John Lucas returned to the Bullets today and insisted that his one-game absence had no relationship to his problems last season with the Golden State Warriors.
But Coach Gene Shue said the guard from Maryland has been replaced in the starting lineup, and will be fined about $4,000 for missing the game in Philadelphia Wednesday night.
Lucas missed the team bus that left Capital Centre at 10 a.m. Wednesday, but in a telephone call to the Bullets' office said he had car trouble and would catch an afternoon flight to Philadelphia. He did not show, and rookie Frank Johnson started in his place in the game, which the Bullets lost, 126-112.
"I had a personal problem, but it had nothing to do with what went on last year," he said before tonight's game with Cleveland. "I realize that because of my history people are going to make a big thing out of this, but I'm fine now."
Lucas was dropped by the Warriors late in the season after missing six games and numerous workouts without an excuse. Although he has missed a couple of practices this season, his behavior generally has been good, according to Shue.
Shue said he had a "down-to-earth" talk with Lucas this afternoon and told him that he has lost his starting job to Johnson.
"John will be coming off the bench from now on," Shue said. "I will not be put in a position of depending on him. I'm putting it on a basis now of using him when I have to."
Johnson's playing time has been increasing lately, anyway, and the first-round draft choice from Wake Forest has been used extensively in the fourth quarters.
Against Cleveland tonight, Lucas entered the game with 8:33 remaining in the first half.He played 14 minutes, missing all five shots from the field, and had two rebounds and three assists.
"I know I'm not going to start," Lucas said. "I understand what Gene has to do. I just have to earn my job back. I'm not going to be a problem; nobody has to worry about me."
Shue said he talked with General Manager Bob Ferry, who is in Florida on a scouting trip, and told him that he was replacing Lucas in the starting lineup. Lucas will be fined $100 for missing the team bus; $250 for missing today's flight here, plus having to buy his own ticket, and 1/82nd of his salary of a reported $300,000 a year, which would be approximately $3,658.
"Everyone is upset about John," said David Falk, Lucas' Washington-based attorney. "Because of his past history, John doesn't have the luxury of missing buses or games. Now it's up to him to resolve his differences with Gene.
"I talked with John today and he's very anxious to play," Falk continued. "He realizes how serious this is and how important it is to re-establish himself as John Lucas.
"It's not unfair for the coach to make a lineup change. John is mature enough to understand. It's up to him to earn back the coach's confidence."
Some of the players were upset and concerned about Lucas' unexplained absence in Philadelphia and felt he let them down.
"We depend on him," one player said. "He's our leader. He plays a very important position. If he's not ready to play it really hurts the team."
Lucas has not played particularly well lately, scoring 60 points in the last nine games. He ranks seventh in the league in assists (7.3 a game). Lucas is averaging 9.6 points a game and Johnson 10.5.