There were any number of smiling faces to be found Tuesday afternoon at Bowie State College, where the Washington Bullets held a short workout before traveling to Indianapolis to face the Indiana Pacers tonight and attempt to win their fifth consecutive game.
There was center Manute Bol, who hurriedly arrived from New York, where the night before he had been a guest on "Late Night with David Letterman."
Another belonged to forward Kevin McKenna, who the team signed to a 10-day contract to replace the injured Tom McMillen. And another to yet-to-be-used forward Claude Gregory, accorded a second 10-day contract.
Center Jeff Ruland also was pleased after testing his right ankle. The bone, which was initially injured on Dec. 11 and has kept him out of the lineup for 22 games, was deemed healed enough for him to join the team in Indianapolis.
Although he missed the workout and will miss tonight's game because of the flu, guard Jeff Malone probably was the happiest person of all. The third-year sharpshooter was one of seven players added to the Eastern Conference all-star team after a vote by the conference coaches (The starting five was chosen earlier in fans voting). Bullets Coach Gene Shue wasn't allowed to vote for his own player but was left to express his happiness for Malone.
"I think that's just fantastic," Shue said. "Jeff is having a great season and deserves the honor."
Shue was in an ebullient mood himself, given the fine overall play of his team, which went 12-10 in the absence of Ruland, who was having an all-star caliber season at the time of his injury.
Now the Bullets find themselves faced with another challenge in the next few weeks. Foremost is the reincorporation of Ruland into the regular rotation. For now, Shue plans on staying with a front line of Charles Jones, Cliff Robinson and Bol, with Dan Roundfield as the first big man off the bench and Ruland working in in spots.
Eventually that likely will give way to a front line of Ruland, Robinson and Bol, the rookie shot-blocker who has become too valuable defensively to yield a starting spot. After that, everything goes up into the air with no telling how it may come down.
"I'm sure it will depend on situations, who we're playing and who's doing what," said Roundfield. "But whereas before Jeff was playing 40 minutes a night, maybe now it will only be 30 and me and everyone else will be scrounging around for those extra 10."
Roundfield has averaged 16 points and almost 12 rebounds over the last eight games. Jones has served primarily as a spark off the bench since joining the Bullets last season.
And then there's Darren Daye. The small forward has played extremely well of late, as part of a quick lineup that's spurred by guard Leon Wood. As was the case earlier in the season when the team sat him down for 10 games to give the now-traded Kenny Green an opportunity to play, Daye could find himself the odd man out.
"That's a definite possibility," Daye said at practice. "I guess it might be me or C.J. who gets what minutes are going to be left over. All I can do is play my game whenever I'm called upon.
"I'd like to think that I can help this team, but by the same token I'm very happy to see Jeff back and I know that the team is better off because of it."
According to Shue, it probably will be about 10 games before Ruland "is really ready to play well." After that, he said, "There's nothing set in my mind. So much can happen between now and the next 10 games, rather than worry about what could be then I'll just think about tomorrow's game."
Ruland also is thinking about the game against the Pacers. The center's first comeback attempt last season following an injury to his right shoulder was on Feb. 1 in a 102-95 loss at Indiana.
Ruland played 30 minutes, scoring 11 points with seven rebounds. But after the game the soreness in the shoulder persisted and he missed the remainder of the regular season.
"If the coach puts me in I'm going to play," said Ruland. "If you believed in coincidences and superstitions, you'd have to walk around looking over your shoulder all the time."
Bol said he was delighted about his nationwide exposure on the Letterman program with one small exception.
"That guy . . . I didn't get a chance to talk," he said, jokingly. "Sometimes I just wanted to cut him off."