DALLAS -- Shawn Bradley took inventory of his NBA career last week, and admitted what many people have been whispering for quite some time.

"I've got to go out and do the things necessary to make me a better player, but also make me a better person," the Mavericks center said. "I know I can continue to improve, and I know I can bring something to this team and help this team win games."That's what the Philadelphia 76ers thought when they made Bradley the second pick of the 1993 NBA draft. Many NBA scouts said Bradley was going to use his athleticism to revolutionize the game.

But nearly six years later, Bradley is as much of an enigma as he was then. Mavericks coach Don Nelson benched Bradley late last season, and said he plans to bring him off the bench this season behind starting center John "Hot Rod" Williams.

"Shawn's coming along fine," Nelson said. "We like the progress he's made, and we think he can help us coming off the bench."

Bradley hinted he may retire when his contract, which will pay him a team-high $6.75 million this season, expires in 2000-2001.

"My wife and I have started a lovely family," he said. "We have four beautiful daughters, and there will come a time in the next few years where I'll have to make a decision.

"As much as I love basketball and I love being out here, I understand that there are other things in life, too. Right now we're happy, I'm playing ball and I'm able to juggle my family life -- which is extremely important to me -- with my basketball career, and it's working out really good so far."

When he came to the NBA, Bradley said, he was saddled with too many expectations. After all, the 7-foot-6 gentle giant played only his freshman season at Brigham Young University, where he averaged 14.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and an NCAA-high 5.21 blocks per game.

Bradley spent the next two years completing his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Sydney, Australia, where a basketball was as foreign to him as that country. After that, Bradley signed a controversial eight-year, $44.2 million contract with the Sixers, and the pressure has been building since.

"I got drafted high and signed a big contract, and that was pressure out of this world," Bradley said. "A lot of it was unwarranted and a lot of it may have been warranted."

The Sixers traded Bradley to the New Jersey Nets early in his third pro season, and the Nets traded him to the Mavericks after he wore their uniform a little more than a year.

Pete Newell, who has operated a camp during the summer for big men for 22 years, said he could have helped Bradley immensely had he enrolled in his camp before coming to the NBA.

"I do think initially when 1/4R the Sixers 1/4S drafted him and he'd been away from the game for two years, that's when I thought he could have come because we could have helped bridge the gap between college and the NBA," Newell said.

Bradley scoffs at the people who say he's short-changing himself by not working hard during the off-season.

"They don't know, and they don't understand," Bradley said. "It's real easy to look at a big guy and say he doesn't work as hard as the other guy, because he appears slower. Many times he is slower.

"It's just part of the stigma that comes along with us 7-footers. But I can't worry about what other people think. I've got to worry about what I think and how I feel about it, and go out there and work harder and become better."

Newell has worked with big men such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal and Ralph Sampson. He would love to get his hands on Bradley.

"Unfortunately, you have a lot of players who want to just pick up a paycheck and come to work, like some have done. They're never going to take their game to the next level."

Bradley said he hopes he doesn't fall in that category.

"I'm starting my sixth year and the best team I've been on only won 30 games," he said. "But there are still goals that I have that I know I can achieve."