By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page
No. 17: September 12, 1973: The Braves trade Elmore Smith to the Los Angeles Lakers for Jim McMillian.
The Los Angeles Lakers had been a very good team in 1972-73, winning 60 games and reaching the NBA Finals. However, entering the next season, they had a gigantic hole in their lineup. Wilt Chamberlain signed a $600,000 contract to serve as player-coach in San Diego of the American Basketball Association. Wilt lost a legal battle and wasn’t allowed to play with the memorably named Conquistadors; he coached for the season and then retired.
In the meantime, the Lakers needed a center to mix with such players as Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. They spotted one in Elmore Smith, who had piled up some good-sized numbers in scoring and rebounding with the Braves. Buffalo had a player in Bob McAdoo who had shown promise at forward in 1972-73 (he was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year), but was very capable of playing center. The Braves also knew that Smith had knee problems, and it was difficult to know what the future of “The Big E” might look like. When the Lakers offered small forward Jim McMillian for Smith, the deal got done.
Smith was a good center during a nine-year career, averaging more than 10 points and 10 rebounds per game. His knees probably did hold him back from being better. Meanwhile, McMillian was a great fit for the Braves – an unselfish player who could keep up with division rivals at small forward like John Havlicek and Bill Bradley. Meanwhile, McAdoo turned into one of the league’s best players as a center. Mix those two with Ernie DiGregorio and Randy Smith, and you had a team that jumped from a loser to a winner for the next three seasons.
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