The Washington Bullets will not pressure John Williams into returning to his rehabilitation program in the next month before training camp starts. But before making any hard and fast decisions regarding the fifth-year forward's playing status, they hope to see some progress on his right knee, at which time they would resume paying his salary.

The club isn't nearly as concerned about his weight -- which Williams said was 290 pounds last month, about 35 pounds over his playing weight -- as it is about his not having gone to rehabilitation in Los Angeles since July 10, as the team maintains. It was this disclosure that shortly thereafter made the club take the drastic step of nonpayment.

"This is John's modus operandi," Coach Wes Unseld said yesterday. "He gains weight and loses it by the time training camp starts. Me worrying about it isn't going to change a thing. So I don't worry about it."

"We'll find out when camp opens if John reports in shape," General Manager John Nash said.

Unseld said he expects Williams to report to training at Mount St. Mary's when veterans are scheduled to arrive early next month. One of the first things he would be required to do would be to pass the team physical. And because of his injury, he'll also have to get passing grades from team doctors on Cybex leg-testing equipment.

"We all abide by the rule of the doctors," Unseld said. "If a doctor tells me he won't let a player on the floor, I have no choice in the matter. We all have to abide by what the doctors say."

If Williams feels he has a legitimate complaint about the suspension of payment, the next step is to file a grievance with the NBA Players Association. The groundwork for that may have been laid when Williams's agent, Fred Slaughter, met with NBAPA President Charles Grantham last month. If the grievance can't be adjudicated at that level between union and team, the case would go to arbitration.

Nash said he is hoping it doesn't come to that, and he didn't want to speculate on the strength of the team's potential case.

"Frankly, I don't want to win" a case, he said. "That's not the point. I want John to be in NBA condition and I want his knee to be in the best condition for the season, and for his career. If we win and John doesn't comply, it doesn't mean anything."

Unseld took pains to explain that the Bullets haven't paid Williams because he hasn't done his rehabilitation, not because of his weight. But Nash said Tuesday that the weight also was involved in the team's decision.

"His knee was progressing," Nash said, "but his weight wasn't coming down at all. He evidently wasn't monitoring his diet properly. . . . He's going to have to be at the proper weight to pass a physical. Our doctors won't let him play if he's excessively heavy, because that weight will put too much strain on the knee."

Slaughter did not return phone messages left on his answering machine yesterday. Repeated attempts to find Williams were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, one of his teammates wondered yesterday if Williams, not yet 24, wants to stay with Washington. He has never given any indication that he wants to be traded, but did request that he be allowed to rehabilitate in his home town, in part because he felt the team was overly supervising his work.

"I don't know if John wants to be a Washington Bullet," guard Darrell Walker said in a phone interview from his Arkansas home. "I don't know. It's been a touchy situation. John has never been hurt before, and out of frustration, he probably ate and put on the weight. {But} John knows that's no excuse for not doing the rehabilitation."

The Bullets cannot afford to wait for Williams's return, Walker said.

"John's our best player," he said. "But he's not here and he's not going to be around for a long time. John's young and he has to mature. We can't make John want to do anything. If a guy doesn't want to run a sprint, he doesn't run a sprint. There's nothing we can do about it."

Former Bullet Jeff Malone said: "John's been around long enough to know where the organization wants him to be. It hurts the team because he's so important to Washington. It maybe doesn't set an example for the young guys. He's been around long enough to understand. If John gets serious one day, really serious, he's an all-star."