Barring a trade or a spectacular training camp performance by Michael Adams, it would appear that the starting point guard for the Washington Bullets in the 1987-88 season will be from Wake Forest.
One candidate is 5-foot-3 Tyrone Bogues, the team's first-round choice in June's draft. The other is Frank Johnson. Recovered from yet another foot injury as well as tendinitis last season, Johnson is prepared to embark on what he hopes will be his first injury-free season since 1983-84.
"A lot of people say that I'm the most brittle person in the world or that I'm the unluckiest, but I think of myself as being very lucky," he said. "Lucky that I've been able to come back from four serious foot injuries and be able to sit here and talk about playing through a whole season."
After cracking the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot during his fourth year at Wake Forest, he stayed healthy for three NBA seasons, averaging more than 11 points and six assists a game after being the 11th player chosen in the 1981 draft. He also played in 229 of a possible 246 regular season games, including all 82 in '83-84.
Johnson's troubles began before the all-star break the next season, when he fractured the fourth metatarsal in a game against the Detroit Pistons. He played 46 games that year and in the last two seasons has been in just 32 of 164 games.
He is quick to point out that the main problem last season wasn't the foot injury but rather the tendinitis in his left knee. After breaking the foot in November and having a bone graft to repair it, he returned in February, but by March was sidelined again.
"People think that it probably happened because I was favoring the foot, but I disagree," Johnson said. "Usually when you favor something, the problem occurs on the other side. This happened because I banged the knee on the floor chasing after a loose ball. It was a sudden blow, no gradual process."
He said he has been lucky because his comebacks have usually come near the ends of the seasons. Last season, for example, in Game 3 of the Bullets' first-round playoff series against the Pistons, he turned in one of the few strong performances against Isiah Thomas.
Whether that helps him at the bargaining table remains to be seen. He is one of the Bullets' five veteran free agent players and although there have been negotiations between General Manager Bob Ferry and Bill Pollak, Johnson's representative, the two sides haven't come to terms.
"We've always liked Frank,," said Ferry. "Everybody does. You don't want to give up on him, but given his history you also have to protect yourself."
Despite his frequent injuries, Johnson is well regarded throughout the league. There has been talk that a new start might be what he needs, but he isn't sure that that's possible -- especially in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players association.
"I really haven't thought about a change doing me some kind of good," he said. "The Bullets have my rights, so, in a way, they'll be the ones to decide if I go anywhere else or not, anyway."
Although an agreement has yet to be reached with Bogues, Ferry said he was close to signing two of the team's veteran free agents; he wouldn't specify who. "I feel uncomfortable naming names until things are truly done," he said. The unsigned veterans are Johnson, Adams, guards Ennis Whatley and Darwin Cook and forward Charles Jones.
The team's veteran/free agent camp was scheduled to run through today but Coach Kevin Loughery decided to end it after yesterday's workouts. The Bullets will bring all but four of the 14 players into their veterans' camp Friday at Fort Meade. The four not asked were center Jim Grandholm and guards Kevin Carter, Vince Hamilton and Joe Jakubick.