Basketball coach Bob Weiss, who brings his Atlanta Hawks to the Capital Centre tonight to play the Washington Bullets, has a reputation as an amateur magician.
And rival coaches credit Weiss with already pulling several rabbits out of a hat this season by having his Hawks in the thick of the Central Division race.
After barely finishing over .500 last season and getting bounced by the Detroit Pistons in the opening round of the playoffs, Weiss decided his veteran-laden team needed a major overhaul.
Center Moses Malone, 36, was lost to free agency. Point guard Doc Rivers, 30, was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for their No. 1 draft pick this year and two future second-rounders. Spud Webb, 28, the productive reserve guard, was shipped to the Sacramento Kings for Travis Mays, 5 years younger. Sidney Moncrief, 34, was given his outright release, and shooting guard John Battle, a free agent, signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The departure of Malone, Rivers, Battle and Webb added up to 60 points lost from the Hawks' offense. In the end, Weiss found himself with seven new players, including rookies Stacey Augmon, Rodney Monroe and free-agent guard Snoopy Graham.
"After last year, we felt we had to make a lot of changes," said Weiss. "We needed to get younger and stronger defensively.
"Most coaches would have felt scared making that many changes, but I've got strong support from management in [president] Stan Kasten and [general manager] Pete Babcock. They knew we needed the new faces."
Weiss planned on gambling with a new backcourt of second-year guard Rumeal Robinson, lightly played as a rookie, teaming with Mays. But Mays injured a knee in training camp and is lost for the season.
Augmon, the former Nevada-Las Vegas All-American who was acquired with the lottery pick obtained from the Clippers, replaced Mays and has supplied both solid defense and consistent scoring (13.0). But the bulk of the offense is still carried by perennial All-Star forward Dominique Wilkins (29.6) and power forward Kevin Willis.
"With Moses gone," said Weiss, the "lane is more open for Dominique and Augmon to slash through. We're just playing a more wide-open game."
Weiss is hoping that Monroe (St. Maria Goretti), who set scoring records at North Carolina State, ultimately will fill the void in perimeter shooting left by Battle, Webb and Mays, an excellent three-point shooter.
"Right now, we're breaking Rodney in slow," Weiss said. "He's got a lot of adjustments to make to the pro game."
NOTES: The Bullets expect G Michael Adams, their leading scorer, to return to action tonight after sitting out Thursday's 112-87 loss to Milwaukee. Adams reported yesterday that his back spasms have eased and the swelling has subsided in his shooting hand following a collision Tuesday with Seattle's Ricky Pierce. . . . Rookie G LaBradford Smith also is listed as probable after sitting out the Bucks game with a swollen left ankle.