Now that the Washington Bullets have found a way to fit Ledell Eackles into their salary structure, they have only one week to fit him into a uniform.
The 6-foot-5 guard finally signed a contract yesterday -- and was immediately placed on the suspended list. The move was merely a formality, giving the club a chance to get Eackles somewhere close to playing condition.
The maximum Eackles can stay on the suspended list is five days, so he will have to be activated for the home game against Sacramento one week from tonight.
Eackles ended a prolonged holdout yesterday, when he agreed to a two-year contract estimated to be worth about $1.5 million. That triples his $250,000 salary of a year ago, but is far short of his original $8 million, four-year asking price.
Bullets general manager John Nash and Judge Ed Sapir, who negotiated the deal for Eackles, finalized the contract yesterday, but neither would confirm any specifics.
"The addition of Ledell should help relieve Bernard King of some of the scoring load," said Nash. Just how soon that will be, however, remains to be seen.
Like John Williams, the 6-9 forward who missed training camp because of a contract dispute with the Bullets, Eackles is well over his playing weight (215). He probably will need several weeks before approaching game condition.
"Even after he starts working out with the team, it's going to take him time to get ready to play," coach Wes Unseld said before the agreement was reached. "He's not going to be able to just step right in and take over."
That, of course, is what the Bullets had in mind when they traded All-Star guard Jeff Malone during the offseason. That trade left the Bullets without a proven shooting guard -- and in a weak bargaining position in their negotiations with Eackles. They were counting on the third-year guard to step into Malone's role, based on the potential he displayed a year ago.
Eackles averaged 13.5 points, two points more than he did as a rookie, but showed considerable promise in limited starting roles. In eight games as a starter, seven of them as Malone's replacement, Eackles averaged 25.3 points. The Bullets were gambling that he could approach those numbers when they sent Malone to Utah and received center-forward Pervis Ellison from Sacramento in a three-way trade.
With Williams, who missed most of last year with a knee injury, and Eackles both out of the lineup, King is the Bullets' only proven scorer. Williams may not return in time to be a major factor, and it remains to be seen how long it will take Eackles to move into the starting lineup.