When an elite group of recording artists gathered last winter to record the song, "We Are the World," for the "USA for Africa" movement, they were greeted at the studio by a sign reading, "Leave your egos at the door." Today, as the Washington Bullets open training camp at Fort Meade in preparation for the 1985-86 NBA season, the same sentiment applies.
Kenny Green, the Bullets' first-round pick, did his part yesterday after he and second-round selection Manute Bol signed multiyear contracts. Although he has been praised by both General Manager Bob Ferry and Coach Gene Shue as "instant offense," when asked if he thought he could crack the starting lineup, Green paused.
"Everybody would like to start but I'm not naive," he said. "The guys who are here are veterans, they've been playing for years. I don't know nothin' yet."
Terms of Green's contract were not revealed but his agent, Bill Pollak seemed more than happy with the results. After praising Ferry for his fairness in the negotiations, he made light of the importance of the actual numbers.
"Is it a lot of money? Of course it is," he said. "Is it more than any other No. 12 pick in the NBA has gotten? Of course it is, but then again it should be. This is 1985, the sport is healthier and revenues are up, therefore contracts should be up as well."
Bol reportedly signed for three years at about $100,000 per year.
For the Bullets' veterans, today's opening of camp will bring a challenge: they must try to learn and unlearn at the same time.
The learning is an extension of last season, when players such as Gus Williams, Cliff Robinson and Dudley Bradley were added in an effort to inject some life into the team's traditional slow pace. Then injuries hit and the team slid toward mediocrity.
Center Jeff Ruland was named to the Eastern Conference all-star team but missed that game as well as 42 of the Bullets' final 43 games with a shoulder injury. Guard Frank Johnson missed the second half of the regular season with a broken foot and Robinson was in and out of the lineup with assorted injuries.
There were at least two encouraging factors for the Bullets: guard Jeff Malone and forward Charles Jones. Malone, who averaged more than 20 points per game after entering the starting lineup in December, emerged as one of the best outside shooters in the league and played solid defense. Jones was signed to a 10-day contract in February yet became, next to Malone, the team's most reliable player because of his shot blocking and rebounding.
Now, however, comes the unlearning since this season the team's makeup has changed. Ruland and Johnson are back, Dan Roundfield was acquired from Detroit in the offseason in a trade for Rick Mahorn, and the team acquired Green and Manute Bol in the draft.
"We should at least have lots of flexibility," Ferry said. "I'm looking forward to it. Even now it's fun to go out to practice (some members of the team have been working informally for the last two weeks). I remember when our practices were like going to a rugby game. Now there's quickness, there's speed and there are lively bodies."
The Bullets' starting lineup should have three former all-stars (Ruland, Roundfield and Williams) and, in Malone and Robinson, two players who are just on the verge. That could lead to some sensitive questions in areas like passing and shot distribution.
"This is the kind of team that a coach will earn his money dealing with," said Ferry. "With multitalented players like we have, it's sometimes difficult defining everyone's role. This is the type of team where the players can, in a sense, do more than you really want them to."
That will be a problem for Shue, who will be without assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff, now the coach of the Seattle SuperSonics. Bickerstaff was a natural buffer and a go-between between management and staff. In his place will be Fred Carter.
"It'll be a little tricky at times but the thing is to get the most out of what the group has to offer," Shue said. "For example, with the people we have, we think we can play more of an up-tempo game . . .
"We'll keep different lineups out on the floor so things will be balanced as well but I'm happy to have to worry about it. After struggling like hell just to get into the playoffs every year, we're capable of challenging teams like Boston now."