There is a particularly memorable picture hanging in the lobby of the Bullets' Capital Centre offices. It shows Kevin Porter and Mike Riordan embracing after the team's emotional 1975 semifinal playoff victory over Boston. In the background, fans in the still-full arena are standing and cheering scastically.
The Bullets were on top of the NBA world then, just four victories away from their first league title after tying Boston for the most regular-season wins. Many experts thought the Bullets had the best talent in the NBA. Those same experts predicted they would be too much for the Golden State Warriors in the final.
That was before those dramatic seven days in May, when the Warriors won four straight and initiated changes in the Bullet organization that only now, two seasons later, seem over.
When the Bullet veterans report to training camp Friday rookies begin working out today at Ft. Meade, Riordan and Porter, the emotional hearts of the 1975 team, and seven other players who faced Golden State will be absent. Only Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Phil Chenier, the core of that squad, remain.
Gone too is coach K.C. Jones, who still is seeking another head coaching job despite winning 63 per cent of his games in three years with the Bullets.
Such a drastic personel turnover on a contending NBA team has few precedents in league history. The Bullets say they changed not out of panic following the Golden State series but out of necessity. Many NBA executives find this reasoning sound.
"Even if you were strong two years ago," said Laker general manager Bill Sharman, "you'd be weak now if you didn't change. So much has happened in the league the last two years, what with the ABA merging and so many good players suddenly becoming available.
"If you didn't stay up with everyone else, you'd be left at the gate. We had the best record in basketball last year and we still will probably have four or five new faces this year."
Whether the Bullet changes have enabled them to keep pace with the rest of the league or put them in a position to win a title without a dominating center remains to be seen. Not ever general manager Bob Ferry, the man responsible for many of the maneuvers, is sure about what he has created.
"We might have had the best talent in 1975," said Ferry, "but it's all relative. That year, there was no dominating center on a good team and we were in a notoriously weak division that we could win easily. Both things have changed in two years.
"People also don't realize what an effect having all those ABA players available has made on this league. They're strengthened practically everyone and made things harder."
Yet it would have been impossible to predict what has happened to the Bullets in two years. In 1975, their nucleaus of Hayes, Unseld, Chenier, Truck Robinson, Porter, Riordan, Jimmy Jones and Nick Weatherspoon was so impressive - and young enough - that it seemed the team was a symbol of stability.
Bit by bit, that nucleus shrank. Porter went to the Detroit Pistons for Dave Bing and a No. 1 draft choice; Robinson went to Atlanta for a No. 1 pick and Tom Henderson; Weatherspoon went to Seattle for Leonard Gray; Riordan became a free agent and probably will retire, and Jones never recovered from a severe knee injury suffered during the 1975 play-offs.
Was such a drastic turnover necessary? "I think the rule, rather than the exception in this league, has been quite a bit of turnover in a two-to-three year period," said Riordan. "In our case, I think we were trying to create tat magical blend and we felt just one or two changes at first might help.
"When they didn't, more dramatic changes came."
As Ferry explains it, many of the Bullets' moves were forced by two reasons: injuries or personality conflicts.
"I'm here," he said, "to do what the coach feels will help him while at the same time protecting the interests of the team.
"Like when Jimmy Jones hurt his knee. He was our stabilizer at that time and he would have started for us if he stayed healthy. But he wasn't and that left us vulnerable."
With Jones hobbled, Porter was the team's only playmaker, K.C. Jones felt he needed a more stable ball-handler who was not constantly in foul trouble, so Ferry traded Porter for the less emotional Bing.
"We felt Bing could give us the ingredient to get us over the top," said Ferry. But Riordan says Bing was cast in the wrong role.
"He was asked to play a slot (playmaker) that he didn't really fit," said Riordan. "He's a better shooting guard. It was unfortunate for Dave."
And for K.C. Jones. Although Porter has been inconsisten better with Washington in 1976. Ferry and the coach clashed over personnel and strategy decisions, the team lost 12 more games than in 1975 and the Bullet organization became convinced the squad needed a stronger leader on the bench. Exit Jones; enter a much sterner man, Dich Motta from Chicago.
Weatherspoon, who had carried the Bullets through the 1975 playoffs, and Robinson, who possesses much ability, both complained about lack of playing time and were traded. Ironically, Robinson was the bait used to nab Henderson, who supplied the playmaking quickness the team hadn't had since losing Porter. Riordan was never the same player after hurting an ankle late in 1975 and was finally discarded after last year.
All but one of the remaining members of the present sure-to-make-it roster of 10 (the Bullets will keep 11 players) came through wise drafting.
Ferry sent 1975 player Dick Gibbs to Buffalo for a No. 1 choice in what remains one of the NBA's most lopsided trades. He also picked up No. 1 selections in the Porter and Robinson transactions. Toss in the Bullets' own No. 1 selections and he has been able to land Kevin Grevey, Larry Wright, Mitch Kupchak, Greg Ballard and Bo Ellis.
The frosting on this redone cake is ex-free agent Bob Dandridge, who was signed after playing out his contract with Milwaukee. Dandridge is the small foward the Bullets say they have been seeking for years. He also makes up in part for Washington's shutout in last year's ABA player dispersal draft, which added Maurice Lucas, for example, to Portland and Artis Gilmore to Chicago.
In this reconstruction process the Bullets have lowered their player's average age from 26 1/2 to 25 and now enter training camp with the idea of carrying at least five players with two years or fewer of pro experience.
"They've done a marvelous job of staying up top while getting younger," said Motta. But Bing doesn't think they have kept pace "with the top few teams around. It's not all their fault. This league has improved so fast."
"I was supposed to make them a champion and now Bob (Dandridge) probably will be expected to do the same," said Bing, who was released by the Bullets after last season. "I think time might run out on them pretty soon. That nucleau of 'E,' Phil and Wes is getting older.
"In 1975, they played so well as a team. They had five good starters and three good reserves. They had confidence and the league was different.
"Now Kevin is gone, K.C. is gone. I'm gone. If I was on the Bullets, I'd be looking at myself and wondering if I was the next to go."
What hasn't changed since 1975 is the way opponents play Washington, Golden State proved the Bullets could be handled by double-teaming Hayes and keeping the ball from Chenier. "It didn't take long for the word to get around," said Riordan.
Now Dandridge is expected to foil this strategy "and I think he can," said Riodan. "But we were efficient in 1975. We didn't waste much. This team has to be like that."
Says Ferry: "No team has had a design on how to win an NBA title lately.It's easier with a dominating center. We don't have that luxury so we've had to maneuver.
"We work like a stockbroker. Taking chances, playing the percentages, trying to keep pace with changes. You can never predict how everything will turn out."
Or, for that matter, how high the Bullet stock will soar this year.