SHEPHERDSTOWN, W. Va. -- The Washington Bullets plan to ask the NBA to grant a medical exemption for forward Bernard King. If approved, it would free half of King's $2.5 million salary for this coming season, to be used in an effort to sign first-round draft choice Tom Gugliotta of North Carolina State.
King, 35, had arthroscopic knee surgery 13 months ago and missed the entire 1991-92 season. He was to be examined by the Bullets medical staff in Washington yesterday. General manager John Nash said he did not expect a full report until today.
Last week, however, Nash received an extensive medical update on King's physical status from his personal surgeon, Dr. Norman Scott, who also serves as the New York Knicks' orthopedist.
"The bottom line," said Nash, "is that Bernard can't run. He won't be participating in training camp, and it seems unlikely that he will join us early in the season. On that basis, we're asking the league for a medical exemption.
"Our doctors send their medical data to the NBA for review. It would be similar to the salary cap exemption the Los Angeles Lakers received last year when Magic Johnson was found to be carrying the HIV virus. The Lakers ultimately used the money to sign James Edwards."
Nash emphasized that King, who is in the last year of his current Bullets contract, would not be penalized monetarily if the NBA grants the exemption. He also would be allowed to rejoin the team if he successfully completes his rehabilitation before season's end.
"We would have asked for an exemption on King last season, but both Dr. Scott and Bernard believed he would be able to rejoin us early in the year, and we accepted that belief," Nash said. "But now we have a year's medical history to show that he has not sufficiently recovered."
King was not available for comment.
The extra cushion in the salary cap would give the Bullets more leverage to sign Gugliotta. The 6-foot-10 forward and his agent, Richard Howell, rejected the Bullets' original offer of $10.7 million for five years. But then the Bullets were forced to match the Knicks' $17.1 million offer to veteran forward Harvey Grant, far exceeding the $14 million salary cap.
Before seeking the King exemption, the Bullets had only Ledell Eackles' $780,000 salary slot available to Gugliotta, the sixth pick in the June lottery.
Last month, Nash agreed to pay Gugliotta "fair market value" based on what the fifth pick, Notre Dame forward LaPhonso Ellis, and the seventh choice, Maryland guard Walt Williams, would receive. The Denver Nuggets signed Ellis to a five-year deal Monday for a reported $13.1 million. Sacramento has yet to sign Williams, but his agent, Len Elmore, was scheduled to meet with XTC the Kings this week.
NOTES: Coach Wes Unseld had 11 players on hand for his opening practice yesterday, including veterans Grant, Rex Chapman and Buck Johnson. Free agent Reggie Cross, a 6-8 forward from Hawaii, was missing because of an illness in his family.