Bullet guard Larry Wright may be a little man among the giants of the NBA, but that doesn't prevent him from thinking big thoughts.
"I can be a starter and a good player in this league," he said without hesitation. "I have never doubted it and I'm more convinced now than ever before."
Yet in this, his second pro season, Wright finds himself in the middle of an increasingly complex dilemma carted by his 6-foot-1, 165-pound stature.
He entered the league last season as a quick, sure-handed shooter. But it has become apparent even to him that his chances for lasting in the NBA will depend on his ability to develop into a playmaker, at least while he stays with Washington.
"I'm finding out." he admitted, "that there isn't a lot of demand for 6-1 shooting guards in this business."
As far as the Bullets are concerned, he also has to alter his on-court personality. Being a nice guy in street clothes is okay, they are telling him, but once you put on a uniform you must be meaner.
Wright is trying to adjust, nut it hasn't been easy. Despite scoring 43 points against Indiana, he was demoted to substitute - not so much because of his deficiencies but because the Bullets were concerned over Tom Henderson's defense. Then, when Henderson injured his ankle in early February, Wright tried to become a set-it-up playmaker and that didn't work.
He complained publicly about his demotion and lost much of his usual effervescence when he failed to become a patient ball handler. Now, after a week off because of a sprained wrist, he has become more philosophical about the season.
"The key," he said, "is for me to play my game, whether I'm a playmaker or a shooter. I have to be free and easy and make things flow. Last month, I tried to be different. I stopped being wide open and it didn't work.
"I've got to use my quickness to offset my size problems. If I don't, it lets others push me around and use their size against me."
But some Bullets wonder if Wright ever will live up to his potential as long as he stays in Washington.
"This is not the ideal offense for Larry," said one player, who asked not to be named. "When we are running, we are okay. But we set up our offense an awful lot.
"When we slow down, Larry has problems. He can't use his quickness if his main role is to toss it (the ball) inside to one of the big men. Put him with a movement team, like San Antonio or Denver, and this shooter-laymaker problem isn't so great. Quickness is more important with those teams.
"Here, Tom Henderson is our playmaker. I don't see Larry ever starting as long as Tommy, is around."
On those nights when he is the only Bullet pushing the ball up the court, Wright finds himself facing all the problems that have plagued every other past and present small NBA guard.
Opponents lean on him and take him inside where they cna use their height advantage to shoot over him. If he gets burned too often on defense, he has learned that Coach Dick Motta will yank him quickly from the game. As a result, he tends to press and foul too much.
"People post Larry inside right away," said Motta. "It's something he has to learn to deal with. They realize he is giving away a lot of inches. That's why we've told him to watch Charles Johnson. CJ is about the same size but people don't push him around down low."
Wright is aware that some Bullet officials want him to be meaner, in the Kevin Porter mold. He says he is trying to be more aggressive, "but if they want me to pick fights, forget it."
"I don't want to do anything that will hurt the team. I go into every game and play with intensity. Sometimes i've let the refs intimidate me when they call something on me when i've been aggressive. So I've backed off.
"Now, if it's called on me when I'm playing hard, I just have to keep playing hard and forget the call. And if they try to post me, I have to fight them for position.
"But trying to low post me doesn't bother me. I think it hurts the continuity of the offense for them. And I've seen all the great ones posted, so it's no great shame. Most of the time, I will do something at the other end to make up for it."
Prior to this season, Motta had decided to use Wright, Phil Chenier and Henderson in a three-man roation at guard. Motta thought Wright would play at least 30 minutes a game this way, and could gradually develop his skills,
When Chenier was slowed by back problems, Wright became a starter. For the first few weeks of the season, he was among the league leaders in points, steals and shotting percentage, while three times leading the team in scoring.
But the Bullets were being devoured by opposition guards. Henderson couldn't handle the bigger shooting guards and Motta wasn't about to have Wright cover them. So, 13 games into the schedule he moved Kevin Grevey into the starting lineup, let him defend against the big guards, put Henderson on the playmakers and benched Wright and his 16.5 average.
Wright has started only a handful of games since and his points, as well as his playing time, have steadily decreased. He, now is scoring at a 9.6 clip while playing 21 minutes a game.
"When I've played a lot of minutes in games, I've porduced," he said. "I've scored and I've assists.But I'm not a Tom Henderson type of playmaker. He's bigger than me and that makes a difference.
"I can be an asset as a playmaker because I can shoot and I'm quick. If I had the ball for 30 to 35 minutes a game, I think I would be effective in that role. It would be hard to stop me."
If Wright were a few inches taller, he would have none of these problems. He already has proven he is an NBA-caliber shooter and he has the acceleration and quickness to excel in fast-paced games.
But NBA teams don't need small shooting guards. Houston's Calvin Murphy has survived, but the Rockets have never been that satisfied with him especially when he has to defend against much taller opponents. Other small guards like Porter, Nate Archibald, Gus Williams and Eric Money have found becoming a playmaker was the only way for them to earn a pension.
So now Wright has to learn to funnel his talents in that direction. He has to understand when to use his quickness and when to penetrate defenses and when to pull up for his jump shot. And he has to learn how to take command of older, more experienced players and run a team.
"I can't grow any taller, so I have to prove myself at this size," he said. "I'm still young and I am still learning. But this league will be hearing about Larry Wright for a long time yet. You can count on that."