Bullets realize Eackles, Williams have to motivate themselves

October 11, 1991|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Evening Sun Staff

EMMITSBURG -- Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld says when it comes to pride, self-motivation and commitment, "You can't coach it or preach it. Either you have it or you don't."

Bullets general manager John Nash, who has had to deal with the cases of John Williams and Ledell Eackles, says he has found those personal traits can not be legislated, either.

"There comes a time when it is too tedious to continue to cajole, encourage or even attempt to intimidate a player into working for a million dollars," said Nash. "Yes, it sounds crazy. It is crazy. I know how hard people in the real world have to work for their money. I appreciate what the fans shell out for tickets. It's unconscionable to have people with the opportunity to make this kind of money squander it."

Williams failed to show up for camp for the second time in two years and has filed a grievance against the club for back pay totaling about $500,000.

Eackles is in camp, unlike last year when he held out over a contract dispute, but he is not in shape.

The Bullets have tried everything they are allowed to do to get both Williams and Eackles to commit to a professional-caliber training program.

At the end of last season, Nash asked both players to stay in Washington and work out with the Bullets trainers. Both declined.

Both were given workout instructions. Both were told their weight requirements and their conditioning requirements.

In Williams' case, Bullets management signed an agreement with him that they would give him his back pay in $100,000 increments if he weighed in at a specific weight the first of each month.

He made the 276-pound mark on the first weigh-in in June. He didn't make the 272 mark July 1. Nash saw him playing a game July 31, the day before his third weigh-in, which Williams did not show for.

"John has known since last April what was expected," Nash said. "When I saw him at that game, July 31, he was nowhere near that level. He was about 20 pounds over. My feelings now, if I have any emotion, is hope. But realistically, I don't believe John will put himself in condition to pass our physical."

An NBA general manager can say no to renegotiating contracts, no to trade requests. He can impose fines, withhold pay and offer inducements for weight achievement. He can ask or "invite," as Nash terms it, a player to work out with team trainers. But he can't make a player do any of it.

If worse comes to worse, and a player is more of a distraction than he is worth, a team can cut him loose, but the team must continue to pay his contracted salary.

"Money should be an incentive for most people," said Nash. "But in most cases these athletes have been catered to since high school. They've been given jobs they don't need to show up for by alumni. Maybe a few of them draw the conclusion they should get paid for not working.

"We have one of those who expected to be paid for not working and we have one who did not work to his potential. We're not alone in the latter category. You can identify any number of them around the league who had five-year careers instead of 15-year careers."

Nash can rattle off a list of them, but he also can cite success stories.

"Charles Barkley told me the reason he started working out year-round was because he was tired of crash diets and 30 days of nothing but chicken soup and saunas," said Nash. "Adrian Dantley is another guy who used outstanding conditioning to extend his career here and continues to play in Europe."

Nash said it is up to the individual to make the commitment to professional excellence. He said only Eackles can decide if he wants to be in the NBA five years from now, "because without a commitment to punish himself and get in shape to play basketball, he won't make it."

Unseld, who was notorious for his own conditioning as a player and for his boot camp-like training camps, is surprisingly non-critical.

"When I was a player, I was always in shape," said Unseld. "I worked at it all summer and one of the things I prided myself on, was that every year I always had the lowest standing heart rate -- 52 was the highest I ever was."

Unseld said he was willing to do whatever it took to be in condition, "because I wanted to play, it was my living, and I wasn't as talented as most of these people."

But when asked about Williams and Eackles he said only, "I'm not going to stand here and run them into the ground. I know how tough it is to do the work . . . But that doesn't mean not doing the work is acceptable. It's not to be tolerated."

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