After injuries left the Washington Bullets without a bona fide center the final two months of last season, team management has been carefully monitoring the physical condition of Pervis Ellison and Charles Duckworth this summer.
Training camp is still a month away, but the Bullets are optimistic their two centers will be ready.
Ellison, coming off arthroscopic surgery on both knees, was the prime concern. He has been rehabilitating in Salt Lake City the past three months, and a report that he experienced tendinitis in the left knee, led to speculation the fourth-year veteran might miss all of training camp.
The Washington Times quoted therapist Jeff McFarlane Thursday as saying that Ellison could miss several games at the start of the season. McFarlane and Ellison's surgeon, Lonnie Paulos, were much more upbeat yesterday.
"Dr. Paulos told us that Pervis is right on schedule for training camp in October," said general manager John Nash.
"Naturally, we're cautious when knee surgery is involved, especially after what we experienced with [former Bullets forwards] John Williams and Mark Alarie. But tendinitis is something you expect after an athlete has been sidelined a long time, and Pervis has been running and playing basketball in recent weeks.
"Actually, we're encouraged by his progress. He wants to dispel the notion he is injury-prone and negotiate a new contract."
Ellison is expected to join the Bullets for informal workouts on Tuesday.
The chief concern with Duckworth, acquired last June from the Portland Trail Blazers for forward Harvey Grant, was his weight. Keeping close to 300 pounds has been a perennial battle for the 7-foot veteran.
Nash dispatched assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik and strength coach Dennis Householder to Portland in late August to check Duckworth's condition, and both returned with positive reports.
"I was as impressed as I could be," said Bzdelik. "I saw 'Duck' play in a charity game with a number of the Blazers and he scored 31 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.
"The next day, I worked him on my own. We ran three miles, did all the drills and he proved to me that he's done all the right things this summer in working on his flexibility and strength.
"After going through with what we did in recent years with Williams and Ledell Eackles, I'd have to say Duckworth is much more dedicated."
Duckworth, who recently purchased a home in the Washington area, also is expected to join the Bullets' workouts at Bowie State next week.
Bzdelik has been working regularly with guards Michael Adams, Brent Price and LaBradford Smith, and forward Tom Gugliotta, who has shown marked improvement in his low-post moves.