Bullets shoot from the lip, brimming with optimism about the new season

Phil Jackman

November 03, 1993|By Phil Jackman

BOWIE -- There's a saying in baseball to the effect that all teams are champions in spring training. Same applies in pro hoops and probably every other sport for that matter, so there was the gang from the Washington Bullets talking up what a terrific season lies straight ahead.

"I've been in professional sports for 30 years now and I'm senior man [owner] in the NBA by 10 years. And I have this feeling," Abe Pollin was saying. "I see a tremendous difference in this year and last in our team's attitude. I'm looking forward to a winning and exciting year."

Before he gave up the floor, Pollin admitted that around the USAir Arena he's often referred to as the "nutty optimist."

Undaunted and obviously feeling no pressure as a result of the owner's rosy prospectus, general manager John Nash went Pollin one better, referring to the team as "pretty good. And when we get our key people back from injury, we'll be very good."

Hold on, John, this club that went 22-60 last year and has lost at least 50 games each of the past four seasons will be very good?

"For the first time since I've been here," Nash answered, "we're pulling in the same direction. I'm proud of the components we've put together here."

Recall, there were times late last season when the Bullets resembled a bunch of strangers introduced for the first time just before entering the players' entrance to the arena. With a chunk of the schedule still remaining back in March, coach Wes Unseld said, "It bothers me that some of the guys don't seem to think we can win and they can't get up for the games. They should be ecstatic about the opportunity to play."

Unseld, a man who keeps his thoughts as guarded as a state secret, was almost effervescent while predicting, "This team will be interesting to watch, talk about and report on. And the key to how well we do could come down to three factors, players I'm looking forward to providing the leadership we've been searching for."

The coach related how throughout camp and the exhibition season the three players in question -- Michael Adams, Pervis Ellison and Tom Gugliotta -- had not only stepped forward but had welcomed the opportunity to shoulder the responsibility of leading and influencing younger players.

Adams, the jet-propelled veteran guard, gave a good impression of a guy who can't wait for the opening tip in Philadelphia Friday night. "Kevin Duckworth, in the post, is going to give us a lot of action down low we didn't have last year," he said. "We've got a lot of guys who can shoot and we all know our jobs better.

"We've got to come together and play unselfish basketball and I think we'll do that. We're still a fairly young team, but we've got experience so we can't use youth as an excuse anymore."

From the first day of practice, Gugliotta noticed "a good feeling, a feeling that everyone wants to win and is not going to worry about who gets all the points."

While remembering "we didn't set the world on fire in preseason," Nash said, "it was interesting to watch how Wes gave everyone a full and fair chance to play and prove himself. He was true to his word that the guys who worked hardest would be the guys that would be here. And, in the last few games, when we were really trying to win, we did OK."

The Bullets will start the season without Ellison at power forward (still recovering from knee surgery) and without Larry Stewart coming off the bench to help out with the rebounding. They've both on the injured list and Gheorghe Muresan, the 7-7 Romanian everyone is insisting can become a factor almost immediately, will also be missing due to chickenpox.

Still, the Bullets are confident they can get off to a decent start because the battle for roster spots has been so competitive from the start.

Washington's home opener is Saturday (7:30 p.m.) against the Boston Celtics.

A ritual at these season sendoffs is a shooting contest pitting Unseld against Pollin. The coach said, "I've let you win for the last 25 years and I'm sick of it." The owner countered that he had won three of the past four showdowns and to his recollection he was positive that Unseld had never tanked the match.

"You do when you win only 22 games," said Wes.

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