Coach Gene Shue, asked yesterday if there was anyone available who could come in and give the slumping Bullets the scoring boost they need to end a five-game losing streak, replied: "Paul Westphal."
"Westphal would be perfect for our team," Shue said before the team departed on a six-game trip that makes its first stop tonight in San Antonio (WDCA-TV-20, 8 o'clock). "He's an intelligent player who ran a lot of plays at Phoenix. He's disciplined, he's versatile and he can play defense. He's just what we need."
For Shue to be talking about the five-time all-star guard is somewhat like a sailor talking about wanting a yacht. At the moment, Westphal still is the property of Seattle and carries a big price tag.
"I talked to the Sonics a while ago and they expect compensation," said General Manager Bob Ferry. "We don't have a player they want and I wouldn't give them a No. 1 draft choice if I had one.
"This is not a money decision," Ferry went on. "The problem is you can't insure him. He's had two operations on the same foot and I don't think Lloyd's of London will touch that foot now. Even if they did, the premiums would be out of sight, almost as much as his salary."
After being acquired from Phoenix in exchange for all-star guard Dennis Johnson, Westphal had a stress fracture last season and played in only 36 games. Last summer, he suffered a clean break in the same fifth metacarpal bone and has been inactive since.
Westphal, 31, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, has said he is completely healthy now and works out daily at Seattle Pacific University. He has said the only offer he received from the Sonics was insulting, and since then his attorney, Howard Slusher, has been shopping around.
Slusher, also unavailable yesterday, had one meeting with Sam Schulman, Seattle's chairman of the board, and they could not reach an agreement. The Sonics reportedly want to pay Westphal on a per game basis, $4,000 a game, in order to protect themselves in case of another injury. The attorney said he could accept that, if there was an option for the next year calling for a guaranteed contract near $600,000.
The first team that showed interest in Westphal was San Diego, where his brother Bill is an assistant coach. Donald Sterling, the new owner, then said that if he signed Westphal his team might improve to .500 and won't have a top draft choice, so negotiations stopped.
The Clippers recently traded one guard, Freeman Williams, to Atlanta and Sunday night another, Brian Taylor, tore his Achilles' tendon, so there could be interest there again.
Westphal said before the all-star break that he was pinning his hopes on going to Indiana, but apparently the Pacers have had second thoughts and stopped negotiations.
"Paul would really help us," said Ferry. "If everything is right. The old Westphal is just what we need, but how do we know? He was a great player, but if there's nothing wrong, why is he available? Right now he's a hell of a risk.
"Time also is a factor," the general manager said. "Even if we could get together with Seattle on compensation in the next couple of days, the Sonics have 15 days to decide whether to match our offer. Then it would take Paul at least two weeks to get in shape and learn our system, so we're talking about March before he's ready.