Like the players on his ball club, Washington Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry spent most of the recently completed NBA exhibition season on the road. Whether he was seated at courtside or in the stands, his presence was felt as he evaluated the team.
"I'll do whatever I think has to be done to make us better," he said at one stop. "I want to see what we have. If we have to make more deals, we will, but I think we've probably done enough of that."
The Bullets will open the 1985-86 NBA season at the Omni in Atlanta against the Hawks tonight at 7:30 (WDCA-TV-20) with a group that was assembled in June, shortly before and just after the league's draft.
In a period of 24 hours, Washington added Dan Roundfield, Kenny Green and Manute Bol to a team that already included Gus Williams and Cliff Robinson, acquired in trades before the previous draft. The five men are part of the Bullets' attempt to move from beef to ballet.
Lost in the shuffle were Greg Ballard and Rick Mahorn, two members of the team's methodical old guard who were traded in June to Golden State and Detroit, respectively. Ferry and Coach Gene Shue are hoping the newcomers will provide better overall athletic ability, combined with a flexibility that will befuddle their opponents.
The elements are certainly there. The question is, is the health? The Bullets were one of the most surprising teams in the NBA last season, winning 12 of 14 games between Nov. 8 and Dec. 8, before a spate of injuries limited the team.
The most damaging were suffered by Jeff Ruland and Robinson. Ruland, having an all-star season, missed that game as well as the entire second half of the season because of a sore shoulder. Robinson missed about 20 games with finger, leg and knee problems. Their absences, along with that of Frank Johnson (broken foot), cost the team, which ended the season with a 40-42 record and was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Philadelphia.
Johnson reinjured his foot over the summer and missed the exhibition season. He will begin this season on the injured list and in his place will be Perry Moss, a veteran of the Continental Basketball Association, who impressed the coaches with his aggressive defense.
The coaches were pleased with the defensive work of their entire squad, and in particular with a half-court trap that troubled all of Washington's preseason opponents.
Part of the credit for the swarming defense belongs to the new assistant coach, Fred Carter, who also joined the Bullets in June after helping Kevin Loughery run it in Chicago and in Atlanta.
But Carter knows the specialized defense can't be run without the proper personnel, which the Bullets seem to have. New York Knicks assistant Richie Adubato, after watching Washington play the trap, said it compares with that of the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.
"That's because of the people running it," he added. "There's Bol in the middle, who will block shots, and you've got Charles Jones on the wings and Dudley Bradley out front."
Each of the players mentioned by Adubato are substitutes on the Bullets. Although that may be a sign of the team's depth, it also leads to questions about the starters.
Ruland looked great in the preseason, but forward Roundfield didn't play at all because of a broken bone in his left arm. Aside from the matter of their health, there is the issue of whether they all can happily co-exist. Robinson and guards Williams and Jeff Malone all like to shoot, and Ruland and Roundfield will be looking for their fair share, as well.
Shue thinks that running the basketball will help a great deal, increasing the total number of shots taken and giving everyone more chances. There was no problem during the exhibition season, as the principles of team play on defense appeared to take hold at the offensive end, as well.
It has yet to be established, though, to whom the team will turn when points are needed down the stretch. Recent league champions Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia all have dominant figures, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Julius Erving and Moses Malone, who are capable of taking control in a game's closing minutes.
Other teams that appear capable of challenging the big three also have forces. Milwaukee with Sidney Moncrief and Terry Cummings and Detroit with Isiah Thomas are examples. The Bullets, on the other hand, would appear to have a deep collection of good men but might be lacking a man.
That isn't necessarily bad for Washington, because it may mean that opponents won't know who might strike next.