BOWIE -- Slight movement was reported yesterday in the salary arbitration case of Washington Bullets forward John Williams.
Bullets general manager John Nash said that Williams' attorney-agent, Fred Slaughter of Santa Monica, Calif., had responded to evidence presented by the team at the arbitration meeting Dec. 9 in New York.
"We've got seven days to respond to Mr. Slaughter's brief, but I didn't see anything new in it that hadn't already come out in the testimony given to the arbitrator," Nash said. The arbitrator is New York University law professor Daniel Collins.
"After our response, the arbitrator has 60 days to make a decision, but I'm hopeful we'll hear something a lot sooner," Nash said.
The process began last March, when Slaughter filed a grievance against the Bullets. At issue is $526,000 in pay that was withheld from Williams' 1990-91 salary when the veteran forward missed the first 49 games. He was out because of a medical suspension for being grossly overweight after missing all of training camp.
Williams is under a similar suspension this season after reporting at 305 pounds on the eve of the Bullets' opening game. According to team sources, he has used the Bullets' conditioning room at Bowie State only once in the past month.
The Bullets have vowed not to trade Williams because of his diminished value.
With Williams again deactivated, coach Wes Unseld started the season without two of his key frontcourt players. Small forward Bernard King, who led the Bullets in scoring last season, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in September and is not expected to return until after the All-Star break in February.
But Unseld's new front line of Harvey Grant, Pervis Ellison and rookie Larry Stewart has proved effective, combining for 59 points and 25 rebounds a game, with Tom Hammonds playing a strong supporting role.
The backcourt has been vulnerable whenever playmaker Michael Adams, the team's scoring and assist leader, has been sidelined or rested. But rookie guard LaBradford Smith, who has played only five minutes while nursing a severely sprained ankle, is close to being reactivated.
"I'm running and cutting without any pain now," Smith said after yesterday's scrimmage. "I used to think about the ankle, but now I've put it out of my mind."
Smith, a four-sport star in high school at Bay City, Texas, and a four-year starter at Louisville, could not recall being sidelined previously for more than a few days.
"That's why this has been so frustrating for me," he said.
Unseld probably will wait a week or so before making roster moves to open a spot for Smith.
After Jan. 10, a team is obligated to pay a player his full year's salary. But backup point guard Andre Turner, viewed as the most vulnerable Bullet, is making little more than the $130,000 minimum after joining the team as a free agent Oct. 31.
"LaBradford got a little tired today [Thursday], but that's to be expected," Unseld said. "He is still having trouble jumping off his left ankle, but that is getting better, too."
Unseld welcomed back guard-forward Ledell Eackles, who missed Tuesday's team practice.
"It was a misunderstanding," said Unseld. "He didn't know we were practicing the day before Christmas and went home [to New Orleans]. But somehow all the other players were here."
It is likely Eackles will be fined for his absence.
The Bullets, coming off three straight road victories, have nine of their next 11 games at home, where they have won only two of 10 games.
They will play at the Capital Centre tonight against the Houston Rockets. Houston accounted for the Bullets' last loss, Dec. 17, rallying in the fourth quarter for a 100-97 victory.
"They're a real tough team to defend," said Unseld. "They have a strong inside-outside game with Hakeem Olajuwon and Otis Thorpe up front and Vernon Maxwell and Kenny Smith shooting jumpers. But our prime concern is keeping Olajuwon and Thorpe from overpowering us on the boards."