The Indiana Pacers, who finished with a rush last season, and the Washington Bullets, who dropped 22 of their last 30 games and missed the playoffs again, took drastically different steps in preparing for tonight's NBA season opener at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis.
Indiana chose basically to stand pat, and the rebuilding Bullets will feature five new players, including guard Andre Turner, claimed off the waiver wire yesterday after being cut by the Philadelphia 76ers. Free agent Corey Gaines was cut to make room for Turner.
The Pacers, who finally seemed to shed their label as classic under-achievers after Bob Hill replaced Dick Versace in midseason, decided that their nucleus of fast-developing young pros can blossom into bona fide contenders in the rugged Central Division.
A number of analysts picked them to finish as high as second behind the defending champion Chicago Bulls.
Rookie draft pick Sean Green, a swingman from Iona, is the only new player on the current roster with top draft pick Dale Davis, a 6-foot-11 center/forward from Clemson, still unsigned.
The only significant change Hill has made in his starting five is replacing veteran Vern Fleming as the starting point guard with the quicker Micheal Williams, considered one of the better young playmakers in the league.
Kenny Williams will start at power forward in place of LaSalle Thompson, who is recovering from preseason knee surgery.
Hill need not worry about his offense with such scorers as shooting guard Reggie Miller, small forward Chuck Person and classic sixth man Detlef Schrempf.
There have also been encouraging signs from 7-4 center Rik Smits, who seemed to regress last year.
Hill's prime concern is in stopping people, with the Pacers finishing 25th in team defense last season by allowing 112.1 points per game.
With Thompson listed as questionable and Davis still missing, there is extra burden on Smits to fill the rebounding and defensive void up front.
Bullets coach Wes Unseld has dissimilar concerns. Unseld believes he boasts a decent defensive starting five with shot-blocker Charles Jones flanked by Pervis Ellison and Harvey Grant up front and pesky Michael Adams to harass ballhandlers.
But Unseld wonders where his points will come from without the close to 30 per-game provided last season by All-Star small forward Bernard King. After undergoing arthroscopic surgery in September, King could possibly miss the first two months of the new season.
"Bernard was the one guy we had last year who could break down a team in a half-court game," said Unseld. "Adams will help us get easy baskets in transition, but not by going one-on-one. For us to score points, it will have to be by fast-breaking, not in a set offense. We're not big enough or strong enough to beat people inside."
This might have been different if John Williams had reported on time and in playing condition.
But for the second straight year, Williams, considered the team's most versatile forward, turned up on the eve of the season opener. He was placed on the suspended list and will there until being declared fit to play by Unseld and the team medical staff.
NOTES: Ledell Eackles returned to the Bullets after spending the past 3 days with his ailing father in New Orleans.