LANDOVER -- Wes Unseld leaned back in the chair of his coach's office at the Capital Centre yesterday and ticked off the names of John Williams, Bernard King, Pervis Ellison, Darrell Walker and Ledell Eackles.
"If all these guys were healthy and signed, I wouldn't mind starting the new season with that group. We'd make life miserable for a lot of teams," said Unseld, starting his fourth year as head coach of the Washington Bullets.
But that's a big "if."
Williams and Eackles, two central figures on this season's team, could be missing when training camp opens for veterans Friday morning at Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg after three days of auditioning free agents and rookies.
The biggest piece to the Bullets' puzzle -- literally and figuratively-- is Williams, an all-purpose forward whose questionable right knee and inflated weight have raised concern as to whether he will be allowed to begin practice Friday. Team doctors will examine him Thursday.
Williams, 23, played in only 18 games before a ligament tear in his right knee Dec. 2 ended his season. He has been fined close to $100,000 for failing to follow prescribed therapy to rehabilitate his knee and reportedly ballooned to 304 pounds at one point this summer.
His uncertain status also has put a temporary hold on any trades new general manager John Nash might have in mind.
"John Williams' ability to play will definitely affect what we need," Nash said. "With John, we're definitely competitive. Without him, we'll struggle most nights.
"His presence solves so many of our problems. His flexibility gives Wes tremendous options and the team a lot more depth. Do we need a power forward? We can't really say until we ascertain how close John is to playing again."
Eackles' problem is more one of worth than girth. The third-year guard, who served as an understudy to scoring leader Jeff Malone the past two seasons, is the team's lone holdout.
Apparently sensing the Bullets' vulnerability at shooting guard after the trade of Malone in the June deal that netted forward-center Ellison, Eackles' agent, Ed Sapir, is seeking a four-year, $8 million package. Nash made a four-year offer of $2.8 million.
When the stalemate continued, Nash proposed a one-year deal as a compromise.
"Sure, we'd consider it," Sapir said yesterday. "But he [Nash] didn't attach any figures to his last proposal. If it's an offer we can't refuse, with a lot of built-in guarantees, we'd have to study it."
Although Eackles averaged 25.3 points as a part-time starter last season, Nash said the 6-5 guard has yet to prove his consistency. Unseld acknowledges Eackles' offensive potential, but expresses concern over mental lapses on defense.
Without Eackles, Unseld would be forced to rely on journeyman Steve Colter, second-round draft pick A.J. English or Mike Morrison, a Loyola College alumnus who is in camp on a tryout basis after Friday's conditional trade with the Phoenix Suns.
Williams and Eackles are the biggest concerns, but they are not the only questions Unseld must ponder.
Ellison, the first player chosen in the 1989 National Basketball Association draft after an outstanding collegiate career at Louisville, is unproven as a pro.
As a rookie, he played in only 34 games for the Sacramento Kings. Surgery to remove bone spurs on his right foot and tendinitis in his big toe kept Ellison, 6-10, 225 pounds, sidelined most of the season. He became a starter March 1. In 21 games, he averaged 8.0 points and 5.0 rebounds.
"I'm still not certain what Pervis' skill levels are like," Unseld said. "If he is anything like he was in college, he could provide us with offense in the post area and help Charles Jones defend against the bigger centers in the league."
The only certain starters going into camp are King at small forward and Walker at point guard. Their consistency was one of the only positives in a 31-51 finish last season. Forwards Mark Alarie and Harvey Grant proved solid in backup roles, and both have spent the summer bulking up. Tom Hammonds, last year's No. 1 pick from Georgia Tech, had a disappointing rookie season, but he may be tried this season at small forward.
Greg Foster, the Bullets' other second-round choice this June, is a 6-11 center from Texas-El Paso who exhibits speed, grace and a delicate shooting touch, but averaged only 10.8 points and 7.7 rebounds in two seasons at UTEP.
Said Nash: "I don't like to paint false pictures. And, right now, I can't really picture how this team is going to be."