EMMITSBURG, MD., OCT. 18 -- John Williams's return to the Washington Bullets hinges on the return of more than $276,000 in pay that has been withheld from him since mid-July, several league sources confirmed today.

Williams, in telephone conversations with the Bullets' top officials over the last week, has indicated to the team that he wants all of the money returned to him up front before he comes back to Washington. The Bullets want him to return and go through a rehabilitation program locally, during which time he would be paid in increments.

Williams's agent, Fred Slaughter, had told the Baltimore Sun on Wednesday that the money wasn't the issue. Slaughter said Williams had agreed to four of five stipulations to return to Washington, but that a fifth remained a stumbling block.

Slaughter did not return repeated phone calls today.

General Manager John Nash would not say what's keeping the two sides apart, only that "there have been terms introduced that the Bullets are unwilling to accept. {Owner} Mr. {Abe} Pollin and the Washington Bullets have made it clear since July 12 that it is not John Williams's money that we were interested in.

"We are interested in John demonstrating a commitment to strengthening his knee and reducing his weight. We are willing to address any and all situations when we have a commitment. And by that we mean a sustained commitment, not a three-day or five- or even 10-day commitment, but something where there's sustained progress."

Since Washington stopped paying him, Williams has missed six pay periods, at approximately $46,000 per check. The Bullets cited standard contract language concerning failure to rehabilitate an injury as their basis for suspending his pay.

The club has been in contact with Williams since last Thursday, Pollin said in a statement released today. It was the team's first direct contact with Williams in more than eight weeks, since Williams and Slaughter met with Nash, Bullets Coach Wes Unseld and National Basketball Players' Association head Charles Grantham in August.

Grantham spoke with Slaughter today and has been in contact with both sides in the last week.

The club used liaisons to contact Williams in September.

"I'm talking to John for John," Grantham said today. "Whenever I intervene in any way, my concern is to see that our players are playing and receiving compensation for doing so. When I intervene it's to help the player resolve a situation that is detrimental to the player."

Williams has yet to file a grievance with the NBPA and unless something unforeseen has happened, Williams has no basis for one.

After reaching Williams at his home Oct. 11, the team, through Pollin and vice president Jerry Sachs, has had subsequent conversations with Williams and Slaughter.

"In all of these conversations," Pollin said in his statement, "John and his agent were made aware of our request for John to return to the east coast. Our desire is to have John Williams return immediately to begin a complete rehabilitation program under the direct supervision of our team doctors.

"At this time, it is not clear what John's hesitation is about returning. The Bullets will continue to stay in touch with John and attempt to convince him that it is in his best interest and that of the Bullets to return."

Apparently, the site of Williams's rehabilitation is no longer an issue. Williams wanted to stay in Los Angeles over the summer to rehabilitate the knee he injured last December, and the team agreed. But the question of where he would work out now doesn't seem to be holding up the negotiations.

The team also made "some offers that went unaccepted," Nash said. He did not elaborate, but those offers may have involved plane transportation for Williams from Los Angeles.

Meanwhile Unseld has stayed out of the situation as much as possible. Based on two exhibition game losses, there apparently is enough to worry about with the players who are in camp.

"I really don't think there's as much of a concern as we would all like to make it out with other players," he said. "I think there is some but I think we're dealing with a very me generation. I wouldn't read too much into that."

Said Nash: "We know it's been an ordeal for John Williams. It's the first major setback in his career. We're anxious to help him meet this setback head on, with as much support as we can muster. But it's got to be here . . . under our supervision and it's got to be on our terms."