LANDOVER -- It was a position where the Washington Bullets obviously needed the most help, and in acquiring Kevin Duckworth to play center the team figured it had a scoring threat who also was capable of throwing his 7-foot, 275-pound body around in the middle. But a quarter of the way into the season, things have not worked out as planned.
"Everything that has happened so far," Duckworth said yesterday, "is not what I expected."
He expected to be a go-to man in the post and average 15 to 18 points a game, as he had done in becoming an All-Star with the Portland Trail Blazers. Instead, he is averaging 8.7 points and seeing his fewest minutes since his 1986-87 rookie season.
It has been a tough adjustment for Duckworth, who yesterday requested a meeting with coach Wes Unseld to discuss his role on a Bullets team in the throes of an eight-game losing streak heading into tonight's game against the visiting Detroit Pistons.
Neither Duckworth nor Unseld would discuss the specific details of the meeting -- Unseld's only comment on the talk was "good meeting." Still, Duckworth said that enough good came out of the talk that he hopes it will help jump-start his game.
"It came out very positive, and it's something I wish we had done a long time ago," Duckworth said. "Basically, I'm going to play a better role. Hopefully, I'll be more active."
What that "better" role is remains to be seen, but for Duckworth it is at least a role. When he came to the Bullets in June, he assumed he'd play the role of go-to center, similar to the 1988-89 season when he scored 18.1 points and was named to the Western Conference All-Star team.
That has not been the case. He was in far from peak condition when he reported, and had an unimpressive debut with nine points and three rebounds in 41 minutes against the Philadelphia 76ers. He's never been known as a defensive center, so he hasn't been able to provide much help to a team whose 108.2 points allowed per game is second worst in the league behind Sacramento.
He's been known in the past for his scoring ability, but Duckworth has failed to score above 15 points in any game this season (he's shooting 41.8 percent from the field) and has seen his playing time drastically reduced. He hasn't played more than 30 minutes since Dec. 1 in Boston.
Duckworth said he's noticed a pattern: he gets the ball in the first quarter, then is a mere spectator -- either on the bench or on the floor -- the rest of the game.
"The fact is you get the ball early, and then you're faded out," Duckworth said. "When that happens, I fade myself out."
One thing that hasn't faded are boos from the home fans, who expected more from him.
"People boo me all the time, but I can overcome that," Duckworth said. "I want respect from my teammates, I don't care if I don't get the respect from the fans."
The fans may be showering the whole team with boos if the quality of play doesn't pick up. True, Duckworth has struggled, but he can't be singled out on a team that had allowed 11 straight opponents to shoot over 50 percent before Tuesday's loss at Indiana. In a league where defense is a key to success, a lack of it has been the Bullets' undoing.
And the offense has become stagnant: in Tuesday's loss at Indiana, Washington recorded a season-low 12 assists and shot 36.4 percent.
"It's been ugly, with a capital U," Bullets general manager John Nash said. "This happens to most teams during the course of a season. What's disturbing is that we're not executing at either end."
Nash is hoping the team can turn around the 0-for-December streak before there is any further damage.
"Confidence is a fragile thing," Nash said. "And I think our confidence has been severely shattered. We're just not playing with the same energy."
For Duckworth, he's hoping his energy picks up after the meeting with Unseld.
"It's been very discouraging, especially when you know you're not doing the things you're capable of doing," Duckworth said. "But this talk for me was good. Before I didn't know my role. Now I do."
What that means in terms of Bullets success remains to be seen.