Compared with baseball's restful, almost exotic training rituals of spring, pro basketball starts in less paradisal circumstances. For the Washington Bullets, the long season begins at Fort Meade today.
Of the 20 players invited to their camp, two are not likely to attend: veteran Kevin Grevey and first-round draft choice Jeff Malone, who has not yet signed a contract.
General Manager Bob Ferry has been trying to make a deal for Grevey for several months. "I've given the (Milwaukee) Bucks permission to talk with Kevin but it's not much further than that," Ferry said. A deal could be completed as soon as the details concerning the transfer of Grevey's contract are resolved.
The Bullets traded with Kansas City yesterday for former De Matha and North Carolina State star Hawkeye Whitney. The Kings received "future considerations" for Whitney, a 6-foot-5 guard kept from playing by a knee injury.
Grevey, 30, earns $350,000 a year and has two years left on his contract. An eight-year veteran, Grevey's basketball fortunes have been in decline: Last season he averaged 7.2 points a game, suffered several injuries and spent most of his time on the bench behind Don Collins, Frank Johnson and Ricky Sobers.
Coach Gene Shue had hoped that Malone, a good shooting guard from Mississippi State, would develop in camp, but then came the difficulties in signing him.
"That's already hurt us," Shue said. "We drafted him with the idea that he might even move in as a starter, but that's gone for the time being. He missed the summer program, which is so important."
For a deliberate, patterned team like the Bullets, camp is a time not only for conditioning but for teaching. Taking variations into account, the Bullets have about 100 plays they can use in a given game.
Shue, who coached great individual offensive players like Julius Erving and George McGinnis in Philadelphia, said, "I designed these plays for the talent we have. We don't really have any one-on-one players like in Philly.
"We have to improve to catch the top teams. The last couple of years we've played .500 ball and that's not close. It's not likely that we're going to afford players who make $2 million, but I'm hopeful that we can improve by degrees."
Jeff Ruland, who has a little weight to work off, and Rick Mahorn are probably the only players assured of starting.
Tom McMillen, who came to the Bullets in a trade with Atlanta, and second-year pro Joe Kopicki probably will play utility roles in the front court, and Greg Ballard, a starter the past four years, will be counted on for his shooting. Michael Britt, from UDC, and UCLA's Darren Daye will compete for a spot on the roster as forwards.
In the back court, Shue is hoping Malone's shooting will complement the passing of Johnson, Collins and Sobers.
"Nothing's set," Shue said. "We have to improve and competition for spots on the roster and the lineup are great for that."