The Washington Bullets reactivated guard Jeff Malone from injured reserve yesterday and waived small forward Charles Davis to make room for him, thus deciding to risk their final roster spot on the potential of rookie small forward Guy Williams.
Davis, a second-round draft choice who was in his fourth season with the Bullets, became expendable after Greg Ballard, the team's starting small forward the last five seasons, signed a new contract the day before the season opened.
Williams, who severely injured a knee during his senior year at Washington State, did not play last season. "We signed Ballard. The coaches like Darren Daye as No. 2," General Manager Bob Ferry said. "After they felt they were secure in that position, they thought they'd like to work with the potential of Guy Williams to see how he works out."
Ferry had expected to make this decision almost two weeks ago, on the eve of the regular season. But because of Ballard being unsigned and a number of injuries (Malone had a sprained right ankle), it did not have to be made until yesterday.
Earlier in the day, Ferry sat on a bench at Bowie State College, watching his team practice.
"It's like watching an all-star team," he said. "You've got 10 or 12 great players together, and they don't function as a team. Basketball is a team game. Offensively and defensively, the players have to work together instinctively. That takes time and repetition . . . Maybe this is like putting an act together on Broadway. You have to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse and perform, perform, perform, so you have a feel for each other."
Although Coach Gene Shue said he was quite satisfied with the last practice before tonight's game against the New Jersey Nets at the Meadowlands (HTS at 7:30), it was obvious the timing leaves much to be desired. At one stage, with Cliff Robinson attending the funeral of his brother in California and Jeff Ruland nursing a sore left knee, Daye had to fill in as a power forward. The play called broke down quickly.
"He's playing out of position, and that can cause lack of unity," said Ballard. "When you have those kinds of things happening in practice, how do you expect us to go out and function smoothly? It starts in practice."
Four of the team's top nine players -- including newcomers Gus Williams and Robinson -- have missed a total of 11 1/2 weeks of training camp and a regular season that will not be two weeks old until Friday. Said Shue, "We could use a week of training camp right now, with everybody here."
But that is impossible. Including tonight, the Bullets (2-4) play six games in the next 10 days. Robinson, who missed two weeks of training camp because of back spasms and a sore shoulder, is not expected to rejoin the team until the weekend.
Shue is temporarily reining in the Bullets' new style of fast breaking, which so far this season has led to defensive breakdowns and a defensive rebounding deficiency. Ferry still maintains that defensive rebounding will be the team's main strength when Robinson becomes familiar with the Bullets.
For the last two days, Shue has shown videotapes to his players and stressed one basic rule of offense: only Gus Williams can release early on the fast break. The other players have to go to the defensive boards. It is not a style of basketball that players relish, but the Bullets seem to be accepting it as a temporary measure.
"It (the result) has got to be better than what we've been doing," said guard Frank Johnson, remembering the most recent game, a 20-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
"We're just looking for ways to win. That's all," said Gus Williams, whom the Bullets obtained in a draft-day trade to provide fast-break, crowd-pleasing basketball.
"We must get back to basics that made us successful in the past," Ballard said. "Once we are successful with that, we can move to the next plateau, which is the running game." One of Shue's biggest fears during training camp was that his players might get caught up in the running up and down the court, and forget about the defensive subtleties that are benchmarks of good teams. "Coach said we tried to run so much that not everybody was concentrating on defense," Ruland said.
No one is quite sure how long the Bullets will have to control their urge to run. When Robinson returns from California -- and assuming none of the other key players is injured -- the Bullets finally will have available at the same time all the players on whom Shue is counting for the first time in five weeks.
Nets center Darryl Dawkins is still in traction with back spasms and will not play tonight. Former Maryland star Albert King also has had back problems and his status is uncertain.