Wes Unseld, who has posted a 131-170 record in nearly three seasons as coach of the Washington Bullets, has said he would like to continue his role "until I get it right."
Unseld, 45, was granted that opportunity last weekend when he signed a three-year contract to continue the rebuilding job he began in January 1987, when he replaced Kevin Loughery, his close friend and former Bullets teammate.
There was never a question that Unseld would remain in control this season, with training camp opening Tuesday. But last Friday, Unseld, who also is a team vice president, told owner Abe Pollin he was willing to continue coaching through the 1993-94 season.
"The reason there was no formal press notification is that Wes prefers it that way -- no fanfare," said Bullets president Susan O'Malley.
"In the past, even when Wes was playing, he and Abe always shook hands on a contract. Their word was their bond. But the league requires a formal contract on file, and so I had to get Wes to sign the agreement."
Without revealing figures, O'Malley said Unseld received a raise. His previous contract called for a reported $350,000 per year.
The Bullets have missed the playoffs the past two seasons, but rival coaches and general managers repeatedly praise Unseld for maximizing his players' talents.
"Judging him by his won-lost record as a coach doesn't begin to tell the story with Wes," said Bullets general manager John Nash. "He has the same unique ability he had as a player to command respect.
"Coaching involves strategy, but it also involves handling men, and no one does a better job of motivating his players than Wes. He doesn't have to raise his voice, and yet I've heard him make some fiery halftime speeches. But he also knows when to say nothing."
Unseld, who has said he never had aspired to be a coach after his Hall of Fame playing career ended in 1980, imparts a simple philosophy.
"I always tell my guys to give me two good hours of work every night of the season and you shouldn't have any problems," he said. "If they don't -- superstar or not -- they're going to be sitting next to me.
"I'll scream, holler and bitch, yes, even threaten, if I think that's what it takes to get maximum effort."
Many rival coaches believe Unseld has an unusual sense of job security because of his close relationship with Pollin.
"I always hear that, but it's a lot of bull," Unseld said. "Loughery and Bob Ferry [former Bullets player, assistant coach and general manager] were also favorites of Abe, but he ultimately fired both of them. Abe is into winning as much as any other sports owner. He's not interested in qualifying for the NBA lottery."
Said Pollin: "There are a lot of former great players who didn't become great coaches, but Wes is the exception. I think he'll be on the job until we win another championship."
NOTES: G LaBradford Smith, the Bullets' first-round draft choice from Louisville, will have his sprained ankle re-examined by team orthopedist Steve Haas today. Smith is in a cast after injuring his ankle in a Houston workout 2 weeks ago. He is expected to miss all of training camp and the preseason schedule. His injury has delayed the signing of a 4-year contract reportedly worth $3.36 million.