EMMITSBURG, MD., OCT. 7 -- The Washington Bullets are juggling medicine balls these days, trying to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of Ledell Eackles' holdout and John Williams's absence. Today, for the fourth straight day, Washington had no idea where Williams was.
His agent, Fred Slaughter, called Washington General Manager John Nash's room here Saturday night and left a message. It was, according to Nash, "Has John shown up yet?"
He hadn't, or at least he hadn't gotten in touch with the Bullets. So Steve Haas, one of the Bullets' team physicians, will be at the ready again Monday in case Williams shows up for his physical.
Williams's answering machine was on today, and he did not return phone calls. Neither did Slaughter. Friday, there was no answer at Williams's home.
As the first week of training camp ended today, there was the possibility that Washington could fine Williams for failing to arrive in time for his examination. Such fines aren't salary-based, but uniform. Nash said the Bullets aren't looking to do that now, that they want to talk with Williams first before making any decisions.
"We'll do what our team rules call for," Nash said. "Depending, again, upon the explanation. We're reasonable people and sometimes situations, circumstances cause different interpretations. If there's a reasonable, logical explanation, certainly we would consider it. But it's highly irregular not to have that explanation, in advance or at least by now."
With Williams already having lost more than $200,000 of his salary, having not been paid since mid-July, the Bullets also have to weigh the likely effect of any additional financial penalties. They might only exacerbate an already tenuous situation.
Last month owner Abe Pollin got in touch with Williams in Los Angeles using a person in the organization as well as others. Nash said he didn't think Washington would use the same person or people to try to reach Williams now.
"We may need to use other channels, but I haven't determined what they are yet," he said.
Left unsaid is the impact of Williams's absence on the team. If no one expected that Williams would come back right away and play, isn't it at least fair to say players were expecting him to continue the rehabilitation process in a timely fashion?
"A lot of people are trying to put a lot of pressure on John," forward Harvey Grant said. "They forget that he's 23 years old. He's been in the league four years and people forget that he's real young and sometimes he's going to act like that."
The players know about as little as anyone. They ask daily if there have been any developments. They are trying to be understanding about Williams's plight, but they're a little unsure about what Williams is doing as well.
"It's up to us as his teammates, whenever he gets back, to welcome him with open arms," Grant said. "Once he gets back and gets himself in shape, everything will be back to normal. We're professionals and we have to take it upon ourselves to win as many games as we can, with John or without John. The team right now has the attitude that we're going to go out with the guys we have right now."
Said guard Steve Colter: "You shouldn't say it's no distraction at all, because all of us are thinking about John, especially the guys that know him and played with him. But so far as the matter at hand is concerned, we've got some work to do. Hopefully John will be ready to join us when he's ready. He's still my buddy and I want him to be healthy."
That much is certainly true. The ball is most definitely in Williams's court, and there's nothing the Bullets can do until he's ready to make an appearance.
"From a standpoint of distraction or emotional detachment, I don't think it has any bearing at all," Nash said. "I'm sure they feel let down to a degree and I'm sure they'll be delighted if and when John arrives. But it's part of the business. You can't control every element of this game."