That, big gloomy cloud of uncertainty still hangs over the Washington Bullets, only three days before they open their 1979-80 NBA season.
A typically uninspiring Bullet exhibition season ended Sunday in Pittsburgh with a 113-102 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Bullets will play the 76ers in their season opener, at 8:05 p.m. Friday at Capital Centre, and there are major questions still unanswered.
Coach Dick Motta is set with Kevin Porter at one guard and Wes Unseld, Bob Dandridge and Elvin Hayes up front. He has not determined his starting big guard, the third guard, or even the final 11-man roster.
These are the same problems the Bullet brain trust of Motta, General Manager Bob Ferry and Assistant Coach Bernie Bickerstaff faced when training camp opened three weeks ago. Due to injuries and sporadic performances, training camp didn't answer many questions or solve many problems.
Mitch Kupchak, 6-foot-11 center-forward and invaluable sixth man, had back surgery in June and isn't expected to return until sometime next month. Steve Malovic, a 6-10 rookie who was supposed to help fill the void, has had a sore back and sprained ankle most of training camp. He probably will start the season on the injured list with Kupchak.
Phil Chenier, who missed most of last season after back surgery, had back spasms the day before camp opened and missed the first two weeks of practice. Completely healthy, Chenier could be an all-star performer again, but in his present condition, the Bullets do not know how much he can help.
Neither second-year man Roger Phegley nor incumbent starter Kevin Grevey has been impressive, leaving the starting big guard spot unresolved.
New playmaker Kevin Porter, signed as a free agent, hasn't picked up all the intricacies of Motta's offense, and things haven't been flowing as smoothly as had hoped.
Of the 13 players Motta took on the final preseason road trip, seven were guards and three, Porter, Larry Wright and Charles Johnson, were 6-1 or shorter.
The Bullets won only two of eight exhibition games and looked dreadful in a couple of defeats.
Neverless, Motta isn't about to press the panic button. He said yesterday that he expects the Bullets to be among the NBA kingpins again this season.
"Through circumstances we can't control, like Mitch's back, Phil's problems and Malovic's injuries, things are cloudy," Motta said "a few things are still up in the air, but I know my ball club. We will be good. The uncertainty we have isn't over our competitiveness. It's the injuries that throw us into a quandary.
"This is a proven team and they aren't going to let too many things bother them.
"The preseason would have bothered me if I didn't know this team," Motta added. "But I'm not worried about Wes, Bobby or E. They got themselves ready for the season, and we got some things accomplished. Dave Corzine, for instance, got a lot of playing time and he proved that we can turn to him now as a backup for Wes and he'll get the job done.
"We are basically a veteran team and we already know how to play the game. Our nucleus is solid and we have a lot of constants. We don't like to show too much in the preseason either, so I use it mainly to get the new people ready," Motta added. "We worked hard with Phegley and Kevin Porter, Greg Ballard and Corzine and I think we did get them ready for the season. I'm not really that worried."
Kupchak's absence hurts the team, but with Corzine's improvement, Motta's confidence in Ballard, and the proven excellence of Hayes, Dandridge and Unseld, the Bullets are indeed solid -- up front .
But, uncertainty festers in the back court.
Grevey played out his option last season, and when he got offers from no other team, signed again with the Bullets three days after camp opened.
In Grevey's absence, Motta gave the big guard spot to Phegley, and the 6-7 jumpshooter has remained with the first unit.
While not overly impressive, Phegley has shown enough to please Motta. He made 38 of 88 shots (43 percent) in the preseason.
Grevey pulled a groin muscle and played in only six of eight preseason games. He made 18 of 40 shots (45 percent).
Neither Phegley nor Grevey is strong defensively nor is either particularly quick. Both are only average ball-handlers.
"The job is still open," Motta said. Phegley scored 23 points and Grevey 22 against the 76ers Sunday, but Phegley got many while playing small forward.
Motta said he will be used there during the regular season as well, but added he is planning to use Grevey exclusively at guard.
The coach is not sure who his No. 2 playmaking guard will be.
Of the seven guards on the roster, only Porter, Wright, and 6-5 freeagent Gus Bailey are playmakers. Phegley, Grevey, Chenier and Johnson are shooting guards.
Porter will be a starter, and based on preseason performances, Bailey is ahead of Wright as the backup. Wright was used sparingly this preseason because Motta wanted to see more of Bailey.
There is no way Motta will keep seven guards; it appears that either Bailey or Johnson will be cut.
Johnson is a proven scorer who gave the Bullets a big lift in their 1978 championship season, but he is a 6-0 shooting guard, and with Porter and the more versatile Wright on the 11-man roster, Johnson is a luxury the Bullets probably cannot afford.
Bailey is the best defender among the guards and has played well.
"He hasn't done anything to disappoint us," Motta said.
To get down to 11 players (deadline is 6 p.m. Thursday), barring any trades or last-minute maneuvers, it looks like rookie Garcia Hopkins and either Johnson or Bailey will be cut, with Malovic and Kupchak on the injured list.