John Lucas usually sits at the end of the Bullet bench, as if in exile. His coach has said publicly he is the fifth guard and will not play much. Efforts to trade him have been futile. Nobody seems to want John Lucas anymore.
Some say he is only with the team because of his $300,000-a-year guaranteed contract signed two seasons ago. Whatever the reason, Lucas says his plight is difficult to accept. But he also says he knows "I brought this on myself."
Lucas says all he is asking for now is a chance to prove he has changed, to show he has beaten the cocaine problem that almost ruined his career a year ago, to demonstrate he is reliable and can still play basketball.
"I know I owe the people, the Bullets fans and my friends a lot because of what I did last year," said Lucas, who voluntarily hospitalized himself in a drug rehabilitation program during the offseason to rid himself of his cocaine problem.
"I have to pay my dues for that. I guess part of that is sitting and waiting and not complaining. I have to show them (the Bullets) they can depend on me again."
Lucas has done plenty of sitting through the Bullets' first six games. He didn't play at all in the first three, all on the road. In the home opener against New Jersey last Wednesday, he played seven minutes and had five assists, but the final outcome had been decided before Coach Gene Shue used him.
He was on the bench Friday at Boston and might have stayed there the entire game Saturday against Indiana at Capital Centre. But Frank Johnson twisted an ankle and Bryan Warrick wasn't playing well.
With the Bullets behind, 88-80, with 7:50 left in the game, Shue called on Lucas. The crowd came alive and Lucas and his best friend on the team, Don Collins, combined in the back court to force the game into overtime. The Bullets went on to win, 119-115.
Lucas scored five points and had three assists in his stint and Collins had nine points, two offensive rebounds and two steals. Lucas scored the Bullets' last five points in regulation and his layup with 32 seconds left tied the score at 104, necessitating the overtime.
Johnson wasn't hurt seriously and went back in for the overtime. Lucas went back to the bench. Johnson scored seven of his 15 points and had two of his 14 assists in overtime. Jeff Ruland scored 20 points and had a season-high 17 rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Greg Ballard led the Bullets with 28 points.
For the first time this season, however, Lucas had contributed to a victory and it came at a time when his confidence badly needed a boost. "When you just sit there as long as I have, you have to start having doubts," he said. "I don't mind being used in spot situations like Saturday's game. That's fine with me. I just want to help any way I can.
"Whatever they want and whatever they say is fine. My home is here and I want to stay here. I've heard a lot of trade rumors like me going to Milwaukee or New York or Cleveland and if it happens it happens. But I don't want to be traded. I'm a Washington Bullet. This is my team right here."
When Shue called on Lucas Saturday, Lucas said he told his teammates that all they had to do was "run and get open and I'll get you the ball."
Said Shue: "We wouldn't have won without Don and Lucas. They changed the tempo when we needed it and got us running. That combination happened to work this game. It doesn't change our approach any. I don't plan any lineup changes. Each game I'll do whatever the situation dictates."
Lucas said he could see the Bullets bogging down late in the game. "We were going too slow," he said. "We have to run, yet be under control. Teams know our offense so we have to get more cheap buckets. We haven't been getting them because of the tempo. When I went in I felt I had to pick up the tempo."
The Bullet tempo has, indeed, needed some picking up lately, which is a concern to Shue.
They were 17 points down in the first quarter Saturday and in the previous three games fell behind by 17 early in the second quarter against Atlanta, fell behind by 10 in the first quarter against the Nets and were behind by 10 against the Celtics.
"We are digging ourselves into holes early every game," Shue said, "and it's so hard to win when you have to always come back."
Lucas says he can help in that area. "I might not score a lot of points," he said, "but I'll make sure the other people do."
Saturday's game was the first of a three-game home stand for the Bullets, who played four of their first five on the road . . . They play the Detroit Pistons Tuesday and the New York Knicks Friday before going back on the road to play the Philadelphia 76ers . . . Kevin Grevey, who hasn't practiced yet this season because of a torn abdominal muscle, said he'll work out with the team today if doctors permit.