The Washington Bullets' slogan for the 1990-91 season is "We've Got a Few Scores to Settle." We assume that does not include the scores John Williams has to settle all by himself.

One day before the start of the regular season, Williams reported for work yesterday. Talk about living large, Williams said he hasn't stepped onto a scale recently and doesn't know exactly how much he weighs. If we're having an office pool, I'll take 290.

The Bullets with a healthy and well-conditioned John Williams would contend for the playoffs and be reasonably competitive. The Bullets with Williams drinking Dick Gregory milkshakes the next six weeks will be hard pressed to beat anybody.

Since they drafted him in 1986 out of LSU, the Bullets have built the franchise around John Williams. They've drafted with him in mind, they've made trades with him in mind, they've marketed the team and sold tickets with him at the forefront of all their on-court plans. They pay him $1.2 million to be in shape for basketball season. The season starts tonight in Miami and Williams is about 40 pounds -- maybe more -- from being in playing shape. But the Bullets are relieved because Williams -- AWOL most of the summer -- showed up for work, finally.

Williams seemed genuinely sorry yesterday for putting his career in jeopardy and his team in a most-precarious situation. Asked if the criticism has been fair, Williams said, "I think it is." He was sincere. He was contrite. He said he was embarrassed to show up here because he weighed so much. Several times during a news conference, it was all he could do to keep from crying. Everyone who knows Williams says he is as sweet as he is irresponsible. Standing there and admitting he blundered royally is a good first step on a long road back. "I've got to get myself back together, my life intact," he said, referring to a summer marred by his father suffering a stroke and the drowning death of a close friend.

"I've always had a weight problem and {the knee injury} didn't help things," he said. "This is my career and it's in my hands. Sitting there and watching the preseason games, I said to myself, 'Hey, what am I doing here at home still? I need to get back to Washington, and get with Mr. {Abe} Pollin and get things straightened out. . . . I should have been more committed. It was my first time getting injured and I didn't approach it the way I should have. I wasn't going to therapy on a consistent basis like I should have. . . . I was focused at one point, but I steered off in the wrong direction."

Sounds good. But he has said the right things before about working out in the offseason, about keeping his weight down, about reaching his potential. And he still hasn't done it. Maybe this time, it will be different for Williams, but the words aren't enough. He has to prove it.

After five years of hearing about how much potential he has; about how he's on a level just below Magic and Michael and Larry; about how he's on the verge of blossoming, five-year veteran John Williams is at the stage where he'd better Just Do It. No more as soon as he drops a few pounds, no more if he hadn't gotten hurt, no more well he came out of school two years early. Just do it. Deliver on one of these promises.

The Bullets front office people -- Executive Vice President Susan O'Malley, General Manager John Nash and General Sales Manager David Lanzi -- have killed themselves over the summer to put out the best possible product. Season ticket renewal is at 85 percent and the total number of season tickets increased by 1,000, an amazing figure considering the team hasn't made the playoffs in two years. Everyone has done their job; now it's John Williams's turn.

The Bullets hope he'll be back before Christmas. Williams says it will take two to four weeks. A knowing Wes Unseld says: "Longer, I think. He's not ready to go now, but when he is, it'll make my life easier. How long, I think that will depend on how motivated he is."

Asked if he believes Williams will make good on yesterday's promise, Nash said: "The key is whether John is really committed. Is John committed to his profession?"

Williams plays on a team with three of the most tireless workers in basketball. Bernard King, after one of the most serious knee injuries imaginable, created a second career for himself through a relentless work regimen. Wes Unseld played most of his career on one knee, except the last few years in which he had none. He's in the Hall of Fame. Darrell Walker, through fanatical work and determination, has played eight seasons when some scouts never thought he'd last two. If their work habits don't rub off on John Williams, nobody's will.

All of this could have been avoided if Williams had been more responsible about his career, or perhaps if owner Abe Pollin had picked up the telephone sooner. Some in the Bullets organization feel Pollin's phone call to Williams this week helped convince him he should resume his career and stop hanging out in La La Land and at major prize fights. Was there a phone strike in L.A. all summer? Is it in the best interest of the franchise to wait until the week of the season opener for the owner to call the most important player on the team and say, "Hey, what's up with you?"

Because Williams will be on the sideline indefinitely, the Bullets will field a team with six players who have two years' experience or less. That does not include holdout Ledell Eackles, whose agent, Eddie Sapir, continues to dream that his client is Walt Frazier. "When you have a team that's this young," Unseld said, "it's going to make mistakes . . . it's going to have adjustment problems. . . . We know that we've got some rough road ahead."

Nash, when pressed for a preseason assessment, didn't want to promise things the team can't deliver. He also did not want to be too pessimistic, distancing himself from the popular theory that the Bullets will be awful this season. "Yes, that's basically the position I'm in. . . . Wes is as good a coach as there is in the NBA. If winning is possible, Wes will extract it from them."

Winning for the Washington Bullets will be much easier if John Williams is committed to three things: losing the weight and keeping it off; rehabilitating his injured knee; becoming the player we all keep hearing he can be. If he changes the behavior pattern of his youth and makes such a commitment, he might be up to settling a few scores.