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Lakers Draft a Future, Clippers a Present : Green May Sit for NBA Champions While Benjamin Starts Across Town

June 19, 1985|STEVE SPRINGER and SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writers

For the Lakers, it's at forward. For the Clippers, it's at center.

They're probably the best positions for rookies to break into the starting lineups of each team.

But the wait may be longer for Oregon State forward A.C. Green, who was the 23rd pick overall and the first choice of the Lakers, than for Creighton 7-foot center Benoit Benjamin, the third pick overall and first by the Clippers in Tuesday's NBA draft.

While the world champions project Green as a future member of their front line, the Clippers expect Benjamin to be their starting center next season.

But the confident Green might not be satisfied waiting for the future to arrive. He looks forward to cracking the Lakers' lineup as soon as possible.

"I don't think it will be that hard," said the 6-9, 218-pound Oregon State forward said by phone from Portland. "It just depends how hard I want to work."

Green has the credentials to back up his confidence. He was the Player of the Year in the Pacific 10 Conference as a junior, averaging 17.8 points and 8.7 rebounds. He boosted those totals to 19.1 and 9.2, respectively, as a senior. When Oregon State was eliminated from the NCAA tournament in the first round by Notre Dame, Green bowed out with 26 points and a dozen rebounds.

The Lakers selected one local player Tuesday, picking forward Tony Neal of Cal State Fullerton in the sixth round. Neal is 6-6 and 210 pounds.

Laker Coach Pat Riley said of Green: "He's very versatile. We are trying to keep in line with our philosophy. He can run the floor. He's active inside. He can get offensive rebounds and he can shoot from the low post."

But getting into the Laker transition game will require a transition by Green. He will be trying to leap into the game's fastest fast break from a offense that often gave new meaning to the word deliberate.

"We'll change that," Riley said. "Even though (Oregon State) played a slow tempo, Green played a quick game. He has tremendous energy and he gets a lot of what we call garbage points inside. You've got to like a player like that. Players are not going to fall out of the sky for us, especially one as versatile as this."

The Lakers had neither a second- nor a third-round pick, having previously traded them in deals for Dwight Jones and Larry Spriggs.

The other Laker picks were Dexter Shouse, 6-4 and 185, a point guard from South Alabama in the fourth round; Timo Saarelainen, 6-6 and 200, a forward from Brigham Young in the fifth round, and Keith Ciefplicki, 6-4 and 165, a guard from William & Mary in the seventh round.

After the Clippers had gone through the formality of selecting Benjamin, General Manager Carl Scheer and Coach Don Chaney unveiled a Clipper jersey, No. 00, for a gathering of fans and media at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

That was the number Benjamin wore at Creighton University and the one he will wear with the Clippers next season.

But it also could represent the amount of help the Clippers traditionally have received from in the draft. Neither of last year's first-round draft picks, Lancaster Gordon and Michael Cage, made much of an impact. And none of the first-round picks from the four years before are still with the club.

That may change with Benjamin. The Clippers predicted Benjamin, 20, will change the fortunes of the club, a perennial loser, and eventually will lead the team into the NBA playoffs. The Clippers have never made the playoffs in their nine-year existence.

"I've never had a chance to draft a powerful center that could be the foundation of a team for many, many years," Scheer said. "When you have a center that can play for 10 to 15 years, you don't have to back off against teams like the Lakers and Philadelphia and Boston. I guess we have to be careful in hyping him too much and putting a lot of pressure on him. But he's a very good basketball player. I've said before that he could turn out to be as good as or better than (Patrick) Ewing."

Benjamin's statistics in three seasons at Creighton are impressive. He posted his best numbers as a junior last season, averaging 21.5 points, 14.1 rebounds and 5.1 blocked shots. He finished his college career as the third-leading shot blocker in NCAA history, behind Akeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson.

Most NBA general managers believed that if Benjamin had returned to Creighton for his senior year he would have been the top pick in next year's draft.

Benjamin said he never really considered returning to school.

"I felt it was my time to leave," he said. "I truly feel, deep in my heart, that I can play in the NBA right now. I want to become one of the greatest players in the NBA. That's my goal. I think I had a better chance of getting drafted high this year. If I had a bad year or got injured next year, my value would have gone down."

The Clippers had no second-round pick, then selected Houston Baptist forward Anicet Lavodrama, a native of Nigeria, in the third round. They also selected Arizona State forward Jim Deines in the fourth round, USC's Wayne Carlander in the fifth, Missouri forward Malcolm Thomas in the sixth, and UCLA's Gary Maloncon in the seventh and last round.

. . . Another lawsuit looms for the Clippers. An Italian team that claims it signed Clipper forward Michael Cage to a contract last summer before the Clippers signed Cage is suing the Clippers and Cage for breach of contract. General Counsel Arn Tellem said Tuesday that the wrong party had been served with the papers Monday, but he expects to see a copy of the complaint any day. "I think it's more of a nuisance suit than anything based on fact," Tellem said. "To my knowledge, Michael Cage didn't sign anything with the Italian team." He added: "We're more active in court than on the court."

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