Bullets, committed to youth, cut King Former All-Star is free to join any other team

January 22, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

After four practices, an ugly confrontation with his head coach, an unfriendly welcome by his teammates, disparaging remarks in print by the general manager and a brief suspension, forward Bernard King's bittersweet relationship with the Washington Bullets ended yesterday.

By releasing King, coach Wes Unseld indicated that the team's future was better served by developing its young front-line players than by resurrecting the career of a 36-year-old forward who had threatened to create chaos unless certain demands were met.

"What was said in anger between me and Bernard at practice [Jan. 11] had nothing to do with this," Unseld said last night. "We parted good friends, and Bernard understands this was nothing personal.

"This was strictly based on where we are now and where we are going. We set some goals at the start of this season what we wanted to accomplish. Frankly, [owner] Abe Pollin never expected Bernard back. When he returned on New Year's Day, he surprised us all. I wanted to give him every opportunity to make it back."

King will have to attempt his second improbable basketball comeback in another town.

His $2.5 million contract is guaranteed by the Bullets, and the teamalso owes him $500,000 on his option year next season.

A team seeking to strengthen its playoff position could claim him for $140,000. But King likely would seek strong commitments to his future and for playing time.

He left practice at Bowie State yesterday apparently unaware of management's decision and was unavailable for comment last night.

After practice, Unseld met with general manager John Nash, and the two recommended to Pollin that the 13-year veteran be released immediately.

Nash could not be reached for comment last night.

The decision came 20 days after the four-time All-Star forward's surprising reappearance at the Bowie State gym New Year's Day. He had been sidelined for a season and a half after knee surgery in September 1991.

King met with Unseld and Nash and demanded a quick return to active duty and starter's minutes.

But much had changed with the Bullets during King's absence. This season, after four years of patching and mending and failing to make the playoffs, management made a commitment to youth, and the Bullets have one of the youngest rosters in the league.

This likely was the overriding reason Unseld was willing to part with one of the franchise's most charismatic players. King was signed as a free agent by the Bullets in 1987, who gambled that he would regain his All-Star form after missing almost two years following reconstructive knee surgery in 1985.

He more than fulfilled their expectations, but the Bullets' future now rests with such young forwards as Harvey Grant, 27, Larry Stewart, 24, and rookies Tom Gugliotta, 23, and Don MacLean,23.

With King demanding meaningful minutes, it would have meant impeding the development of these players, particularly Gugliotta, an all-purpose forward who has made rapid strides in his first season.

Grant and Gugliotta had voiced strong reservations about King's possible return to the action, which would have required a roster move.

Grant, the Bullets' co-captain and leading scorer, supported management's view that adding King was counterproductive.

Gugliotta, who idolized King while growing up in New York, said he was alienated by King's belligerent attitude and his shouting and shoving match with Unseld Jan. 11 that led to a four-day suspension for "conduct detrimental to the team."

The Bullets reportedly recouped much of his $2.5 million salary this year through disability insurance. The NBA also had allowed the club a medical exemption for the salary cap, enabling the Bullets to use half of King's salary to sign Gugliotta, their lottery selection.

Had the Bullets retained King this season, they would have maintained his salary slot for next season. But Nash has said this was never an issue in deciding King's fate.

Nash said he is intent on getting significantly under the current $14.5 million cap by next season, when the cap will be raised to $15 million.

But Nash seemingly had planned a farewell to King after making disparaging remarks in a New York Times interview earlier this week.

In the article, Nash strongly hinted that King had not dedicated himself to playing last season, and that any comeback he might attempt would be strictly based on bettering his financial position.

King chronology

1977: Claimed early entry into the draft and was picked by the Nets.

1978: Named to the NBA All-Rookie team.

October 1979: Traded to Utah in October 1979.

September 1980: Traded to Golden State.

1981: Won first NBA Comeback Player of the Year award.

October 1982: Signed by the Knicks as a veteran free agent. Then Golden State matched the offer and traded him to New York.

1985: Won the NBA scoring title, averaging 32.9.

March 23, 1985: Suffered a career-threatening knee injury at Kansas City. It kept him out the entire 1985-86 season and all but six games of the 1986-87 season.

Oct. 17, 1987: Signed by the Bullets as a free agent.

1988-89: Played in all but one game, averaging 20.7 ppg, which was second on the Bullets. Surpassed the 15,000 career-point ++ mark on Feb. 14, 1989. Scored a Bullets career-high 52 points vs. Denver on Dec. 29.

February 1991: Started in the All-Star Game, achieving his goal of becoming the first player to play in the contest without an anterior cruciate ligament.

Sept. 6, 1991: Underwent surgery to remove cartilage from his knee. Missed the 1991-92 season.

Jan. 1, 1993: Showed up at Bullets practice and declared himself ready to play.

Jan. 7, 1993: Practiced for first time with club. Demanded that Bullets waive or activate him.

Jan. 11, 1993: Clashed with coach Wes Unseld at practice. Hit with four-day suspension.

2& Jan. 21, 1993: Waived by Bullets.

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