Washington Bullets forward John Williams, sidelined since Dec. 2, 1989, when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, received permission yesterday from team doctors to join the Bullets in full-scale scrimmages.
Last week, Williams' knee was declared fit after extensive tests, but he had yet to meet the medical staff's prescribed weight of 260 pounds. The 6-foot-9 forward cleared that hurdle yesterday, and it will be up to Bullets coach Wes Unseld to determine when he is ready to return.
Unseld, who was in Auburn Hills, Mich., last night for the game against the Detroit Pistons, said: "I'm not going to put any timetable on it. I've been personally working him out the last few weeks, and I think he's getting close, but I can't say exactly how close he is to playing again."
Because an unusually heavy game schedule has limited off-day workouts, it was believed that the Bullets would prefer waiting until after the All-Star Game to reactivate Williams, allowing him added time to scrimmage with the team.
"I can't say that's for certain," Unseld said, "because I haven't really given the matter a great deal of thought, not knowing when the doctors would clear him."
Also entering into the decision is whom the Bullets will cut to make room on their roster for Williams.
Lightly played reserve guard Byron Irvin, acquired in a November trade with the Sacramento Kings for Steve Colter, is the most likely candidate. But the Bullets would prefer getting a draft pick for Irvin, who is guaranteed his full year's salary.
Several teams, including the Portland Trail Blazers, have expressed interest in forward Mark Alarie, and general manager John Nash will weigh all his options before reactivating Williams.
With starting forwards Bernard King and Harvey Grant enjoying exceptional seasons, there will not be undue pressure on Williams to contribute quickly to the offense. The fifth-year pro initially could see action at center, where he has more bulk than Charles Jones and backup Pervis Ellison.
The 41st annual National Basketball Association All-Star Game in Charlotte, N.C., on Feb. 10 may have to be renamed the All-Scar Game.
An inordinate number of players selected by the fans or likely to be chosen by the coaches to complete the rosters have been sidelined by injuries or are listed as questionable.
A superior team could be watching. Here is a starting five of superstars shelved by injuries: Forwards: Larry Bird, Boston (back); Charles Barkley, Philadelphia (ankle); center: Akeem Olajuwon, Houston (eye); guards: Isiah Thomas, Detroit (wrist); Mark Price, Cleveland, (knee).
Thomas, a 10-time All-Star choice, has been declared out for the season. He will undergo surgery this week to repair a broken bone in his right wrist. Doctors predict he could return in time for the playoffs in late April.
If pressed, a second team of potential All-Stars on the injured list could also be named:. Forwards: Roy Tarpley, Dallas (knee); Williams, Bullets (knee); center: John "Hot Rod" Williams, Cleveland (foot); Fat Lever, Dallas (knee); Ron Harper, L.A. Clippers (knee).
The absence of so many marquee players has removed considerable glitter from the game. And it has been dimmed further by Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins removing themselves from the slam-dunk competition despite league pressure, and Bird out of the three-point shootout.
It's time for the NBA powers to invent a new format for Saturday's pre-game activities. Even Jordan says there are only so many ways to dunk a basketball. A three-on-three tournament might prove more attractive, but coaches are wary of their players getting injured in an exhibition.
Not enough time: Trail Blazers players have questioned last week's three-team trade with Denver and New Jersey that added Nuggets guard Walter Davis to their roster while reserve Blazers guard Drazen Petrovic went to the Nets for forward Greg "Cadillac" Anderson. As some said, a "Yugo" was swapped for a "Cadillac."
Said shooting guard Danny Ainge, acquired by Portland in a preseason deal: "Everybody talked in training camp about how hard it would be for [Blazers coach] Rick Adelman to get playing time for everybody. It will be even tougher now.
"I've always been a firm believer that to get the maximum out of your players, you need an eight- or nine-man rotation," Ainge said. "Fitting Davis in the rotation will be difficult."
Davis will have to compete for time in the Blazers backcourt with starters Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter, plus Ainge, the key reserve.
Supporting the trade, Adelman said: "In a playoff situation, Davis gives us a lot of experience. I haven't said anything about how many minutes he'll get. That's something we'll have to sort out."