Abe Pollin doesn't like it, either.
The Bullets' owner doesn't like the way his team is playing. It's more bad chemistry than old age, Pollin says, but he admits it might be time to rebuild the team around new faces. He's not sure of that, but maybe. And with the Feb. 15 trading deadline coming up, Pollin says he will trade anybody -- Elvin Hayes Wes Unseld, anybody -- if it meant it would improve the team."I owe it to the franchise and to the fans."
Sunlight danced on the keys of a Steinway in Pollin's parlor yesterday.It was a beautiful winter morning. Pollin, for one, loves every morning he sees these days. Twenty-three days ago, doctors cut open his chest and fixed his heart. The doctors say he can't go see his beloved Bullets and Capitals for another month yet, but there's no rule against talking. So Pollin did.
On the Bullets . . .
Bobby Dandridge, who has complained of being underpaid at $250,000 a year, now is content with the Bullets, Pollin said. They arrived at an accommodation -- perhaps a bonus, but not a renegotiated contract -- early this season "and Bobby feels it is fair and meaningful," the owner said. So Bobby D is set for the rest of the season and next year with the Bullets.
Kevin Porter's case is a mystery, Pollin said. Just a flat mystery. "I felt very strongly he would be the difference in bringing the championship back to us," Pollin said. But Porter is the Bullets' fifth guard, nailed to the bench. "That's a major disappointment," the owner said.
Mitch Kupchak's return from back surgery has been slower than Pollin hoped for. The owner says Kevin Grevey isn't playing well. Roger Plegley has been inconsistent, as has Hayes, and Dandridge has had nagging injuries "and Bobby has to be 100 percent to play," Pollin said.
But when anyone suggests the Bullets are too old, Pollin sayd Unseld is having a great year and Hayes has had great games and Dandridge has shown no signs of decline."I can't really say the guys who people say are old (the front line is 34, 33 and 32 with 25 years experience) are not having good seasons," Pollin said.
"It's chemistry more than age. The chemistry of the team just isn't working. Somehow the chemistry has broken down."
Even the Bullets' coach, Dick Motta, has spoken in hints that it may be time to take apart these proud old Bullets --the only team in the NBA to make the playoffs each of the last 11 seasons -- and start building a new team. If another team wants Elvin Hayes, say, some people believe the Bullets ought to trade him while he is still worth something. "Better a year too soon than a year too late," Branch Rickey said about Trading baseball players.
"I wouldn't disagree with that statement," Pollin said. "Possibly we might have to rebuild, but I'm not 100 percent sure of that. So much of our problem now is psychological. It used to be we'd go on the floor feeling we could beat anybody. We've lost some of the confidence.
"But I think it is retrievable. If we could get a winning streak of three or four games we'd get everybody believing again.
"Nobody is panicking. The players haven't panicked, the coaches haven't panicked. I'm not a quitter, and they're not quitters. I'm not ready to throw in the towel on this season. We can still make the playoffs, and then anything can happen."
It would be hard to trade players he has come to know as friends, Pollin said. He remembers 10 years ago when he first turned down a trade sending Jack Marin to Houston in exchange for Elvin Hayes. Pollin liked Marin. "They kept telling me I was out of my mind, it was a great trade," Pollin said.
"I finally agreed to it, with one stipulation -- that I be the one to tell Jack. It took me three days to track him down and he told me, 'It's an honor to be traded for one of the greatest players in basketball.'
"Trades are difficult that was because an owner comes to feel close to some players. But still my No. 1 responsibility is to the franchise and the fans to produce a winning, exciting team.
"And I will do whatever is necessary. I can't say there's nobody I wouldn't trade if it meant it would improve the team."
On the Capitals . . .
"The hockey team is starting to move," Pollin said, "and I am extremely pleased with Gary Green."
Green is the boy coach, 26, who replaced Danny Belisle early this season. "He's the first 26-Year-old going on 45 I ever met," Pollin said. "He's an absolutely super young man who has it all. He's a tremendous hard worker, he knows hockey from every angle, he knows how to handle men psychologically, he's upbeat, he's a winner."
But all his players get hurt.
"It is absolutely beyond belief, the injuries we have had in this franchise," Pollin said. "I have never seen so many injuries to one sports team. It's like the Washington Capitals are snakebit."
If center Dennis Maruk comes back from his knee injury by March, "We'll be in the playoffs," Pollin said, "and so much of it has to do with what Gary Green has done with the team."
Twenty-three days ago, Abe Pollin didn't much care about power forwards and injured skaters. Twenty-three days ago, they cut open his chest and fixed his heart. They took a three-foot long section of vein from his left leg and used it to make new blood vessels for his heart. The old arteries were dead. The wonder is that Abe Pollin, 56, wasn't dead, too.
Up to the moment Dr. Fred Loop of the Cleveland Clinic sawed Pollin's sternum in half to get at his heart, Pollin never had a sympton of heart trouble. No pains, no shortness of breath, no nothing. All he knew about his physical condition was that he took tennis lessons three times a week and was feeling stronger every day. The backhand was coming around after 40 years of waiting.
As he does every year, Pollin went in for a physical examination in October. He owns the Bullets, the Capitals and Capital Centre. He is on the run with charities and boards of directors. So he gets this checkup. Everything was fine. But a doctor asked him if he ever had a stress test. No. So he did that this time.
The stress test, which tests the heart under exertion, revealed problems for Pollin. That was the first week of November. Three weeks later more definitive tests showed that two important arteries to the heart were 100 percent blocked, another was blocked 75 percent and an artery that delivers two-thirds of the blook to the heart was 50 percent blocked.
"The doctor told me, 'In cases like yours, the first symptom might be the last. You can be sitting at your desk and go,'" Pollin said. "They made it clear my life was in danger."
So they did the surgery Jan. 11, a quadruple bypass, and now Pollin is at home, resting and walking two or three miles a day around the tennis court in his backyard. A week from now, he and his wife, Irene, will go to Barbados for two weeks in the sun.
Then comes another stress test. Friends who have had the same operation have told Pollin he will feel younger and stronger than ever, now that his heart will be getting its rightful share of blood. He'll be back at Capital Centre to see his teams play, and he has other business on his agenda too.
"I still want to learn to hit the backhand," he said, smiling. CAPTION:
Picture, Abe Pollin blames Bullet woes on chemistry, not age.