What caliber Bullets? Unseld's mixed in the young, but many of old are missing

November 01, 1991|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Evening Sun Staff

The plan was to exchange older players for younger players. That's still the plan. The big problem is in the execution.

When Washington coach Wes Unseld sends forward Charles Jones, center Pervis Ellison, forward Harvey Grant, shooting guard A.J. English and point guard Michael Adams onto the floor tonight in the Bullets opener in Indianapolis, he will have a mix of young and old, but it won't be the mix he expected. Unseld said he has no idea what to expect.

"I really don't know about this team yet," Unseld said yesterday after practice. "I'm concerned. But I'm just dumb enough to think we might come together faster than people think."

General manager John Nash, who is working overtime trying to find a way out of this seemingly endless stretch of misfortune, is, perhaps, more realistic.

"We figured that if we could get enough quality younger guys, we should have success," Nash said. "But, right now we're far from being on a level to compete with the best teams in the NBA."

The problem is that holdouts, injuries and lousy luck have undermined the plan -- for another season. As difficult as it may be to believe -- and Unseld said he doesn't believe it -- the Bullets are in worse shape at the start of this season than they were a year ago, when they tipped off with John Williams and Ledell Eackles on the sidelines and wound up with a 30-52 record.

This time, Williams again is on the suspended list. But a quirky turn of events yesterday afternoon may be on the way to changing that.

Williams met with Nash, owner Abe Pollin and vice chairman Jerry Sachs. According to a prepared release, which the team said would be its only comment on the matter, Williams was given "two appointments for physical exams" today. Until he passes the team physical, he will remain on the suspended list.

"When John Williams passes the physical and is deemed by team doctors and the head coach to be fit and ready to play, we will make the necessary roster adjustments," the statement said.

On the plus side, Eackles is ready to play, but Bernard King, the veteran All-Star whose 28.4-point average carried the team many nights, is out indefinitely following September knee surgery, as is veteran forward Mark Alarie.

"I was listening to ESPN the other night," said Adams, who arrived from Denver in a summer trade. "The guy was talking about the teams in the NBA and when he came to us, he said, Well, they're the same old Bullets. They've got guys out. They've got guys injured. They've got no preseason wins. Don't look for them to show any improvement this year.' It sort of xTC ticked me off. It's not fair to judge us on the preseason [0-8 record]. That was experimentation time, getting to know everyone time. I think we're going to be all right."

Adams is a floor leader. One NBA scout who watched him play in Denver called him "Napoleon." Where he leads, others follow. And that is a plus, since in the absence of King, much of the burden will be on the 5-foot-10, six-year veteran.

"Bernard is a go-to guy when you need 20-plus points," said Adams. "It's a big loss when he's out of the lineup. But we're gaining me. I'll take up some of that. I'm ready to accept part of the burden, but Pervis and Harvey and the other guys have to step up.

"We just have to compete. For us, the first 10 games will tell a lot about where we're going to be," he said. "We've got to get off to a good start and hold the fort until Bernard gets back."

The Bullets' three key players going into this season are Grant, Ellison and Adams. At this point, they are not The Three Musketeers, slashing up the opposition.

On the positive side, Grant was one of the league's most improved players last season, averaging 18.2 points and 7.2 rebounds. And, by the end of last season, Ellison showed he has the potential to become an impact player.

Surrounding them will be the new veteran faces of forward Albert King, guards David Wingate and Andre Turner (picked up off the waiver wire from Philadelphia yesterday) and rookie forward Larry Stewart.

"Youth is the one valuable commodity we have," said Nash. "I don't think it is unrealistic to believe Harvey and Pervis are going to get better. I don't think it is unrealistic to believe that there is a chance for them to have big years. How big remains to be seen."

The biggest problem and the one that has haunted the Bullets for a number of years is the lack of what Nash refers to as "a wide-bodied, physical player" to play power forward or center.

"That's my biggest concern," he said. "That means we're going to have to rely on our athleticism and finesse. It would be nice to have a monster of sorts to go to."

Adams is known for his ability to push the ball up the court and that will prove invaluable in Unseld's up-tempo offense. At least it might, if the Bullets are able to rebound and get the fastbreak rolling.

Unseld said he believes the team's overall defense will be improved, as will its ball handling. Not surprisingly, it is offense that worries him most.

"I don't think we'll score more points than we did last year," Unseld said. "You don't take 30 points out of your offense, like we do with Bernard being out, and expect someone to produce them. As good as Michael Adams is, on his best night he's not going to score 30 points. We've got to get our points in transition -- and in that I include fastbreaks, early offense, motion offense, those types of transitions. I don't think we're big enough, strong enough or tough enough to sit down and beat people."

But the Bullets' motto is "You've gotta believe" and Unseld does. The only question is will faith be enough to overcome the rest of the NBA.

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