Dominique, Sherm, and Pervis: Oh, Those were the Days


August 28, 1994

There are certain givens in the world of sports. Dominique Wilkins, for instance, will give you 20 points (and often 20 shots) a night. Dee Brown will steal the ball more times than any other Celtic. Sherm Douglas will lead the team in assists.

None of those players will be the X factor that determines Boston's level of success this season. That falls in the lap of Pervis Ellison.

The reason is simple. The Celtics have no way of knowing what they will get from the veteran big man, who has battled injuries and a reputation for being soft.

If Ellison is a bust, the Celtics are in trouble. They are counting on him to log serious minutes in the center spot; if he can't, the time goes to an eager but inexperienced rookie (Eric Montross) and a curiously lackluster and inexperienced former rookie (Acie Earl).

Ellison, a former No. 1 overall pick, understands the situation. He also recognizes this as his last chance to redeem himself in the NBA. That is why he has been going through two-a-day sessions with trainer Ed Lacerte at Brandeis both to strengthen his knee and reach the necessary level of conditioning.

While it's encouraging that Ellison has been so motivated, the truth is, nothing else is acceptable at this juncture.

"Pervis is a vital part of the transition," acknowledged basketball chief M.L. Carr. "We'll be looking for points from him in the middle. There is a big need there, and it's vital that he's healthy."

Ah, there's the rub. There are no guarantees that Ellison can overcome his chronic knee problems. He is a long way from 100 percent; in fact, if the season started today, he would not be in uniform.

The Celtics hope that by Opening Night in November, that status will have changed, but the front office has already prepared itself for the fact that Ellison may not be ready.

"There's a distinct possibility he won't be," Carr said. "But if he continues working like he is now, we're hopeful he'll be right there.

"If he isn't, that's OK. I purposely told Ed Lacerte I'm not looking for a sprint. I want Pervis to finish the marathon. If that means a December start, then we'll live with that."

Bill Strickland, Ellison's agent, said the Celtics' willingness to be patient was one of the most attractive things about them.

"I believe one of Pervis' biggest problems last season was he tried to get back too soon," said Strickland. "He was feeling the pressure of the team Washington and his contract situation.

"There are no such pressures this time. And I think he's in good hands in terms of rehabbing his body. Ed Lacerte was part of the team that examined Ellison as a rookie at the predraft camp in Chicago, and he said unless Pervis got on a program to strengthen his legs, he was going to have problems.

"Eddie predicted what happened to Pervis. Now he's in a position to help him."

Ultimately, however, it will be up to Ellison to help himself.

Damage control

The heat is on the front office in Atlanta, where fans are livid that their beloved superstar (Wilkins) got away for what now appears to be nothing. General manager Pete Babcock traded Wilkins for Danny Manning, who professed love for Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens, submitted an uninspiring postseason effort, was offered an average of $ 5 million a year over seven years and then bolted for Phoenix, where he has professed his love for president Jerry Colangelo and the meager slot of just more than $ 1 million that Colangelo can offer Manning.

That leaves the Hawks with a gaudy slot of $ 3.25 million and a shrinking pool of free agent talent, none of which is worth that kind of money. Wayman Tisdale? Get real.

In truth, even if Altanta hadn't traded Wilkins, he probably would have left anyway because the team was looking in other directions and wouldn't have given Wilkins more than a one-year contract.

Still, Babcock is trying to calm the masses by asking for patience.

"What people here don't seem to realize is we've got 12 months to use the money," Babcock said. "It will more likely be used in a trade. It may not happen until February, just before the trading deadline, when teams have one last chance to get an edge.

"But the fact remains everyone in the league knows we have the slot. We're not going to use it up to sign someone just for the sake of doing it. We've already been approached by a number of teams about a deal, but we're waiting for one that makes sense for us."

In the meantime, the Hawks are looking for a backup point guard and a shooter off the bench. Babcock said he likes Kevin Gamble "very much" in the latter role, but at the moment does not have a proper slot with which to woo him. Ditto for Brian Shaw, who fits the backup point guard mold.

"We don't feel we're in bad shape," said Babcock. "We've added Kenny Norman, who we got for nothing, and we'll re-sign Craig Ehlo, and Lenny honestly feels we're a better defensive team right now than we were last season."

Tough pitch to turn into season tickets.

Harper to Knicks?

The Knicks, who have seen two Eastern Conference rivals improve this summer (read: Orlando, Charlotte), have talked with Ron Harper about filling Rolando Blackman's vacated $ 1.2 million slot. Harper, you recall, made $ 4 million last season with the Clippers but vowed not to return. He privately hoped to receive substantial offers from either Boston (a notion that was shaky to begin with, then went out the window when Blue Edwards came aboard) or Chicago. Harper also would have loved to return to Cleveland . . . If the Knicks do not follow through with Harper, they might give Gamble a look . . . Word on the street is that a Cedric Ceballos-for-Sedale Threatt trade is brewing. Is Phoenix serious? Sure, the Suns need a backup point guard, but Ceballos seems to be a hefty price. League observers are surprised that the Suns and Lakers would be doing business. Some bad blood lingered last season after Phoenix signed A.C. Green away . . . Chris Webber would like to have re-signed with Golden State by now, but he and his agent, Strickland, are monitoring the lawsuits of Green and Horace Grant against the league closely. "I understand the league voiding Grant, because they want to take another crack in court at striking down the one-year-and-out," said Strickland, "but how is A.C.'s contract different from giving a player a balloon payment on the end of his contract? Either way, you are compensating someone for making smaller dollars earlier in the contract. We were hoping maybe the league would make a distinction with these rulings between rookies and veterans, but when they knocked down Toni Kukoc, too, it confirmed to us Chris' contract would not be accepted." Strickland said the climate grows increasingly worse by the day and warns, "I think we're headed for a strike." . . . There will be an appreciation night for Robert Parish tomorrow at Sculler's, featuring music by saxophonist Art Porter, a friend of the Chief's.

Battered Battle

John Battle, who played in pain for most of last season with Cleveland, quietly had arthroscopic surgery on his knee, his sixth such operation. At least he's spread it out over both knees . . . John Paxson, who retired from the Bulls late last week, will be missed not just for his gritty game and his uncanny ability to hit big, big shots, but also for his professionalism and ability to understand where he fit into the scheme of things. Paxson made a point of mentioning that he would be just another player if he had not played alongside Michael Jordan. That's something that Scott Williams, Will Perdue, Stacey King and, to a lesser extent, Grant never quite understood . . . While Xavier McDaniel's outburst was a tad self-absorbed, he again drove home how stupid it was to play guys just because the Celtics needed to find out "where they were." The fallout from that ridiculous strategy is still rearing its ugly head . . . The Denver Nuggets, owned by COMSAT, have proposed a new arena, which the team would pay for itself, then transfer the title to the city and county. In return, the Nuggets want to be released from their lease at McNichols Arena. Needless to say, this proposal has less-wealthy owners in other cities steaming . . . The Nuggets are another club considering Shaw, but he could end up back in Miami simply because it can offer him the best money. Shaw visited Orlando last week, but unless they have another move in mind, the Magic can only work out of a $ 650,000 slot . . . Carr said he and Chris Ford have to discuss who the team captain will be. What's to discuss? It's got to be Wilkins. If he isn't the designated leader off the floor, it will be awfully difficult for him to assume that role on the floor.

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