Wes Unseld, the team captain, said yesterday that a number of problems contributed to the Bullets' poor showing this season, including a lack of confidence by the players in themselves and in Coach Dick Motta.
"We lost confidence in everything," Unseld said. "Not just in the coach, but in the offense, ourselves and everything. I could see it starting during training camp."
The Bullets struggled to a 39-43 regular season record, limped into the playoffs on the last day of the season and were eliminated in the first round by Philadelphia in two straight games.
Unseld, 34, is contemplating retirement. He said yesterday the past season has left such a sour taste in his mouth he may not want to come back for another year as the Bullets try to rebuild. He emphasized he has not yet made a decision.
Unseld declined all season to rap any of his teammates or Motta. But yesterday, less than 24 hours after the Bullets lost to the 76ers, 112-104, he spoke freely about the problems of the team he has held together the past 12 years.
Unseld said Motta was partly to blame for the Bullet woes. "When we were winning, he was always coaching, but when we were losing, he never coached," Unseld said. "I don't know why that was but that's the way it seemed to me."
Motta took off for a short vacation immediately after Friday's season-ending loss to the 76ers and was unavailable to comment yesterday.
For reasons known only to Motta, the Bullets seldom practiced between games this season, which upset several players.
"He just acted like he didn't care sometimes," said guard Larry Wright, now a free agent. "It seemed sometimes like he didn't even want to coach us." n
That appears to have been the case during a game in San Antonio on March 18. The Bullets were down by four points and the Spurs' George Gervin was about to shoot two foul shots with three seconds to play.
Motta got up from his seat on the bench and started walking across the floor toward the dressing room. He stopped, turned to the players on the bench and said, "Come on." No one followed him. The players waited for the last three seconds to expire before leaving courtside.
During the Bullets' longest road trip of the season, in mid-February, the assistant coach, Bernie Bickerstaff, was sent ahead to scout future opponents. Two games into the trip a player asked a reporter if he had seen Bickerstaff. When the player was told he was out scouting, the player said he couldn't understand why because the team never had a practice to go over any scouting reports.
The Bullets lost five of seven games on the trip.
The Bullets also had a meeting before every game. According to several players, Motta usually wrote the matchups down on a blackboard and let it go at that.
"He (Motta) might have given us too much credit," Unseld said, "and maybe that's why he didn't say much before some of the games. We should have known some things without him telling us, but I think he gave us too much leeway and we weren't mentally capable of handling it."
As the losses mounted dissension started. Against New Jersey, March 6 at Capital Centre, Motta called a timeout because the Bullets were getting badly beaten.
This is what happened during that timeout, according to two players.
Elvin Hayes: "We've got to get the ball down low. I can foul (Maurice) Lucas out of the game if you get me the ball instead of shooting all of those long shots all the time."
Jim Cleamons: "If you get open, you'll get the ball."
John Williamson: "I agree with 'E'."
Kevin Grevey: "'Sure,' you're one for 12 you can't say anything."
The timeout ended. Motta had never said a word. The Bullets went back on the floor and continued to be blown away.
"Scenes like that happened a lot more than just once," said Unseld.
"We were the worst shot-selection team and probably the worst passing team in the league. We weren't one of the smartest teams around, either."
Statistically, the Bullets were the poorest shooting team in the NBA this season, making only 45.8 percent of their shots. No other team shot less than 46.1 percent. The Bullets also were last in steals and in forcing turnovers, two indications of their defensive problems.
"We have 11 people and they probably believe there are 11 different ways to play basketball," said Cleamons. "Everyone has a certain opinion, but the objective is to win. There has to be a little more give and take. We can't go out bitching with each other like we did sometimes and expect to win games."
Professional basketball players like to talk about intensity, a combination of mental and physical effort. Unseld said intensity was a problem for the Bullets all season long.
"Ever since I came here," Cleamons added, "I kept waiting for the intensity to get better. It never did. If it isn't there all season long, it isn't going to come all of sudden in a three-game playoff series."
Owner Abe Pollin said he will have a meeting, probably next week, with General Manager Bob Ferry, when he returns from the Aloha Basketball Classic in Hawaii, Motta and Bickerstaff.
Pollin already has said he plans to rebuild the team. The only players who seem sure to be back next season are Grevey and Greg Ballard.
Motta, meanwhile, had nightmares about his guards all season. He wanted to get rid of them all after the previous season, but kept since-departed Phil Chenier, Grevey and Larry Wright. Now he is in the same position and there is a possibility that Kevin Porter, Wright, Cleamons and Williamson may not be back.
Wright and Cleamons are free agents. The Bullets haven't even made Wright an offer, but they have the right of first refusal in Cleamons' case.
Porter cannot run a structured offense. Williamson is terrible on defense, and so unpredictable -- does he feel like playing tonight? -- the Bullets probably will get rid of him, too.
Wright probably is the team's best all-around offensive guard, but the Bullets have done nothing to show that they want to keep him.
"I'd definitely like to come back," Wright said after scoring 22 points against the 76ers Friday. "But it's not in my hands. Even if I don't come back, though, I'll know it wasn't because of my inability."
"They're going to make changes, that's for sure," Unseld added. "I never speculate on things like that, though. I don't know, what's going to happen."