The final years of the Buffalo Braves were a despondent set of circumstances. Abysmal ticket sales and a perilous financial situation enveloped the franchise. A concurrent fire sale of Hall of Fame and All-NBA talent was also taking place. From 1976 through 1978, Buffalo discarded Bob McAdoo, Jim McMillian, Adrian Dantley, and Moses Malone. Whether the chicken of financial peril caused the egg of this revolving door of trades or the other way around may never truly be known. But the death of the Braves was sealed when their owner John Y. Brown conducted the most important trade in franchise history by actually trading his franchise with Celtics owner Irv Levin. Brown took off for Beantown, while Levin took off as well, not for western New York, though. He quickly absconded to his native southern California and rechristened the Buffalo Braves the San Diego Clippers.
The 1st order of the Clippers was to conduct yet another trade with the Celtics, one that would drastically makeover both clubs. The Clippers sent Tiny Archibald, Billy Knight and a draft pick that would become Danny Ainge to Boston for center Kevin Kunnert, forwards Kermit Washington and Sidney Wicks, and swingman Freeman Williams.
In Kunnert the Clippers received a backup center who could mix it up on the boards in tandem or in relief of their starter Swen Nater. The Dutchman Nater was coming off a spectacular final season in Buffalo where he produced 15.5 points and 13 rebounds a game. Standing beside both these men would be the magnificent Kermit Washington, a burly and gritty power forward who was perhaps the most tenacious, if not best, rebounder at that position in the league.
Filling out the forward spots would be veteran Nick Weatherspoon and the newly acquired Wicks. Both men approaching their final years in the NBA, but Weatherspoon had always been a journeyman scrounging out a living as a backup, while Wicks was a former Rookie of the Year and one of the most astounding players of the early 1970s. By decade’s end, though, he’d fallen into the role of reserve after disgruntled years in Portland and his dispassionate stay in Boston.
In the backcourt, San Diego could rely on the Iron Man of the NBA, the venerable Randy Smith. Between 1972 and 1982, Smith set a record of 906 consecutive games played. Although pushing 30, the guard was still quick, explosive and athletic. He was also the last link to the franchise’s glory years in the mid-1970s.
With this tentative roster set, the Clippers tapped Gene Shue as their head coach in August of 1978. Although he was the NBA’s active leader in coaching wins, thanks to stints in Philly and Baltimore, Shue was aware the task at hand in the Pacific Division was a monumental one:
“… San Diego finds itself in a bracket in which every team – Los Angeles, Phoenix, Golden State, Seattle and Portland – had winning seasons last year.
‘That’s major problem – the unbelievable competition.’”
Shue nonetheless promised an uptempo, enjoyable brand of basketball for the San Diego fans, while also believing that the key to Clipper success was Sidney Wicks returning to his all-star form and also on finding backcout help for Randy Smith and rookie Freeman Williams. In Wicks, an all-star form would not return, but the backcourt help would arrive…