The Washington Bullets have not paid injured forward John Williams his salary for the last six weeks as a result of the latest contretemps over his weight, Bullets General Manager John Nash confirmed yesterday.
The last time the Bullets spoke with Williams -- about a month ago -- he indicated he weighed about 290 pounds. Since then, he has been playing regularly on the UCLA campus in his home city of Los Angeles but the Bullets do not believe he has made sufficient progress for the club to resume the bi-monthly payments.
This argument is about more than just the rehabilitation of Williams's knee, injured Dec. 2. Making a play against the Utah Jazz, he tore the medial collateral ligament and partially tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and missed the rest of the season.
The Bullets were pleased with the rehabilitation Williams was doing in Los Angeles under the supervision of Robert Kerlan, one of the Los Angeles Lakers' physicians who is part of the renowned Kerlan-Jobe rehabilitation clinic.
But the Bullets say Williams has not been to rehabilitation since July 10, and in view of that are exercising the "failure to rehab" clause in the standard player's contract. Within a week of July 10, the Bullets had stopped paying him, and they haven't paid him since. Nash declined to say how much the action is costing Williams, who by contract will be paid $1.2 million in the coming season, a little more than $46,000 per check.
"We told him he needed to be at 260 pounds before he could play NBA basketball," Nash said. "We thought that he was on a schedule to be down to 260 by July 15. When we saw him in early August, he said he was 290."
Williams, through his agent, Los Angeles-based Fred Slaughter, has sought the assistance of NBA Players Association head Charles Grantham in the dispute. Nash met with Grantham late last month and said yesterday, "My belief is that Charlie Grantham concurs with our position."
Slaughter did not return phone calls yesterday. Williams is still in Los Angeles and could not be reached for comment; the phone at his suburban Maryland home was answered by a man who would only say, "You have to talk to John Nash."
Grantham was out of the country yesterday and unavailable to comment. Steve Lombardo, the physician working directly with Williams, referred all calls to the Bullets' public relations office.
With Grantham's entrance in the matter, the dispute could be heading toward legal action.
"I think that's why he called Charlie Grantham into it," Nash said. "But that's his option. We feel very strong about our position and we've given him some parameters to be reinstated."
There are no weight clauses in Williams's contract, but there are significant bonuses if he plays the year at a certain weight. He can earn up to $200,000 in bonuses if he keeps the weight off.
He obtained an agreement from the Bullets at the end of the season that allowed him to work in Los Angeles this summer, because he felt overly supervised by the Bullets here and more comfortable in his home territory.
"To this point," Nash said, "we've felt he's not honored his contract. He's got a responsibility to do the work. We are responsible for paying him. It was at his request that the team allowed him to go to L.A. . . . That was done to accommodate John, and after he went to L.A. he gained weight. If John comes to camp and loses the weight, we must honor that contract."
Draft picks A.J. English and Greg Foster are close to signing, perhaps as early as next week. Foster likely will sign after taking a physical later this week.
English's agent, C. Lamont Smith, will meet with Nash Monday. "We're working on backside issues, incentives," Smith said. "The hard dollars are pretty much agreed upon. . . . What I wanted for him was late first-round money, and obviously, the money is pretty close."