He is back in a Buffalo Brave uniform again, promising, "I'm here to stay," but in Marvin Barnes' case, what he says is not always what he does.

Webster could have created the word "enigma" for Barnes, who possesses the type of talent that causes pro basketball experts to drool, but has made a career of violating laws, missing practices, walking out of contracts and waiting out suspensions.

It was Barnes who left a Rhode Island prison in October declaring he was a new man. A month ago, when the Detroit Pistons finally unloaded him after running out of patience, general manager Bob Kauffman shook his head and admitted, "Marvin hasn't changed at all. He's still a big kid."

Now Buffalo officials are the ones who are convinced Barnes is ready to get down to serious basketball after satifying a contract squabble with the club.

Barnes, who will be on the bench tonight when the Braves play the Bullets at 8:05 in Capital Centre, agrees.

"It hurt me to sit out," he said about his two-week suspension. "The one who was hurt the most was me, but I had to do what was right. It was a tough decision, but I feel a lot better about the situation now as far as business is concerned."

Barnes was obtained by the Braves from Detroit Nov. 23. He was suspended Dec. 6 after missing a couple of practices and a game. He returned once he and the club had worked out a plan that would help him pay off an estimated personal debt of $200,000.

How a player making $300,000 a year can be that much in debt is one of the reasons Barnes remains a mystery even to those who know him best.

A player of lesser talent probably would have been drummed out of pro basketball long ago, considering the off-court problems that have plagued his career. But Barnes had the kind of dominating ability, especially as a rebounder and scorer, to entice clubs to keep giving him one more chance.

"When he came out of college, I felt he was among the finest players in the country," Brave coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said. "He can do so many things well. He's a tremendous rebounder and proved to be a very consistent player in his two years in the ABA."

Those two years in the ABA apparently set a pattern for Barnes' basketball career. He was good enough on the court with the Spirits of St. Louis (24.1 points, 13 rebounds) to cost the Pistons $500,000 in the ABA dispersal draft when the leagues merged before last season.

He also disappeared during the middle of his rookie ABA season, only to pop up at a billiards tournament in Dayton, Ohio. He was fined several times for missing practice and once, after missing team flight, he chartered a plane and flew to a game, arriving late but still playing enough to score53 Points.

Just before that rookie season, he had pleaded guilty to assaulting a Providence College team-mate with a tire iron. He received a one-year suspended sentence and three years' probation, which he violated last year when he tried to take a loaded pistol onto a airplane in Detroit.

His two years with Detroit were marred by injuries, two suspensions, missed workouts and a summer spent in jail brought about by that violation of probation.

"Marvin is just one hell of a guy," said one Piston source," but he has no sense. He doesn't think before he acts. He just does what pleases him and then suffers the consequences."

His coach at Detroit, Herb Brown, who was fired soon after Barnes was traded, said the months in jail "didn't help Marvin at all. He came out with the attitude he missed so much that he had to start making up for lost time.

"It was so frustrating. When a coach doesn't like a guy, he can deal with that easily. But when you really like a guy, it just kills you."

Everyone who has been associated with Barnes agrees that part of his problem has been bad advice. He has fired agents and lawyers as fast as he could hire them and still he hasn't been able to curb spending habits that saw him trade in a $15,000 Cadillac for a 35,000 silver Rolls Royce when he was a rookie, even though the Cadillac was brand new.

His spending habit's finally caught up with him this season. He said if he hadn't been able to work out a way to pay them off, he might have been in violation of his probation. That might have meant a return to jail.

The Braves said they didn't give him any new money to get him to return, although he has incentives added to his contract that will reward him for a good season.

Barnes said he can concentrate on playing, so he can live up to "100 per cent of my potential." But his friends also remember what he said the first night he was out of prison.

"I'm not saying nothing, I'm not doing nothing. Not for a while. Then I'm going to explode."