Bullets shot blanks through the preseason Absence of Williams,Eackles puts team in hole

October 30, 1990|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Correspondent

BOWIE -- The Washington Bullets had no victories in their six-game preseason schedule, and new general manager John Nash has no illusions about the team the Bullets put on the floor.

Speaking of coach Wes Unseld, Nash said: "He's working with mirrors right now. He just doesn't have any ammunition."

More bluntly, the Bullets have been shooting blanks the past two weeks. Unseld has been forced to rely on a depleted roster that closely resembles that of an expansion team. Two of his projected starters, forward John Williams and shooting guard Ledell Eackles, are still missing with the season opener in Miami only three days away.

Williams, the team's most versatile player, is under contract, but vowing to remain in Los Angeles until more than $270,000 in fines -- the club's penalty for failure to maintain his rehabilitation program following knee surgery last December -- is rescinded.

Eackles, a restricted free agent, is seeking a substantial pay raise. Groomed as the successor to team scoring leader Jeff Malone, who was traded for forward Pervis Ellison, the third-year

guard is also threatening to sit out the season.

His agent, Ed Sapir of New Orleans, opened the bargaining by seeking a four-year contract worth $8 million. Yesterday, Sapir .. said that he was now working with Bullets owner Abe Pollin on a possible two-year deal. But after a weekend of give-and-take, their bottom-line numbers were still far apart.

"Ledell is in Washington and can be in camp tomorrow," Sapir said. "I just want fair market value. Look at what [Charlotte Hornets'] Muggsy Bogues [of Dunbar] and [Denver Nuggets'] Michael Adams are getting and go from there."

Adams and Bogues, who are former Bullets, are each earning more than $1 million per year.

Said Nash, "You don't anticipate problems, but sometimes I look at the worst-case scenario.

"Everyone thought Williams would be all right, but even before I ++ came to the Bullets, the team was having problems getting him to do his therapy. So what has happened is not totally surprising.

"In John's case, we have to support our medical staff. They're the ones who have to decide if he is ready to play, and we can't disregard what they tell us. When John was checked out by our representative at the Jobe-Kerlan clinic [Oct. 3], his weight was such that we were advised he wasn't fit to play."

The stalemate with Eackles is strictly a money issue.

"Ideally, it would have been better to have signed Eackles before trading Malone," Nash said. "Once Jeff was gone, we knew it would be a difficult negotiating process."

Unseld has managed to keep a stiff upper lip through all the pre- season trials and tribulations.

Two years ago, top management agreed the team needed a major overhaul with the accent on youth. But the rebuilding plans were severely cramped by the absence of a a No. 1 draft choice this past June.

"The only first-round pick we've had he past two years was [forward] Tommy Hammonds," Unseld said.

"You make plans, but sometimes you get sidetracked. But I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me. I still have one of the best 27 jobs in the NBA," said the Hall of Fame center beginning his third year as head coach.

"I don't think I can work any harder than past years. I just have to be more patient. John Nash has done everything possible to help this team. He's searched out all the nooks and crannies.

"But we're going in with two big pieces missing, and the big question is whether we can make the adjustments without them. It won't be pretty in the beginning. Right now, I'm looking for leadership from some of my veterans.

"I've got a lot of young players, and I expect a lot of mistakes early in the season. But I won't complain if they're made at full speed."

TC Unseld has been forced to mix, match and patch because of the absence of Eackles and Williams and nagging injuries that kept all-purpose point guard Darrell Walker and reserve forward Hammonds sidelined through most of the preseason.

Almost by default, free-agent guards Haywoode Workman and Larry Robinson have proved the Bullets' most effective backcourt combination.

Rookie guard A.J. English, the NCAA Division II Player of the Year from Virginia Union, has been struggling with his shooting and has made Eackles' absence critical.

Up front, a somewhat fragile Ellison is still feeling his way, rebounding effectively but thinking pass before shoot. It has placed even more of a scoring burden on veteran Bernard King, again displaying All-Star form.

One of the few pleasant surprises has been the improved play of first draft pick Greg Foster. After a sluggish start, the 6-10 forward from Texas-El Paso has displayed skills as a shooter, passer and rebounder. Unseld constantly prods him to be more assertive on the boards.

The Bullets have gaping holes to fill in both the front and backcourt, but Nash and Unseld are in agreement that they will not sacrifice any more No. 1 draft choices.

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