When it comes to natural ability, no other Washington Bullets player has as much as Don Collins, according to both Coach Gene Shue and his assistant, Bernie Bickerstaff. But Collins' status with the club is in jeopardy because, as Collins says, he is his own worst enemy.
Ever since the Bullets traded Wes Matthews to Atlanta for him two seasons ago, Collins has been a disappointment. He's been in and out of the lineup, playing brilliantly sometimes and like a sleepwalker at other times. He has been on the trading block virtually all season. There have no been takers.
Struggling to find a guard to play alongside Frank Johnson until Kevin Grevey comes off the injured list, the Bullets were practically forced to go with Collins here Wednesday night after rookie Bryan Warrick and former free agent Billy Ray Bates failed as starters.
Collins got his first start since the third game of the season, and he was impressive in a 106-93 victory over the Suns. He scored 12 points and had six rebounds, five assists, two steals, two blocked shots and only one turnover in 41 minutes.
Collins will be in the starting lineup again Friday night when the Bullets play the Indiana Pacers in the final game of a four-game trip (WTOP-1500 at 7:30). With two straight victories, the Bullets are 5-8, one game ahead of their pace last year, when they surprisingly earned a playoff berth.
And Shue says the second guard's job now is Collins' until someone beats him out.
Collins says that isn't going to happen.
"I'm not going to blow it this time," he said. "I earned another shot and I'm going to hold onto it.
"I had a long talk with the coach before the Phoenix game, and he told me I was getting another chance and that I had to concentrate the whole game. He talked a lot about my defense and told me not to gamble so much."
Phoenix's Walter Davis scored 20 points, 13 in the third quarter when he had a hot shooting streak. Collins held him in check otherwise.
Collins admitted that he is his own worst enemy.
"I've always been too busy mouthing off and it would cause me to lose my concentration," he said. "I let too many things take me out of my game and I'd blame everybody and everything if anything went wrong. That isn't going to happen anymore."
Said Bickerstaff: "This is Don's chance to show what he can do. He's had chances before. If he blows this one . . .
"He just has to recognize how he can help the team," Bickerstaff said. "Against Phoenix he didn't have to score a point and he played well. There's no doubt about his talent. He's just so inconsistent. Will he realize he's running out of chances? We'll have to wait and see."
Bates started the previous three games, but after he went three for 13 shooting in Los Angeles and three for 11 in San Diego, Shue said he had seen enough.
"Billy hasn't been shooting, so why use him?" said Shue. "What else can he do?"
Bates played only four minutes against the Suns and did not take a shot.
Washington reserves scored only six points, but the Bullets dominated the game nevertheless. Frank Johnson scored 30 points and had 14 assists. Greg Ballard had 23 points and a season-high 12 rebounds. Jeff Ruland had 20 points and Rick Mahorn 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The Bullets also shot 55 percent, their best of the season.