The much maligned Washington Bullet guard line, a trouble spot for the past five seasons, has undergone a massive reshuffling in the past year and is no longer a source of glaring vulnerability, according to Coach Dick Motta.
"As far as physical makeup goes, I probably have more flexibility now with my guards than I've ever had before," Motta said yesterday. "The situation is stable and I trust all five of them. With these five, I can come up with three shooters, three playmakers and a small forward. That's not bad, is it?"
The acquisition of Jim Cleamons last week, the return of Kevin Grevey and the maturation of Roger Phegley and the major factors in the improvement.
Cleamons, acquired from the New York Knicks last week for a third-round draft choice, gives the Bullets the big playmaker who can also play defense and score, a type of player they haven't had in a long time.
Cleamons will be of particular value tonight when the Bullets take on the Phoenix Suns at Capital Centre at 8:05. Paul Westphal and Don Buse of the Suns make up one of the NBA's better pair of guards.
Spingarn High School, with 6-11 Earl Jones, will play Dunbar of Baltimore, winner of 29 straight, in a 6 p.m. preliminary game.
The other Bullet guards all have special skills, but Cleamons probably comes the closest to putting them all together in one body.
The only unanswered question now with the guards seems to be how long Kevin Porter can hold onto his starting spot.
Motta and Assistant Coach Bernie Bickerstaff have made it obvious they have more confidence in Cleamons in certain situations than they do in Porter. Both coaches insist Porter, even though he is still struggling, will come around and fit into the offense.
The Bullet guard problems have been noticeable ever since they lost the 1975 NBA championship to the Golden State Warriors. The starters then were Porter and Phil Chenier, who was traded to Indiana last week.
After 1975, Porter was replaced as playmaker by Dave Bing. The Bullets then tried Jimmy Jones, Larry Wright, Bing again, Tom Henderson and, finally, back to Porter.
When they won the NBA Championship in 1978, the starting guards were Grevey and Henderson and the reserves were Larry Wright, Charles Johnson and Phil Walker. Chenier was on the injured list.
Now, only Grevey and Wright remain.
Grevey came off the injured list last Thursday and has scored 48 points in two games. He made the winning basket in Saturday's 96-95 victory over Atlanta. Grevey's strong suit is shooting, but he is also a tough rebounder and works hard on defense.
Porter returned to the Bullets this summer. He isn't a good scorer and has some trouble defensively, but in a wide-open fast-break game, he is virtually unstoppable. He has had trouble grasping the Bullet offense and that is why he has been struggling.
Phegley has already established himself as one of the NBA's best shooters. The other parts of his game still need work, but because he is so accurate from the field, his other liabilities aren't so noticeable. Phegley can also play small forward and has improved as much as anyone from last season.
Wright can play as the playmaking or shooting guard.He is the quickest and fastest Bullet. Like Porter, he is best in a wide open offense and loses much of his effectiveness when forced to play defense or if the tempo is slowed down.
Cleamons is probably the best all-around guard. He is their defensive stopper and a calm quarterback who can run a controlled offense. He played the entire fourth quarter in his first game as a Bullet and 30 minutes Saturday.
Wes Unself didn't practice yesterday because of a sore knee and Bob Dandridge sat out the workout with a bad ankle. Both are expected to play tonight, however . . . The Suns are struggling a bit. Tonight's game will conclude a five-game road trip for them -- and they have lost the first four . . .Center Alvan Adams hasn't played in three of the losses because of a bruised foot. He is questionable for tonight. His place has been taken by 6-10 Jeff Cook, a free agent from Idaho State.