In the process of upgrading their overall athletic ability, the Washington Bullets lost a sense of family with the trades yesterday of forwards Greg Ballard to Golden State and Rick Mahorn to Detroit.

Both men had spent their entire NBA careers with Washington. Ballard was the Bullets' cocaptain and player representative, the team's first choice in the 1977 NBA draft and the last remaining member of the 1978 NBA championship team. He said he saw the trade coming.

"I think it started about three years after we won the title," he said yesterday. "The organization seemed to be after a new beginning; it was in a transitional stage. The deals today make it complete."

The trade with the Warriors for Ballard was completed late Monday night. Shortly after midnight, the veteran forward received a call from Bullets Coach Gene Shue.

"I remember wondering who was calling me at that time," Ballard said. "I picked up the phone and a voice asked if it was me. It was Gene and he said, 'Know what? You're goin' to Oakland.'

"I was really surprised. You know how people are, you stay in one place for a while and you think you'll be there until your retirement date. I spent eight years with the Bullets and I thought that would be the case with me, but I guess not."

Attempts to reach Mahorn were unsuccessful. His best friend, center Jeff Ruland, said his fellow Beef Brother "was less shocked than I was" about the trade.

"I think he kind of expected it, not playing (very much) in the playoffs. He said all along that he would be traded," Ruland said. "Other than feeling real disappointed about losing two best friends, there's not much I can say. I'm paid to play, not comment about the decisions management makes, but I think Detroit made out really well."

Ballard and Mahorn saw their playing time drastically decreased in the playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Mahorn was a victim of the foul trouble that plagued him in the latter stages of the regular season. Ballard appeared to become expendable with the rise of Darren Daye.

Shue used the quicker Daye against the 76ers' Julius Erving. "I don't know about Rick, but Gene would come to me and explain everything he had decided to do and why," Ballard said. "I don't think it was a demotion of any sort. It was more the matchup situation."

Neither Ballard nor Mahorn appeared to fit in with the Bullets' idea of moving into a more transition-oriented game.

"Both Greg and Rick are terrific people," Shue said. "You never like to lose guys, especially classy ones, but I know that they both understand and realize that trades are just a part of the business."

Ballard agreed, and added that the move west will let him "put a little more energy into offense instead of banging against the people in the East all the time."

Mahorn's move to Detroit also is intriguing, because he'll be joining forces with Isiah Thomas. The 6-foot-1 guard has had a number of run-ins with Mahorn, but he was the first Piston to call Mahorn when news of the trade broke.

"He told him he was happy he was joining the team . . . ," said a Detroit spokesman. "Rick laughed about it and said everything was cool as far as he was concerned."