Bullets drop balloons, curtain on 22-60 season Was loss to Celtics Unseld's last act?

April 26, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- With eight minutes left in the third quarter of the Washington Bullets game against the Boston Celtics yesterday, a basket of extra-large balloons was prematurely released from the Capital Centre catwalk.

It was "Fan Appreciation Day," but the only reason to celebrate was that the Bullets' horrendous 1992-93 season had ended.

For the record, the playoff-bound Celtics got a wake-up call in the last 17 minutes to overcome a 64-59 deficit and roll to a 106-99 victory.

An ailing Kevin McHale probably played the final regular-season game of his 12-year career, and there were more tears shed for him than for the Bullets (22-60), who concluded their worst season in 26 years, dating to the 1966-67 Baltimore Bullets, before Earl Monroe and Wes Unseld arrived to make the franchise competitive.

There was naturally speculation over the coaching future of Unseld, who has missed the playoffs the past five years, with a combined record of 148-262.

RTC Unseld and owner Abe Pollin have put the decision on hold pending a private meeting within the next few weeks.

"Right now, I just want to relax for a few days," said Unseld, who left a front-office post in 1987 to replace Kevin Loughery as coach. "When it comes time to make a decision, I won't limit the focus to myself, but what direction I believe the team should take, everything."

Yesterday's game underlined Unseld's persistent problem in trying to put a competitive team on the floor.

Rookie forward Tom Gugliotta, one of the few pluses of a frustrating season, was the only regular in a starting lineup that featured Mark Acres, an emergency center in the absence of Pervis Ellison and Charles Jones, and rookie Mark Price running the offense.

Forward Harvey Grant (foot) and playmaker Michael Adams (finger) had joined the two sore-kneed centers on the sidelines. It took a 28-point effort from reserve forward Larry Stewart (Coppin State), who scored 60 points in the last two games, to keep the game close for more than a half.

"This whole year was a struggle," said Unseld. "The anticipation was great for a lot of people at the start of the season, but those closer to the situation were more realistic."

By finishing with the third-worst record in the NBA, the lottery-bound Bullets have an excellent opportunity to land one of the top three picks, and will choose no worse than sixth in the June 30 draft.

Early speculation is that given one of the first two choices, the Bullets would select either 7-foot-6 center Shawn Bradley, who played one season at Brigham Young before a two-year missionary tour in Australia, or Michigan's Chris Webber, if the power forward opts to skip his last two years of college.

Unseld, aware that Grant and Ellison would be vulnerable playing against bigger rivals night after night, thinks the addition of an agile, wide-body like Webber would relieve some of the frontcourt pressure, and also allow Gugliotta to play a less-physical position.

But general manager John Nash perceives Bradley as a "one-of-a-kind" center, the likes of which may not be available for another five years, if that soon.

"We'd just like the luxury of having to choose between a Bradley and Webber," said Nash.

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