Player to watch: Vinnie Johnson. The fireplug with the firepower was involved in more trade rumors than the S.E.C., but Detroit badly needs him in a three-guard rotation with Isiah and Joe Dumars.
With Dantley gone, it remains to be seen who will be the new target of acid-tongued Frank Layden, coach of the UTAH JAZZ. Perhaps it will be Kelly Tripucka—or "Tri-puker," as the newcomer's name emerges in Layden's New Yorkese—who will have to make up many of the 29.6 points per game that Dantley averaged in his seven years with the Jazz.
Early reports have Darrell Griffith, who missed all of last season with a foot injury, back at nearly full strength. At times, he and Tripucka will be fighting for shots, but they are a formidable one-two punch. Layden also has one of the best big forward combinations west of Boston in Karl Malone and Thurl Bailey.
Player to watch: Mark Eaton. His rebounds, blocks and points declined last year. Can he get them back up?
Topic Numero Uno with the DALLAS MAVERICKS is the size of first-round draft choice Roy Tarpley. "He's an enormous person," says coach Dick Motta, who is salivating at the prospect of the 6'11�", 245-pound Tarpley and 7'2", 275-pound James Donaldson together inside, knocking people down, a departure for a team that has traditionally been the knockees.
Remember that the Mavs took the Lakers to six games in the Western semifinals last year. With two legit All-Stars in Mark Aguirre and Rolando Blackman and with a powerful inside defender in Sam Perkins, the Mavs aren't far behind Houston and L.A. Maybe Tarpley can put them over the top.
Player to watch: Detlef Schrempf. Dallas traded Vincent because it believes Schrempf can reliably back up Aguirre.
Denver, Philadelphia, Milwaukee
If the cards fall properly, one of these three teams could make the finals.
Doug Moe has erected a set of twin towers for the DENVER NUGGETS, but don't overestimate the coupling of shot-blocking center Wayne Cooper and young 7-footer Blair Rasmussen. The most important Nugget frontcourt player, besides designated scorer Alex English, is still Calvin Natt, a 6'6" power forward whose toughness makes him play three inches taller. Because of Natt's aching knees, Moe plans to use him for only 30 minutes a game. They will be key minutes.