September 14, 1980
Dave Cowens came with a back-to-school haircut. Pete Maravich arrived sans perm. Cedric Maxwell materialized with 18 extra pounds. But the most interesting, however much expected, development was that neither Nate Archibald nor Kevin McHale (Gorbachev) showed up at all.
Shades of the Slusher Four . . . The Men Who Weren't There were the topic of conversation as much as the men who were as the Celtics officially began training camp at Brookline's Hellenic College yesterday morning. And, at this point, the news on the missing point guard and the missing first draft choice is not good.
"The way I look at it," sniffed Red Auerbach, "we don't have McHale. We've gotten along - at least I have - for 35 years without him, and we'll continue to get along without him."
Indeed they may. For at midnight tomorrow, the rookie from Minnesota and his attorney, Ron Simon, will board a plane at JFK Airport in New York and head to Milan. Barring an unforeseen development over there, the 6-foot-11 swingman will then sign a one-year contract to play for the Milan club in the Italian League. "I talked with Red Auerbach and Bill Fitch on Thursday," Simon said yesterday, "and it's extremely unlikely anything will happen to change our plans. Boston must change its position."
As for Archibald, the 32-year-old, 10-year veteran remains an unsigned free agent. Tiny earned $413,000 last year as the final payment of a seven- year contract signed when he was playing for the Kansas City Kings. A big issue between him and the Celtics is length of contract. Boston currently is unwilling to grant the little guy more than a one-year contract, whereas Tiny reportedly wants at least two years.
Should Archibald leave Boston's employ, there would be a major hole in the backcourt of the team that won 61 games and the Atlantic Division championship last season. The incumbents are Chris Ford, Gerald Henderson and Maravich, with M.L. Carr also being ticketed for backcourt duty. The only one of those four with superior speed is Henderson, who, while a fine prospect, is not yet the stuff of which championship teams are molded, at least not in a primary role. The only one of the eight rookie hopefuls for a guard spot who is a pure point guard is B.B. Flenory, who wasn't even drafted.
"There isn't a guy here," stated Fitch, "who would tell you we wouldn't be better off if Tiny were here. But Red is not at all happy with the way things are going with Irwin Weiner (Tiny's agent)."
Fitch assembled 20 players, with veterans Cowens, Maxwell, Rick Robey, Larry Bird, Eric Fernsten, newcomer Robert Parish, Ford, Maravich, Henderson and Carr joining 10 rookies and free agents. There will be closed practice sessions over the weekend, and some cuts undoubtedly will be forthcoming on Monday so that Fitch and assistants K.C. Jones and Jimmy Rodgers can get down to a workable number. Ten is an unusually large number of kids to bring in, but Fitch did it out of gratitude for the work they performed all week before the arrival of the vets. "They all worked hard and deserved a chance to play against the veterans," Fitch said, "and to have something to tell their grandchildren."
That McHale would spurn all Boston offers and head to Italy was once an unthinkable thought. No prominent American draftee has ever gone that route, and Simon claims he wishes it hadn't come to this. "I think Auerbach is acting in his best interests and has acted like a gentleman," Simon explains. "I can't find any fault with his approach. I don't agree with it, but I find no fault. He has made what he feels is his best offer."
"McHale is a fine basketball player," Auerbach shrugged, "but I'm not going to prostitute the ballclub to get him." As for Archibald, he and Weiner simply may reason that it would be worth missing a few days of training camp while waiting for another team to decide it can't live without Tiny. At present, he is not particularly close with any other team.
And if Tiny doesn't show up soon? Well, the first exhibition game is next Sunday, Sept. 21, against the Nets in New Haven. Gerald Henderson may get a lot of playing time.