Former Bullet star Kevin Porter could wind up as the team's playmaker again next season once an expected purge of the Washington back court is completed in the next two months.
Porter, who set a league assist record this season with the Detroit Pistons, is a free agent.
It is expected that the Bullets will bid for his services after declining to sign current playmaker Tom Henderson, also a free agent, to a new contract.
Porter could be teamed with second-year sharpshooter Roger Phegley in a completely new Bullet back court. The club want to give Phegley, who played rarely as a rookie this season before going on the injured list, a long look in training camp at the shooting guard spot. That position currently is occupied by Kevin Grevey, another free agent.
Porter, traded after the Bullets were dunked in the 1975 National Basketball Association championship series by Golden State, could be just one of several new names on Washington's roster in the wake of the club's 4-1 trouncing by Seattle in this year's title round, according to team sources.
In all, as many as eight of the 12 players currently under contract may not be in a Bullet uniform at the start of next season because of trades, contract problems, retirements and injuries. Players affected may be:
Wes Unseld, who could retire after having finished this, his 11th pro season. Unseld says he doesn't know what he will do, although team officials think he will return.
Bob Dandridge, who has not altered his midseason stand that he will not play his final contracted year with the bullets unless the pact is renegotiated. Dandridge wants more money; the club has said no. There is an excellent possibility he will decided to boycott not only training camp but the start of the season if the dispute is not settled.
Mitch Kupchak, who may have to undergo major back surgery before September, which could sideline him six months. Kupchak says he will attempt to rehabilitate his back before consenting to an operation.
Guards Henderson, Grevey, Larry Wright, Charles Johnson and Phil Chenier, all of whom could be replaced by new players.
Although Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry said yesterday that team officials will not discuss personnel changes until a meeting at the end of this week, there is little chance the team will return intact next season, especially in the back court.
Washington was consistently outplayed during the playoffs by opposition guards. The problem came to a head in the Seattle series when Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson dominated almost every game and the Bullets appeared powerless to stop them.
The back-court difficulties, however, have plagued the team the last two seasons. Before the Bullets pulled off a major surprise last year by winning the NBA title, it was almost certain Henderson would be traded. Then Ferry decided not to break up a championship team.
But the guards lack of defense and poor shooting the last month portends major changes. It is unlikely Henderson will be re-signed. Grevey's chances are only slightly better, although he would have to accept little, if any increase over his current $160,000 salary.
If either signs with another team, the Bullets would have to receive suitable compensation, as determined by the clubs themselves or, if necessary, NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien.
The futures of Chenier and Johnson are just as shaky.
Johnson, mired in a horrible shooting slump most of the playoffs is handicapped by his small size. At 6 feet, he is too little for the shooting guard spot against the likes of George Gervin and Dennis Johnson. The Bullets would prefer a taller substitute to back up the starter.
Chenier never approached his former all-star form after undergoing back surgery in September. Unless he can earn back his starting slot, he would be expendable since he admits he does not play well as a reserve.
His $300,000 annual salary and his back problems do not make him an attractive trade, The Bullets probably would bave to agree to pay part of his salary before any trade could take place. But the odds are excellent he will not be with the team next year.
Wright, who will be on the last year of his contract next season, stands a decent chance of returning, as long as he can improve his defense. But he also may become part of a trade or compensation if the Bullets acquire a free agent.
During his three seasons in Washington, Porter was one of the Team's most popular players. A flashy, outspoken athlete, he led the NBA in assists in 1974-75, when the Bullets compiled the league's best record.
But when the club lost four straight to Golden State in the championship series, he was traded to Detroit for Dave Bing. Ferry since has explained that Porter's temper and his constant foul problems (he fouled out of 12 games that season) caused the team to look for a more mature playmaker.
Bing never was able to become the leader the club expected and was let go after two seasons. Porter went from Detroit to New Jersey then back this season to Detroit. He led the NBA in assists the last two years, averaging 13 this season, by far the most in league history.
"Kevin just wasn't mature enough when he first played here," said one team source. "He is a great basket-ball player, an excellent quarterback. He can get the ball to the open man.
"We've never had a guy who could do what he did with Unseld's outlet passes. He turned us into a fast-break team. It would be useless for us to think about Porter unless Wes comes back. The two complement each other so much.
"Kevin has grown up. His defense has improved and so has his shooting. Hey, we've got the three best big men in the league. We just need some guards to get them the ball and put in the open shots."
Atlanta's Armond Hill is the only other free-agent playmaker in the league. He is better defensively than Porter and is four inches taller. The Bullets also could draft a guard, but it is unlikely they will get a prime choice since their first pick is the 22nd of the first round.
One deterrent to signing a free agent would be the compensation. With Kupchak so questionable, the Bullets could not afford to lose Greg Ballard, for example, as compensation for signing Porter.
Unless the club could work out with Detroit a compensation package of money, draft choices and possibly a current guard, a deal probably would not take place. Washington could not take a chance on signing Porter and having O'Brien decide the compensation.
Phegley, who was placed on the injured list in late February, was a first-round draft choice last June out of Bradley University.Converted from forward to guard, the 6-7 Phegley saw only token duty this season, but the coaching staff was impressed with his potential and shooting ability during practices.
Although he is not exceptional on defense, Phegley is considered a better one-on-one player than Grevey. Ferry once described him as "one of the best pure shooters I've ever seen."
"Before we do anything," said Ferry, "We have to diagnose what the injuries mean. There were so many injuries that they have a lot to do with anything we do."
The Bullets realize any moves they make must strengthen their back-court defense and improve their matchups at guard. And if Kupchak misses all or most of next season, they will have to acquire additional front-court reinforecments.
Ferry does not want to make hasty changes, something he was accused of doing with the Porter trade in 1975.
Yesterday, Ferry said he would worry about next year "after I get over my hangover. Losing the playoffs is like an accident. It doesn't affect you fully until the next week.
"We had a great season. Losing to Seattle doesn't change that. I think that is what the crowd was saying to us when they gave us the wonderful ovation after losing Friday night.
"It was a tribute to the team and the guys really deserved it." CAPTION: Picture, Kevin Porter