These nine days and four games of the Bullets' postseason have been a think-along for Washingtonians.
What's running through the minds of Abe Pollin, Bob Ferry and Coach Kevin Loughery? How does what they see affect their planning?
For more than the next half. For more even than the next game.
For next season. And beyond.
This was prompted by owner Pollin saying, five days before the playoffs began: "I'm disappointed that we haven't done better . . . We're going to review everything, our own players and what, if any, free agents are out there that can help the team; trades to make or how we're going to draft . . .
"Because I want a winner . . . we'll stop at nothing."
Abe, be bold but not rash. Reshape the Bullets, but don't remake 'em.
That was the feeling here when Pollin spoke. It will be the feeling here if the Bullets lose the series-deciding game with the 76ers today in Philadelphia or advance to the next playoff plateau.
In Jeff Ruland, Cliff Robinson and Manute Bol, the Bullets have three fine front-court players all 27 or younger. In Frank Johnson, they have a 27-year-old playmaker/scorer. In Jeff Malone, they have a 24-year-old superior marksman.
You don't tear down that sort of nucleus. You build on it.
The possibilities for Bol are staggering.
"I remember when Akeem Olajuwon of the Rockets first went to college down in Houston," the 76ers' Moses Malone told Philadelphia reporter Phil Jasner. "He was scared of the contact, didn't know what to do. I worked with him, told him not to be afraid. After a while, Akeem didn't need me.
"Manute could be the same way."
An even better endorsement of Bol came from perhaps the most underrated point guard in the league, Philadelphia's Maurice Cheeks.
"There are times," he said, "when you have an opportunity to go to the basket and don't, because he's there. I've had times when I've dribbled into the lane and dribbled all the way out."
What Pollin and Ferry know and Bullets fans probably sense is that the team rarely has been close to awesome since it moved here from Baltimore.
The year they won the NBA title, 1978, they were only six games above .500 during the regular season. In fact, that team won only five more games than the injury-riddled gang did this season.
Also, the NBA title seems to float between the Celtics and Lakers. Of the 39 titles, the Celts have won 15, the Lakers nine.
The Knicks have won only two titles. The Bulls, Clippers, Cavaliers, Kings, Spurs, Nets, Pacers, Jazz, Mavericks, Nuggets and (Detroit) Pistons have not even advanced to the final round.
The Pacers have had the second pick in the draft two of the last three years -- and still finished with the second-worst record in the league (26-56) this season.
Only the 23-59 Knicks won fewer games than the Pacers. They figured they would soar well into basketball's stratosphere with Patrick Ewing.
This suggests that being awful for a while does not always guarantee excellence somewhere down the line. All that allows is the chance to get good. Only the Texas teams, Houston and Dallas, have improved in a dramatic way.
"I have so many first-round draft choices," Mavericks Coach Dick Motta said, "I don't have enough minutes for all of them."
Perhaps a trade can be negotiated with Motta. Or with one of the teams Red Auerbach and some others have had over the years.
Not every front office in the NBA is blessed with a personnel genius. And even very good executives are not flawless. Not long before the 1979 draft, Motta said of Magic Johnson: "What position is he going to play?"
The answer: whatever position he chooses. Johnson proved that as a rookie by playing center the night the Abdul-Jabbar-less Lakers beat the Sixers for the championship.
By being bold, the Bullets might be able to crack the lottery this draft. If they manage that, I suggest they think small.
Pollin has said Maryland's Len Bias would be a wonderful local addition. He would.
Johnny Dawkins would be a better local addition.
Under Loughery, the Bullets seem committed to a fast-paced offense. That means free agent Gus Williams can continue to be an important player. But he will be 33 before the start of next season.
Dawkins is exceptional because he can distribute the ball and also create his own shot. Like another very good left-hander, Lenny Wilkens, Dawkins could average 18 or so points a game and eight or so assists.
He certainly would seem compatible with any of the Bullets' back-court players. He also could play half-court passing games with Ruland.
An even greater concern for the Bullets might be rebounding, although Ruland's return caused a massive turnaround there against the Sixers.
Outrebounded by 60 the first three games, the Bullets had four more in the Game 4 victory Thursday night. That was misleading, because the Sixers still were without one of the best rebounders in the league, Malone.
If they stay healthy and General Manager Ferry hatches something better than Kenny Green this year, the Bullets should win more than 50 games next season.
That gets a team solidly into the playoffs.
Once in the playoffs, teams can get lucky.
For reassurance about that, Pollin need only recall the world championship season. Or look at his hockey team this season. Or his hockey team's opponent just now.