Since moving from Buffalo to the West Coast a decade ago, the Clippers have been the National Basketball Association's most beleaguered franchise, a monument to mismanagement and misfortune. But nothing could compare to the nightmare confronting them now.
Doctors in Los Angeles have confirmed the worst, that rookie Danny Manning has suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, an injury that will sideline him for at least a year and could prevent him from ever realizing his obvious and wondrous potential.
Wednesday in Los Angeles, Clippers management and team physicians huddled with Manning's agent, Ron Grinker, to ponder the next course of action in what promises to be a lengthy rehabilitation for the player chosen No. 1 overall in last year's draft.
Manning will have an arthroscopy to determine the extent of the tear. Then, in all likelihood, he will undergo reconstructive surgery. First, the Clippers must decide on a doctor. Grinker will not permit Tony Daly, the Clippers' team physician, to be involved because his clients (notably Derek Smith) have had bad experiences with Daly in the past.
At any rate, Manning, who injured the knee coming down with a rebound in Milwaukee Jan. 4, faces a difficult rehabilitation. The injury is similar to that of former New York Knicks star Bernard King and former Los Angeles Laker Mitch Kupchak, who were never the same after suffering damage to an anterior cruciate ligament.
"If the injury is similar to mine, you're looking at one-and-a-half to two years," Kupchak, now the Lakers' assistant general manager, said. "If they reconstruct the knee, you have to hope the doctors do a good job. If he's given what's called a 'tight knee,' then there's a good chance he could be close to what he once was. But if he's given anything less than a good, tight knee, he will lose quite a bit of effectiveness."
Norman Scott, the Knicks' team physician, said he suspected the anterior cruciate when he heard Manning describe the knee having "snapped."
"But there are two things in his favor," Scott told a Los Angeles reporter. "His youth and the fact it's the right leg and not the left." Manning ordinarily pushes off his left leg.
Manning's injury has done nothing for the spirit of the Clippers, who were struggling before he was hurt and are struggling now. In successive road games, they lost by 35 to Indiana, 34 to the Knicks and 35 to Boston. Team President Alan Rothenberg was on hand for the latter two defeats, a discouraging sign for Coach Gene Shue. Observers in Los Angeles are wondering if Manning's injury will give Shue an excuse for his team's play, or expedite what seems to be his inevitable dismissal.
Now that Willis Reed has accepted the inevitable and placed Dennis Hopson and Chris Morris in his starting lineup, it's time the New Jersey Nets bid a swift goodbye to Walter Berry, who no longer figures in their plans.
There was little risk involved when the Nets acquired Berry from San Antonio for a second-round pick before the season. It was hoped Berry, sixth in the league in field-goal percentage last season, could provide offense while the Nets brought Morris along slowly.
But Berry has been a bust offensively. Despite being in the final year of his original contract, Berry has shown little inclination to work diligently for another one.
So the Nets might as well waive him, eat the remainder of his $300,000 salary and find a more willing body to take his place.
Charles Barkley and the 76ers will be featured on the Jan. 24 episode of the ABC series "thirtysomething," which is set in Philadelphia. Michael Steadman, the character played by Ken Olin, takes a feed from Barkley and slam dunks during a fantasy sequence. ... Having put up with the indifferent practice habits of Rony Seikaly and Pearl Washington for three months, Miami Heat coaches and front-office types vow never to draft another Syracuse player. . . . Roy Tarpley's drug relapse isn't the only problem in Dallas. As of Tuesday, Mark Aguirre hadn't scored 20 points for five straight games and had shot 39.6 percent over his last 19. Aguirre, a 24.9-point career scorer, was down to 20.2 for the year.