Pacers Pass on Bird, Take Robey Instead

June 10, 1978
The rich, in this case the Portland Trail Blazers, got richer in yesterday's National Basketball Association draft.

Portland, the 1977 NBA champion and possessor of the league's best won-lost record last season despite losing center Bill Walton to injury late in the season, started the draft by selecting Minnesota's Mychal Thompson, a 6-foot-10 forward-center.

Portland had gotten first choice in the draft by sending guard John Davis and its first round pick, third overall, to Indiana.

Then, using the second of its two early first-round picks obtained in trades, Portland landed Arkansas guard Ron Brewer as the seventh overall selection. 

Larry Bird, expected to be the first or second player taken if he passed up his final year in school, elected to stay at Indiana State and was the sixth player selected.

Kansas City, drafting second, took Phil Ford of North Carolina. Indiana got 6-10 forward-center Rick Robey of Kentucky, then New York chose Montana guard Michael Ray Richardson.

Golden State, selecting fifth and preparing for the day Rick Barry retires, opted for Purvis Short, a 6-7 shooting forward from Jackson State. Bird went to Boston as the sixth pick and the Celtics have until the 1979 draft to sign the 6-8 forward.

Then, after Portland took Brewer, Celtic President Red Auerbach selected Portland State guard Freeman Williams, the nation's top college scorer. Chicago took Nevada-Las Vegas guard Reggie Theus and Atlanta closed out the first 10 with Marquette guard Butch Lee.

The NBA champion Washington Bullets pulled a surprise of their own with the 14th pick, taking 6-6 forward-guard Roger Phegley of Bradley. Then, using Denver's selection, Washington chose 6-11 De Paul center Dave Corzine as the 18th pick. He was the only true center chosen in the first round.

In all, 13 forwards, eight guards and a center were chosen in a first round in which only six teams drafted with their own picks. Of the six teams with two selections, only Boston had a losing record, the Celtics' 32-50 season being the worst in the history of the 13-time NBA champions.

"The original intent of the draft to help the weak teams, is gone," said Bill Fitch, Cleveland's general manager and coach.

Besides Portland, the two teams helped most by the draft appeared to be Atlanta and Boston. Both also signed significant free agents yesterday in addition to each getting two of the top 16 draftees.

Boston landed 7-foot center Kevin Kunnert, who backed up Moses Malone at Houston, and Atlanta got power forward Dan Roundfield, a starter with the Indiana Pacers.

By signing Kunnert and having two high draft choices, Auerbach was able to gamble and take Bird, who was considered the best player available this year. Portland had hoped Bird still would be available for its second pick in the first round.

"We feel pretty good," said Auerbach.

In picking the 6-4 Williams, who set an NCAA Division I record by scoring 81 points in one game last season, Auerbach surprised many of his peer. Some did not list Williams among the top six guards available and others labeled him a longshot to be picked in the first 10.

"People think he's just a shooter, but he can do it all," said Auerbach. "He has tremendous speed and he can shoot. We needed a penetrating guard. We didn't have one."

The signing of Kunnert will allow the Celtics to use Dave Cowens at both center and power forward. "Dave'll play both," Auerbach said. "We'll just mix them up."

Atlanta's Hubie Brown won coach-of-the-year honors by taking the Hawks' no-names to a .500 season. He got names in this draft: Lee and Kentucky's Jack Givens in the first round and Louisville guard Rick Wilson in the second.

Givens, a forward for the NCAA champions, is expected to be used as a big guard by the Hawks.

"Different teams have different drafting personalities," one NBA executive said of the Bullets' Central Division rivals. "Hube Brown drafts intelligent players who know how to play the game. And the Hawks did just that."

After a flurry of jockeying for position Thursday, the dealings continued yesterday until an hour before the draft.

Denver, which was not supposed to pick until the third round with the 46th selection, ended up with two first-round choices by trading backup center Tommy LaGarde to Seattle and their 1980 first-round pick to Philadelphia.

The Nuggets then took Wake Forest forward Rod Griffin as the 17th pick and Kansas State point guard Mike Evans as the 21st. Griffin was the only Atlantic Coast Conference player besides Ford among the first 50 players chosen. By contrast, the four Kentucky seniors were among the first 45 players chosen.

In interviews with the Associated Press, Griffin and Ford said they are considering playing in Europe rather than in the NBA. Both are represented by attorney Donald Dell.

In another late deal, Cleveland traded its first-round pick for Milwaukee's 1979 choice. The Bucks then chose St. John's forward George Johnson.

Washington-area players chosen in early rounds included Keith Herron of Mackin High and Villanova, by Portland in the second round, and Virginia forward Mark Iavaroni, by the Knicks in the third round. VMI's Ron Carter was Los Angeles' first pick, in the second round.

Golden State took Georgetown guard Derrick Jackson and the Bullets selected Maryland forward Lawrence Boston in the fourth round and Georgetown forward Ed Hopkins in the seventh. Jackson already has announced he will play next season for Athletes in Action. The Warriors, however, will have until the 1979 draft to sign him.

Guard Don (Duck) Williams of Mackin High and Notre Dame went to New Orleans in the fifth round. Indiana took James Dillard of James Madison in the sixth round and Howard forward Gerald Glover went to Atlanta player drafted by the NBA.

Greg Sanders of St. Anthony's High and St. Bonaventure was picked by New York in round eight and Les Anderson of McKinley Tech and George Washington was picked by Boston in the ninth round.

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