The Washington Bullets and Greg Ballard, the team's starting small forward the past five seasons, agreed to a multiyear contract yesterday, General Manager Bob Ferry said.

Since Ballard is a free agent, league rules prohibit him from practicing until he signs, so he may not be able to work with his teammates until they return from opening the NBA season Friday night at Chicago and Saturday night at Indiana.

"It's a case of how fast the paperwork can be done," Ferry said.

Ferry declined to discuss terms, other than to say its length "is more than one year." Ballard was not available for comment. His attorney, Larry Fleisher of New York City, said "no comment."

When Ballard signs, the Bullets will have 14 players, two over the regular-season roster limit. Who to cut by today's 6 p.m. deadline became more complicated yesterday when Darren Daye sprained the ring finger on his right hand on the final play of a three-hour practice at Fort Meade. It was the final play because the injury left only nine healthy players.

Daye, who started every exhibition game at small forward and also plays either guard position, was injured deflecting a pass. A few minutes later, gritting his teeth in obvious pain, he sat in the bleachers at Murphy Field House, the finger taped and soaking in ice water.

"Anytime you sprain anything, it's going to be painful," Daye said. "I'll be okay, but it really hurts from the beginning. I won't know how bad it is until tomorrow (Thursday). But I don't think it's too bad."

Early this week, it appeared the last two cuts would be the other small forwards, four-year veteran Charles Davis and rookie Guy Williams, who has vast potential but missed all of last season with a knee injury.

Now, with the uncertainty at small forward, reserve power forward Joe Kopicki's job may be in jeopardy, or Coach Gene Shue may elect to put second-year guard Jeff Malone on injured reserve and cut one of the others. Malone would miss a minimum of five games, becoming eligible to return Nov. 3 against Atlanta.

Malone, who twisted his right ankle last Thursday in New York, tried to practice yesterday, but could not because of soreness.

All-star forward Jeff Ruland did not practice for the second straight day because of soreness just below his left knee. He expects to practice today.

Power forward Cliff Robinson (back spasms) participated in the entire practice and "did real well," according to Shue. Guard Gus Williams, who will resume light practice today, shot at a side basket and soaked his sprained left ankle in ice.

Trainer John Lally said that if Williams' progress continues, he will make the trip to Chicago and be available to play.

Shue said neither Williams nor Robinson would start Friday night. Shue said he would start Ruland and Daye at the forwards, Rick Mahorn at center and Frank Johnson and Dudley Bradley at the guards "because they've had all the work in camp."

With the regular season less than 48 hours away, Shue said, "There are too many unsettling things. This is a hard league. Really, we'd like to be going in with all the players healthy. We've got all the key players hurt. That's why it's unsettling. Quite frankly, the guys who have been playing are doing quite good. Rick Mahorn had a great training camp, just outstanding. But, again, Gus Williams and Cliff Robinson are hurt."