The Washington Bullets, in a surprise move yesterday, acquired veteran guard Jim Cleamons from the New York Knicks for future considerations and released guard Gus Bailey.

It was also learned that the Bullets will probably activate guard Kevin Grevey from the injured list in time for tonight's game against the Knicks at Capital Centre and either trade or release nine-year veteran guard Phil Chenier to make room for him on the roster.

Bailey proved to be the Bullets' best defensive and rebounding guard and was a capable playmaker as well, but he was not a scorer.

The Bullets, in making the deal for the 30-year-old Cleamons, feel he can provide the same things Bailey did and score, too.

"I'm picking up a good ball player," Bob Ferry, Bullet general manager, said. "Cleamons can score and he's an excellent defensive player. He's a proven pro. He's excellent with the ball. He can run an offense."

Exact terms of the trade were not disclosed, but the Knicks have agreed to pay a hefty portion of Cleamons' salary, believed to be in the neighborhood of $250,000 a year.

Because of his shooting limitations, the Bullets were at a disadvantage when they used Bailey as the shooting guard, but they think Cleamons could be the ideal fifth guard, an accomplished playmaker and a good scorer.

"By getting Cleamons, we are covering ourselves in more areas than one," Ferry said. "When you're 10-12, you've got to do something."

Cleamons became expendable to the Knicks when they activated veteran Earl Monroe, who had been on the injured list.

The 6-4 Cleamons from Ohio State helped the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 1975-76 Central Division title.He signed with the Knicks as a free agent in 1977 and Walt Frazier went to the Cavaliers as partial compensation.

Cleamons was used sparingly by the Knicks this season. He averaged only 11 minutes a game and 3.4 points.

Cleamons is expected to be in a Bullet uniform tonight against his old team.

"Bob, (Assistant Coach) Bernie (Bickerstaff) and I talked it over and we think Cleamons is a darn good player," Coach Dick Motta said, "and we were able to get him without really giving up anything.

"I love Gus and we were goint to keep him, but when this Cleamons thing opened up and it came down between the two, it wasn't much of a choice."

Grevey, who has been on the injured list since Nov. 3 with hamstring problems, said he informed the team Monday he was ready to play.

"It's beyond me now," Grevey said yesterday.

"I think he's ready to go tomorrow (Wednesday)," Coach Dick Motta said after yesterday's practive. "He's been playing hard in practice and he looks good."

The acquistion of Cleamons and the fact that Chenier has not played well this season apparently makes Chenier expendable when Grevey is activated.

Chenier, 29, is averaging 10.1 points and shooting 39 percent from the field this season.

Chenier underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disk in September 1978 and never regained his old form.

When Grevey was first injured, in a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Capital Centre on Oct. 20, Chenier was inserted into the starting lineup. He lasted 14 games before finally being replaced by second-year man Roger Phegley thre games ago. Chenier did not play in the last game.

The Bullets have been as patient with Chenier as they possibly could partly because they have such a large financial investment in him. The team is reportedly still obligated for about $350,000 a year for this season and next. But Chenier's performances this season have indicated that he may no longer be able to get the job done.

He hasn't been shooting well and he isn't moving with the fluidity that made him a three time all-star. And the Bullets, who are struggling as a team, are getting impatient waiting for him to come around.

Even if the Bullets haven't yet given up on Chenier, they can't keep six guards, so when Grevey is activated it is a guard that will have to go. The other guards on the roster now are Cleamons, Larry Wright, Kevin Porter and Roger Phegley. If Chenier does stay, then Wright becomes the next most likely to go. But Wright and Cleamons are the only two capable of playing both the shooting and playmaking guard shots.

Ferry has been up late and on the phone all day the past few days trying to work out just the right deal.

Things are so hectic right now because under the contract agreement between the NBA Players' Association and the league, any player on a team's roster 55 days into the season has to be paid for the full season. The 55th day of the season is Thursday. There is a 48 hour time period on NBA waivers so any player n question would have to have been put on waivers by 6 p.m. yesterday in order to clear by Thursday.

Phegley has played well as a starter, scoring 22, 20 and 22 points in his three starts, but Motta said he would prefer Phegley to come off the bench.

Phegley is the Bullets' third leading scorer with a 14.8 average.

"I'll play Kevin a lot right away," said Motta. "He probably won't start right away, but he will be a starter pretty soon, I would think. In my mind I still picture Roger coming off the bench. With his experience and all, it just makes sense to go with Kevin."

Grevey, who said he worked harder in his month on the injured list than ever beofre, is anxious to start playing again.

"I love the game and I really found out how much I missed it," he said. "I was taking it for granted. You don't realize how much the game means to you until it's taken away for a while I'm coming back hungry and anxious.

"I don't expect to be in peak form right away, though," Grevey added.

"That may take a while. But there are ways I can contribute right away. I see out team needs more rebounding and I can help there. One more guy coming in and hustling will help and so will my experience on defense."

In his month of observing instead of playing, Grevey said he noticed a lack of intensity by the Bullets at times.