Having partially resolved one of their weightier problems, the Washington Bullets now take aim at an even bigger one.
The elusive John Williams has been removed from the AWOL list, but will have to shed many pounds before throwing any more weight around in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Bullets start what could be their toughest season ever tonight in Miami (8, Ch. 20), then entertain the Chicago Bulls in the home opener at the Capital Centre tomorrow night (7:30, HTS). They will do so without either Williams, a 6-foot-9 forward, or Ledell Eackles, the 6-5 heir apparent to the shooting guard position.
Eackles, who was supposed to replace the traded Jeff Malone, remains embroiled in a contract dispute. Williams, who suffered a serious knee injury last December, missed training camp because of a myriad of problems and doesn't figure to be much of a factor for at least a month.
In a rather dramatic move, Williams appeared at a news conference yesterday and said he was ready to begin training. How much training Williams will need is almost as big a mystery as his weight, or his physical condition. The Bullets ceased paying Williams last summer when they realized his rehabilitation program had been reduced to buffet exercises.
Yesterday, team owner Abe Pollin said he had "reached a financial agreement" that was sufficient to get Williams to Washington from his home in California. Other than that the club would not comment on the situation.
"Management has made the decision not to reveal any details of his [Williams'] team physical," said Rick Moreland, the Bullets' director of public relations. "There will be no information on his weight, the condition of his knee, nor his rehabilitation program."
Williams was placed on the club's injured list, meaning he must miss at least five games. He estimated it would take him two to four weeks to get ready (six to 14 games). Coach Wes Unseld wasn't as optimistic, indicating it would be more than a month before Williams was ready for NBA combat.
"I'm going to do a lot of running and lots of dieting," said Williams. "I'm going to work on a treadmill and ride a stationary bike."
Jump shots and rebounds will have to wait until Williams works himself into game condition. He attributed his absence from training camp, and his unavailability to the Bullets, to personal problems. "I was in Los Angeles and there were illness and death with close friends and family," said Williams.
"I wanted to help them, but I was sitting there and there was nothing I could do to help," said Williams. He reportedly witnessed a drowning accident that claimed the life of a close friend, and his father later suffered a stroke.
"I really didn't want to talk or hear from anyone," said Williams. "I got into a shell. Getting back here was all my decision. It wasn't good for me to read that the Bullets had lost again. I knew if I was here it would be different.
"It got to me upstairs," said the fifth-year forward, pointing to his head. "I knew they needed their nucleus -- and I'm the nucleus."
Williams, who had threatened to sit out the year if the Bullets didn't reimburse him the fines levied since July, admitted he didn't know how to deal with his knee injury. "It was my first serious injury and I didn't approach it right," he said. "I didn't approach it responsibly. I steered in the wrong direction. I was frustrated and I didn't know how to handle it. It [returning] was a big step for me to get back on the right track."
Eventually, Williams' return could help the Bullets get on the track to respectability but, with the bulky forward and Eackles both out of the lineup, Unseld will have to be a miracle worker to keep his team competitive.
Bernard King is the only proven scorer on the roster, meaning the Bullets will have to rely heavily on defense just to stay in contention.