Phil Chenier says he has accepted his role as a seldom-playing fifth guard for the Washington Bullets, but he feels the condition is only temporary and that his career is a long way from being over.
"I knew I wasn't going to be starting this year, but I thought I'd have some more opportunities." Chenier said yesterday. "I'm doing all I can, but it is a challenge for me, I want to be able to contribute more and I think I can and will in the future."
Chenier played eight minutes and missed the three shots he took Thursday in the sixth game against the Atlanta Hawks, all of them 15-foot jumpers he used to be able to make in his sleep. It was his only action thus far in the playoffs.
Chenier had little difficulty getting open, but he had no spring in his legs and no follow through on his shots.
"On the first shot my legs were tight and I didn't get any lift," Chenier said. "On the (next) two shots, my arm was tight and I didn't get any follow through. I knew when I released the ball that they weren't going in.
"I thought I was moving well, though, and they weren't bad shots."
Chenier says he is not discouraged. He did have visions of returning to his All-Star form this season and he thought he would have been more of a factor for the Bullets. He has not pouted or sulked at his fate.
He has worked harder, run farther and shot more before and after practices than he ever did as a starter. And he has done it all very quietly.
"You can have only five people out there at a time; I realize that," Chenier said after the Bullets went through their final practice yesterday before today's seventh game with the Hawks at Capital Centre.
"Like I said before, I knew all along I wouldn't be starting, but I hoped to get more playing time than I did, especially with two guards hurt like we had. I thought I would work myself into the rotation, but it just didn't work out that way.
"I'm the fifth guard and I'm not going to get that much time. I've accepted the role for the time being. All I can do is try to be ready when he (Coach Dick Motta) calls on me. He told me before the last game that he was going to use me some so I was as ready as I could be and I did the best I could.
"Of course I'd like to be playing more, but we're in the playoffs, so there won't be many changes.
"The future is always now, so I am thinking more of what I can do to help us in the playoffs this year. But looking at it realistically, I know there will be some changes on the team.
"Personally. I have to look to the summer and training camp for me to earn a place back. I've accepted my position this year, but I don't want to become complacent. Next year I'll pull my hair out if I'm not starting."
Chenier indicated that it is possible he could be playing for another team next season.
"You never know what will come up," he said, "You just can't predict that sort of thing, I enjoy playing here. It's my home and I'm comfortable, but if I have to play elsewhere I'll deal with it the best way I can.It's not really up to me though. As patient as Abe (Pollin, the Bullet owner) has been, I'd never say, 'Play me or trade me.'"
After undergoing back surgery in the offseason, Chenier, who played in only 36 games in 1977-78, appeared in 27 games this season and averaged 5.8 points per game.
The Bullets are not the same team they were when Chenier was a regular, and he knows it.
"I used to think a lot about the old 'IC play' and coming off the screen for the ball," Chenier said. "But the role of the shooting guard now isn't what it used to be. It's more of a supporting role now. Our strength is inside with E (Elvin Hayes) and Robay (Dandridge).
"I knew this wasn't going to be easy. Being out for so long causes you to forget about some of the instricate things and you just can't pick up as much sitting and watching as you can playing.
"There was a time when I didn't know if I would make it back, but the fans and the Bullets have been very supportive and I'm committed to making a good comeback.
"Some times my back is stiff and other times it feels fine. I think that by next season I'll be more of a factor. At least that's what I'm planning on."