BOWIE — BOWIE -- It's long after practice, and most of the Washington Bullets have left, or are dressed and ready to leave. But point guard Robert Pack is the last to go. It's a common occurrence.
First he practices his jumper. Next it's free throws. Then it's on to an extended weight-room session. By the time Pack is ready to have his knees iced, even trainer Kevin Johnson has his coat on and is ready to leave.
"I always try to work hard, always try to improve my game," Pack said. "It seems like I've always faced tough situations, so I try not to take anything for granted."
And why should he? Statistically, Pack is having a season worthy of all-star consideration. He's averaging 18.8 points and ranks among the league leaders in assists at 8.4. While this team belongs to Chris Webber and Juwan Howard, let's be honest: Pack, adding a dimension of quickness, is the reason the Bullets (9-10) have had their best start since 1986.
"He's such an explosive player," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "He's really made a difference for this team."
But this time last year Pack was enjoying similar success with the Denver Nuggets, having beaten out Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf for the starting point guard job. After one month, he was posting all-star numbers. But he ended up fourth in a three-guard offense before knee surgery eventually cut his season short.
"I wasn't given the job, I won it, so it was tough," Pack said. "And still, I had to look over my shoulder all the time. All of a sudden, my minutes began to decrease.
"But I've been in tough situations before," he said. "Just getting into the league was tough for me."
That's because NBA teams wouldn't give him a look after he left Southern Cal in 1991. The scouts saw him play alongside Harold Minor. He ended his college career with a 13.4 scoring average and was fourth on the all-time assists list with 319, but USC coach George Raveling had to plead with teams to give him a shot.
"I wasn't even invited to minicamps," Pack said, shaking his head. "Come on, you hear of guys not getting drafted. But everybody gets to go to a minicamp."
Raveling finally persuaded Brad Greenberg, then the player personnel director for the Portland Trail Blazers and a former player of his at Washington State, to look at Pack. The Blazers saw Pack at the Los Angeles Summer League, and eventually signed him.
"I told Robert that the greatest compliment was that they cut Walter Davis, a player with a guaranteed contract, to keep him," Raveling said. "Robert is a young man that was never lacking in confidence, but he was always the victim of other people lacking in confidence in him."
Portland was a learning experience for Pack, who closely watched Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler and Danny Ainge. That lasted a season, after which the Blazers traded him to Denver for a second-round pick.
In his first year in Denver, Pack averaged 10.5 points off the bench. The next year it was Pack who was the difference in the first-round upset of the Seattle SuperSonics -- the first time in playoff history an eighth seed had beaten a No. 1 seed.
The starting role followed. Then there was no role, which eventually led to the trade to Washington. With another Bullets ,, newcomer, Mark Price, out with a foot injury, Pack had no worries about his minutes.
"It was a blessing to come into a situation where I knew I could relax and not worry," Pack said.
Not that there weren't any differences to smooth over. Asked about Pack during a preseason press luncheon, Webber choose not to comment and later expressed disappointment that the team didn't talk to him before making the deal.
"[Webber] came to me, and explained what his thoughts were, and I respect him for that," Pack said. "And now that's done. If anybody had any doubts about what I could do, I just wanted to get on the court and prove it to them."
Webber doesn't appear to have any more doubts.
"The difference between this year's team and last year?" Webber said. "[Pack] is definitely one of them."
Pack's still not out of the clear. For all his accomplishments, he still may have to look over his shoulder when Price returns, and general manager John Nash said that could be in mid-January.
Pack says he'll welcome the competition.
"That's down the road," Pack said. "Mark is a great player, a proven all-star. But at the same time I'm not just going to lie down when he gets back.
"I wouldn't be true to myself if I did that, and I wouldn't be true to the team."
Opponent: Los Angeles Lakers
Site: USAir Arena, Landover
TV/Radio: HTS/WTEM (570 AM)
Outlook: This is final home game for the Bullets before embarking on a five-game, weeklong West Coast trip that starts Sunday in Portland. The Lakers have won three of their past four games, including Wednesday's victory at Detroit. Washington is looking to win three straight for the first time since the 1992-93 season, and a win would put the team at .500 going into the road trip. The Bullets have lost three straight to the Lakers, five of the past six and eight of the past 10. F Chris Webber played big in two games against the Lakers last season, averaging 26.5 points and 16.5 rebounds.