The Washington Bullets have gone through one of the most unsettling and bizarre seasons in the history of the franchise. And yet, owner Abe Pollin now insists, "the future looks bright."
"I guess I'm just a stupid optimist," Pollin said, "but I honestly feel all of our bad times are behind us."
Pollin is hoping that an infusion of a healthy Mitch Kupchak and Bob Dandridge, rookies Wes Matthews and Jeff Ruland and new coach Gene Shue are all that's needed to get his team back to the top of the National Basketball Association.
"I thought it was important for us not to blow our stack just because we got knocked out of the playoffs in two games," Pollin said. "I wasn't ready to panic. We have too many good elements on our team."
Many things must fall perfectly into place for the Bullets to challenge Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and Seattle for supremacy in the league in 1980-81.
When the past season ended, the Bullet organization was in disarray.
Coach Dick Motta wanted out. Elvin Hayes wanted to be traded. Captain Wes Unseld was contemplating retirement. Kevin Porter was unhappy and doubted he would be back. John Williamson was an overweight disappointment.
Also, Kupchak's career was in jeopardy because of a back injury. No one knew what Dandridge was up to, or if he ever again would play for the Bullets.
At least on paper, many of the on-court problems have been solved.
Motta, a conservative coach was replaced by Shue, who likes a faster pace. Hayes was told he wouldn't be traded and Pollin has somehow made him happy again. Unseld didn't retire and says he's excited about playing for Shue. Williamson has lost 20 pounds and also is eager. Kupchak says he is 100 percent healthy and anxious for the new season to start. Dandridge wants to show he isn't washed up.
And Shue says he'll put pizazz back into the Bullet attack.
Pollin said he hired Shue because the players would respect him. The owner also wanted an exciting, running team.
Pollin added that he had tried to accommodate Hayes and trade him to a Texas team, but couldn't work out a deal. "I couldn't just give him away. I told him that, and he understood," Pollin said.
Shue has looked at films of last season and says he likes a lot of what he has seen. He also says he is coming to training camp "with an open mind, and let the players compete for jobs."
Realistically, however, it looks as if shooting guard Kevin Grevey, Unseld and Hayes have starting jobs locked up. Dandridge and Greg Ballard will battle for the other forward spot and Porter and Matthews will vie for the playmaking-guard position.
Following is a rundown on the veteran Bullets and the rookies with a chance of making the team next year:
ELVIN HAYES -- Even though he is 34, he is still on the top of his game and should excel in Shue's wide-open system.
WES UNSELF -- Also 34, he is coming off one of his best seasons. He is healthy and looking forward to playing for Shue again. He should also get more rest this season, and that will make him more effective.
GREG BALLARD -- He is the Bullets' star of the future, the most marketable player the Bullets have right now.
BOB DANDRIDGE -- Injured much of last season, it is still not known if he has completely recovered or if he really wants to play for the Bullets. This will be the option year of his contract and he wants a considerable raise. When he is healthy, he is the Bullets' best all-around performer and a key to their success.
KEVIN GREVEY -- Perhaps the Bullets scrappiest player last season. He is Shue's type of player and, at 6-5, will be asked to do more on defense this year.
KEVIN PORTER -- The little drum major had a difficult time getting along with Motta, who tried to get him to change his style. Shue will let him play his game and that is music to Porter's ears.
JOHN WILLIAMSON -- "Supe" already has lost 20 pounds and Shue is counting on him for firepower off the bench.
MITCH KUPCHAK -- The 6-10 hyperactive forward-center says he is recovered from all his back troubles. His return will make the Bullets deep, versatile and more fun to watch.
DAVE CORZINE -- He will be pushed to make the team this season, but he proved a year ago that he can play and does have some market value.
WES MATTHEWS -- He was the Bullets' top draft pick, an explosive player Ferry says is one of the quickest he has ever seen. He will battle Porter for a starting job.
JEFF RULAND -- The 6-10, 240-pound rookie could end up as the back-up center if Kupchak is used exclusively at forward.
RICKY MAHORN -- He was the Bullets' second-round draft choice and has as much talent, Ferry says, as any rookie he has ever drafted. Finding a place for him on the roster could be tough, however. It probably will come down to him and Corzine for the last spot on the team.