Bullets growing weary of Williams' game of hide and go seek


EMMITSBURG -- Even though Washington Bullets general manager John Nash said he will "wait as long as it takes" to settle the unsettling John Williams matter, there is little doubt Nash is running out of patience.

"When I think about this," Nash said yesterday, "I think it is highly unusual and very bizarre. But I don't want to speculate. I could spend hours speculating.

"We're just going to have to wait until we talk to John to see if he has a valid excuse that would cover this. But at this point, I can't imagine an explanation that would."

It's a difficult scenario to imagine.

The Bullets expected Williams, their talented all-purpose forward who is coming back from major knee surgery, to be in Washington a week ago today for a physical. He then was to report to training camp with the rest of the veterans on Friday.

Instead, no one with the Bullets has seen or heard from him. He's out of sight, but clearly not out of mind.

"We've been in touch with his agent," said Nash. "If his agent thought there was any foul play involved, I'm sure he'd do something about it."

Before last Thursday, there were "sightings" of Williams. The Bullets were told by Williams' agent, Fred Slaughter, and by Williams' mother in Los Angeles that he had been working out, had lost a little weight (he reportedly was more than 300 pounds), was in good spirits and was heading to Washington for his physical.

Since then, zilch.

Yesterday, Nash said he has heard from Slaughter daily, though he has not spoken to him.

"It's funny," Nash said. "He evidently can get through to the switchboard at the hotel where I'm staying, but he can't make the connection to my room. He has left a message daily."

Slaughter did not return calls left on his answering machine yesterday.

The Bullets play their first preseason game Saturday against the New Jersey Nets in New Haven, Conn. The question is, how long will the Bullets wait for Williams?

"What is the alternative?" Nash said. "It is difficult to do anything when you can't even locate him. And in the case of John Williams, he is going to need to play and play effectively to reclaim his value for the Washington Bullets or any other team that has interest. It is not our intent to trade John. Our first hope is to get him back."

Speculation is running rampant. One theory is Williams, 24, is embarrassed by his overweight state and is holed up somewhere dieting, trying to get in better shape before facing his coach and teammates.

Coach Wes Unseld, while recognizing Williams' behavior as unnatural, said he does not believe "it has anything to do with" drugs.

"I just hope for his sake, as much as mine, he comes into camp," Unseld said. "The biggest disservice that's been done to John Williams has been done by himself."

The Bullets stopped paying Williams' salary July 6, when they discovered he was not following the rehabilitation program prescribed by Bullets team doctors and Williams' own physician. The tab has reached more than $200,000 and goes up $46,000 every two weeks. Williams makes about $1.1 million.

Although Nash said the Bullets will not be able to replace Williams in the lineup with another player of his ability, he does believe the team has options, such as starting newly acquired Pervis Ellison at forward.

"We've decided to go forward with what we have and if John shows and is able to play, it would be a tremendous positive influence on our team," said Nash. "But, even as we approached the season, we weren't sure his knee would allow him to play.

"So there has been the thought he would not be able to play and it may have contributed to our thoughts in trading for Pervis Ellison. It might have been easier to go with a young frontcourt, because we were uncertain about John, even early last summer."

They're far more uncertain now.

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