Phil Chenier, plagued by a back injury that forced him to miss most of the last two seasons, is suffering again from back spasms and may not be able to practice today when the Washington Bullet veterans begin preseason workouts at Forte Meade.
The other veterans not expected to attend today are free-agent guard Kevin Grevey, who still has not signed a contract, and forward Mitch Kupchak, who underwent back surgery June 29 and is at least six weeks away from being able to play full speed.
Chenier said he began getting the spasms about a week ago and he is not sure when he will be able to play. He did insist, however, that he did not feel the spasms were serious.
"I've been improving, it's a day-to-day thing," he said. "It's a small irritating thing and I just don't need anything separating me from the practice routine. I hope it's a small setback because I do feel that starting guard spot is open and a lot depends on how I do in camp."
Grevey, Chenier and second-year man Roger Phegley are expected to compete for the big-guard spot. With Grevey not in camp and Chenier slowed by his bothersome back, Phegley has the inside track and team sources say he is not going to lose it.
Chenier's back problems have severely diminished the skills that once made him one of the premier guards in the league. He had surgery to repair a herniated disk last September. He came back late in the season and worked hard rehabilitating this summer. He now has his sights set on regaining his starting job, and he knows that may be the most important training camp of his career.
"I'm really looking forward to this camp," Chenier said yesterday. "If I'm to have a good year, I' know I'm going to have to do something in camp."
Grevey, meanwhile, has contract on his mind. His agent, LaRue Harcourt, said that he wants Grevey in camp and he wants him to play, but he cannot accept the offer the Bullets have tendered.
"The Bullets have been totally unwilling to budge," Harcourt said. "They want us to sign a three-year contract, but they don't want to guarantee the second or third years of it. We want a two-year contract with the second year guaranteed, but we would be willing to accept a one-year contract.
"If they (the Bullets) aren't more anxious to sign Kevin than this, then maybe they do want to go with Phegley."
The 6-foot-7 Phegley has been working out with the rookies and free agents for the last three days and has been impressive.
"He's looked great," Bullet Coach Dick Motta said. "I think he's for real. By him being the only one here, he'll get a helluva a shot at the starting spot and he deserves it."
Motta is expecting nine healthy veterans -- Bobby Dandridge, Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, Larry Wright, Kevin Porter, Greg Ballard, Dave Corzine, Charles Johnson and Phegley-- to join eight rookies and free agents who survived the last three days of camp when workouts begin this morning.
Four players were cut yesterday. They were Andrew Parker, a 6-4 guard from Iowa State who was a third-round draft choice; Conrad Whesenton, a seventh-round draft pick from Fisk, and free agents Ron McFarland from St. Mary's of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Archie Aldridge from Miami of Ohio.
Motta said the team will practice twice a day from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
The first preseason game is scheduled Sunday in New Haven, Conn., against the New Jersey Nets.