EMMITSBURG -- A breakthrough might be near in the dispute between missing forward John Williams and the Washington Bullets.
NBA Players Association executive directorCharles Grantham said yesterday that he is seeking an arbitration hearing on Williams' disputed back pay within the next two weeks.
As he did last year, Williams, 24, has not reported to the Bullets training camp at Mount St. Mary's College. At issue is the salary withheld from his reported $1.2 million contract.
Acting through his Los Angeles-based agent, Fred Slaughter, the five-year NBA veteran has sought arbitration since March to recover an estimated $368,000, the sum the Bullets deducted for the 49 games Williams missed last season while he battled a persistent weight problem.
"It has taken this long because, as in all such cases, we sought a solution between the parties concerned before going to arbitration," Grantham said from his New York office yesterday.
"Both Williams and/or Slaughter met with the Bullets several times early this summer and seemed to be making progress in resolving the issue," said Grantham. "But new conditions were imposed, and things again fell apart. Consequently, I don't think further discussions between the Bullets and Williams will be fruitful."
If arbitration takes place, Williams' grievance will be heard by Daniel Collins, a New York University law professor who serves in all NBA arbitration cases. Collins can hear testimony in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, Williams' hometown, where he has remained during the dispute.
"These arbitration cases are difficult to arrange, because you can have as many as 12 people involved," said Grantham. "Bill Walton's case [with the Los Angeles Clippers] took two years before it was arbitrated."
The Bullets have said no money is due Williams until he first proves to the team medical staff that he is in condition to play and then actually performs in the regular season, which begins Nov. 1.
"No play, no pay," general manager John Nash said yesterday. Any arbitration hearing has no bearing on this coming season as far as I'm concerned.
"Nothing has changed since last year," Nash said. "John didn't get paid for missing 49 games because he failed to make weight [260 pounds]. And we have the same understanding with him this year. These aren't arbitrary weights. They are weights determined by our medical staff. He won't get a paycheck until he gets in shape. Maybe it has taken harsh reality for him to understand it.
"We would have liked to have settled this thing in July. But this [arbitration] has nothing to do with him not being here in camp."
The salary dispute has raged since July 1990, when Williams, who had missed five months of the previous season with torn ligaments in his right knee, failed to adhere to a rehabilitation program and missed all of training camp.
Slaughter claims Bullets owner Abe Pollin promised to rescind all ofWilliams' fines, and also to pay Williams' full salary after the forward answered Pollin's personal plea by returning to Washington on the eve of the 1990-91 season opener.
Team doctors, however, said Williams, over 300, needed to shed some 40 pounds for his rehabilitated knee to withstand the weight. The team placed him on suspension. He finally gained medical approval and was reactivated Feb. 12.
Nash told Williams last April his back pay would be refunded if he passed monthly weigh-ins this summer. Williams passed the first weigh-in, flunked the next and then failed to show for a third.
Slaughter said Williams did not need to adhere to these new demands because he, as his agent-lawyer, did not participate in the April agreement with Bullets management.
Even if Williams should win in arbitration, the Bullets say they will impose the same weight conditions on his playing this season.
NOTES: No. 1 draft pick LaBradford Smith, unsigned and sidelined with an ankle injury, will have his cast removed Friday. "We hope to have him signed by this weekend," said Nash, who had reached a tentative, four-year agreement worth $3.36 million before learning Smith had been injured in a pickup game in Houston . . . . Three Bullets missed practice yesterday. F Harvey Grant was fitted for new contact lenses, G A. J. English had the sprained little finger on his shooting hand re-examined. X-rays were negative. G Ledell Eackles, who has missed several workouts, had a stomach problem. He has yet to complete the required 1 1/2 -mile run.