Bob Dandridge, injured Washington Bullet forward who has missed the last five games with foot, knee and back injuries, said yesterday he will return to practice today and that he plans to accompany the team on its four-game western swing that begins New Year's night in Portland.
Dandridge has not practiced with the team in the last 12 days, but he said he is not out of shape.
"I expect to be able to play right away," he said. "I've been shooting. My foot isn't 100 percent, but I'm to the point where my back is feeling better and that's my main concern."
In Dandridge's absence, the Bullets have lost three of five and have lacked consistency.
Dandridge added that he would do whatever Coach Dick Motta felt was best to help the troubled Bullets. This opens the possibility that Dandridge could be used as a sixth man or as a guard.
Dandridge, who has had contract disputes with the Bullets in the past, has apparently worked out the problems with owner Abe Pollin. Dandridge is in the final year of a reported $250,000-a-year pact.
"There's no problem with my contract," he said. "I have an option year next year and they (the Bullets) are supposed to let me know a month after the season if they want me back or not. The money and everything else has been agreed on."
Dandridge, who missed seven games in his first season with the Bullets in 1977-78, and four games last season, has already missed 10 games this year. He has never missed a playoff game as a Bullet.
Despite his injuries and limited practice time, Dandridge is still the team's second-leading scorer with a 19.8 average.
He played in the season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers and then missed the next four games with a strained ligament in his left foot. He played in the next eight games before missing a game in New Jersey with a stiff neck.He then played in 15 more games before his back, knee and foot forced him to sidelines Dec. 20. He hasn't worked out with the team since.
"It started two months ago when I strained the ligaments in my left foot," Dandridge said. "It's a situation where it will never heal until I stay off it for a whole summer. It hasn't healed, but it's well enough to play on now.
"Then I bruised my left knee when I ran into E (Elvin Hayes) in Chicago Dec. 15). I started running differently after that to take the strain off my foot and knee, and it put a strain on my lower back," Dandridge said.
"The doctor told me just to let everything heal up and now that I've been off, my back feels better, I've been assured by the doctor that I won't do any permanent damage by playing, so I'm ready to come back."
The Bullets need Dandridge.They are four games below .500 and about to take off on their most difficult road trip of the season, a four-games-in-five-nights swing to portland, Seattle, Golden State and Utah.
Greg Ballard has played well as Dandridge's replacement at small forward, but with Ballard starting, the Bullets have little reserve help.
That was never more evident than in Saturday's 93-90 loss to the San Diego Clippers at Capital Centre. Mitch Kupchak, who is returning slowly from back surgery, scored 16 points in 15 minutes, but the other four Bullet reserves did absolutely nothing.
Dave Corzine, Roger Phegley, Larry Wright and Kevin Porter played a total of 37 minutes, didn't score a point and recorded only two rebounds, both by Corzine.
"We just don't have any depth," Coach Dick Motta said. "Mitch just isn't ready yet and I've had to start my best bench player -- Ballard."
Ballard had somewhat of an off game against the Clippers, making only four of 14 shots, but he had been spectacular in the previous four games as a starter.
In those four contests he averaged 21.8 points and 11 rebounds and prompted Motta to say that Ballard was better as a starter; and should be a starter.
The coach declined to speculate what would happen when Dandridge returned, though. It would be difficult to put Ballard back on the bench after he has played so well.
The alternatives are to make Dandridge a sixth man and play him both at guard, a longtime Bullet weakness, and at forward. He is the best all-around player on the team. Or the Bullets' might go to a 1-4 offense and play Dandridge, Ballard, Wes Unseld and Hayes up front with Jim Cleamsons as the only guard. Ballard and Dandridge would then alternate as the other defensive guard, depending on the opposition.
Motta is keeping open all of his options.
"When we're struggling like this, every suggestion or hint at something that might help crosses your mind," he said.
"If they wanted me to be the sixth man or play some at guard then that's what I'd have to do," Dandridge said, "and I'd do it as well as I could, but why should I be the one to be the sixth man?
"I don't think I'd mind being a sixth man at forward, but it could be a problem for me at guard. I can play defensive guard all right, but I'd have problems offensively.
Defensively is where Dandridge as a guard has appeal. He is big enough, smart enough and strong enough to defend against practically any big guard in the league and the Bullets are having trouble defensively at the big guard spot.
Kevin Grevey and Phegley work hard at it, but they are in the lineup because of their offense.
In 34 Bullet games this season, a guard has been the opposition's leading scorer 17 times.
"I don't really expect him (Motta) to make any drastic changes, but if that's what it takes to win games, then I'll do it," Dandridge said.
The problem with the Bullets this season is starting to become clearer as the season progresses -- they just don't have the athletes they need to stay competitive with the top teams in the league. "We could use a few more thoroughbreds," Motta said.
"It's a plain lack of talent," Dandridge said. "If some of the people we have could just do their jobs both offensively and defensively, we'd be okay. But we're always trying to hide their deficiencies."
"We just don't seem to have the talent anymore," said Wes Unseld after the Milwaukee game. "We could use a Sidney Moncrief or two."