The Seattle Sonics entered the season with a collection of question marks centered around David Thompson.
Was he still "David Skywalker?" Or had he become "David Sleepwalker?"
Seattle traded its best defensive guard, Bill Hanzlik, and a No. 1 draft pick to Denver for Thompson, the superstar nobody wanted. There were published allegations he had a cocaine problem. He had missed planes and practices last year at Denver.
The trade was a major gamble for Seattle Coach Lenny Wilkens, but there were other questions when the new season opened three weeks ago.
Where would he find a small forward? Could Greg Kelser, the former Michigan State star, find magic without Earvin Johnson? Could forward Lonnie Shelton keep his weight down? Was James Donaldson ready to give Jack Sikma more rest at center? And what about the young bench?
Certainly, the Sonics expected to start slowly. The reserves were inexperienced and the schedule was difficult: seven of the first 10 games were on the road.
So what is this team doing at 11-0, only four wins away from the best NBA start ever -- 15 in a row, set by the 1948 Washington Capitals? What are they doing ahead of the favored Los Angeles Lakers in the Pacific Division? What is David Thompson doing leading the team in scoring at 21.2 points per game?
"Their guard combination (Thompson and Gus Williams) is as good as any back court in the NBA," said San Antonio Coach Stan Albeck, whose team has lost twice to Seattle. "They're capable of exploding for 50 or 60 points each night.
"I think the back court is comparable to the Lakers. Gus plays some of his best games against Norm Nixon and David is going to score as much as Magic Johnson and get almost as many rebounds. It will be a great game when they meet."
Thompson made a 28-footer at the buzzer that defeated the Spurs in Seattle, then scored 32 points in a win at San Antonio.
"The Sonics probably saved his career," Albeck said. "If he had stayed in Denver, he'd still be on the bench and T.R. Dunn would be starting. Seattle did for him what the Lakers did for Bob McAdoo. You put a super-talented player on a team that already won 52 games--that's lethal."
Albeck was one of 22 coaches who said no when Denver offered Thompson around the league last summer.
"All you have to do in this league is say a guy's on drugs and it's all over the league in 30 seconds," Albeck said. "There were those rumors about drugs. That was the rap against him. I guess that's why nobody wanted him."
The way the Sonics have won has been as impressive as the fact that they have won. They won at Milwaukee and Chicago without Williams, their offensive catalyst. They won at Dallas with all-star Sikma on the bench for the last seven minutes with a bad cut over his eye.
They came from 19 points down to win at Chicago. They beat the Spurs even though they trailed by a point with two seconds left.
"I think the most satisfying thing has been the way we've played in the second half of all the games," said Sikma, who has played in 420 consecutive games and is averaging 18.4 points and 11.6 rebounds this year. "When the games have been on the line, we've had the ability to grab the thing. We've showed the ability to take control."
"It seems like a different guy is the hero every night," Donaldson said. "Every game a different guy seems to take over and we feed him and help him. It shows that when we have to dig down deep, we can still pull out a victory."
In Milwaukee, it was Mark Radford replacing Williams and scoring 13 points. In Chicago, it was Kelser coming off the bench to score 17 points in 17 minutes. In Dallas, it was Donaldson, replacing Sikma and making big plays when they were needed most.
The last time Seattle started the season strongly, it won the first seven en route to an NBA championship, beating the Washington Bullets in five games in the 1979 finals.
"I think there's more energy on this team than there was on the championship team," said Shelton, still skinny after all these games. "There might be more natural ability. I think we have quicker players and hungrier players now.
"The year we won the championship, it was like we were destined to win. They came so close the year before and it was just like they knew what to do this time around.
"Now we have a lot of different people. If everybody keeps up the enthusiasm and keeps the right perspective, we have a chance to win."
Despite their start, the Sonics are only two games ahead of Los Angeles and three ahead of Phoenix in the loss column. Their first of six games with Los Angeles is here next Wednesday. It promises to be the best matchup this side of Boston-Philadelphia.
"It's a shame to go 11-0 and not put some distance between us and the Lakers," Donaldson said. "They are a great team. They are not going to go away. I think eventually it will come down to our six meetings with them. Those games will probably make or break us."