SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- After labeling his team's 10-day stay at Shepherd College "my best training camp ever," Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld concluded that the upbeat atmosphere and uniformly hard work was as much a result of the players who were missing as those in attendance.
Before beginning phase two of the preseason with a game against the Chicago Bulls tonight in St. Petersburg, Fla., Unseld noted the lack of distractions while preparing his team for the Nov. 5 season opener.
"This time last year we had to concern ourselves with whether Bernard King, John Williams and Mark Alarie would be part of our team," said Unseld.
"But this camp was free of all that speculation, and almost all the players here reported in good condition. We got a lot of work done, and the new players seemed to grasp what we're trying to do fairly quickly."
Williams, who missed all of last season under medical suspension for excessive weight, was traded last week to the Los Angeles Clippers for rookie forward Don MacLean. Alarie, coming off 1991 knee surgery, retired last month.
King, who also had surgery in 1991, continues to rehabilitate his knee while the Bullets use half his salary ($1.25 million) in an effort to sign top draft choice Tom Gugliotta.
Three new players have been added to the roster -- MacLean, guard Brent Price of Oklahoma, the team's second-round draft pick, and Buck Johnson, the former Houston Rockets small forward acquired as a free agent.
And it should be only a matter of days before Gugliotta, the 6-foot-10 forward from North Carolina State, comes to terms. General manager John Nash is spending the weekend negotiating with Gugliotta's agent, Richard Howell.
When Gugliotta arrives, the Bullets will have 12 players with guaranteed contracts. The present squad breakdown (excluding free agents) includes four guards -- Michael Adams, Price, Rex Chapman and LaBradford Smith; three centers -- Pervis Ellison, Charles Jones and Greg Foster; and four forwards -- Harvey Grant, Johnson, MacLean and Larry Stewart.
Unseld must decide if he would prefer carrying a fifth guard or seek a proven rebounder via another trade. Gugliotta led the ACC in rebounding (9.1) as a senior but, like MacLean, is viewed as a small forward in the NBA.
The Bullets coaching staff has been impressed by the all-around guard play of free agent Tom Garrick, who has put in time with four teams since being drafted by the Clippers in 1988. The former Rhode Island star has shown the ability to hit the outside shot and also find the open man from the point.
The other three remaining free agents -- forwards Rod Sellers and Reggie Cross and swing man Pete Myers -- are regarded as long shots.
Unseld's has been experimenting with a big front line in the preseason, with the lightly played Foster auditioning at center, allowing the 6-foot-10 Ellison to shift to the power forward position for which he is best suited, with Grant (6-9) starting at small forward.
Foster has been a favorite target for Unseld's barbs the past two years for being reluctant to use his 6-foot-11, 240-pound frame. The California native has played "soft," settling for outside shots while avoiding excessive contact.
But given a new opportunity, Foster has looked more aggressive in rebounding, setting picks and crashing the boards for tips and follow-ups. In Thursday's intrasquad game, he made eight of 11 shots, grabbed six rebounds and blocked two shots.
"This is my third year in the NBA," he said, "and like Coach Unseld reminds me, it's time to prove I belong.
"All I do now is eat, sleep and dream of going for rebounds," he said. "Rebounding isn't a job anyone really wants to do. It's got to be a mind-set.
"I know I can shoot the ball, but I'll just let that come in the flow of the game and concentrate on the defensive end."
Asked how long he will continue his "Foster plan," Unseld said, "I've told Greg the job is his to lose. If he convinces me he can play like a center or power forward, I'll stick with him."
NOTES: Smith was doubtful for tonight's game with a hamstring pull. Unseld took all 15 camp survivors to Florida. . . . Michael Jordan was expected to make only a token appearance for the Bulls. . . . The Bullets return to practice at Bowie on Monday and Tuesday before resuming their exhibition schedule.