesn't go to games much anymore. Through connections with his father, who attended all but 11 home games from the time the Garden opened until he died in 1971, David Horowitz spent "a good deal of my youth in that building."

He's turned off by the modern athlete, the money, the agents, the personality clashes on teams and the players who won't play with minor injuries.

Monday night, David Horowitz will go to his first Celtics game of the season.

K.C. Jones is back in town.

He'll coach against the Celtics again when he brings the Seattle SuperSonics, emotionally battered by a triple overtime loss at home Saturday to Portland, into the Garden.

This is a tough place to gain coaching recognition, because it's the place Auerbach won nine NBA championships, eight of them in a row. Say what you will about Yankee Pride or Raiders Mystique, there are few sporting organizations at any level that can begin to compare with Celtics tradition in terms of long-term dominance in a given sport.

K.C. Jones coached here five seasons after taking the Washington Bullets to the playoffs three years in a row. In two of those five Celtics years, he brought back championships.

You could walk through the Garden tonight at the Sonics game and ask longtime fans about K.C. Jones and they'd tell you while he did a helluva job winning two titles, he should have won four.

What's interesting is that of all the ones who have coached the Celtics over the years, K.C. Jones has the best winning percentage regular season (308-102, .751), and playoffs (65-37, .637), of them all. Better than Bill Fitch, Tom Heinsohn, Bill Russell and Auerbach.

Tonight won't be the first time he's coached against the Celtics -- his Bullets dethroned defending league champion Boston in the 1975 playoffs. Tonight will be the first time he's coached the Sonics against the Celtics.

This Sonics team is different. It has no center. If its leading scorer isn't in relationship problems, he's in problems related to moving automobile violations or excessive drinking or both, problems in bars on the road, or problems gaining respect from his teammates.

It is a team with one classic, multi-talented underachieving forward and another classic overachieving forward beset by knee operations. It has a spectacular outside shooter from Boston College no taller than most high school guards, and is a team with an absolute unpolished gem of a point guard nobody wants to see turned in the wrong direction by this collection of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest All-Stars.

Injuries and off-court problems last year kept the Sonics teetering on the precipice that separated consistency and chaos. For spurts, they played well and with promise, then they'd lose a player for a few weeks to an injury or someone would fall in a slump or Dale Ellis would be arrested again.

K.C. Jones came into situations in Washington and Boston where most of the talent was in place, and required only focusing. With the Sonics, most of the talent is not in place and the focusing will come after they get the picture on the right channel.

His system is very simple and is reliant on players working together to develop trust and belief in each other. While he's trying to do that, Xavier McDaniel and Dale Ellis engaged in a serious fist fight on the street in front of the team's office just a week ago.

Players came into the season hearing and reading stories everywhere about being traded. Instead of settling down and letting the system develop, the Sonics have been mostly unable to break their old habits, like junk food addicts living on a farm with vegetarians.

This is a team that belongs in the NBA all right, the Neurotic Basketball Association.

Getting the Bullets to the playoffs was a coaching challenge. Continuing the Celtics reign of success was a challenge.

This though, is the career coaching challenge for K.C. Jones, a spot of calm in an ocean of chaos.

This one needs to be revisited. In the 1974-75 playoffs, the K.C. Jones-coached Washington Bullets beat defending league champions Boston, then lost four in a row to the Golden State Warriors in the championship series. In the closing minutes of the second game, the Bullets were down by two points when Jones called a timeout.

Jones learned from Auerbach that coaches do their coaching in practice. On game nights, it's the players' turn to earn their paychecks. Auerbach would lean into a huddle during a timeout and say, "Run the A play." That was it. You never saw Red Auerbach with a chalkboard diagramming a play.

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