Portland, on the other hand, looks fairly lousy on paper—but terrific on the court. Power Forward Maurice Lucas reported to camp with a broken knuckle on his right hand, tonsillitis and a contract that he felt was inadequate. He asked to be traded. Mychal Thompson, another big forward, broke his left leg during the summer; he's expected to be out for most of the season.
All of which may end up mattering little, because Portland is deep in strong forwards. Kermit Washington came from San Diego as part of the compensation for Bill Walton. And Jim Brewer, acquired from Detroit, performed well in the exhibition season, as did a refugee from the Italian pro league, Abdul Jeelani.
Tom Owens was a surprise at center, averaging 18.5 points last season, and the addition of Kevin Kunnert gives Jack Ramsay depth and flexibility in the middle. But it remains to be seen if Bobby Gross can come back from last season's ankle and knee ailments and run the way he once could. If the Blazers get into trouble at small forward, they could always trade away one of their five quality guards—Lionel Hollins, Ron Brewer, T.R. Dunn, Dave Twardzik and rookie Jim Paxson.
San Diego must keep Walton healthy for an entire season to be competitive within its division, but even if the Clippers do that, it may not be enough. "We're just one big Kermit Washington-type forward away from a championship," says Free. With 6'7" Nick Weatherspoon at small forward, San Diego Coach Gene Shue will have to choose among Sidney Wicks, Marvin Barnes and Jerome Whitehead for his strong forward. Wicks and Whitehead not only can't do it all, as Washington could, but they also can't do any of it. And as for the extraordinarily talented Barnes, he's always been bad news off the court.
One of the things the Soviets complained of in the SALT II talks was that Lloyd Free's missiles kept showing up on their radar, and Free is still chucking them up about 20 feet in the air, Bill Walton or no Bill Walton. "People relate to me as being a bad guy," Free says. "But I can't stop shooting the ball in order for us to win. Bill can help me and I can help him, and that's what we have to do."
Walton, though obviously rusty after a year and a half off, was intermittently awesome during exhibitions. But he missed the team's last four preseason games because of pain in his left foot, the one he broke in Portland. "That boy can play," said Magic Johnson after facing Walton for the first time.
The Golden State Warriors should stay where they finished last season—last. Guard Phil Smith is still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and won't be of much use before December. That leaves two fairly small guards, 6'3" John Lucas and 6'3" Jo Jo White, in the backcourt. Center Robert Parish (7 feet, 230 pounds) is pretty good, having scored 17.2 points an outing last year, but forwards Sonny Parker (6'7"), Tom Abernethy (6'7"), Purvis Short (6'7") and 6'5" rookie Lynbert (Cheese) Johnson from Wichita State must be better than they've shown for Golden State to compete successfully. As Coach Al Attles says, "On this team no position is sacred."