Ferry says Bullets are right on schedule in rebuilding effort

Bill Tanton

March 18, 1993|By Bill Tanton

To you, maybe, the Washington Bullets are a disaster.

Of the 27 teams in the NBA, only Dallas and Minnesota have a worse record. For the fifth straight year, the Bullets will not make the playoffs.

But to Bob Ferry, who has spent most of his adult life with the Bullets and the NBA, the team is merely "on schedule."

Speaking at the monthly sports luncheon at J. Patrick's the other day, Ferry revealed some things that may shed a new light on the operation of owner Abe Pollin's pro basketball team.

"A decision was made [in 1988] not to re-sign Moses Malone," said Ferry, who was the Bullets general manager for 17 seasons before being replaced by John Nash three years ago.

"I was not in favor of letting Moses go, but it was an organizational thing. The media and the fans were tired of seeing us getting knocked out of the playoffs early every year.

"The feeling within the organization was that, with Moses, we'd continue to be mediocre. In Moses' last year with us, we went to the playoffs and lost in the first round to Detroit in five games -- and Detroit went on to the finals and lost to the Lakers in seven.

"But the teams that were coming up at that time were doing it with young kids. We decided to do it the same way, through rebuilding. You have to remember -- what's happening is part of a plan. The Bullets have brought in some good, young talent. They made a great No. 1 pick this year in Tom Gugliotta. I think they're right on schedule.

"If there's light at the end of the tunnel, if the Bullets have a strength, it's the coach. Wes Unseld is a good coach and he has total control. Abe lets him do what he wants to do. The only way the plan is going to fail is if people get impatient."

The public is impatient now, of course, but Ferry says it won't take a miracle to turn the Bullets around.

"People say you need a big man," said Ferry, "but look at the teams that have been winning the championships without a big man -- Chicago, with Michael Jordan; L.A., with Magic Johnson; the Celtics, with Larry Bird. You might put Isiah Thomas of the Pistons in there.

"What the Bullets need is a great player at any position who has the desire to win like Michael and Magic and Larry. A guy like that makes the other players better.

"You'll find a lot of players in the NBA with the will to win, and you'll find some with great talent. But it's not often you find a player with both."

There are Bullets followers, I've been reminded since listening to Ferry the other day, who don't think Bob knows a good player when he sees one. They point, for instance, to his having made Wake Forest's Kenny Green his No. 1 pick in 1985.

"That's the one pick I might regret," Ferry says. "Everybody who drafts makes some bad picks. The trouble is, the things that don't work out are more remembered than the things that do.

"What about Muggsy Bogues and Manute Bol? People criticized me for drafting those two [Bol in '85, Bogues in '87] but they're both still in the league [Bol with Philadelphia, Bogues with Charlotte]. Bogues is third in the league in assists, but people thought I was crazy making a 5-foot-3 guy my first pick.

"I drafted Jeff Malone. I brought in Jeff Ruland. I could go on and on. Drafting is the exciting part of the job for a GM. After that, it's the coach's team. I had two coaches with the Bullets -- K.C. Jones and Dick Motta -- who didn't want any part of the draft. The others wanted to have input."

Ferry lives near Annapolis with his wife, Rita. At 55, he still plays basketball three times a week at the Naval Academy.

The Ferrys own a dish and can watch all their son Danny's Cleveland Cavaliers games by satellite. When the Cavs were snowed in here last weekend Danny, the former Duke All-America, enjoyed the rare treat of spending some time with his parents.

Bob Ferry, who came to the Baltimore Bullets in 1964 in a trade with Detroit, played for a 55-and over team this year that won a Maryland-wide competition. The team is to go to New Orleans to compete for what he calls "the national old guys championship."

He says he would consider another NBA job if it were "the right job." In the meantime, he's pulling for the Bullets' rebuilding program to pay off. Though his parting from the Bullets was "by mutual agreement," he continues to have the highest personal regard for both Pollin and Unseld.

"I think Wes should stick it out," Ferry says. "He's put up with all this losing. He ought to stay around to enjoy the success. Remember, this was a plan."

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