Coach Dick Motta thinks his Washington Bullets have a marvelous chance to rank "among the elite teams in the NBA by season's end. But there is a major hitch to his prediction.
"So much depends on what Bob Dandridge does," said Motta yesterday. "If he comes and plays and does what we think he can do, we will be one of the premier teams."
Motta spent much of his summer vacation in rural Idaho trying to visualize what he can do with the Bullets now that Dandridge, the free agent who played with Milwaukee last year, is part of the cast. With the veterans scheduled to report to practice in eight days, this is what he has decided so far:
Dandridge will be asked to take some of the scoring burden off Phil Chenier and Elvin Hayes.
The Bullets will put more emphasis on the fast break and will use a full-court press on defense more often.
Second-year players Larry Wright and Mitch Kupchak should play at least 30 to 35 minutes a game. But Motta said that he hadn't decided whether Kupchak or Wes Unseld would start at center.
Motta also said that Hayes and Dandridge could become one of the great forward combinations "in NBA history."
The coach thinks he is qualified to judge forward quality. "I had two great ones in Bob Love and Chet Walker at Chicago," he said "E and Dandridge should complement each other so well. If they do, we'll be a tough team to defense.
"I know when we played against Milwaukee with Dandridge, we'd put our best defensive forward on him. The same guy probably would cover E when they played us. Now, what do teams do? No matter which way they go, one of my forwards is going to benefit."
As Motta watched some of the Bullets go through an informal work-out at Ft. Meade, he kept turning to assistant Bernie Bickerstaff and remarking about how well the players were performing.
"I can't help it," he finally said. "I'm excited about this season. We are definitely a better team. We are quicker and deeper. And look how things have changed since this time last season.
At this time last year, Motta didn't know the way to the preseason workout facilities at Ft. Meade, Kupchak was thinking about playing in Italy, Dave Bing was the playmaking guard, Tom Henderson was still an Atlanta Hawk and Nick Weatherspoon and Truck Robinson were unhappy roster members.
Now Bing has been released, Kupchak is budding star. Henderson is ready to go through his first training camp with the team. Weatherspoon and Robinson are with other clubs and Motta has no problem finding Ft. Meade.
"A training camp will help Henderson," Motta said. "We think he has fine leadership qualities but it's tough to come in the middle of the year like he did and assert yourself.
"And consider how much more confident Larry Wright has to be. He's got a season behind him and he knows what he can do.
Pull all these elements together and Motta is unable to see how "we can get off to the kind of miserable start we had last year. Everything was so new, everyone was trying to get to know each other.
"Once we got things straightened out, we played 60 per cent winning basketball."
Still, the Bullets wound up relying too much on Hayes and Chenier for scoring, a problem Motta thinks Dandridge can correct.
"I've already thought of a couple of plays for him," Motta said: "When I was with Chicago, I had a chance to watch him in quite a few games every year. You come to appreciate his talents, the way he shoots and passes and plays defense.
"He's a leader and a pro. And he wants to play here. That's important. He means so much to wht we can do this year.
With Dandridge, Motta hopes the Bullets now can "dictate tempo better than we did at times last year. When we ran last year we played our best. That's why we will also press more. We want a quicker game, so we can take advantage of our talents."
That talent, said Motta, "is good enough to get us into the playoffs if everything works out like I think. That's all you can ask for. Once you are in the playoffs, it's a different world. It takes care of itself."