SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. — SHEPHERDSTOWN, W. Va. -- It has become fashionable to link the names of Washington Bullets forwards Bernard King and John Williams whenever discussing the team's salary cap problems and its struggle to regain respectability.
After punching several keys on his calculator, general manager John Nash said, "Right now, King and Williams represent 26 percent of our salary cap, and I'm not expecting either one to be with us at the start of the season."
But Nash quickly added, "I don't like coupling them. King is doing everything possible to continue playing while the other guy refuses to do what is necessary to resume his career. So, it's easy to understand why I'm far more sympathetic to Bernard's plight."
Their case histories can almost be recited by rote.
King made an unprecedented recovery from career-threatening knee surgery in 1985. After two years of tortuous rehabilitation, he signed with the Bullets as a free agent. In the 1990-91 season, he averaged 28.4 points and regained NBA All-Star status.
King underwent arthroscopic knee surgery 13 months ago, that, at the time, was not considered serious. But he missed all of last season, and is still incapable of running, said his personal surgeon, Dr. Norman Scott.
The Bullets plan to file for a medical exemption that would allow them to use half of King's $2.5 million salary in an effort to sign top draft choice Tom Gugliotta.
"Realistically, I'm not counting on Bernard returning this season," said Nash, "but knowing his resolve and history, I'm not counting him out, either."
Unlike Williams, who missed the opening of training camp for the third straight year, King participated in media day yesterday when veterans officially reported for work.
"I know I'm going to play again," he said after arriving in a chauffeur-driven stretch limo. "But, obviously, I've been down this road before and I don't place any timetable on myself.
"I'm not going to start to run until I get the go-ahead from Dr. Scott. You have to do it piece by piece. It may seem tedious, but to me, it's stimulating and challenging seeing myself progressing every day."
No such encouraging words are coming from Williams, who has avoided questions about his possible return. He missed last season after his suspension for being over the medically recommended weight of 260 pounds.
His agent, Fred Slaughter, filed for arbitration as the Bullets withheld Williams' $1.1 million salary last year. An independent arbitrator supported the team's claim that he was unfit to play.
"Nothing in John's case has changed," said Nash. "He's got to be in shape and ready to go. If he's not at the prescribed weight, he can't play."
This summer, Nash watched Williams perform in the Los Angeles Professional League and estimated his weight as "close to 290."
Nash says Williams, the Bullets' No. 1 draft pick in 1986 after playing two seasons at LSU, is an example of a pampered athlete.
"All his life, because of his unique athletic talent, John has been granted the benefit of the doubt," Nash said.
"John generally says all the things about commitment you want to hear. But he seldom follows through. We've offered John the use of a number of support programs, not just for exercise and conditioning. Whether his weight problem is physical, emotional or spiritual, I really can't say."
Nash said Williams has not received any salary from the Bullets since October 1991.
Asked the possibility of a trade, Nash said, "We don't have any willing partners. He acknowledged receiving feelers from both the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics.
The Clippers reportedly were set to part with a low first-round 1992 draft choice, and the Celtics were reportedly offering reserve center Joe Kleine. But neither got past the talking stage after Williams declined to undergo physicals with the teams.
"If we could get fair market value, we'd trade him," Nash said. "But we're not going to trade Williams for an unwanted player with a significant salary. We need more than just another body."