First-round draft choice Ken Barlow, obtained by the ATLANTA HAWKS in a trade from Los Angeles, assessed his chances in Atlanta and promptly bolted to Italy. "Ciao, Ken," said the Hawks, "and don't forget to write." That's how much they cared. Atlanta had its eye on one player—Laker scrub Mike McGee—and packaged its first two draft picks, Billy Thompson and Ron Kellogg, to gel him and Barlow. But why McGee, who was as anonymous as a Clipper last season? "Because he can shoot three-pointers and may turn out to be the best defender in our backcourt," said last season's Coach of the Year, Mike Fratello.
Solid enough reasons. Indeed last season McGee converted 41 three-pointers, eight more than the entire Hawk team. His long-range bombs should ease the pressure inside on Dominique Wilkins, Kevin Willis and Cliff Levingston.
Player to watch: Antoine Carr. He has missed much of the last two seasons because of injuries, but Hawk G.M. Stan Kasten calls him "our second-best athlete behind Dominique."
Having permanently parted company with McGee, Maurice Lucas, Mitch Kupchak, Ronnie Lester and Larry Spriggs, the LOS ANGELES LAKERS are trying to sell the idea that they're a different team. But they're really not. Get to know Billy Thompson early, and you'll be able to tell the players without a scorecard.
And maybe that's the way it should be. Let's give the big six of Kareem, Magic, James Worthy, Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper one more year (that's all management is giving Scott). The Lakers were still the second-best team in the NBA most of last season, and maybe they'll get nasty in the playoffs. "I think we'll surprise some people," says coach Pat Riley. And there's no way that could have happened last season.
Player to watch: Abdul-Jabbar. Does time really march on, or has Kareem made it stop?
Barring injury to key players, these two teams should be there at the end again.
Everyone said the HOUSTON ROCKETS needed a point guard. But how were they supposed to get one? No G.M. in his right mind would help this team. So Robert Reid, 6'8", a natural forward, will again be the quarterback, just as he was last June when 21 other better-qualified point guards were watching him in the finals on television. And Allen Leavell and rookie Conner Henry, a longshot with a long shot, will help out at guard as well.
Whether or not Lewis Lloyd makes it back in coach Bill Fitch's good graces is almost academic—Mitchell Wiggins is ready. Jim Petersen will remain one of the NBA's best big men off the bench. And Rodney McCray will once again do his damage quietly and unspectacularly in the shadow of the Twin Towers.