By now, Bullet faithful must feel almost totally lobotomized. There has been so much information lately -- and so much of it contradictory -- to suggest an immense athletic soap opera being staged within Capital Centre. The Perils of Pollin, it might be called, for what we have is an owner trying to break up a team he cherishes without it breaking his heart.
In mid-March, Abe Pollin talked of a significant rebuilding effort, correctly sensing the Bullet would limp into the playoffs and quickly limp out. He added: "I expect (Dick Motta) to be the coach next year."
On April 7, Pollin was saying: "We will do whatever it takes to build a winning team." The next day Motta said: "I want to come back and coach this team next year and that's what I expect to do. I don't want to run from anything. I never ran from a job in my life and I'm not afraid of the challenge of rebuilding this team."
Shortly, Motta began to run, toward San Antonio, Dallas and San Diego, almost anywhere with a team that has a "coaching vacancy" sign flashing. This was after he publicly said he wanted an extension on a contract that had a year to run -- and Pollin countered by suddenly insisting he was "reevaluating the whole coaching picture."
Less than a week ago, Motta spun completely around and insisted he would return to the Bullets only if he did not sign a contract extension. Finally, he admitted: "i just think it's time to move on. There was a time to leave Grace (Idaho), a time to leave Chicago (the Bulls) and now it's time to leave the Bullets.
"The Bullets were a chapter in my life, but now it's time to turn the page."
That ended perhaps the longest goodbye in athletic history. Who else has left a job about a year after he wanted to? Motta thought it was time to turn that career page last year, when the Bullets made the NBA playoff finals but failed to successfully defended their championship.
Although they lost to Seattle in five games, the Bullets seemed to endear themselves to the town almost as much as when they won the title. They had played exceptionally well the entire season -- and everyone appreciated it.
Still, Motta's handicapping sense, his flair for determining a team's potential long before it plays a serious game, told him the Bullets would not soon reach such heights again. He also realized that a rookie, Magic Johnson, would inspire Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and that the open Laker job was the best in sports.
A unique talent, a 6-foot-8 lead guard who also can play power forward, and the best player of his basketball generation could make Kermit the Frog a successful coach and a good coach seem a genius.
Nobody lasts as long as Motta in the NBA without uncommon instincts for survival. A native westerner, he could stay at the top of his profession with the Lakers. But Pollin refused to allow Motta to hustle for the job, because he had two years left on his contract.
In retrospect, it was a mistake. Although Pollin did try and correct the dreadful situation at guard by trading for Kevin Porter, he created the possibility of Motta losing interest at the first sign of Bullet distress last season.
That happened in training camp, when he discovered that Porter's skills would not blend with those of Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld in the new offense he had concocted. Motta now must be cursing his fate, for a Shakespeare scholar only basketball insiders knew, Paul Westhead, is riding Kareem's shoulders to unimagined glory.
And Motta's best alternative might be the least disciplined outfit anywhere, the Spurs, whose idea of a great pattern is the team logo.
So what do we make of all this? That Pollin also seems to be turning a page -- backwards.
At least by his actions, Motta has been screaming at Pollin that the Bullets need a change, fresh blood, players who can be instantly creative. No more Supe. Trade whoever is tradeable and begin anew.
That seemed to be on Pollin's mind less than two months ago. But his allowing Motta to leave, if not quite pushing him out, suggests the owner does not have rebuilding on his mind. Perhaps a facelift at most.
Possibly, the idea of tampering with players who have brought him so much joy is too much to bear. And with good reason. Wes Unseld has given the Bullets credibility and class for all of his 12 years with Pollin. He makes sport's all-human team.
Hayes made the Bullets financially viable in Washington. He is best appreciated from afar, although he sells tickets by scoring and rebounding like few players ever. He has said he wants to end his career in Texas. Pollin apparently will not let him, possibly because he cannot get equal value in a trade.
And Bobby Dandridge, for all his mercenary tendencies, for seeming to embody much of what Pollin despises, did in fact provide the NBA title the owner so coveted. They are said to have agreed on a contract for next season.
Instead of remaking the Bullets, instead of providing players who can get along with the coach, Pollin seems ready to hire a coach who can tolerate E and D and P. He seems committed to gambling that Mitch Kupchak and Dandridge will return to form and that all will be well again.
That feeling is emphasized by the sudden romance with Gene Shue, the Bullet coach from '66 to '73 who did not want to follow the team from Baltimore. He clearly knows the team and would be comfortable with the players.
But is he the best choice to replace Motta? He encourages free-lancers in a team game. He has had exceptional talent in 12 NBA years, but this teams have won only six more games than they have lost. He has been fired once and quit once since leaving the Bullets.
There are some excellent, untried head-coaching possibilities in basketball, at the college and pro level. Pollin ought to examine all of them. But his recent pattern has been to try and recapture the past.
He brought Porter back from Detroit.
He must seriously ask himself whether an old Shue still fits.