The growing suspicion that star forward Bernard King would miss the entire 1991-92 season following summer knee surgery became more of a reality yesterday after Washington Bullets general manager John Nash received a medical update from King's surgeon, Norman Scott of New York.
In a brief statement issued before leaving on a college scouting trip, Nash said: "King will definitely be out until March 15 and probably for the remainder of the season. Progress with the rehabilitation of his right knee has been slow."
Last season, King culminated an amazing comeback from major reconstructive surgery that caused him to miss almost two entire seasons (1985-87). He averaged 28.4 points -- third best in the NBA -- and fulfilled a personal dream by regaining an All-Star berth.
King, 35, who missed the final 14 games of last season with a back problem, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in September, an operation that was deemed "minor" at the time.
Early estimates had the small forward returning by December, but each month brought more negative news in regard to the intense rehabilitation program he followed in his New Jersey home, complete with his personal physical therapist.
King injured the same knee while playing at the University of Tennessee, but quickly recovered. In December, Scott cautioned "that we're now dealing with the knees of a 35-year-old man, not a 25-year-old kid."
Neither Scott nor King was available for comment yesterday. King has another year remaining on his two-year contract worth $2 million per year.
After his latest operation, King said he would not even consider the idea that his basketball career might be over.
"I don't allow myself to think in those terms," said King, who has averaged 23.1 points over 13 seasons. "When you buy into those kind of thoughts, you defeat yourself."
In the absence of King and Mark Alarie, who underwent similar arthroscopic knee surgery in September, Bullets coach Wes Unseld has been hard-pressed to find consistent scoring from the forward position. The surprising play of rookie Larry Stewart (12.7 points) has alleviated some of the problem.
Unseld, who has watched his team lose four straight and drop to 14-25 overall, had other concerns yesterday.
He cut practice short at Bowie State after center Pervis Ellison complained of stomach problems, apparently the result of food poisoning, and forward Harvey Grant was examined at Bowie Medical Center after suffering chest pains. X-rays of Grant's chest proved negative.
Starting guard David Wingate missed the start of practice after being stopped by police and charged with speeding.
Both Grant and Ellison were cleared to play against the Phoenix Suns at the Capital Centre tonight. Backup center Charles Jones also missed practice with a sore knee.
The Suns, who played in Boston last night, had been one of the NBA's hottest teams before losing consecutive road games to the Chicago Bulls and New Jersey Nets.
Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons credits the team's resurgence to improved defense, sparked by third-year forward Tim Perry, who was promoted to a starting job because of his aggressive rebounding.
NOTES: Stewart, who played collegiately at Coppin State, will be the guest speaker Monday afternoon at the Choice Program in Cherry Hill. It is part of the Bullets' program to help at-risk students remain in school.