Gene Shue says he's excited about coaching his first game with the Washington Bullets after a seven-year absence, but he admitted yesterday he was more concerned with finding solutions to unanswered questions about his team.

The Bullets begin their eight-game exhibition season tonight against the Atlanta Hawks at Robins Center in Richmond, Va., and will play the Chicago Bulls Wednesday in Huntington, W. Va.

"There are so many things I have to get answered this exhibition season," Shue said, "and one of them is to find a big guard-small forward."

Shue also must determine how well the Bullets have picked up his system. He needs to know if the big guard he needs so badly already is in camp. And he'd like to find out if his present team can compete with the like of Boston, Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey in its division.

Realistically, there is only one spot open on the roster, with 17 players still in camp.

The Bullets' starting lineup is pretty well set with Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Greg Ballard, Kevin Porter and Kevin Grevey.

Shue said that unit will play the first eight to 12 minute tonight "and then we'll sub as we go. I want to see how certain combinations work."

When Bob Dandridge is healthy, he could replace Ballard as the starter, but they most likely will split the playing time at small forward.

Shue also is anxious to see how Mitch Kupchak stands up under the day-to-day pounding in his attempt to come back from the major back surgery.

With seven places on the roster assured, that leaves only four openings. No. 1 draft pick Wes Matthews, who signed a multiyear contract Friday, is assured of one spot. Dave Corzine and John Williamson have shown they can make significant contributions and should make the team.

That leaves only one spot. Rookies Ricky Mahorn, Daryl Strickland, Francois Wise and Ken Darcy and free agent Carlos Perry are the leading contenders, unless a deal is made for a more experienced player.

Another free agent, Kevin Holmes, and Lawrence Boston, who was signed to a contract late last season, have been impressive at times in camp.

"It'll be tough deciding who makes this team," Shue said. "How people do in the exhibition season will obviously have a major bearing on that. A number of players have looked good in practice, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll look good in the games.

"My intention in the exhibition season is to play all of my players and see what the younger ones can do. We also have to get the veterans used to the things we're trying to get done so they'll have to play enough to get that accomplished."

Corzine, who accidentally cut his foot last week, is the only Bullet not expected to play tonight.

Matthews said yesterday he has not had any trouble picking up the offense after having missed more than a week of practices.

"My progress has been good," Matthews said. "I picked up the system quickly and I know the plays well. It's just a matter of jelling with my teammates."

Matthews was drafted to compete with Porter for the starting playmaking guard spot.

"If Coach Shue thinks I deserve to start, I'll start," Matthews said. "I'll do what he wants me to do and if that is be a reserve I'll do it as hard as I can. It's just a matter of contributing where I can. Kevin Porter and I can play at the same time, too. We played a lot together in the summer and he handled the ball and I played the off-guard and it worked well."