Today is "E-Day" for the Washington Bullets. That is "E" for veteran guard Ledell Eackles, who is expected to be activated, necessitating a roster cut before tomorrow night's home game against the Golden State Warriors.
"We're going to hold a full-scale scrimmage [today]," Bullets coach Wes Unseld said before Saturday night's 107-105 overtime victory against the Indiana Pacers. "If Ledell can go through half a scrimmage, guard someone and get out and run hard, then he'll have convinced me that he is ready to rejoin the team."
All signs are positive. Assistant coach Bill Blair, who spent the past week putting Eackles through a rigorous training program, said he was encouraged by the progress of the third-year guard, who missed all of training camp while negotiating a new, two-year contract worth $1.4 million.
"Ledell really worked hard, even on the Thanksgiving holiday," Blair said. "He strained his ankle, but he still came back for two-a-days on Friday and Saturday. He has definitely lost weight, and he wants to play badly."
Eackles, dressed in civilian clothes, looked trim before the Pacers game.
"I've never worked so hard to get in shape over a short period of time," said the 6-foot-5 guard, who was expected to replace traded team scoring leader Jeff Malone as the starting shooting guard.
"I'm down to 228 pounds. That's only three more pounds than I played at last season. I'm ready to get into the thick of things and prove to people that I still have it."
Eackles' offense has been sorely missed in the first 11 games. Unseld's two fill-ins at shooting guard -- rookies A.J. English (8.7 ppg) and Larry Robinson (6.7) -- have combined for just more than 15 points a game. That is 22.4 points fewer than the combination of Malone and Eackles produced at the position last season.
The lack of productivity at shooting guard prompted Unseld to bench Robinson and start two point guards -- Darrell Walker and Haywoode Workman -- against the Pacers. Workman contributed 14 points, including the game-winning layup with three seconds left in overtime.
Regarded as the only legitimate ball-handler to back up Walker, Workman, who played in six games as a rookie for the Atlanta Hawks, seems secure in his supporting role with the Bullets.
"With Walker and Williams playing together, we pushed the ball up the floor and got more points in transition," said Unseld.
To make room for Eackles, Unseld probably will have to choose between Robinson, the free-agent rookie from Centenary who is shooting 38 percent from the field, or second-year guard Byron Irvin, obtained from the Sacramento Kings at the start of the season for Steve Colter.
To cut Irvin, who has played 44 minutes in six games, the Bullets must be willing to pay off his guaranteed contract. Irvin, a low first-round pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1989, reportedly earns an estimated $350,000.
Bullets general manager John Nash has said that Irvin's contract will not be a prime issue, but it's hard to recall the last time team owner Abe Pollin paid a player not to perform.