If Bullets are so funny, where is the laughter?

March 29, 1994|By Phil Jackman

About 10 days ago, in the midst of a disastrous road trip through the West by the Washington Bullets, Tom Gugliotta noticed something during one of the 30-point blowout losses. "We're getting laughed at," the prideful forward said.

There's one thing to be said for serving as a foil for the Warriors, Lakers, Trail Blazers, Nuggets and Rockets: At least the folks in those outposts were provided a few guffaws while cheering a victory.

After all, as Washington president Susan ("Suzy Sellout") O'Malley is wont to say, "Hey, we're in the entertainment business."

But think of the situation when the team returns to USAir Arena and resumes its pratfalls. It is amazing that the franchise can continue to draw 15,000 people to its games, if you can believe the attendance figures put out by the club.

(Assuming the numbers are valid and the team has recorded 17 sellouts, it would seem an airtight case could be made for consumer fraud with considering the team's 19-49 mark.)

In case you haven't noticed, another inglorious season is winding down for the Bullets -- their next loss, probably in Orlando tonight, being No. 50, which signals a need for analysis, commentary and speculation concerning what the future holds for this wretched franchise.

On the surface, it appears as wanton as it has every year since Wes Unseld was elevated to coach (1988) and John Nash was sentenced to general manager (1990). Translation: Forget it.

Just yesterday, in the public prints, appeared a headline, which said it all and, at the same time, said nothing: "Unseld, Nash Clash on Bullets' Direction."

Since these two began "working together" as the team #i braintrust, it has been apparent the day of the week is probably the only thing they are likely to agree on.

Oh, there's been nothing right out in public, understand, but all you had to do is observe. Clearly, Nash, like most observers, hasn't been able to fathom Unseld's coaching style (if one exists), thus making it very tough to provide players Wes might feel comfortable working with.

For example, Washington has pretty much played without a center all year since Kevin Duckworth was hauled in on a flatbed truck (with extra springs) and Pervis Ellison has missed a thousand games with his thousand-year-old knees. So, on another one of those 10-game contract deals last week, Nash fetched a lad named Marty Conlon.

Marty showed up with pretty good numbers, averaging 10 points and six rebounds doing stand-by work in Charlotte, far better than "The Blimp" and "The Limp" have been able to accomplish. But did Unseld use him? Yes, first for four minutes, during which he shot 3-for-3, then for seven minutes.

What's a general manager to do?

The same situation surrounds the signing of Australian sharpshooter Andrew Gaze, of whom the coach said, "He doesn't even know what we're doing out there." As though there's something extrasensory about the Washington offense of rushing downcourt and having either Rex Chapman, Michael Adams or Don MacLean heave the ball at the basket with Gugliotta assigned the task of retrieving it.

Back in the fall, there appeared to be justified reason to assign the Bullets anywhere up to 30 wins, a huge improvement over their 22-60 effort of last season. That mark was on the wings of 31-51, 30-52 and 25-57 records the previous three campaigns under Unseld.

Gugliotta was coming off a solid rookie season, Calbert Cheaney was aboard as the No. 6 pick out of the draft, Adams is a proven pro, Ellison's sore knee figured to be better after an operation, Chapman and MacLean had to be better and Duckworth was in town to serve as "a presence" under the basket, not at the local Burger King.

Ah, the ever-present optimistic outlook when every team is 0-0.

If it's a coach's task to inspire and motivate as well as to prepare a team, Unseld has come up a tad short. He never got Duckworth to get in shape, much less to perform adequately. The Bullets' defense, weak inside at the start of the season, has gotten worse. The offense often resembles a whose-turn-is-it-to-shoot playground format.

And now Unseld and Nash are supposedly squabbling about what direction the team should take. Heck, any direction would be an improvement over what has occurred with the Lost Tribe of Landover during the past five months.

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