Three months ago, the Washington Bullets completed one of the most exciting success stories in basketball history when they won their first NBA title after finishing the regular season with the league's eighth-best record.
The team's unexpected and dramatic rise to the top in this victory-starved city engulfed the local sports populous in a shockwave of Bullet mania that still hasn't subsided. The players were hailed by politicians, cheered in parades and overwhelmed with awards and praise.
As one of their rewards, they were taken on a tour of Israel by club owner Abe Pollin.
But they soon will be struggling with the inevitable question faced by all champions, especially the surprise winners: Can they repeat?
No other NBA team in the last decade has put together back-to-back championships, but as long as Bill Walton remains a mountain man without a team, the Bullets would.
If Corzine does sign and make the anyone to win this season's title.
First, however, they will have to learn to cope with their new-found prestige and Coach Dick Motta will have to settle a few training-camp questions, mainly involving how to keep his veteran players happy with the proper amount of playing time.
Rookies are scheduled to report for physicals Tuesday and start practice Thursday at the Fort Meade training site, followed by veterans on Friday.
At least two first-year players and undertermined number of free agents are expected to show up to compete for the one open spot on the roster (vacated by free-agent Joe Pace) and the one potential vacancy (now occupied by guard Phil Walker.)
Neither Bradley swingman Roger Phegley nor De Paul Center Dave Corzine, first-round selections in last June's draft, has signed with the team. General Manager Bob Ferry is expected to talk early this week with representatives of both players. Each has demanded a no-cut contract, something Ferry has been unwilling to award.
Phegley, a 6-foot-7 marksman who finished his college career as a guard after beginning as a forward, is seen as a possible second big guard the Bullets needed so desperately at times last season. His potential value has increased now that Phil Chenier has undergone back surgery and is questionable for the upcoming season.
Corzine was drafted by Ferry as a backup to Wes Unseld. If Corzine decides to play in Europe, which is possible, Mitch Kupchak will be the only reserve center on the roster. But Motta would prefer to play Kupchak at forward.
Kupchak wants more playing time this season, and giving him and second-year forward Greg Ballard added minutes will be one of Motta's major headaches.
If those two see more action, Motta will have to take minutes away from starters Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge. Dandridge, who is content with 30 minutes a game, is more willing than either Hayes or Unseld to take on more bench time, feeling that is the proper way to save himself for the playoffs. Considering how he played against Julius Erving in the playoffs, it appears a sensible philosophy.
Many thought Unseld would retire after being named most valuable player of the championship series. But he is back for his 11th season and team officials will be watching to see if his aching knees can hold up for another nine months of grind. Those knees did surprisingly well last year, even though Unseld played more than Motta had predicted in training camp.
Hayes seems to improve with age and would like to play 48 minutes every time out. Motta reduced his minutes last season and probably would like to cut his average to no more than 40 a game, hoping that Hayes will profit from the rest at playoff time.
If Corzine does sign and make roster, he too, will have to be given some minutes, compounding the difficulties. If he doesn't come to terms, the Bullets may have to seek out a backup center from another club.
The same logjam of players exists in the backcourt, where Motta finds himself with four veterans - Tom Henderson, Kevin Grevey, Larry Wright and Charles Johnson, plus Walker and, probably Phegley.
Motta was able to juggle the four veterans during the playoffs, shifting deftly from one hot shooter to another from series to series. In the process, he helped the club but left each player grumbling about his lack of minutes.
Keeping them happy over the course of a full season will be harder especially since Motta prefers to employ a three-guard system. And how does he find time for Phegley if he had difficulty working in Ballard last season in a just-as-crowded front-court?
The relationship between Henderson and Motta became strained near the end of last season and Henderson didn't expect to be a Bullet this year. But when the club won the title and Henderson played well in the climatic series with Seattle, Ferry decided to keep the roster intact. Whether the coach and his playmaker can improve their communication this season remains to be seen.
Grevey made tremendous progress in his first season at guard, but Motta felt he still had room for improvement and asked him to work hard in the offseason. With Chenier out, Grevey remains the only veteran big guard on the roster, making him one of the club's most valuable commodities.
Wright struggled to adpat to a playmaker's role and, in the process, lost some of his confidence. He will be challenging Henderson for playing time while Johnson, the long-range sharpshooter who parlayed a 10-day midseason stint with the club into a three-year contract, will compete with Grevey.
One of the guards could be used as trade material for a backup center, thus allowing Phegley more time than he is likely to receive under the present roster setup.
Amid cries that the NBA season starts too early and lasts too long, the league responded by beginning regular-season play a week sooner than last year with the hope the playoffs with end before June.
The Bullets find themselves in a new and tougher division. With the Buffalo franchise now in San Diego, Washington was shifted from the Central to the Atlantic Division. So instead of trying to beat out San Antonio, Cleveland and Houston for the regular-season title, something the Bullets didn't do the last three years, they now take on the likes of Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
But as they proved last year, winning a divisional crown hardly is a prerequisite to capturing a league title.
After a regular season filled with crippling injuries and defensive breakdowns, Motta is anxious to see how a healthy Bullet squad will perform over the course of a season.
Club officials are anxious to see if the excitement over the title will be reflected in increased attendance. Last season, the team didn't sell out Capital Centre until the playoffs. But that shouldn't happen again since the club expects a capacity crowd for its home opener against New Orleans Oct. 13.