SCOUTING REPORTS ON ALL 23 OF THE LEAGUE'S TEAMS
APARTMENTS TO LET
The LOS ANGELES LAKERS training camp was at once the league's smallest and biggest. Only 13 players attended, but eight were 6'8" or taller, including 7-foot, 210-pound rookie Earl Jones from the University of the District of Columbia, who needs bulk, time and a greater challenge than Division II competition. There's no hurry as long as L.A.'s bench carries James Worthy, Bob McAdoo, Michael Cooper and Mitch Kupchak, whose left knee seems sound for the first time in three years. L.A. was whipped in last spring's championship series by Boston in the half-court game, in which L.A. relies on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes, so coach Pat Riley is installing non-Islamic post-up options and new perimeter patterns.
Philadelphia 76ers coach Billy Cunningham is modifying his offense, too, adding a motion game to the post-up plays for Moses Malone and Julius Erving that made Philly too predictable during last season's abortive title defense. Cunningham has two notable rookies: Olympic point guard Leon Wood, the speed reader of defenses whose mom's name is Evelyn, and Charles Barkley, who's 6'6", 265 and so impressed Malone in off-season pickup games that Mo phoned 76er officials at the league meetings just to rave.
The holdouts of Gerald Henderson and Cedric Maxwell were the first indications that the BOSTON CELTICS might be weaker than they were last season. Though Henderson finally signed, he was sent to Seattle for a 1986 first-round draft choice, leaving Danny Ainge in his starting guard place. Despite the presence of rookie guards Michael Young and Rick Carlisle, that's a net loss. After Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, the most important Celtic may be M.L. Carr, who supplies end-of-bench brio and off-the-bench woofing.
Indignant callers lit up telephone switchboards on local radio shows this summer after the PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS sent Calvin Natt, Wayne Cooper and Fat Lever to Denver for Kiki Vandeweghe. The Blazer management saw the swap as essentially Natt-for-Vandeweghe: Lever and Cooper had become expendable because of, respectively, fourth-year guard Darnell Valentine's development and the drafting of 7'1" Sam Bowie. What's more, last season the Blazers had done about the best they could (48-34) as a half-court team, and Bowie and Vandeweghe fit in with coach Jack Ramsay's plans to run the fast break at every opportunity. The risk is in Bowie's history of injuries—and that selecting Bowie in the first round instead of Michael Jordan might remind Portland fans of the Blazers screw-up in '72, when they chose LaRue Martin instead of Bob McAdoo.
The DETROIT PISTONS seem poised to move in with the league's top three. They sent a reserve (Cliff Levingston) and a 1983 draftee they hadn't been able to sign (Antoine Carr) to Atlanta for Dan Roundfield, a top-shelf power forward. Questions center on Detroit's chemistry: Will Kelly Tripucka's seven-year, $6.3 million contract sit well with Isiah Thomas, who earlier had signed for $9.6 million over 11 years? And how can guard John Long, who starts, accept the $1.45 million (over three years) going to his backup, Vinnie Johnson? (Right now, Long can't, and is holding out; until that's settled, Tripucka will start opposite Thomas.) With Roundfield added to the mix, the Pistons will either backfire or purr.
Considering the difficulty the NEW JERSEY NETS experienced from the foul line last season, they should have been renamed the New Jersey Rims. The Nets' .700 free-throw percentage was easily the worst in the league, and, along with the NBA's second-highest turnover total, it tended to sabotage New Jersey's elegant running game. Frustrated coach Stan Albeck was tempted to take one fan's suggestion and apply a balm of vanilla and vinegar to his players' hands. Center Darryl Dawkins finally played true to his imaginary habitat, which is to say out of this world, especially in the playoffs, in which New Jersey ousted Philadelphia. The Nets won 19 of their last 27 regular-season games, but, alas, missed 18 foul shots in a playoff game loss to Milwaukee en route to being beaten by the Bucks.
The DALLAS MAVERICKS are the league's most robust franchise, with a moderate payroll, a phenomenal season-ticket base (11,250) and two studhorses, forward Mark Aguirre and guard Rolando Blackman, locked into new long-term contracts. Dallas may even have the center it has heretofore never been able to draft: 6'9", boom-armed Sam Perkins contained Ralph Sampson during their collegiate days, and his outside shooting and inside passing skills will pose problems for other pivotmen.
Despite an infusion of eight million petrodollars from their new part-owners, Saudi Arabian brothers Adnan and Essam Khashoggi, who have a couple of bucks in Salt Lake City real estate, the UTAH JAZZ, with a $1.9 million payroll, is still the league's most penurious franchise. No new money is earmarked for NBA scoring champ Adrian Dantley, despite his resolute holdout for an upgrading of his contract. To duplicate its surprising 1983-84 showing (45-37 and a Midwest Division title), Utah must have A.D., the team must stay as injury-free as last season, and it must bring along rookie John Stockton as Rickey Green's backup at point guard.