The Washington Bullets, their first world championship still a glowing memory, are beginning to scatter for the summer. Larry Wright is returning to school at Grambling. Kevin Grevey is vacationing in Hawaii. Elvin Hayes has work to do on his Texas ranch. Dick Motta will run a basketball camp in Montana.
In three months, however, they will gather again for the start of training camp. And then they will have to confront the inevitable question: can they repeat as champions?
"Let me get over this one first," said Motta, their fiery coach, with a laugh. "Lots of things can change over a summer. It's hard to focus on the future when the past is so nice."
Yet the Bullets are awar, in an age when the word "dynasty" seems to be associated with every new pro sports champion, that their title has not invoked forecasts of future greatness.
"No one is talking dynasty about the Bullets," admitted Captain Wes Unseld. "Who knows? This might have our year, our only title. To win, you need a hell of a lot of talent and a lot of luck. We had both, but it may never be that way again."
The NBA certainly had never seen anything like what the Bullets did in this past season. No club has ever finished with a worse winning percentages (44-38, 536), nor finished so low in the league standings (seventh-best record) and then won the championship.
They became the seventh franchise to win the crown since 1970. In that span, only Boston and New York have captured more than one title, but not in a row. The last back-to-back championships went to the Celtics in 1968 and 1969.
"Balance in the league alone makes it difficult to say from one year to the next who is going to finish last," Motta said. "There are a lot of good teams, and all one needs is to click at the right moment to win the whole thing."
Because the Bullet don't have a 7-foot-4 center and because Bill Walton hasn't announced any retirement plans, Washington does not possess the overwhelming personnel to dominate the rest of the league.
As long as Walton recovers from his late season foot injuries. Portland most likely will be favored to win the next year's championship, especially after strengthening itself so well in the recent league draft.
Depending on offseason trades, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Seattle also will be ranked on the same contending plateau as the Bullets.
The status od Unseld is one of the three major questions facing the team. The others concern the health of Phil Chenier and the advancing age of the Bullets' front line.
Unseld refuses to say whether he will play next season. He returned this year because he thought the Bullets had a chance to win the title. Having attained that, he acknowledges there is little left for him to accomplish. But he said, at least physically, he could continue playing.
"It's all a question of mental toughness," he said. "The only thing I've wanted anyone to remember about me is that I always gave an honest effort every time out. If I can't get interestedin the game again. I don't want to play. My knees aren't any worse, and I've learned to live with them. My physical problems really don't figure into this anymore.
The Bullet front office seems confident. Unseld will opt to play his 11th NBA season. His friends think he will retire. He said he will reach a decision in about a month, but he added: "I'll probably be trying to get back in shape by then."
If he stays, he again will backed up by Mitch Kupchak, who also will be given more playing time at forward, where the Bul eventually want his to play. Motta says Hayes' minutes will be reduced accordingly, which I think is a good idea, considering Elvin is going to be 33."
Dave Cornine, the 6-11, 250-pound first-round draft choice from DePaul, will be given ample opportunity in training camp to win a spot on the team. If he proves adequate as Unseld's backup, it will free Kupchak for more forward duty.
Joe Pace, the No.3 center this year, has played out option. General Manager Bob Ferry said he'd like to have him back, but Pace probably will wind up with the New York Knicks.
If Unseld retirees, Kupchak would inherit the center spot, unless Ferry could work out a deal for a pivotman or sign a free-agent center like Marvin Webster, Bill Paultz or Steve Hawes, Motta has said if Kupchak is his center, he might change his offense to take advantage of the ex-North Carolina star's offensive abilities.
Kupchak, who had a magnificient playoff last season, slumped badly in May this year. The Bullets would like to see him rebound more, especially on the defensive boards, and not get as emotional on the court.
Chenier has not played since Jan. 8, when he was sidelined by a hamstring pull and then a degenerative disc in his lower back. He has decided against a back operation, recommended by doctors, in lieu of a program of acupuncture and therapy.
He said he will play on club's summer league team to test his progress. His performances will be watched carefully by the Bullets, who are counting on his return next season.
If Chenier makes a successful comeback and returns to his previous all-star form, Washington will have an overflow of guards. Other returning backcourt men include Grevey, Tom Henderson, Charles Johnson, Wright and Phil Walker. And they will joined by first-round pick Roger Phegley, 6-6 sharpshooter from Bradley.
Until his fine showing in the Seattle series, Henderson seemed a likely trade possibility, in order to give Motta a more defense minded guard. But Henderson play good defence against the Sonics and also scored well. Now Ferry says he doesn't "want to make any trades or do anything to break up this team. It's not fair after what they accomplished.The guy who played should be rewarded."
However, a healthy Chenier would make some sort of deal necessary. Motto can play no more than four guards a game and it would be difficult to keep any of the veterans happy as the No. 5 man, Walker, who has potential, has little chance of sticking under the current 11-man roster setup.
Grevey proved he could score in his first season at guard, but Motto would like him to improve his ball-handling and defense. He has been instructed to play a lot of one-on-one this summer.
Wright played both shooting and playmaker guard. He prefers the shooting position, but Motta would like to see him become a playmaker because of his size (6-1). At the end of the playoffs, he was being used almost exclusively in the playmaker spot.
Johnson, the midseason free-agent pickup from the Golden State, provided the backcourt with brains and eye-popping shooting streaks. Those strengths, combined with his friendship with Hayes, should keep him around next season.
Phegley is being counted on to be the big shooting guard the club lacked to back up Grevey after Chenier was hurt. If Chenier returns, Phegley's status become more precarious.
The Bullet front line of Hayes (32), Bob Dandridge (30) and Unseld (32) already is the oldest in the league. Dandridge and Hayes show no signs of aging, however, and Unseld probably would remain effective with added rest late in the season.
Motta already realizes he will have to find more minutes for Greg. You've got to work the young players in to take over for the older ones, but at least that is a problem of strength, not weakness."
Motta say the Bullets "will be competitive, very competitive again. I see the league as being the same as last year. We'll be one of the best and then the playoffs will take care of themselves.
'We showed this year what experience and intelligence can do, despite injuries. If Phil comes back and everyone stays healthy, I think we are an improved club.
"Since we won the title, where does that leave us?"