BOWIE -- The annual "John Williams Watch" began in earnest yesterday after his agent, Fred Slaughter, sent a fax informing Washington Bullets general manager John Nash that the missing forward was headed for Washington.
The first rumors that Williams might end his contract impasse appeared in the final edition of yesterday's USA Today, with the forward reportedly no longer wishing to play for the Bullets, who have withheld an estimated $500,000 of last season's salary for missing the first 49 games due to excess weight.
But Williams failed to appear yesterday at either the team office in Landover or at Bowie State, where the team is preparing for tomorrow night's season opener against the Pacers in Indiana.
"It's much ado about nothing," said Nash. "The fax did not address the issue of John wanting to be traded, but that is a moot point because he is still under contract and we have no intention of trading him.
"I can't speculate whether this fax has malicious intent. But John Williams has been a constant source of distraction to this team since July 5, 1990, when he stopped attending rehabilitation for his [December 1989] knee injury."
Slaughter had hoped to settle the salary dispute through PTC arbitration, and filed for a hearing last March with the NBA Players Association.
But players association president Charles Grantham has been unable to find an agreeable time for Slaughter, Bullets attorneys and NBA representatives to meet with league arbitrator Daniel G. Collins, a New York University law professor. A union spokesman said they will have an arbitration date by tomorrow.
Reached at his Santa Monica, Calif., office yesterday, Slaughter said: "All I can tell you is that spies say John has headed east. I assume that it is to talk with the Bullets and try to finally settle this thing."
After practice ended without a Williams sighting, coach Wes Unseld said, "I've not seen or talked with John. Let's just say it's deja vu."
Williams, beset by personal problems last summer, reported for work on the eve of the 1990-91 season opener some 40 pounds overweight.
Because he had missed almost the entire previous season with a knee injury, the Bullets medical staff would not clear him to play until he reached 260 pounds. Unseld had to monitor private workouts with Williams after holding regular team practices between games.
Asked what might happen if and when Williams appears, Unseld said: "I've always believed in not worrying about things I can't control. But I can control whether John plays or not."