When John Nash moved his general manager's desk from Philadelphia to suburban Washington, he had no misconception that he was switching from one contending team to another. The Bullets just aren't very good.
But as the preseason moves inexorably toward the real thing, the possibility looms that they might not even deserve that high a rating."I knew this wasn't going to be easy," Nash said last week. "I told them what to expect. So this isn't a total shock."
Nash rolled the dice early in his tenure with the Bullets, trading sharpshooting guard Jeff Malone for talented but iffy center Pervis Ellison. With Ledell Eackles picking up for Malone and John "Sam" Williams coming back from knee problems, the Bullets figured to shuffle along at about .500.
But Nash's best-laid plans didn't include a holdout by Eackles, a restricted free agent, or a no-show by Williams.
"Those have been big losses - there's no question about it," Nash said.
Combine the absences with a spate of injuries and you get a starting backcourt of Haywoode Workman and A.J. English, which is what the Bullets had for an exhibition game last week.
Eackles, who averaged 13.5 points per game last season, wants a four-year guaranteed contract worth approximately $5.5 million. He is being represented by agent Eddie Sapir, a Louisiana magistrate, and says he is willing to sit out the season.
The matter of Williams is more difficult to understand - one of those "classic bizarre situations," according to Nash, who used to have to worry about Andrew Toney and knows about bizarre situations.
The Bullets have been withholding Williams' salary since July, when it was determined that Williams had stopped visiting the fitness center where he was rehabilitating his knee. Right now, the total amount withheld is $276,000.
"Unfortunately, it's a mystery to me why he isn't here," Bullets owner Abe Pollin said last week. "I haven't heard from him. Frankly, I was hoping he would show up and do the responsible thing."
Meanwhile, coach Wes Unseld has has to deal with injuries to Ellison, Tom Hammonds, Harvey Grant, Bernard King, Darrell Walker and Steve Colter. Things got so bad that the Bullets broke training camp two days early, lacking enough healthy bodies to make continuing the camp worthwhile.