Bullets again look to get to the point After Howard, deciding on guard is top priority

April 23, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

A year ago, the biggest concern for the Washington Bullets going into the off-season was re-signing a young star forward (Chris Webber) and solidifying the point guard position. This year, little has changed.

Signing Juwan Howard, who becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1, is the top priority. And although it will be costly, Bullets general manager John Nash said yesterday, "I think we'll sign Juwan as soon as possible."

If that happens, the most trying time for Nash this summer will be the decision on who will be the team's point guard next season.

Robert Pack, who was the starting point guard at the beginning of the season, becomes an unrestricted free agent. Brent Price, who was impressive in a starting role at the end of the season, also becomes an unrestricted free agent. And so does Mark Price, a former All-Star guard who was limited to seven games by injuries.

Had all been healthy this past season, chances are the Bullets would have been a playoff team. If all of them wind up healthy next season, don't expect the three to be wearing the same uniform.

"It's hard to say what's going to happen," Nash said. "Whether we commit to one of them, or if we'll go somewhere else, right now we just don't know."

Of the three, the player probably best suited for the job is Pack, who averaged 18.1 points and 7.8 assists in 31 games before suffering nerve damage in his right leg in January. The most explosive and best defender of the three, Pack said he would like to return to the Bullets but doesn't know if the team will be willing to pay an asking price that could average more than $4 million a year.

"If the Bullets want me back, they just have to do what they have to do," said Pack, 27, who played one year in Portland and three in Denver before coming to Washington this season. "It's just a lot of talk now, a lot of pats on the back. But when it comes down to negotiations, it's a lot different. We have to see how bad the Bullets want me."

Pack said that for the money that he's expecting to sign for, he doesn't expect a situation where there is sharing of the point guard responsibilities.

"If they come to me the way they need to come to me, and sign me to the contract I'm looking for, I would think that they plan to play me," Pack said.

Brent Price, who had a career year in his fourth season out of Oklahoma after becoming a starter in January, said he could handle a backup role that's well defined.

"I've proven I can be a point guard for somebody, and I can play a backup as long as I know what that role entails," Price said. "Does it entail five minutes, or 20 to 25 minutes? We'll have to see."

Unlikely to return is Mark Price who, because of injuries, is a high risk. By not re-signing him, the Bullets can use his $3.6 million salary elsewhere.

Part of that free-up money could be applied to a new contract for reserve center Jim McIlvaine, an impressive defensive player who surely will attract a lot of interest over the summer. McIlvaine most likely will more than double the $525,000 he made this season.

As for the coaching situation, Nash was more than pleased with the job done by Jim Lynam, whose Bullets, despite all the injuries, improved by 18 games (39-43), second in the league only to Chicago. "What [Lynam] did was convince our players that his scheme works," Nash said.

And Nash said he wants to be around for any future Bullets success. With the talk in Philadelphia that John Lucas can lose both his general manager and coaching jobs, there have been rumors that Nash could return to the Sixers.

"Was I approached? I'd rather not talk about it," Nash said. "But no, I'm not interested in the job there."

Pub Date: 4/23/96

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