With Washington Bullets assistant Bernie Bickerstaff out of town -- reportedly in Seattle awaiting the announcement that he is to be the new coach of the SuperSonics -- thoughts in both cities already are turning toward the naming of new assistants.

Over the course of his 12 seasons with the Bullets, Bickerstaff has assumed an increasing number of responsibilities, including most of the preparation for upcoming opponents. More than one member of the team has said that's the most important area for the new man to be able to fill, a thought that may work against an early candidate for the job, Wes Unseld, now vice president of the team and its former center.

One of the obvious strengths of Unseld, a five-time NBA all-star, would be his work with the team's big men, particularly in the area of rebounding. That was one of the Bullets' shortcomings in the 1984-85 season.

Unseld was not available for comment.

Bickerstaff himself was thinking about whom he might hire should he get the SuperSonics job. A list of strong possibilities probably would include Dick Helm, a scout and one of then coach Lenny Wilkens' assistants last season, and Bob Kloppenburg, who recruited Bickerstaff from Benham, Ky., to attend the University of San Diego.

Bickerstaff apparently is considering the issue in Seattle. Attempts to reach him yesterday were unsuccessful, but his wife Eugenia confirmed he is out of town and isn't expected back for a few days.

Wilkens, whom the SuperSonics moved to general manager in April, has recommended Bickerstaff for the job over Milwaukee Bucks assistant Mike Schuler, the only other candidate. The SuperSonics' owner, Barry Ackerley, has met with both men, his talk with Bickerstaff coming last Thursday in Washington.

Questioned in Seattle Tuesday during the NBA draft, Ackerley said the announcement of the team's new coach could come "at any time," and that the choice for Wilkens' successor was "up to Lenny."

The announcement of his appointment as coach will end a lengthy -- and anxious -- waiting period for Bickerstaff, one that began virtually the moment he initially interviewed with Wilkens in May. One of the more secretive organizations in the NBA, the SuperSonics didn't contact Bickerstaff again until the league's predraft camp for collegiate players in early June.

Shortly after that, Wilkens told Bickerstaff that he was his candidate for the job, but there was still more waiting while Schuler was interviewed, by both Wilkens and Ackerley.

Throughout the waiting, Bickerstaff has walked a fine line, wanting to scream out an ardent desire for the job but trying to match the coolness exhibited by the SuperSonics. Complaining that just sitting and waiting by the phone was "driving me crazy," Bickerstaff has thrown himself into tennis.

But despite his almost daily proclamations of his unchanged status as candidate, Bickerstaff couldn't stop the wheels from turning in his head. "This is a perfect opportunity for me," he said. "If I were to get this job, it would be worth waiting the 12 years for.

"Everything about it is perfect. It's a young team but with good talent. The owner leaves everything up to the basketball people, and Lenny is one of the classiest guys in the league. You know that he won't be butting in and interfering with you like some other guys do."