Dream a little dream and imagine Charles Smith remaining healthy and uninjured for an entire National Basketball Assn. season.
"It's a nice thought," Clipper Coach Don Casey said. "It's the type of thought you go to sleep with."
Or the type that can give the opposition nightmares, considering what Smith did last season despite missing 11 games and being hampered in many more:
--Compiled an average of 16.3 points and 6.6 rebounds a game.
--Led the club in scoring 11 times, rebounding 12 times and blocked shots 17 times.
--Was named the NBA's rookie of the month in February and April.
--Became the first Clipper named to the NBA all-rookie team since Terry Cummings in 1982-83.
He accomplished all this despite:
--A sprained left knee in November that cost him five games.
--A bruised right hip in December--three games.
--A sprained right wrist in December--one game, followed by several more games in which he wore a soft brace.
--The flu and strep throat in January--two games, and 12 pounds lost.
Never benched for any reason besides injury, he didn't play every game in a month until February, and during one stretch he missed seven of 14 games with four different ailments. Smith was a rising star and an Ace bandage calendar boy in one.
"With all the injuries I had, the little things that popped up all the time, it was frustrating," Smith said. "When all that subsided in the last two months, it felt good. It felt real good."
The worst was the sprained wrist.
"I couldn't shoot very well, and I went around like that for about a month and a half," he said during a break in training camp at Cal Poly Pomona. "I look back at some of those games and wonder about some of the places we played. Those fans couldn't have had a very high regard for me. That was the only thing that really bothered me."
Conversely, anyone who saw him at full strength had to be impressed. Given a chance to play on a consistent basis, Smith flourished. He looked the part of the All-American from Pittsburgh, the Big East player of the year, the third player picked in the 1988 draft. In short, he looked just as the Clippers had hoped.
He has come back even stronger this season. Weightlifting has bulked his upper body and added 11 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-10 frame, up from the 227 during his rookie training camp. He has decided to cut down on the fast-food meals, which should improve conditioning. The summer away from basketball, his first extended period without playing the game in a year and a half, provided mental relaxation, the results of which are already evident.
"I think it's helped him tremendously," Casey said. "As strong as pro athletes are, young players under all that stress--the NCAA season, the NCAA tournament, the Olympic tryouts, the Olympic Games, the rookie year--can have a very trying existence. I think it eventually takes its toll. Stepping back for a couple of weeks definitely rejuvenated him."
Smith played in a few summer league games at Loyola Marymount but generally has avoided any intense basketball since the Clipper season ended last April. He worked out in the weight room while letting his bumps and bruises heal. He did community service work in the Southland and in his home state of Connecticut, notably with an educational center in Bridgeport that helps younger children improve their grades and older students line up jobs and colleges.
Most of all, though, he rested.
"It felt good to mainly not have to play unless I wanted to," said Smith, who went directly from his senior year in college to the lengthy Olympic schedule and then into the more strenuous NBA schedule. "The best part was that I had my own schedule. I did only what I wanted to do for a change. I enjoyed that."
It was a dream off-season.
Shirting the issue: Casey arrived for the third day of practice wearing a T-shirt supplied by his wife, Dwynne. Against the gray background was red lettering that said:
HOW AM I COACHING? CALL 1-800-748-8000
That would be the number of the Clipper offices at the Sports Arena. Casey admitted to stuffing the ballot box on the nonexistent survey, having voted five times--all positive, of course. Players had one question before deciding whether to respond.
"We asked if we had to leave our names," Joe Wolf said.
Actually, the players are giving Casey high marks in the early days of his first pro camp. Some say the change from Gene Shue, the coach last season, to Casey is especially evident in conditioning.
"We didn't do much running last year," Reggie Williams said. "I don't think the guys were 100% physically conditioned. All we did was run plays, a lot of half-court stuff. It's a lot more running this time."
Said Wolf: "I don't remember last year exactly, but I know we're all feeling this now. Our legs are saying, 'Hey, this is what it feels like to be in two-a-days.' "
General Manager Elgin Baylor refused to comment specifically, but he said chances are good that the Clippers will make a trade before the season begins Nov. 3.