As a partner in the Manhattan ad agency of Doyle Dane Bernbach, Ned Doyle had a hand in creating those wry Volkswagen ads extolling that car's resistance to yearly model changes. Now retired and the new owner of the Miami Floridians, he considers no change too sweeping, INSTEAD OF FIRING THE COACH, WE'VE FIRED THE TEAM, he has proclaimed in full-page newspaper ads. Indeed, Doyle has made last year's team a study in forced obsolescence; of its 12 players, only Center Skip Thoren is still around. Pretty drastic stuff, but this is the ABA, where you really can't tell the players without a program or the teams without Rand McNally. Doyle's club, for instance, also has shortened its name to, simply, the Floridians and, encouraged by the box-office success of the Carolina Cougars, has become a regional franchise that will spread home games among Jacksonville, Tampa, West Palm Beach and Miami Beach. Whatever the success of that move, the team will be lucky to finish fourth in its division.
Including Carolina and the Washington Caps, who have crossed the Potomac to become the Virginia Squires, half of the Eastern Division's six teams have now gone regional in search of solvency. Another club seeking financial succor is the Pittsburgh Pipers. Under new ownership, it decided to stay put but to signify a fresh start by holding a contest to select a new name. The winning entry was the Pioneers, but problems resulted, including the fact that at least 80 colleges already use that name. So the Pipers-turned-Pioneers wound up as the Condors, a species of bird in danger of extinction. This hardly augurs well in a city that has three times rebuffed pro basketball teams.
Minus Indiana, which switched to the West, the East should have a close race among Kentucky, Virginia and New York, with Kentucky enjoying an edge on paper. Carolina, worst in the league on offense last year, has not improved sufficiently to be a factor. Kentucky has one of the league's healthier franchises, and in the guard-oriented ABA it boasts three of the best in Lou Dampier, Darel Carrier and Mike Pratt to go with a vastly improved front line that acquires Dan Issel and Cincy Powell.
Another gifted rookie who will aid his team immeasurably is Virginia's Charlie Scott. He and Doug Moe, acquired from Carolina, should bring the Squires way up from last year's third-place finish. The team says good riddance to dreary Washington Arena, where crowds were so sparse, complains Guard Mike Barrett, that "I could hear the echo when I dribbled," and will play in Norfolk, Hampton, Roanoke and Richmond. Next year Virginia will have three first-round draft choices, one of which it received, along with cash, from the New York Nets in exchange for Rick Barry.
Barry wanted no part of Virginia but should be happy in New York, which is product-endorsement country. If he can avoid injuries for a change, the deal should also profit the Nets, who need a genuine star to compete with the Knicks for the loyalties of New York fans. Their attendance last year was one-seventh that of the Knicks, and they had to put on a late-season drive to win a playoff spot. One player of Barry's caliber should assure the playoffs again this season, though the roster is filled with more run-of-the-court names than most other ABA teams. At the Nets' first practice, Barry's new teammates, inspired by thoughts of Broadway Joe, dubbed him "Hempstead Rick," because the Nets play home games not in New York but—get out Rand McNally again—in the Long Island suburb of West Hempstead.
As for Pittsburgh, its young Condors hardly intend to allow themselves to become extinct. The squad includes talented but overweight rookie Mike Maloy and Simmie Hill and John Brisker—both solid performers. Here as elsewhere individual talent in the ABA keeps getting better, but it will remain just that—individual talent—until the league stops shuffling personnel long enough to allow development of something resembling team play.