The odds are not in Kevin Porter's favor.
That is nothing new. Ten years ago, the Baltimore Bullets made the unheralded 5-foot-10 guard from St. Francis (Pa.) their third-round draft choice.
He went on to lead the National Basketball Association in assists four times. Now he is trying to make the Bullets as a backup playmaker after missing last season with a torn Achilles' tendon. In essence, he is starting over at 32 in a sport dominated by players much bigger and much younger.
And now, he must also change his game to fit a new system.
"It's mostly a mental thing," Porter said yesterday. "I have to realize that this is a different team than the one I'm used to and some of the things I want to do out there, I can't do as easily as I did before.
"The system is completely different. When (Bullet Coach) Gene (Shue) drafted me 10 years ago, the system was just get up the floor as fast as I could. He never talked defense. Now, defense is everything. He took me aside and said, 'KP, if you can't play defense, you can't make this team.'
"That's probably why he's a good coach. He's changed his approach and adapted it to his personnel. With that old team we could win by just running. This team has to play defense."
Porter said his left ankle "feels strong. Physically, I'm in great shape. When I first started running and feeling the pain, I thought I was through. I don't feel any pain now. I'm getting up and down the court just as fast as the 22-year-olds."
The first few practices, Porter looked sluggish. There was no fire in his eyes and he did little to stand out.
In the last few workouts, however, Porter has rediscovered his game, especially in open-court situations.
"That's where my game is most effective," Porter said. " . . . But I'm trying hard to adjust to what Gene wants. He's proven that his system works, but I still have to get used to it. Even when we run, it's still a very confined offense. There isn't room for much free-lancing."
Shue will start Frank Johnson at playmaking guard, leaving Porter and John Lucas to compete for the backup spot. Rookie Bryan Warrick also plays point guard, but has been running with the first unit as the shooting guard the last two days.
"I consider all four of them about the same and we can only carry three of them," said Shue. "It's a numbers game and Frank and Bryan have the advantage because of their shooting ability. Bryan can play the big defensive guard, too. You can't have all small guards because there's too much physical activity going on."
Porter has been running with the third unit behind Johnson and Lucas, but Shue said that doesn't mean much right now.
"KP has a lot to learn," said Shue. "We run a whole lot of new stuff we didn't have when he was playing two years ago. It's an entirely different group than the Wes Unseld-Elvin Hayes bunch he's used to. I think he's doing fine, but the competition is really tough."
Added Shue: "He's getting up and down the court fine; he's hustling and playing defense. It's just a competitive thing now and the judgment of the coaching staff as to which of the guards we keep."
Porter is in the last year of his contract, and part of his salary is guaranteed even if he doesn't make the team. He says he wants to keep playing; even if traded, he won't quit.
"If they trade me or release me, that's okay, because I understand the politics of the game," Porter said. "This is the best profession in the world--playing basketball for pay.
"I used to live and die for the game, but not any more. It just isn't the foundation of my life any more. I could accept a trade or whatever they have in store for me. . . . I just want a chance to play. Kevin Porter isn't ready to retire."