EMMITSBURG -- John Williams' days as a member of the Washington Bullets may be numbered after the veteran forward was AWOL for the start of training camp for the second straight year.
Williams, 24, considered the team's most versatile player and a key to its rebuilding plans, was the only veteran who failed to appear for the 6 p.m. team meeting yesterday in Gettysburg, Pa., where general manager John Nash and coach Wes Unseld welcomed the players before the team returns to Mount St. Mary's College for the official start of camp today.
Nash said, "It may have reached the point" where the Bullets will consider trading.
"At the same time, we know we can't give him away," Nash said. "We're going to ask John to get into basketball condition, so we can reclaim his value."
Nash said Williams, who lives in Los Angeles in the off-season, was still under contract, which expires in 1994. Last season, he earned $1.2 million before substantial fines were imposed.
"John was required to be at tonight's [Thursday's] meeting, and also to undergo a preseason physical," Nash said. "Unless he has a legitimate explanation for his lateness, we will have to fine him and consider our alternatives."
Williams' troubles began when he tore a collateral ligament in his right knee in a Dec. 1, 1989, game and was lost for the rest of the season.
Last season, problems with his health and his concern for that of his father, as well as a dispute over a reported $276,000 in fines for not following prescribed rehabilitation, resulted in Williams' missing all of training camp.
He returned to Washington before the start of the 1990-91 NBA season at 302 pounds -- 40 overweight. Team doctors did not clear him to play until Feb. 12.
He appeared in 33 games, averaging 12.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
The fines he was assessed last season again may be the basis for his absence, Nash said.
"His agent [Fred Slaughter of Los Angeles] feels John should have been paid for the games he missed last year," said Nash. "But he had a chance to reclaim all of his fine money if he maintained his required weight [a reported 260 pounds] this season. We would have reached an accommodation."
Neither Williams nor Slaughter could be reached for comment last night.
Nash had watched Williams play in the Los Angeles Summer League for professionals.
"That was July 31," Nash said. "The next day, I said I wanted to weigh him, and he was agreeable. But he never showed up."
The Bullets, who lost track of Williams in summer 1990, last had contact with him two weeks ago, when Unseld phoned him in Los Angeles.
"John told me he would be here, but I guess he didn't specify when," Unseld said sarcastically.
Asked if he was upset by Williams' latest disappearance, Unseld said: "It's not a problem, because I didn't know whether to count onhim anyway. If he's not here, he's simply not a part of the team, and I go on from there."
In his absence, Harvey Grant, who inherited Williams' power-forward position and averaged a career-high 18.2 points and 7.2 rebounds last season, will continue in that starting role.
But Unseld had envisioned a front line of Williams, Pervis Ellison and Grant, shifting to small forward while Bernard King recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery.
After resurfacing last October, a tearful Williams, embarrassed by his bloated appearance, said he was committing himself to reaching his potential.
"This is my career, and it's in my hands," he said. "I should have been more committed. It was the first time I was injured, and I didn't approach it the way I should have."
Again this July, Williams, visiting the Bullets offices, restated his new dedication.
"I want to get off to a good start this season," he said. "I'm not a rookie anymore, and I learned my lessons last year.
"I've been in the league five years, and it's time to start being recognized. I've made a commitment to myself and the ballclub. I'm just thankful the Bullets haven't given up on me."
Recalling this speech, Nash said: "It's easy to say all the right things people want to hear. He's said them all before. But there comes a time when you finally have to back up all the words."