Bob Leonard, coach and general manager of the Indiana Pacers and holder of the No. 1 selection in Friday's National Basketball Association draft, said yesterday he has "six to eight decent offers" and has set a 5 p.m. deadline today on the bidding for that pick.
Leonard has been on the telephone the past four days since it became likely that Indiana State forward Larry Bird, whom the Pacers wanted to draft, will complete his college eligibility. Bird qualifies for the draft because his high-school class graduated four years ago.
Bird still is expected to be among the top seven picks. The team that chooses him will have until the 1979 draft to sign him.
What kind of deal Leonard eventually works out - he says he wants both a veteran forward and guard for the top pick - will greatly clear up a muddled draft picture in which North Carolina guard Phil Ford. Minnesota forward-centre Mychal Thompson and Kentucky forward-centre Rick Robey stand out among the other players available.
Typical of the uncertaintyis the situation with New Jersey Nets Coach Kevin Loughery. "We picked sixth last year and I had more of an idea of who would be availabe for us than I do this year when we pick fourth," he said.
Adding to the confusion are strong reports around the league that the Nets are about to peddle their pick to the New York Knicks in lieu of part of the Nets' sizable indemnity payoff to the Knicks. The Nets would then draft 13th in the first round with the Knicks' choice.
The Bullets have two picks in the first round: their own, the 14th overall, and the 18th acquired from Denver for Bo Ellis, a No.1 draft choice a year ago.
Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry is silent, as usual,about whom the Bullets are considering, but it is known they want a backup centre and a playmaking guard.
Guards are expected to dominate the top picks, as many as five of the top 10.
It is a draft in which the rich (Portland) will get richer. The Trail Blazers, the 1977 NBA champions and seemingly headed there again this year untill Bill Walton was injured, have three first-round picks and two second-round choices, including four of the top 24 selections.
Portland is just the team that can sit back and wait for Bird. However, Stu Inman, the team's vice president for personnel is worried that the Knicks, Golden State or Boston may picked Bird before he gets the chance.
Both Inman and Leonard acknowledged yesterday that they have been discussing trades. And Leonard answered, "Oh, yeah," when asked whether he would accept one player and an exchange of drafting position with a team like Portland.
That could give Portland the first and third picks. As Cleveland's Bill Fitch put it, "If I wanted Bird and I had the seventh pick, I wouldn't sleep all night with Red Auerbach picking ahead of me."
Most speculation about the deal for the right to the No. 1 pick involves George McGinns returning to Indianapolis. In exchange the Philadephia 76ers would be able to take the playmaking guard everyone covets - Ford.
Leonard said yesterday that he wants two veteran players for the pick to complement what he considers a good five-man core. "Our sitution is now," he said. "If you're looking way down the road, you stay in the draft. But I'd rather get a veteran forward and a veteran guard."
In the event a trade for the top draft pick does not materialize, the Pacers likely would select either Thompson or Robbey. If Philadelphia gets the top choice, the 76ers would take Ford, with Thompson likely to go to Kansas City and with Portland taking either Robey or a big guard like Ron Brewer of Arkansas, Michael Ray Richardson of Montana or Reggie Theus of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Some teams will not have to worry about early-round picks. Buffalo, Houston, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit and Los Angeles have all traded away their first-round choices. Denver, in fact has only one pick among the first 100 players selected - No. 46.
Here is a list of the top prospects, in consensus order by a survey of NBA executives and coaches. Robey and Thompson, who will more likely play forward than center because of slim pickings at that position.