Dave Cowens, Boston's playercoach, predicts that Indiana State's Larry Bird (who grew up a hop, skip and jump the other side of the Ohio River from Kentuckian Cowens) will sign with the Celtics -- but won't turn the floundering NBA franchise around by himself.

"You'll be reading a lot of things in the papers," Cowens says, "but I think he'll go with us."

Cowens says he has not enjoyed his dual role but wants to try again next season, and "the job is mine if I want it. But things could happen after the season that will be the deciding factor."

NHL absorption of those four solvent WHA clubs edges closer. Payment plan for the franchises in Hartford, Quebec, Winnipeg and Edmonton has been eased a bit to spread out the $6 million it will cost each; it's $1 million down, $3.5 million on June 1, remaining $1.5 million in five annual $300,000, interest-free installments... And WHA has given in and accepted the plan under which they can protect only two skaters and two goalies from moving to clubs that hold their NHL rights...

Bobby Hull tut-tuts rumors he is thinking of leaving retirement to play for his old club, the Chicago Black Hawks, from off the farm (that's farm, not farm club) near his former WHA base, Winnipeg. The Golden Jet said he only said, in a Chicago interview, he would be a fool not to listen to any Black Hawk offer. Tut-tut?