If the Washington Bullets need a blueprint for a sure-fire way to rebuild a basketball team, they have to search no further than the Golden State Warriors, their opponents tonight at 8 o'clock at Capital Centre.
The Warriors were the National Basketball Association champions in 1975.
Last season they won 24 games, the second-worst record in the league.
This year, the Warriors are vastly improved. How they accomplished that turnaround provides a classic example of an organization going out on a limb with players other teams didn't want, making the right trades and drafting wisely, all without mortgaging their future.
As a result, the Warriors have won 11 of 17 games this season and are 10-0 at home. Only Utah, New York, Indiana and Golden State have gone from losing records last season to winning ones so far this year.
"We've made some big mistakes in drafting and in trades in the past," said Warrior Coach and General Manager Al Attles, who also was the coach in the championship season."We learned from our mistakes. We knew what changes we needed to improve and we made them."
The Warrior problems were glaring last season. They were 19th in the league in rebounding and last in free throws attempted, two signs of a non-physical, nonrunning team. They were weak on outside shooting and inside strength, their defense was a joke and their leadership was shaky.
In the offseason, Golden State traded one of its two first-round draft picks (the third pick overall) to Boston, along with center Robert Parish, for two Celtic first-round picks, the first and 13th picks overall.
With those choices, the Warriors drafted 7-foot Joe Barry Carroll of Purdue and 6-10 Rickey Brown of Mississippi State. With the first pick in the second round they took 6-8 Larry Smith of Alcorn. Those moves were made to help the rebounding and inside-strength problems.
Carroll hasn't been dominating, but usually is in double figures in both scoring and rebounding each game. Brown doesn't play much, but Smith has been a terror, and somewhat of a surprise.
He had impressive rebounding statistics in college, but weighed only 195 pounds and a number of scouts were leery of his strength. He bulked up over the summer, though, to 215 and now is eighth in the NBA in rebounding with 10.5 a game. Only the consummate offensive rebounder, Moses Malone, has more offensive rebounds than Smith. The man his teammates now call Mr. Mean already has had two 22-rebound nights.
The Warriors still needed a player who would drive to the basket and get them to the foul line more, who would take the important shots, who would provide some outside scoring. They also needed a small forward who could both score and play defense.
Enter Bernard King and Lloyd Free, two players with questionable reputations. Attles was satisfied both men were willing to play for him, and he made deals to get them. He traded Phil Smith and a first-round pick in 1984 to San Diego for Free and Wayne Cooper and a second-round pick to Utah for King.
Free, who doesn't want to be called "All World" anymore -- just plain "World" will do nicely, he insists -- has emerged as a team leader. He is shooting less, passing more and becoming one of the league's premier all-around guards. Only Adrian Dantley and Malone get to the foul line more often.
In a 119-108 victory over Phoenix last week, Free put the game away for the Warriors in the fourth period with four straight 20-footers, a layup, a double-pump 22-footer and an assist. Free finished with 38 points and five assists against the team with the best record in the NBA. Over the last six games, he has averaged 31 points and six assists and is shooting 58 percent.
King had an admitted alcohol problem that he says caused him to miss practices, planes and meetings. Last season in Utah, he was given a suspended sentence, probation and a $2,000 fine for "forcible sexual abuse" of a Salt Lake City woman. There still are drug charges pending in Salt Lake, as well.
In the last year, he has been treated medically for alcoholism, not attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and says he hasn't had a drink in months. So far, there have been no problems off the court. On the court, he is averaging 18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and is third in the league in field-goal percentage, shooting 60 percent. He also has been a solid defender and clever passer.
Carroll, Smith, Free and King all moved into the starting lineup to join last year's star, John Lucas, who has had some problems this season. He chooses not to talk about those problems, which led to his inexplicably missing a game in Portland Nov. 7.
Lucas didn't notify the Warriors. He failed to show up for the flight or the game and was fined heavily. He didn't start the following game at home the next night, but in 13 minutes as a reserve, he missed the only two shots he took and had five turnovers. The Warrior fans booed him.
"I've never been booed in my life, but I deserved it," Lucas said. "It was like they were giving me a spanking."
Lucas got his starting job back on Saturday and had four assists, made seven of 13 shots and had no turnovers in 29 minutes.
Lucas still doesn't want to talk about why he missed the game other than to say, "Everything has gone my way, until now. Now, adversity has become a part of my life."
Lucas' major assets are his penetrating drives, his passing and his enthusiasm. Those skills tie the new Warriors together. The bench features high-scoring forward Purvis Short and two defensive-minded guards, Sonny Parker and Billy Reid.
Parker held Phoenix's Walter Davis scoreless for the final 16 minutes Saturday. When he and Reid are in the game, the Warriors press, trap, double-team the ball and constantly harass weak ball-handling teams such as the Bullets.
Attles, who contemplated retiring as a coach last season, says he's delighted with his new-look team now. "I always said I'd know when it was time to quit," he said. "Now isn't the time."
Bullet forward Bob Dandridge, who has missed the last seven games with strained knee cartilage, practiced for the first time since the injury yesterday and probably will play tonight. . . Carlos Terry, who sprained his ankle in the Atlanta game Saturday, didn't work out yesterday and is listed as questionable for tonight. . . Reserve center Rick Mahorn sprained his ankle at practice and is doubtful for tonight. . . The Bullets are the top defensive team in the league, according to the latest NBA statistics. They have yielded only an average of 101.6 points a game. . . Kevin Grevey continues to lead the league in three-point field goals attempted and made, even though he made only two of six last week.