Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin said yesterday he "will do everything possible" to improve the team, including, possibly, trying to sign some of the National Basketball Association's higher-priced free agents.
Asked specifically about Boston's Kevin McHale and Cleveland's World B. Free, two players in whom Coach Gene Shue is interested, Pollin said he would discuss all possible acquisitions with Shue and General Manager Bob Ferry sometime next week.
Pollin, who in the past has been reluctant to bid for the more expensive free agents, gave an indication in January by signing Ricky Sobers for $300,000 a year that he may become more active in the marketplace. That's the most Pollin ever has paid for a free agent.
Sobers was one of the main reasons the Bullets were able to make a playoff drive, although it fell one victory short and, for only the third time in the last 16 years, the Bullets did not gain the playoffs.
"We'll consider everybody and everything," said Pollin, who added that his team lost money this season.
"We will use the free agent market, trades, the draft, anything we can to improve this team. We're going to do everything we can to make this a championship team as soon as we can. We aren't standing pat. You can't build a team like that. We have a good, strong nucleus, but we need to make some improvements, too.
"I met with Gene this morning (Tuesday) and we'll go over everything again with Bob next week."
The Bullets were 42-40 this season, winning 13 of their last 17 games. They were eliminated from the playoffs on the next-to-last day of the season.
The Bullets averaged 8,990 spectators for 41 games at Capital Centre, compared with 9,029 last season when they were 43-39 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. They averaged 16,788 for three playoff games a year ago.
"We lost a little money this year," said Pollin. "I won't know how much until we have our final audit, but we did lose money. We might have made money had we gone to the playoffs, but there are a number of intangibles there. It would depend on how far we went if we made money or not."
The success of the Sobers acquisition may be the impetus the Bullets need to go after McHale, Free or some of the other free agents who could have a major impact next year.
The other top free agents to-be are Mike Mitchell of San Antonio, Calvin Natt of Portland, James Donaldson of Seattle, Larry Drew of Kansas City, Rory Sparrow of New York, Allen Leavell of Houston and Mike Woodson of Kansas City.
Mitchell, 6 feet 8, is a runner, has a good jump shot and can play either forward spot. He was the Spurs' second-leading scorer (19.0) behind George Gervin.
Drew is one of the top point guards in the NBA. He was fourth in the league in assists (8.1) and averaged 20.1 points a game. Among the other players who averaged more than 20 points, no one had as many assists.
Free, who played for Shue at Philadelphia and San Diego, was eighth in the NBA in scoring this season (23.9) and has expressed interest in playing for the Bullets.
McHale, 6-10, a Celtics reserve, probably will be the most sought after of the free agents and is the type of player Shue is looking for to complement Jeff Ruland and Rick Mahorn. Sources say McHale could command as much as $1 million a year.
Under terms of the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement, five teams--New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Seattle and Los Angeles--will have their payrolls frozen at their present levels and will not be permitted to bid for free agents unless they reduce their payroll by the amount they offer the free agent. The other 18 teams have no such restrictions.
Beginning with the 1984-85 season, all 23 teams will have a salary cap of $3.6 million, or whatever figure they have at the end of next season, and will not be able to bid on free agents if signing the player will put them over that limit.
"I'm disappointed we didn't make the playoffs, but I'm very proud of the way we played at the end of the season," Pollin said. "We overcame all of those injuries and finally put it together. The whole league was talking about us. At the meetings, the other owners were even saying how they were afraid to meet us in the playoffs."