Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin made a personal plea yesterday for John Williams to rejoin the team, but a stalemate over an estimated $270,000 in fines reportedly has kept the forward from leaving his hometown of Los Angeles.
In a brief statement to the media, Pollin said he and Bullets vice president Jerry Sachs have had conversations with Williams and his agent, Fred Slaughter, since Oct. 11.
"In all our conversations, John and his agent were made aware of our request to have John return to the East Coast," Pollin said.
"But the Bullets believe he must commit to a supervised rehabilitation program in order to become the player he is capable of being. At this time, it is not clear what John's hesitation is about returning."
Contacted in Los Angeles Wednesday, Slaughter implied that the attachment of Williams' salary for failing to maintain his rehabilitation program after knee surgery in December was not the remaining bone of contention.
The Bullets were not speaking publicly, but team sources said money was the only stumbling block keeping Williams from heading east and undergoing his preseason physical.
In August, general manager John Nash and coach Wes Unseld visited Williams in Los Angeles to determine why he had abandoned his rehabilitation program at the Jobe-Kerlan Clinic. The Bullets began withholding his pay in early July after being informed he no longer was undergoing therapy.
"When we talked personally with John, we told him we were prepared to rescind the fines if he was ready to make a commitment to his rehabilitation program under the terms of his contract," Pollin said. "At the time, he seemed in agreement, but he did not follow through. Until John makes such a commitment, we're not prepared to make any new concessions."
Williams apparently is prepared to stay in California until his money is refunded.
Unseld has taken the position that Williams, even if he reports to work in the near future, would not be ready to play for some time.
"My understanding is that he is not in shape to play because of his health and conditioning," Unseld said yesterday in a national phone hookup with writers who cover the National Basketball Association.
"But I reached that assessment a long time ago. Just being practical, we didn't expect him back by any stretch of the imagination at the start or in the early part of the coming season. We have made plans to go on without him."
No Bullets executives said they had made contact with Williams or Slaughter yesterday.
Slaughter said Williams had grown sensitive over the attention and derision by the media concerning the versatile forward's waistline. On his last official trip to the scales, he reportedly weighed more than 290 pounds.
"How do you think he got so heavy?" Slaughter asked. "Making him wear a cast for four months after his knee injury last December, how can the Bullets be surprised that he got heavier? Do they want the 'Body Beautiful' or an outstanding forward?"
The Bullets set 260 pounds as a desired playing weight for Williams, but Nash said the player's current weight was not an area of dispute with Slaughter.
Unseld has more immediate concerns. His backcourt has been depleted by the holdout of Ledell Eackles, and Nash reports no progress in talks with the guard's agent, Ed Sapir.
Point guard Darrell Walker, experiencing problems with his left Achilles' tendon, has been undergoing therapy the past week and will miss the team's exhibition trip this weekend to Newfoundland.
Unseld cut Michel Bonebo, a 7-foot-3 free-agent center from St. Michael's College in Vermont and the Ivory Coast. Bonebo's biggest drawback was limited experience.