Not even the sight of Mitch Kupchak scrimmaging with the struggling Washington Bullets for the first time this season could ease Coach Dick Motta's deep concern about his team yesterday.
Motta is upset.
So upset that he canceled a scheduled day off for his players to hold a basic "fundamental" training camp practice, to criticize the performance of Kevin Porter and to wonder out loud if 33-year-old Elvin Hayes is showing signs of age.
The Bullets have won only three of their first nine games and were blown out of Capital Centre Saturday night by the Boston Celtics, 118-97.
"I don't like being 3-6 and I don't like that last game," Motta said. "We looked old that game.
"Anything you want to say negative about that game on our part would be right. But if you go back over the history of this ball club, even before I got here, you see they've been known to start slow."
From the start of the season the Bullets have appeared slow, lethargic and disinterested. This, on the heels of reaching the NBA finals for the second straight season and posting the best regular season record in the league.
The addition of popular guard Porter, replacing free agent Tom Henderson, was supposed to add even more zip to an already talented cast.
Porter's slow adjustment to running the offense (he's averaging 7.7 points a game and 8.4 assists) has hindered the Bullets and disappointed Motta.
"You are basically no better than the man running the team," Motta said. "It's the quarterback in football, the pitcher in baseball and your playmaker in basketball.
"I thought Kevin was going to come back here spitting fire. I thought he was going to be a knock-down, drag-out, get-in-your-face guy and really be tough and aggressive. But he just hasn't been that way. I don't know what's wrong."
Because of Porter's ineffectiveness, his playing time has been limited. He is averaging only 29 minutes a game, about 10 minutes fewer than a team's top playmaker should be one the floor.
Motta has opted for Larry Wright, a better shooter than Porter, and Gus Bailey, a better defender, in most critical situations. Right now, both men are running the offense better than Porter.
"If you have a role team with role players like we do, you have to get the ball to the right people at the right time and in the right spot, and we just aren't going it," Motta said.
Hayes leads the Bullets with a 21.1 scoring average, but is showing the most signs of slowing down. He is shooting only 43 percent from the field, his lowest mark in six seasons.He has fouled out in two of the nine Bullets games after fouling out only five times all last year.
"E could be getting old, I don't know," Motta said. "He seems to be dropping more balls than he ever has before. Maybe he's developing bad hands.
"E has to be on the left side and take a majority of his shots from there. Bobby (Dandrige) has to get the ball out front with time to work and the shooting guard has to get the ball along the baseline," Motta added.
"We also have one of the best screening teams in the league and we aren't utilizing screens."
So the Bullets went back to basics in practice yesterday at Bowie State. For much of the session, Bernie Bickerstaff, assistant coach, worked at one end of the court with the forwards and centers and Motta worked at the other end with the guards.
"We shouldn't have to go back to this basic type stuff," Motta said, "but we've got to do something."
The Bullets had an 8-1 mark at this point in the season in 1974; 6-3 in 1975 and 4-5 after nine games the last three seasons.
The appearance of Kupchak, meanwile, also was viewed as a positive sign.
"We've been playin like we're waiting for something," Motta said. "Maybe it's Mitch. He's always been able to give us a lift before."
Kupchak, who had surgery June 29 to repair a herniated disk, is still on the injured list. He also said he sees little emotion or excitment among his teammates. That, he admitted, probably has been a contibuting factor to the team's poor play.
"There's a flicker instead of a flame," Kupchak said. "I think we could be a litte more emotional and I think I can help."
Kupchak said he is about three weeks away from actually playing in a regular-season game.
"There's not a set date when I'll back," he said. "The doctor said I could start working out hard with the team and scrimmaging this week. He said to see him again in three weeks and if everything is fine, I'll start playing. That would be around Thanksgiving.
"When I come back, I'm coming back ready to play. I'm not going to paly my way into shape. That isn't fair to the guy whose place I'll be taking on the roster.
"When I come back, I want to be able to play 30 minutes a game. I don't expect the coach to play me 30 minutes right away, but I have to be able to do it. I have to justify in my own mind taking someone else's place on this team."
Kupchak ran and scrimaged hard in the 75-minute workout and said afterward he felt fine. "The party is over."
Motta, meanwhile, added, "I try not to judge a season after so short a time." Things aren't going to get any easier for us, but it's still too early to be distressed.
"If we have the same reocrd a month from now and you ask me that same question, you'll probably have to phone me long distance to get the answer because I won't still be around.
"The bottom line with this team, though, is it likes to win. But it has to be challenged."