EMMITSBURG -- National Basketball Association preseason games usually serve to get the veterans in shape, fine-tune the system and determine which draft picks and free agents have a shot at making the 12-man squad.
But the Washington Bullets, coming off a 31-51 season, have almost a set roster as they open their eight-game exhibition schedule tonight against the New Jersey Nets in New Haven, Conn.
Not counting missing power forward John Williams and holdou shooting guard Ledell Eackles, the remaining 10 roster spots appear filled.
Barring a trade, coach Wes Unseld will retain forwards Bernar King, Harvey Grant, Mark Alarie, Tom Hammonds and Pervis Ellison, obtained during the off-season from the Sacramento Kings. Charles Jones will return at center, and Darrell Walker and Steve Colter will be back at guard.
Draft choices A.J. English, a shooting guard, and Greg Foster, forward-center, have guaranteed contracts. English probably would make the club on merit, but Foster's lackadaisical play apparently has not endeared him to the coaches.
The news blackout in negotiations between Bullets genera manager John Nash and Eackles' agent, Ed Sapir, seems to indicate progress. If Eackles is signed, that would leave open only one roster spot -- the one reserved for Williams, the all-purpose forward who has dropped out of sight.
The Bullets did not expect Williams, with his rehabilitated kne and weight problems, to start the season on time. It was one reason Nash found it necessary to trade guard Jeff Malone, the team's scoring leader, for Ellison, 6 feet 10, who played only 34 games his rookie season.
Unseld has seven free agents -- four guards, two forwards and a
center -- still auditioning, but if any of them had impressed the head coach, he managed to hide his enthusiasm.
It has led to speculation that Nash is pursuing a trade rather than settling for a questionable talent to ride the bench.
"I'm ready to make a deal," Nash said after the opening week ocamp. "It's the other general managers who are cowards."
The four backcourt hopefuls -- Mike Morrison, Tony Harris Haywoode Workman and Larry Robinson, all do at least one thing well, but lack complete games.
Workman, of Oral Roberts, has the best ball-handling skillsRobinson, of Centenary, has the best shooting touch; Harris, of the University of New Orleans, has the most athleticism; and Morrison, of Loyola, has the most seasoning after a brief fling with the Phoenix Suns last winter.
NOTES: The Bullets will get a close-up look at former Towso State star Kurk Lee tonight. Lee, a free agent, is vying for a backcourt berth with the Nets and reportedly is challenging holdover Mookie Blaylock. Preseason schedule
Tonight, New Jersey at New Haven, Conn. 8 p.m.
Tomorrow, L.A. Clippers at Richmond, Va. 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Chicago at Iowa City, Iowa 8:30 p.m.
Oct. 20, Indiana, at St. John's, Newf'dland 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 21, Indiana, at Halifax, Nova Scotia 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 25, Cleveland, at Cincinnati 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26, Boston, at Buffalo 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 27, Philadelphia, at Montreal 7:30 p.m.