What don't you like about the BOSTON CELTICS? Their sneakers, maybe. Even point guard Danny Ainge doesn't like them. They've scrapped the distinctive green ones and gone to some shiny black models that look like ski boots. Then again, didn't they wear black back in Auerbach's glory days? You say you're not crazy about the Celtics' racial mix? Forget it. These guys are all keepers.
You may not like their age—the average age among starters is 28.8 this season—but who would you rather have, the Clippers' Benoit Benjamin at 20 or Robert Parish at 32? Golden State's Sleepy Floyd at 25 or Dennis Johnson at 31? And anyway, rookie Sam Vincent, 22, is exactly the young backcourt burner the Celtics needed. He can play. You say you don't like M.L. Carr? O.K., he's retired.
In fact, there's nothing not to like about the Celtics except the three parts of Larry Bird's body that refuse to stop tormenting him: his back (spasms in right lower), right elbow (bursitis) and right index finger (old softball injury). Bird's physical status will be an ongoing saga this season and let's hope for the good of the game that the injuries don't bench him prematurely. It's a foregone conclusion, however, that the Birdman won't be playing 39.5 minutes a game, as he did last year. But then, the Celts require only 28 to 30 quality minutes from him now. And only 18 to 20 from Parish's backup, Bill Walton. This is the deepest in talent Boston has been since the days of Bill Russell, says coach K.C. Jones. And no one is rushing to contradict him. Or play him.
By the time the Manute Bol flying circus has made the circuit, and the last curiosity seeker has gotten a gander at the Sudanese Swatter, it will be apparent that the WASHINGTON BULLETS have a pretty good bunch of basketball players under 7'7" tall—good enough to make a run at the Celtics. But, hey, owner Abe Pollin, lighten up. Abe was actually quoted as saying the Bullets will be as good as the Lakers by midseason.
In fact, the Bullets won't even take second in the division unless they can shed the Team Orthopedia tag. Their bad luck from last year held through the preseason when Dan Roundfield, acquired from Detroit in an off-season trade for Rick Mahorn, fractured his left arm. Rounds, who is out of his cast, is expected to be back soon. Gus Williams is 32 now but he can be counted on for at least one more good season. With Philadelphia's Andrew Toney injured, the Bullets' Jeff Malone is the best two-guard in the division. A healthy Jeff Ruland, who has broken the NBA rat-tail barrier ("I prefer to call it a New York tail," says Ruland, fingering the wisp of long hair trailing down his neck), and enough blocked shots by Manute will put Washington over the top.
Other than adding Charles Barkley, the PHILADELPHIA 76ERS haven't improved themselves since the championship season of 1982-83. Meanwhile, Moses Malone and Julius Erving have gotten older. And Toney (two bum ankles) keeps getting injured. This will get Clint Richardson some playing time, but he is unhappy with his contract and was all but shipped to Indiana before the news on Toney turned bad. Rookie power forward Terry Catledge may turn out to be a good first-round pick, but he's no Barkley and won't help much this year. Rookie head coach Matt Guokas will need fans to be understanding with him.
Dave Wohl, the NEW JERSEY NETS' new coach, spent the preseason installing a Laker-style fast-break offense and trapping defense he used as Pat Riley's assistant in L.A. for three years. But these Nets are not the Lakers. Darryl Dawkins is supposed to be leaner (down to 270 from 285 last year), hungrier and less foul prone—let's wait and see. Guard Micheal Ray Richardson doesn't have to be any better than he was last season, but power forward Buck Williams does if the Nets are to get better.
The NEW YORK KNICKS won 24 games last season, so vice-president Dave DeBusschere went out and got nobody. Well, excuse us. He lucked into getting Patrick Ewing. But there's no one to replace Bernard King, whose ligament and cartilage damage to his right knee has been a source of confusion. Some published reports have him ready by January, others next season. Bill Cartwright's troubled left foot, Louis Orr's troubled contract, James Bailey's baffling fainting spells and Ewing's ability to withstand the pressure and pointed elbows during his rookie season are all unresolved issues. About the only certainty is that coach Hubie Brown's voice will be very, very hoarse.
Washington fans will lionize Bol, if he can tame opposing offenses.