Veteran forward John Williams, sidelined for more than a year following surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee, has been cleared by the Washington Bullets medical staff to join the team in light workouts and could be activated by mid-January.
"We don't expect to activate him in the next three weeks, but hopefully we can not long thereafter," Bullets general manager John Nash said yesterday.
Williams will engage in his first team workout this morning, when the Bullets practice at Bowie State before flying to Indianapolis for a game with the Indiana Pacers tomorrow night.
"At this point, John can do some drills and participate in half-court workouts, but he can't participate in full-court scrimmages," Nash said.
"Our doctors believe that his condition is now good enough that his knee and body will tolerate this type work, which will be in addition to his regular twice-a-day regimen of prescribed exercises under the supervision of our strength coach, Dennis ,, Householder."
Nash said Williams, who suffered the crippling injury in a game against Utah at the Capital Centre Dec. 2, 1989, is "right on schedule" with his rehabilitation program.
His recovery was delayed when the 6-foot-9 forward abandoned his off-season therapy program at the Kerlan-Jobe clinic in Los Angeles, a decision that resulted in more than $200,000 in fines.
After lengthy negotiations, he returned to the Bullets Nov. 1, but reportedly weighed close to 285 pounds, 30 pounds overweight.
"Originally, we felt it would be six to eight weeks before John would be ready to play," Nash said. "I believe we'll still be close to that timetable, but we're not going to jeopardize his knee or career for the sake of a few days.
"I'm encouraged, but not ecstatic. But we're taking it one step at a time. It doesn't mean anything until he actually plays, and then, at what level?"
Williams, 24, is regarded as Washington's best and most versatile player -- a forward who can handle the ball, pass, score and rebound, and can play all three frontcourt positions. Last season, he was averaging 18.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.7 rebounds before his season-ending injury.
"I'm happy he's making progress, but I still believe he's a long way from playing," said coach Wes Unseld. "He looks like he's in much better shape than when he first came back to Washington, but only time will tell."
Williams could not be reached for comment.