In Detroit, Coach Dick Vitale, Mr. Bubbles, thinks it will be a very good year. But except for his effervescence, the Pistons are pretty flat. Assist champ Kevin Porter and steady Forward M. L. Carr couldn't come to contract terms, so they went elsewhere. In their stead, the Pistons have rookies and a big new name, Bob McAdoo, whose presence should sell tickets, if not win games. Two of the first-year men, UCLA Guard Roy Hamilton and Michigan State Forward Gregory Kelser, played in last season's NCAA final eight. Forward Phil Hubbard, late of Michigan, will line up opposite McAdoo, acquired from the Celtics as compensation for Carr. While McAdoo won't turn Detroit into a playoff threat—any more than he transformed the Knicks or Celtics—Vitale believes his rookies will turn the trick someday. Of Kelser, he says, "I will be shocked and amazed if he doesn't become one of the premier small forwards in the league."
Vitale will be better off if Bob Lanier stays healthy, and if Forward John Shumate, who sat out last season with a pulmonary embolism, can play effectively. Lanier averaged 23.6 points last year, but missed 29 games with a bad knee and feuded with his friend Vitale, reportedly over Vi-tale's grousing that Lanier wouldn't play hurt more often. "I'd hate to go through another season like that," says Lanier, who is partners with Vitale in a summer basketball camp.
Moving to the Central Division ( New Orleans' transfer to Utah prompted the switch) was the best thing that could have happened to Indiana. Last season the Pacers' 38-44 record would have been good enough for the conference's final playoff spot.
Johnny Davis, the Pacers' leader in scoring (18.3) and assists (453) last year, will be the man who will principally determine if Indiana succeeds or fails. He's swift, talented and, most important, is still improving. The forwards, 6'9" Mike Bantom, 6'8" Alex English and 6'7" Corky Calhoun, are a lightweight but productive group. On the other hand, 7-foot Center James Edwards hasn't delivered as expected. He had only 8.4 rebounds a game last year.
The Pacers have developed well under Slick Leonard, but their lack of depth and of beef in the front line may prove their undoing. If something can be done, however, Leonard will do it. He didn't earn his nickname for nothing.