Washington Bullets forward John Williams, who has missed 112 games since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Dec. 4, 1989, will be reactivated in San Antonio tonight when the Washington Bullets face the Spurs to start their three-game trip through Texas.
"I've decided John is ready to see limited action," said Bullets coach Wes Unseld, who was left with the final decision when to put Williams back in uniform after the team medical staff had given its approval two weeks ago.
Although Williams, 24, and in his fifth pro season, is regarded as the most important piece in putting the youthful Bullets together again, Unseld said he will resist the temptation to play him extensively.
"John hasn't scrimmaged enough to play a lot of minutes," Unseld said. "Playing three-on-three or four-on-four isn't anything like game situations.
"How long he plays will depend on how I judge his condition and performance and how he tells me he feels out on the court. We have to be conscious of his whole body, not just his knee."
Unseld also was reluctant to say exactly how he would employ Williams, his most versatile frontcourt player.
"I can't really tell you that now," he said. "It depends on how I feel he can best help us to win."
All of Williams' teammates regard him as the difference between borderline playoff team and a solid title contender. A front line of Williams, All-Star forward Bernard King and Harvey Grant, who has emerged as a consistent scorer and rebounder in Williams' absence, is considered a match for any threesome in the National Basketball Association.
Unseld has been alternating Charles Jones and Pervis Ellison at center. Both have provided rebounding and shot-blocking talents, but have problems defending the stronger centers in the league. With his size and agility, Williams could be used defensively against the bigger NBA centers.
Williams can also relieve Grant, a slender 6-foot-9 forward who has recently shown signs of fatigue from consistently having to guard power forwards.
Team doctors re-examined Williams' repaired knee Friday and said he was ready to resume playing. They had first given their approval two weeks ago after he finally made their 260-pound weight limit.
That was about 45 pounds fewer than he weighed when he came to Washington just before the start of the 1990-91 season.
fTC During the summer, Williams, depressed by his injury, the failing health of his father and the loss of a close friend in a swimming accident, missed most of his prescribed rehabilitation work. New general manager John Nash suspended his salary, and Williams, who missed all of training camp, refused to report until a compromise over back pay could be reached.
After beginning a special diet and an extensive therapy and conditioning program under the supervision of strength coach Dennis Householder, he has shed most of his extra bulk.
Before his injury against Utah last December, Williams was having his best season, averaging 18.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists. His ball-handling skills allowed Unseld to use him at forward and guard. And his passing added a vital ingredient to the Bullets' motion offense.
Said King: "John Williams gives us an added dimension. He helps us in every phase of the game. I'm optimistic about the second half of the season. We were starting to jell with Darrell Walker and Haywoode Workman playing together in the backcourt. When they come back, hopefully, we'll have everything in place."
Because of the injuries to Walker (strained knee) and Workman (groin), the Bullets do not immediately have to cut a player to reinstate Williams. They have a full roster of 12 players since guard Clinton Smith was acquired from the Continental Basketball Association to replace Workman.