Bullets delay restoring King to active roster Unseld decides forward not ready

January 12, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

BOWIE -- Bernard King's surprising return on New Year's Day has caused a debate among Washington Bullets players and a dilemma for management.

King, a 13-year-veteran who has not played since March 1991 because of knee surgery, had circled Jan. 11 as the day he expected to be reactivated.

After his first intrasquad scrimmage Thursday, King declared himself fit to play. He saw no need for the Bullets to delay the decision to cut a reserve in order to have him in uniform for tonight's home game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

But King failed to get his wish yesterday, and his demeanor and abrupt "no comment" after practice at Bowie State indicated his displeasure.

Coach Wes Unseld, who held a rare closed practice, said he met privately with King.

"I explained the situation to Bernard as best I could," Unseld said. "In my mind, he still needs a few more practices.

"People are saying that Bernard is healthy, and that's what I'm waiting to see. I don't quite see how you can be that healthy after being out a year and a half."

General manager John Nash, who was in Oklahoma City to attend tonight's CBA All-Star Game, said after King's sudden reappearance on Jan. 1 that he was leaving it up to Unseld to decide when King would be reactivated.

But Nash took a more active role last week.

"All players think they're ready," he said, "but I'd like to feel comfortable that his knee will withstand a number of practices before cutting someone who might prove useful to us down the road.

"It's not just Bernard's knee. It's a conditioning thing. He missed all of training camp. Running on a treadmill at home is not the same thing."

There are other concerns. Among them is how King will fit in with a youth-oriented team that numbers only three holdovers -- Harvey Grant, Pervis Ellison and Charles Jones -- from the 1990-91 season in which King, 36, averaged 28.4 points and was an All-Star.

In King's absence, Grant has become the team's top scorer, and second-year man Larry Stewart and rookie Tom Gugliotta have developed at forward.

Grant has been vocal in expressing the view that King's return will impede the development of the young forwards.

Although Unseld reprimanded Grant for speaking out, Grant reiterated his feelings to a group of reporters at the Meadowlands Arena on Saturday night before the Bullets' 124-79 loss to the New Jersey Nets.

Ellison, a 6-foot-10 center who would not lose playing time if King returned, said King's work ethic and offensive skills could serve as a model for the younger players.

Because King is guaranteed his $2.5 million contract, the team could cut him. But that probably would be a public relations blunder. King is still a high-profile player and a crowd favorite at the Capital Centre.

The NBA, which allowed the Bullets a $1.25 million medical exemption on King that was used to sign Gugliotta, will not let the team delay its decision indefinitely.

* Grant (sore thigh) and Ellison (sore knee) sat out practice yesterday, limiting Unseld mainly to running though offensive and defensive sets in preparation for the Bucks.

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