LANDOVER -- His new silhouette did not inspire visions of someone nicknamed "The Splendid Splinter," "Blade," or "Twiggy." But compared to last year when he was a prime target for fat-man jokes, Washington Bullets forward John Williams looked almost trim when he made an impromptu visit to the Capital Centre.
"I feel great now," he said, claiming to have lost 5 to 7 pounds from his 6-foot-9 frame since the season finale in April. "I'm concentrating on keeping my weight under control. I learned my lesson last year."
His exact weight remains a mystery. Estimates yesterday put it between 255 and 265 pounds.
Williams, who weighed 300-plus pounds last summer when he made a point of missing rehabilitation for his right knee, has pledged to report to training camp in shape this fall.
"I'm not a rookie anymore," he said. "I've been in the league five years now. It's time to start being recognized. I've made a commitment to myself and the ballclub. I'm just thankful the Bullets didn't give up on me."
No longer does Williams, 24, want to be recognized as a gifted player who never fulfilled his potential.
"I want to get off to a good start this season," he said. "That's not just important for me, but our whole team. We've got a lot of young players, and we need a boost in confidence and to get back in the playoff hunt."
Two years ago, Bullets coach Wes Unseld called Williams the key to the team's success. He was the team's most versatile player and capable of raising the standard of play among his teammates.
But the Los Angeles native tore his right knee 19 games into the 1989-90 season. He would not play again until this past February when the Bullets medical staff decided he had shed enough weight and his rebuilt knee could support him.
"The most frustrating part last season was being in Washington but not really feeling a part of the team," he said.
"The doctors set a weight for me and it took me more than half a season to get there. I was spending all this time in the weight room when I felt I should have been on the floor helping us to win."
Even after he received medical clearance, Williams did not play with confidence and instinct -- rather than thinking and reacting -- until the last few weeks of the season. He scored in double figures the last 14 games and recorded three double-doubles (points and rebounds).
"I never really was much of a jumper," he said. "But once I got my wind back, I started to get on a roll. I'm feeling a lot better now. I don't even think about the knee anymore. I can spin and I can cut like I did before the injury."
Williams will keep in shape by competing in the Los Angeles Professional Summer Basketball League, joining five of his teammates and six Detroit Pistons on a split squad. But he is eager for October and a new season he sees filled with promise.
"Everything the team has done in the off-season has been positive," said Williams, referring to the re-acquisition of point guard Michael Adams from the Denver Nuggets and the drafting of guard LaBradford Smith of Louisville.
"Now we finally have some guards who can penetrate and dish off," he said. "That was one of our big weaknesses the last few years. We didn't have a guard who could break down the defense."
When Williams was a 20-year-old rookie in 1986, Adams was his teammate.
"That was the year we used a platoon system," he said. "Michael and I were on the second unit with Manute Bol, Darwin Cook and Jay Vincent. We would press and trap, and we played very well together.
"We beat the first team in practice regularly, but after we traded Adams, things were never the same. Now Michael is back, plus we have young players like Pervis Ellison and Harvey Grant who really matured last year."
Williams ended his brief visit here feeling upbeat. And, even more encouraging, he did not have to squeeze through the doorway.
NOTES: GM John Nash said he has made conditional contract offers to guards Haywoode Workman and Larry Robinson. Both will be hard-pressed to make the team following the additions of Adams and Smith. The Bullets have 8 backcourt candidates. It is likely they will keep only five when the season opens.