Through before his time, NBA 1973 rookie-of-year runner-up: Lloyd Neal, who played such an integral role in the Bill Walton gang bringing the Portland Trail Blazers to prominence; even set a club rebound-in record unmatched by Walton (967 his first season). After daily workouts and a brief early-season try, Neal has found his battered knees just won't make it anymore... Bob McAdoo, who beat Neal out of the NBA rookie laurels for '72-73, makes news too: Coach Dave Cowens, for the time being at least, has pulled himself from the Boston starting five to let McAdoo, lately acquired from the Knicks, handle the pivot and get used to the system -- "I want the guy to feel like he belongs."

Drop the snowballs -- spring training: All-Star third baseman George Brett joined the Kansas City Royals' early camp in Fort Myers, Fla., with his right thumb heavily bandaged -- a benefit basketball casualty, but X-rays showed no problem... Yankee Cy Younger, Ron Guidry, drew crowds in five-minute warmup at Fort Lauderdale, "throwing my watermelon pitches -- I don't have to impress people here." And when can lefty Don Gullett rejoin lefty Guidry in the champs' rotation? Recovering from last year's arm surgery, Gullett is not expected to throw before July.