Once again, ladies and gentlemen, a warm welcome for the Washington Bullets, the busiest little truck stop in the NBA. Please enter through the revolving door, like the players do, and say howdy to everyone. Don't take off your coat, though, you're not supposed to make yourself feel at home. Nobody sticks around too long with the Bullets.
In the past five seasons, 46 people have played for the Bullets.
How's that for landfill? Madame Tussaud didn't dress as many stiffs.
Let's stroll memory lane and see if you remember some of these swell office temps: Chubby Cox, Billy Ray Bates, Joe Kopicki, Mike Gibson, Tom Sewell, DeWayne Scales, Freeman Williams and the ever popular Claude Gregory.
In contrast, the Boston Celtics, a team with stability -- not to mention 307 victories and two championships -- used 24 players in that five-season span.
At the Bullets truck stop, not only should they have Velcro on the uniforms to make it easier to rip a player's name from the back of his jersey at a moment's notice, they also should stamp each new acquisition's jersey with an expiration date: "Bill Jackson. Discard before 12/87."
To no one's surprise, this season's Bullets are substantially different from last season's Bullets. There are four new Bullets, way down from nine new Bullets last season, and 10 new Bullets the season before. But wait, the season's just begun. Of the four, two will start, Bernard King and Muggsy Bogues, and Darrell Walker will get a lot of time. So for the fourth straight season -- beginning in 1983-84 with Gus Williams, Cliff Robinson and Jeff Malone, continuing through the additions (and subtractions) of Dan Roundfield, John Williams, Moses Malone, Terry Catledge and Jay Vincent -- the key Bullets will need time to get to know each other.
How much time do they have?
Usually not enough.
This season's Bullets will probably win the usual 39-42 games. But despite the Brian DePalma first half you saw last night against Atlanta, at least, with Bogues and King, they'll be interesting to watch. (Unless King gets hurt. Orthopedists all over town are wagering on who'll go down first, King or Frank "Dr. Scholl" Johnson, and in which games?)
On offense the team has something it hasn't had in almost a decade, three men who individually can score anytime, and, collectively, from any spot on the court: King and the Malones. (The presence of 32-year-old Moses and the soon to be 31-year-old King suggests that if the Bullets would re-sign Gus Williams, they would be in great shape . . . for the 1981-82 season.)
On defense, though, it has obvious liabilities. Who's Bogues going to check? He didn't seem to bother Doc Rivers last night. All the spirit in the world can't change the fact that he's at least 12 inches shorter than most people he'll guard. Do the words "post up" mean anything to you? And what of King? Bless his rehabilitation, but he's strictly an offensive player. With Bogues trapping, the Bullets will play a lot of zone and hope the referees give them a break after the first two technicals. The last few minutes they can play Manute Bol with Moses to keep opponents from going low.
The Bullets do get a break being in the Atlantic Division. We wouldn't have dared say that before any of these last five seasons, but age and injuries have eroded the beasts of the East. The 76ers are due for a dive, and there'll be a cushion to land on, the Nets and Knicks. Boston needed miracles to beat Milwaukee and Detroit in the playoffs. The conference balance of power has shifted to the Central Division, to those Dominiques, Jordans and Isiahs.
The Bullets can sustain an injury to almost anyone, except Moses, and still win enough games to finish second in the division: 38 should do it. If they're all healthy -- and that's really swinging on a star considering they're never all healthy -- the Bullets could win 50 games. (I know, I say that every year. You're right, I should be slapped. I'm such a hopeless optimist when it comes to this team. And every year they treat my trust in them like Lucy pulling the football away when Charlie Brown's ready to kick it. But really, King is a great scorer, and he's got the kind of charm that could make him this team's first genuine hero since Wes Unseld. John Williams can play three positions. Do you realize how much help he can be? Star players generally blossom late in their second season. By April, Williams could be Paul Pressey, and might be a Minor-Magic . . . Okay, I'm getting carried away. Slap me again before I get in a frenzy. Thanks, I needed that.)
As we wait, then, for the annual catastrophe, our thoughts turn to Bob Ferry, a man who has made deal after deal the last few years in a tireless struggle to keep the Bullets competitive, when by making less -- by not making the Moses Malone deal, for example -- he would have been in The Lottery with a shot at David Robinson. Star-crossed, Ferry is a salmon swimming furiously upstream. It's his good luck that admiration of the effort tends to obscure the result.