EMMITSBURG -- In two weeks of training camp at Mount St. Mary's College, Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld has received hints but no substantial evidence as to what to expect from his team when the 1991-92 NBA season begins in 20 days.
Unseld has changed his offensive and defensive philosophies after a 30-52 finish last season, stressing a relentless fast break and a trapping, pressing defense.
"The players in camp seem to have an understanding of what we're trying to do," said Unseld, "but we'll get a good idea of how effective it is when we start playing other teams. Then we'll have to decide if that's the best way for us to play."
The first of eight preseason tests comes tonight against the New York Knicks at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. As important as it is to test his new strategies, Unseld will use these games to make personnel decisions.
Preseason knee surgery for forwards Bernard King and Mark Alarie, the continued absence of forward John Williams, an ankle injury to top draft pick LaBradford Smith and the departure of last year's starting backcourt of Darrell Walker and Haywoode Workman has left Unseld with at least five roster spots to fill by Nov. 1.
In fairness to the six free agents still in contention and holdover guard Larry Robinson, Unseld has avoided singling out individuals for praise. Still, there are several clear-cut favorites for the vacancies.
There is a need for a backup point guard behind Michael Adams, acquired from the Denver Nuggets in June to trigger the uptempo offense Unseld wants to employ.
Free agents Kurk Lee, a Dunbar High and Towson State alum who played for the New Jersey Nets last season, and Corey Gaines, out of Loyola Marymount, who has had brief trials with New Jersey, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Denver Nuggets, are waging a lively battle for this spot.
David Wingate also is being auditioned at the point. The defensive skills of the former Dunbar and Georgetown player help his chances.
Wingate was waived by the San Antonio Spurs in June after missing most of the 1990-91 season while facing rape charges and a civil lawsuit stemming from two incidents in Maryland and San Antonio last summer. The San Antonio criminal charge was dropped and the suit was settled out of court. The Maryland charge was placed on a docket that dismisses the case if Wingate faces no more legal trouble within a year.
Unseld faces a more critical problem in his frontcourt. He had envisioned starting the new season with a solid foursome of King, Williams, Pervis Ellison and Harvey Grant. No one knows when the first two will return, and Grant suffered an ankle injury in yesterday's scrimmage that will keep him out of the first two exhibition games.
King's younger brother, Albert, is making a strong bid to fill his vacated spot at small forward. Albert King, an All-America selection at Maryland, played eight seasons in the NBA before spending the last two seasons in Israel and with the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association.
King, most effective in the transition game, is competing against free agent Larry Stewart, out of Coppin State, who has a knack for being around the ball.
Unseld is weighing other options. He has considered shifting shooting guard Ledell Eackles to small forward to use his strength and offensive ability. This plan has been put on hold until Eackles works himself into playing shape.
Grant, regarded as a natural small forward, has been forced to play the power position due to Williams' absence.
In the same sense, Ellison is playing center by default for the Bullets' want of a more sizable pivot man. He is supported by eight-year veteran Charles Jones, another undersized center, and second-year pro Greg Foster, who is still regarded as a project.
Without reasonable facsimiles of Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon on his roster, Unseld is hoping quickness will compensate for the lack of muscle and consistent rebounding.
"I'm not locked into anything," Unseld said. "We have to give this a chance to work, but there is a Plan B. The main thing is that we don't want teams dictating to us. We want to act, not react."
His players appear to favor the uptempo game.
"Basketball is a game where sometimes it takes a long time to learn a little thing," said Ellison. "It is tough learning a new system, but we've come a long way in two weeks. And I think we have the people to make it work."
The Bullets will remain on the road until Oct. 24, when they will return home to practice before concluding their preseason schedule with games against the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons.