The Trail Blazers nearly imploded from bad chemistry two seasons ago, yet now they have as many leaders as any team. Portland has Buck Williams up front, quarterback Terry Porter and future $8 million man (his 1995-96 salary) Clyde Drexler in the backcourt, and now Ainge, Mr. Vim and Vinegar, off the bench. Watch out.
Let's face it: The rust had started to appear on Michael Cooper's game even before last season, and Orlando Wool-ridge's main talent was to look better than anyone in NBA history while missing a layup. General manager Jerry West got rid of both players during the off-season, and now Dunleavy's rotation has Perkins off the bench, mainly for A.C. Green, and Teagle off the bench for Byron Scott. Like Portland, L.A.'s big question mark is in the middle: The Lakers were disappointed with center Vlade Divac's off-season workout program—or lack thereof.
Can David Robinson, the NBA's unanimous rookie of the year last season, get any better? He can and probably will, and so will small forward Sean Elliott, who has bulked up 10 pounds to 215. Forward Terry Cummings, swingman Willie Anderson and Strickland round out this ultrasolid starting lineup. But even with Pressey, the Spurs may be thin off the bench.
Thin off the bench, the Suns are not. Certainly not with muscular and versatile Dan Majerle and jump-shooting machine Eddie Johnson ready, willing and able. Still, if other teams can find a way to slow down point guard Kevin Johnson, as Portland did in last season's Western final, the Suns can be beaten.
Sure, Jeff Malone will take some scoring pressure off Karl Malone, but his ball-handling skills are not sharp enough to take the pressure off point guard John Stockton. And Utah will need more than scoring from M & M to win the West—the team will need an improved season from center Mark Eaton, too.
Does any team in the NBA have as many out-and-out solid ballplayers as the Mavs? Roy Tarpley, Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper, James Donaldson, Herb Williams, Brad Davis and now Lever, McCray and English. So why doesn't that put Dallas higher than sixth place? Because none of the above is a true superstar, a player who can push his team above the mundane night after night, a player like Magic, Karl Malone, Drexler, Robinson or Kevin Johnson. Tarpley is the possible exception, but his past history of drug and alcohol abuse, not to mention his out-of-shape condition when he reported to camp a few weeks ago, makes him a question mark.
Rookie shooting guard Bo Kimble spent most of his summer in Chicago, working on the film version of the classic basketball book Heaven Is a Playground. As Bo knows, life in Clipperland over the past decade has been a lot of playground and very little heaven. This year that changes. Even if Danny Manning is not, as new Clipper coach Mike Schuler has said, "perhaps the most versatile player in the NBA," he should now be able to lead a lineup that is rich in talent, if deficient in direction and confidence. Schuler will take care of the direction—he didn't wear well at Portland, but the unsuccessful Clippers have no reason to tune him out yet—and the expected return of high-scoring guard Ron Harper (from knee surgery) in January should take care of the confidence.
Kenny Smith, Akeem Olajuwon welcomes you with open arms. In the past, the Dream has criticized his mates and management for failing to get him enough help, and Smith, a point guard acquired in a trade with Atlanta, definitely helps. Still, the word "rebuilding" is being heard around Houston, and the final spot in the playoffs will not appease Mr. Olajuwon for long. Early vacation.
Relations between the front office and forward Xavier McDaniel took a turn for the worse in the off-season when McDaniel objected to being shopped around. There's talent here, though, and maybe new coach K.C. Jones and his understated ways will bring it out.
Coach Don Nelson has been instructing his players to grunt and groan to draw foul calls this season. Warrior fans will be doing the groaning by February.