Here's Gus Williams, dressed up but with nowhere to go, except to some faceless NBA arena for some scant playing time. After 10 years of glory, here he is, sitting on the bench while younger, more inexperienced players struggle to get the ball up court in exactly the kind of tense situation that Williams became famous for handling.
What's it like to be in the shadow of past glories and be just a shadow of yourself, scoring two points in Los Angeles, eight in Oakland and nine in Seattle, cities in which Williams went to school, was named rookie of the year and was part of an NBA championship team? If you're Gus Williams, guard for the Washington Bullets, what are you thinking?
"I was thinking that the team should have won those games," said Williams, referring to the losses to the Warriors and SuperSonics, as well as an overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons just before the all-star break, a game in which Williams played but eight minutes, none in the second half or extra period.
A longtime friend says that when they talk about Williams' situation, the player seems on the verge of tears. Publicly, however, Williams has been nothing short of the consummate professional -- patting teammates on the back and offering advice.
"The worst thing that ever happened to me was the year I sat out [in 1982-83 because of a contract dispute with Seattle]," he said. "I came through that with flying colors [being named the league's comeback player of the year the following season]. Nothing else is going to put a damper on my career.
"I'm just going game by game, trying to do my best whenever I get out on the floor. Everyone would like to be out on the floor for every minute of every game, but since I've been in the league I've never tried to figure out how coaches think or second-guess them. Things like griping or pointing fingers are out of the question."
The inconsistencies of Williams' season have mirrored those of the entire Bullets team -- a slow start, then a series of promising performances only to be followed by more struggling. In the team's last six games, Williams has made 19 of 48 field goal attempts, a 39 percent mark that's even worse than his season average of 42.
His lack of offensive production, along with what Coach Gene Shue perceives as deficiencies in Williams' defense, have caused Shue to almost abandon the player, starting him but yanking him early in games.
"We need defensive pressure in the back court. It sets a good tempo for the team," said Shue. "You do that and teams can't do what they want to do. It slows them down and interrupts their timing. Gus hasn't been doing that recently, so he doesn't play.
"He's been absolutely fabulous about the situation, nothing but class. As much as I respect that in a player, the name of the game is winning and the bottom line is that it's me who's going to be judged, so I'm going to do whatever I think is best for this team to win."
Part of that scenario includes the hoped-for maturing of point guard Leon Wood. After a splashy debut, Wood is in a slump as severe as that afflicting Williams, the difference being that Shue believes it's important to continue to play Wood, a second-year man, to allow him to build confidence.
The Bullets regard Wood as part of the future. What that makes Williams, a 32-year-old with a $750,000 contract that expires at the conclusion of the season, is uncertain. Washington General Manager Bob Ferry refused to comment on Williams' future with the team. Shue, as ever, takes a bottom-line approach.
"I can't predict what will happen, but realistically he's our property. If it doesn't get down to a dollars-and-cents issue then I want him back."
During the all-star break, there was speculation that if he'd accept a cut in pay, Williams would be welcome back with the SuperSonics, who traded him in an economy move. Not only would that return Williams to the site of his glory days but also put him in the Western Conference, where the style of play generally is less intense, less pressurized than in the Eastern Conference.
"He just doesn't look the same, walking the ball up the floor and playing in a half-court offense," said Pete Babcock, director of player personnel for the Denver Nuggets. "It looks like he's not even a factor out there."
"Teams in the West let you bring the ball up the floor and Gus has always been in the West," said Shue, referring to Williams' defense. "Gus has tried improving himself in that regard, but players have their own certain styles. A coach really can't change a player and Gus has been doing things his way for so long I don't think he really could."
Throughout his career, Williams' demeanor and style off the court never have varied. There is always the placid front, whether he's tied an NBA record by scoring 23 points in one quarter of a playoff game (as he did in 1984 against the Dallas Mavericks) or going through difficulties, as he is now.
And just because the Bullets are struggling, Williams doesn't believe he should be singled out.
"The only consistent player on the team this season has been Jeff Malone. Everyone else has been up and down," he said. "We'll play great for four or five games and then look just the opposite way for four or five. There are going to be some ups and downs over a season, but they shouldn't be as extreme as the ones we've had.
"The main thing is, though, that we've got a good team. What we have to do is dig in with each game from now on and try to find ways to win and get that playoff cohesiveness."
Williams said he hasn't thought any further into the future than the playoffs, and he won't speculate on a possible homecoming in the Northwest.
"People are always saying a lot of things. My reaction comes when something happens," Williams said. "If nothing does, then I just think about today and the Washington Bullets. Right now, there's nothing I can do, anyway, but play ball."
"I've made no plans whatsoever. I'm not even thinking about free agency. I'm just trying to get through the season."