John Williams has a definite date in his mind.
"I'll be back playing Jan. 23 when we're home against Atlanta," said the Washington Bullets veteran forward, sidelined since Dec. 2, 1989, when he tore ligaments in his right knee, requiring major surgery.
Williams, on the suspended list since the start of the season, will get a chance to convince team doctors and coach Wes Unseld that his playing weight and conditioning will allow him to resume his career after the Bullets' four-game Western swing, beginning in Phoenix tonight.
The fifth-year pro, who missed most of his summer therapy program and all of training camp while sorting out personal problems in California, will participate in his first full-scale workout with the team this week. The Bullets have their only day off in Portland, Ore., before playing the Trail Blazers on Friday night.
Williams however, also will have supervised workouts on game days with one or more Bullets coaches on hand. Conditioning coach Dennis Householder also will put him through his daily regimen of exercises and weight programs.
"The doctors want me at 265," said Williams, "and right now I'm at 272. "But I feel good, my shooting touch is back and the knee appears sound.
"The only problem is my wind. That's about 30 percent right now, but I'm sure the coaches will be pushing me hard this week. I'm really looking to get into game-type situations. There is only so much you can do on your own to get ready."
With his team having won eight of its past 11 to climb back into the playoff race, there is no urgency on Unseld's part to reactivate Williams, even when the doctors give their approval.
Adding Williams would necessitate a roster cut, with lightly played reserve guard Byron Irvin apparently the most vulnerable.
"I'm not setting any timetable or making any decisions now," Unseld said. "John has worked hard on his own. This trip will give him more of an opportunity to run through plays and get more actual basketball work."
In their recent surge, the Bullets (15-18) won consecutive road games at Indiana, Cleveland and Minnesota before losing, 99-96, in Milwaukee a week ago.
But the upcoming road trip could be a more severe test, with the Suns and Blazers among the NBA elite and the SuperSonics a fast-improving team that beat the Bullets at the Capital Centre two weeks ago.
"If we can play with the same intensity we've shown the past few weeks, I'll take my chances, no matter who we're playing on the road," Unseld said. "As long as that effort is there, I can accept losing to good teams."