Bullets' camp begins amid uncertainty Top pick Gugliotta still not signed

October 08, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W. Va. -- Here are some of the major problems facing coach Wes Unseld when he assembles his 1992-93 Washington Bullets tomorrow for their first full-scale preseason scrimmage at Shepherd College:

* His starting center, Pervis Elli- son, is a true power forward.

* His power forward, Harvey Grant, is a legitimate small forward.

* His small forward, Larry Stewart, lacks the finesse for the position and plays more like a power forward.

* His point guard, Michael Adams, is most effective as a shooting guard.

* His shooting guard, Rex Chapman, played only one game last season.

* And his top draft pick, forward Tom Gugliotta, remains unsigned and absent.

These six players represent the nucleus of a team trying to improve on last year's disappointing 25-57 finish in the Eastern Conference.

But with the opening game in Charlotte almost a month away, Unseld and general manager John Nash are generally upbeat.

"I still want to use the month of October to improve this team," said Nash. With last year's two swingmen -- Ledell Eackles and David Wingate -- apparently unwanted, Unseld will determine if second-round draft choice Brent Price of Oklahoma is capable of playing both guard positions. Price impressed the Bullets coaches with his shooting range and accuracy in pre-camp workouts at Bowie State.

Free agent Rudy Archer, who played the 1987-88 season at Maryland before being academically suspended, also will get a chance to win the job as Adams' backup.

Buck Johnson, a small forward with leaping ability, should give the Bullets added frontcourt depth in support of Grant and Stewart. And Johnson should provide more defense than Eackles did last season at small forward.

But Nash also is seeking another proven scorer. He may be interested in signing former New York Knicks guard Gerald Wilkins, who could also play small forward in Unseld's motion offense.

To sign Wilkins, however, the Bullets would need to offer in excess of $1.5 million, a sum presently unavailable under their salary cap.

Then, of course, there is the frustrating case of versatile forward John Williams, who was barred from playing last season because of his excessive weight (over 300 pounds). Nash believes Williams will again be disqualified by the Bullets medical staff if and when he undergoes a physical exam.

Among all these negatives, Nash manages to sound a few positive notes.

"In essence, we're adding two lottery picks this year," he said. "We've got Gugliotta [chosen sixth overall this past June], plus Chapman [eighth pick by Charlotte in 1988]. For all intents and purposes, Rex wasn't on our team last season. He only played in the final game.

"If you add Gugliotta and Chapman to our top three -- Ellison, nTC Adams and Grant -- that's a pretty solid starting five. Plus we're expecting help from Johnson and an improved Stewart. And we need Price and [LaBradford] Smith to give us something off the bench."

But Nash fingers Ellison, voted the NBA's most improved player last season, as the key if the Bullets are going to improve.

"Last year, Pervis went from being good to outstanding," said Nash. "I don't think any of us think he's stopped improving. I expect him to have an All-Star caliber season. He's gotten a lot stronger, bulking up some 20 pounds."

Typically, Unseld is more restrained in his optimism. His wariness is based on Gugliotta's continued absence from camp while the Bullets and his agent, Richard Howell, assess his "fair market value."

"It's difficult to wait on a rookie you think is going to be a major part of your team," said Unseld, who favored the re-signing of Eackles. "Tom really has to be here from 'Jump Street' or he is going to fall far behind the rest of the players, and then I don't know how much he'll be able to help us."

Unseld must also look for someone to create openings in the half-court game, a glaring weakness last season. Adams, who made the All-Star team with a strong early-season performance, is most effective in the open floor or popping his patented three-pointers from 30-foot range.

"We need someone besides Adams to push the ball up the floor," Unseld said. "When we reverted to a half-court game, we became stagnant. When Bernard [King] was healthy, his one-on-one ability opened things up. Now we have to hope that Chapman and Price will give us more of a perimeter game."

At this point, there are far more questions than answers for Unseld. The best guess is that come November, at least one or two new faces will be on the opening day roster.

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