The Denver Rockets' Spencer Haywood is no longer a hardship case. Since signing a $1 million contract last year, though he had two seasons of college eligibility remaining, Haywood has won the ABA's scoring title, rebounding championship and Most Valuable Player award and moved into a plush apartment on the 38th floor of the Brooks Towers in Denver. There is not much left for Haywood to do for an encore except lead Denver to the ABA championship, a project he has been working on during the summer by running up the Brooks Towers' 42 flights of stairs twice a day.
The Rocket front office has also been taking a few steps to line up some help for Haywood in what should be the tightest divisional race in either league. Denver traded the ABA's leading career scorer, Larry Jones, to Florida for a big guard, 6'5" Larry Cannon, and 6'9" All-Star Forward Don Sidle. And the Rockets found another hardship case in Ralph Simpson, the Michigan State sophomore who could be as wealthy and as well decorated as Haywood by this time next year. Simpson, who is 6'5" and plays superbly at either forward or guard, was a public-image problem for the ABA commissioner's office, which did not want to get into another hassle with college coaches for stealing one of their best players. The courts took the commissioner off the hook by forcing the league to allow Simpson to play. He is now one of the ABA's top assets.
Denver will need all those assets to defeat Indiana, the defending champion and favorite this year. The Pacers, shifted from the East for geographical reasons though the move greatly weakened that division, retain their NBA-style front line of big Mel Daniels and Bob Netolicky and smooth Roger Brown. And they add Rick Mount, the crack-shot rookie guard from Purdue. They will bring Mount along slowly, a luxury few other ABA teams could afford, but he should be a starter by the playoffs, if not sooner.
The Utah (ex-Los Angeles) Stars came along very quickly at the end of last year after finishing the first half of the season in last place. The Stars knocked Denver out of the playoffs and extended the Pacers to six games in the finals. They may do even better this time with ex-NBA All-Star Zelmo Beaty jumping over to play center. Beaty and most of the other Stars are extraordinary shooters who shun rebounding and defense. That should provide some unhappy nights for Coach Bill Sharman and some very busy ones for 6'6" Willie Wise, star of Stars and one of the few to realize that there is more to basketball than scoring. Wise, a second-year man from Drake, was the biggest surprise among last year's rookies. Even during the playoffs, when he was hobbled by painful spurs in both ankles, he was the team's best all-round player.
Also not worrying about where their next two points are coming from are the Texas (ex-Dallas) Chaparrals. The Chaps were the highest-scoring team in the ABA last year. All those baskets brought them second place behind Denver, but more of the same—without defense—may not take them higher than fourth this year. One partial solution to the problem, being tried by Coach Maxie Williams, is to have 6'9" Gene Moore, acquired in a trade with Kentucky, play forward on offense but center on defense. That will shift Manny Leaks out of the middle when Texas does not have the ball. "I can't get Leaks to pick up anybody coming through the middle," says Williams. "He takes his man O.K., but when somebody else zips through, he gets mad. He figures somebody should have stuck with that man."
Memphis (ex-New Orleans) is being called, simply, the Pros while the new management runs a contest to find a permanent name. The answer is right on the Pros' roster: the Memphis Joneses—Steve, Jimmy and Wilbert. They should provide some interesting-looking box scores and, since Jimmy and Steve averaged 42 points a game between them last season, most of the excitement in Memphis. The Pros will play 12 "home" games at sites outside Memphis, including, aptly, Jonesboro, Ark., which may help some of the team's new local fans to maintain enthusiasm. The Joneses finished in the cellar last year and have the same problems once again.