The Washington Bullets, still playing without "six of my best eight players," according to coach Wes Unseld, will face several important roster decisions in the next few days.
It seems certain that rookie guard LaBradford Smith, the No. 1 draft pick from Louisville who missed training camp and the first 10 games this season while nursing a sprained left ankle, will be activated this week, perhaps in time for tomorrow night's game against the Seattle SuperSonics at the Capital Centre.
Less certain is whether the Bullets will want to sign Ralph Sampson, the 7-foot-4 veteran center who has been job-hunting after buying out the remainder of his contract with the Sacramento Kings.
Bullets general manager John Nash was seen huddling with Sampson's agent, Bill Strickland of ProServ, after the Bullets lost to the Utah Jazz on Saturday night. Sampson is expected to audition for Unseld in a private session tomorrow.
"We'll meet with Ralph and decide what happens from there," said Nash. "It all boils down to whether we think he can play a role for us. If he can, he could be useful."
Signing Sampson would be a minimal risk. With the Kings paying him $5 million over the next 10 years, the Bullets could sign the former University of Virginia All-American for the NBA's $130,000 minimum.
After starring with the Houston Rockets, who made him the first selection in the 1983 NBA draft, Sampson suffered serious injuries to both knees and subsequently was traded to the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. Each season, his playing time and productivity diminished.
With last season's scoring leader Bernard King (knee surgery) not likely to return until January and Harvey Grant still out with a sore foot, most of the Bullets' scoring burden up front has fallen on Pervis Ellison (18.1) and steadily improving Tom Hammonds (14.0).
Injuries also have caused Unseld to force-feed rookie forward Larry Stewart of Coppin State, who started the past three games and played key roles in overtime road victories last week against the Minnesota Timberwolves and New Jersey Nets.
But in elevating Hammonds and Stewart to starting roles, Unseld has left his bench short of offensive help, and Sampson could prove valuable in a limited role.
Unseld has a definite need for Smith, with projected starting guard Ledell Eackles sidelined with a groin pull and A.J. English and David Wingate struggling with their shooting.
Smith also could be tested as a backup point guard, where Andre Turner has failed to impress anyone as understudy to Michael Adams, who is among the league leaders in scoring (27.6) and assists (9.7).
"LaBradford has to be able to jump off his left foot before we'll re-activate him," said Nash. "Right now, he's still jumping only on one foot. We also want to see if there is any swelling the day after he has a hard workout. We should know if he's ready by Tuesday."
If the Bullets add Smith and Sampson this week, Turner and reserve forward Albert King appear the most vulnerable. King, who won a roster spot off a strong preseason showing, has played a total of 21 minutes, with Hammonds and Stewart dominating the time at small forward.
There is also the possibility that the slow-healing Eackles, who has missed the past five games, could be placed on the injured list, freeing a spot for Smith or Sampson.