November 5, 1980
The jury is still out and the Celtics know it. When they obtained Robert Parish last spring in the trade with Golden State, they knew he had limitations. But the club counted on having Dave Cowens around for one more year.
There is no Dave Cowens this season to glue the middle and Parish has yet to show conclusively that he is more than a 7-foot-1 shotblocker who is most comfortable shooting 15-foot jumpers. He flunked that test over the weekend against the 76ers. And things won't get any easier in the next two games against scrappy Atlanta tonight (7:30, WBZ) or high-flying Milwaukee and Bob Lanier on Friday night.
"He's progressing fairly well," Bill Fitch said yesterday. "After all, we had hoped to bring him along at a slower rate because we thought Dave would still be with us. Now that he is retired, Parish has been put into the oven. "For a time I thought he was getting off to a good start. But he regressed a little against Philadelphia in that we wanted him to shoot more than he did.
"He has had two tests this year. He did very well against Milwaukee. But against Philadelphia there were times when we got the ball to him close to the basket and he was open. But instead of shooting, he passed it back out. We want him to take that shot."
The comparison to Cowens is perhaps an unfair one, for in his days at Golden State Parish was never counted upon to be the bruising center inside, despite his height advantage. And defensively he relied upon speed and quickness whereas Cowens often made up for shortcomings in that area by mostly punishing people. But Parish is the main man in the middle for the Celtics now and, for better or worse, he must fill the Cowens role against the clubs that try to exploit the middle against Boston.
"That was the one area we really missed Cowens against Philadelphia," Fitch said. "Julius (Erving) was allowed to drive to the basket by several people. With David or M.L. Carr, that might not have happened. Not that they would do anything wrong.
But each man might take a charge or do something to clog up the middle so Julius didn't get the idea that he could fly through there anytime he wanted." Parish is no Dave Cowens. Fitch was quoted this summer as calling him a 27-year-old "rookie," but not in the strict sense of the word. After four years in the NBA, Parish does have some healthy offensive credentials. While he has averaged no better than 17 points in any season, Parish has been consistently around the 50 percent level as a shooter. Considering his love for
the medium-range jumper, that is not a bad shooting average. In his years with Golden State, he averaged 123 blocked shots.
So NBA clubs know that when Parish is around the basket, the reject light could go on at any moment.
But Parish needs to do that and more with the Celtics. That he is a success offensively thus far is shown by his shooting percentage (48-85 - .565) for 10 games and the fact that he already has 21 blocked shots. (Cowens had 61 and Cedric Maxwell 60 to lead Boston for the entire 1979-80 season). But does a team that has Larry Bird need a center who can be effective only at one end of the court?
There were those on the West Coast, however, who insisted that the Warriors got the best of the deal because Boston was getting a center who had yet to live up to his potential. Parish has always had the size and skill to be one of the game's superstars. But the only year he played with a team good enough to reach the playoffs was as a rookie in 1976-77 when he shared the center spot with Clifford Ray. The Warriors finished third that year (43-36) and were eliminated by Los Angeles in the Western semifinals.
The next three seasons, the Warriors posted records of 43-39, 38-44 and 24-58, which placed them last in the Pacific Division or three straight years. Parish did the job offensively, but there were no tears in the Bay Area when he departed. He had somehow developed a reputation for not only being unaggressive, but also moody and difficult to motivate.
"I wouldn't say that," insisted Fitch. "I might have to yell at him once in a while, but I yell at a lot of my players when I feel they need it. The thing is that Robert Parish is a nice human being and a hard worker. He will be a better player 20 games from now than he is today.
"But these things take time. There is period of adjustment that every player who changes teams must go through. Robert is still in that stage. We felt he would be a project. But he is learning people as they are learning him. We've got veteran people on this team. But we are young together.
"I do think it is fair to say he is no Dave Cowens. But you're talking about a guy who I said last year was the best defensive player in our league. But I think Robert Parish can be one of the best players in our league."
Parish apparently is trying to make the adjustment. He has become aggressive, but like a rookie he is paying the price of establishing himself among NBA referees. Parish has fouled out only once in 10 games, but has averaged 3.6 fouls and had at least four fouls in eight of them. Rookie Kevin McHale also has 36 fouls in the 10 games.
Parish is apparently trying to shake his reputation as being moody. But that might take some time. The last two days Parish has refused to grant interviews at Celtic practice, for reasons he has not bothered to explain. A probable cause is a recent death in his family, according to a Celtic source.
But none of that will matter tonight against the Hawks or Friday against the Bucks. Parish must perform at center. Boston has compiled a 6-4 record, eight of the 10 games on the road. With four of the next five games at the Garden, the Celtics have a chance to regroup in the Atlantic Division.
"The Hawks are a team that likes to go inside," said veteran Chris Ford. "You have to be tough because they like to go to the boards. They've got Tree Rollins, Dan Roundfield and John Drew, who likes to post you up on the left side. We can't let them get into their patterns. And it's important that we execute our own patterns."