Why is Charles Jones, who averaged 3.6 points a game and was one of only 18 players in the NBA to have more rebounds than points a year ago, staying out of the Washington Bullets' training camp?

"I guess I have to take at least a little stand," said Jones, who was signed to a 10-day contract before the second half of the 1984-85 season. "I may be a role player, but I've always been there for the team and I've held my own pretty well."

On a team at times painfully lacking in agility and athletic ability, Jones has more than held his own. Finishing 10th in the NBA in blocked shots last season, Jones was easily Washington's best all-around defender, as well.

"His only downside is that he doesn't score a lot of points, but he plays defense, he can stop a man, he'll block shots and he's good on the traps," said Coach Kevin Loughery. "Plus, he's real good people."

Talking about his situation, sprawled across a sofa, a television game show blaring in the background of his Greenbelt home, Jones could just as easily be sitting in a hotel room passing time before heading out to the next game. The fact that he's not, that this easygoing, well-respected player is engaged in a holdout, is somewhat disconcerting to him.

"It feels weird, you spend all summer getting prepared and then the time comes and you're set back," he said. "It's tough, but I'm hanging in there."

The major stumbling block in the negotiations between Jones and the Bullets appears to be Jones' desire for some sort of guarantee in his contract so that he doesn't have to endure a situation like last season's training camp. Last year, the small forward was one of a group of players who traveled to Baltimore-Washington International airport the night before the opening game against Boston, unsure whether he had earned a place on the final roster. He hadn't.

"It all came down to that," he recalled. "We were leaving, but you hadn't heard anything. You were packing and just hoping for the best, but you didn't know if you'd be getting on a plane or getting back in your car and going home. The whole training camp was like that. It was always in the back of your mind; one part of you would be trying to learn the plays, but another part would be thinking about what you could do to stay ahead of the next guy.

"It's not so much the guarantees -- there's no such thing as a no-cut or no-trade contract, anyway. I'm not asking for anything ridiculous. I just want to go into camp comfortable and relaxed. I don't want it to be a situation where the season is coming around and I'm battling a player for a spot and it comes down to whether or not I have a good day on one particular day of camp."

Yesterday, General Manager Bob Ferry said although "we want to be fair to the player, we have to do what's best for the team."

Jones knows all about team play. It's been a family tradition. His brother Major played six NBA seasons, never scoring more than 438 points or averaging more than 5.7 a game in a season. Caldwell, a 12-year veteran, has averaged seven points a game during his career, never attaining a double-digit scoring average in a single season.

Charles, 30, seems destined to follow suit. With a career high of 17 points, his best season by average was the 5.9 norm he attained in 31 games with Chicago and Washington during the 1984-85 season. Despite the lift he invariably gives the Bullets whenever he's in the game, and the intangibles he contributes on a regular basis, most people tend to concentrate on his low-scoring average.

"That's Charles' career," said Loughery, who was the coach of the Bulls when Jones was released shortly into the 1984-85 season. "When you're a specialist, you're always going to face being on the bubble. But he always survives because he's so good at what he does."

That didn't happen by accident, said Jones, for himself or his brothers.

"I think we were always surrounded by people who could shoot, but there always came a time when somebody said, 'Who do we have that can stop their guys?' " said Jones of his youth in Arkansas. "We were the ones who said, 'I'll try it,' and the label stuck. We were the guys who put more emphasis on defense. We may not score 30 points, we may only get four, but we'll stop the other guy from getting 34.

"It's been like that for me in the pros. You learn who the primary scorers are: Moses and Jeff {Malone}, Jay {Vincent}, Cliff Robinson when he was here. So you say, I'll do something else on this team that'll be beneficial and get my points from the double teams or off the offensive boards, rather than saying that I'll put it up whenever the ball hits my hands."

The problem for Jones, and especially playing with the Bullets, is that the team's lack of offensive punch makes carrying nonscorers like himself and Manute Bol something of a luxury. In addition, Loughery added, Jones' holdout "is giving someone else the opportunity to win his job."

Said Jones: "I think I could improve my scoring. I'll never jump to 20 points a game, but I think I could get between 10 and 15 and not hurt the team. I guess this {the holdout} is something like a gamble; that's why I'm hoping it'll all get worked out pretty soon."

Loughery said he won't take each of the 17 players currently in camp to Saturday's exhibition opener against the Detroit Pistons in Muskegon, Mich., but there probably won't be any cuts before then.