Julius Erving said it best, perhaps, when asked what he thought what was wrong with the Washington Bullets.

"They just aren't what they used to be," Erving said. "Times have changed and they haven't."

"It's like a zoo out there," Bullet center and captain Wes Unseld admitted after a 16-point loss to Philadelphia Saturday night. "No one knows what we're doing. That's not an excuse, that's just the way it is. We aren't functioning together."

The Bullets are not yet panicking, pointing fingers or grumbling too loudly. But after only five games, some alarming trends have developed, indicating this could be the season the Bullets come down with a crash unless something is done to shake them up.

After struggling to defeat the Detroit Pistons in the season-opener, the Bullets have lost their last four games and are in last place in the Atlantic Division.

Coach Gene Shue just smiles and says he'd rather not comment when asked about the Bullets' early season problems. So far, his team has demonstrated that it is slow, doesn't shoot very well and has trouble holding onto the ball at critical times.

"We're playing hard enough; we're just off-key," Shue said after Saturday's defeat in Philadelphia. "We'll get better."

"I think there is only one game (Saturday's loss in Philadelphia) in which we didn't play well," said owner Abe Pollin. "I think we could have won every other game. I'm not disappointed in what we've got here. I think we have a good team."

Shue isn't quite so sure.

"I knew when I came here this would be a tough job," he said. "There's always a period when you begin to slide. My job is to determine if that started last season, or is happening now. What I'm attempting to do is maintain the winning and, at the same time, rebuild. That isn't easy."

General Manager Bob Ferry said yesterday he is concerned about the team's slow start, but insists now is not the time to make judgements.

"I think it's too early to tell if we need any new people or not," he said. "We're set with our basic team. You make changes with the fringe people and hope you can come up with a star.

"There aren't a whole lot of changes we can make, anyway. You have to work out your problems from within."

Other sources around the NBA say the Bullets do not have the personnel to compete with the league's better teams and that the only way to improve involves making major changes. Pollin has been reluctant to do that, however.

Several sources in the organization say this is the season Pollin will finally get the message.

At the moment, the Bullets are having problems with Shue's offense, which is predicted on team speed and accurate outside shooting.

Elvin Hayes is having a particularly rough time so far this season. He scored 20 points against the 76ers Saturday to pass Elgin Baylor and become the sixth-leading scorer in NBA history. For the season, Hayes is averaging only 12 points a game and is shooting 32 percent. His bread-and-butter shot, the turnaround jumper from the left side, has been virtually nonexistent. He seldom gets the ball in position to shoot it.

"We have to go to our strengths and get the ball inside," Hayes said. "We have to put some offensive pressure on teams and we aren't."

The other main offensive weapons, Bob Dandridge and Kevin Grevey, are having their shooting troubles, too. Daindridge is hitting 36 percent and Grevey 38 percent.

"Nobody is really playing that consistent," Dandridge said. "I think Gene is still just trying to find out who is effective. This is an adjustment period for both the players and the coaches. I guess it's just a matter of Gene getting to know all of us and what we can do."

The Bullets do not seem to have any offensive flow. Defensively, they have played adequately, but not well enought to offset the struggling offense.

One of the most telling statistics involves Hayes and Unseld. After five games, they each have six assists. That isn't particularly strange for Hayes, who gets paid to score, but it is out of character for Unseld.

One of the top passing centers in the league, Unseld is now getting the ball where he can't pass it to anyone with a better shot, so he has to shoot. Hayes gets the ball where he can't make the shot, so is trying to pass.

"We have a situation where the guys have been running the same things for four years," said Ferry, "and now we've thrown in some new wrinkles. But the results should be the same. The right people should still be getting the shots in the places they can make them.

"It isn't the same exact offense, though, and maybe it does take time to adjust."

The Bullet buzzword these days is "adjust," as in slow to adjust, trying to adjust, it takes time to adjust and will we ever adjust?

Shue has a system completely different from the one the Bullets are used to playing, but he also has a veteran team that should be able to pick it up.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, who beat the Bullets Thursday, have a new coach, Bill Musselman, who never coached in the NBA before this season. Their starting playmaker, Mike Bratz, was with the team only four days before the Bullets game. Yet, the Cavaliers adjusted enough to beat the Bullets by two points in the final seconds.

The next night, the New Jersey Nets, with three rookies -- Mike O'Kern, Mike Gminski and Darwin Cook -- and a new guard, Foots Walker, adjusted enough to dump the Bullets, again by two points.

In both those games, the Bullets had the ball with plenty of time to either tie or win in the final seconds. Each time, they failed. The had three missed shots in the final 26 seconds against the Cavaliers and two in the last nine seconds against the Nets.

"The other teams in the league are getting a lot better," Ferry said. "It's not neccessarily that we're playing that poorly. The competition in the league and in our division is so great. We weren't even a .500 team last year and we split the season series with both Cleveland and New Jersey and both have improved from last year."

"I don't care what's going on; you should still beat the teams you're supposed to beat, like Cleveland and New Jersey," said assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff.