Phil Chenier, who has been sidelined for more than a year with a back injury, will join the Bullets Saturday for his first formal workout with the team this season.
Chenier, a seven-year veteran from California, underwent surgery in September to correct a degenerative disk in his lower back. He has been practicing in his own since early December, waiting to receive medical clearance to rejoin the club.
"I'm happy and excited," Chenier said. "I'm moving well and I don't have much pain. This is just the next hurdle in my comeback."
Chenier last appeared in a game Jan. 8, 1978, at New Jersey. He pulled a hamstring in that contest and then the back pain, whcih had caused him to miss training camp, returned. He delayed surgery until, as he put it, "i had exhausted the alternatives and an operation became the only avenue if I wanted to play baxketball again."
Neither Chenier nor the club has any idea how long it will take him to round into game shape. He has not been in top condition since the conclusion of the 1976-77 season, when he averaged 20 points, second only to Elvin Hayes on the team.
"You've got to remember," said General Manager Bob Ferry, "that he hasn't been in a uniform for a long time and we don't know what it will take to get him back.
"This is a difficult time for us because of our schedule. There just aren't that many preactice days, and that isn't going to help him, either."
"We aren't putting any pressure on him," Ferry said. "There is no way of telling when he will be ready. We have to study the way he moves and the way he responds to practicing.
"It will probably be a joint decision once he begins playing well."
When Chenier is ready to play, the Bullets will face a difficult personnel decision because they already have trouble giving sufficient playing time to their four veteran guards.
"I don't know where I really will fit into this team. That's something we have to find out," Chenier said.
Chenier has an 18.9 career scoring average, with a career high of 53 points, and has been in three All-Star games. Along with Hayes and Wes Unseld, he was one of the cornerstones of the franchise until he hurt his back.
After missing training camp last season, Chenier didnht start his first game until December. He was just beginning to feel comfortable and move with his normal grace when, seven games later, he hurt the hamstring.
He wound up playing in only 36 games, averaging 14.1 points. Despite his absence, the Bullets pulled off a major surprise by winning the NBA title with Charles Johnson, a castoff from Golden State, taking Chenier's spot on the roster.