SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- The Washington Bullets yesterday received a league medical exemption for veteran forward Bernard King, and general manager John Nash immediately began to work on reaching a contract agreement with first-round draft choice Tom Gugliotta.
King, who has not recovered from knee surgery performed in September 1991, is guaranteed his full $2.5 million salary, and can return to the team if he completes his rehabilitation successfully.
But the 13-year NBA veteran is still not permitted to run by his personal physician, Dr. Norman Scott. After only a three-day wait, the NBA's medical advisory staff supported the Bullets' argument that it is unlikely King, who turns 36 in December, would be back this season. He will officially begin the season on the injured list.
As a result, the Bullets can now apply half of his salary ($1.25 million) as a first-year offer to Gugliotta, the 6-foot-10 All-ACC forward from North Carolina State who was the sixth player chosen overall in the 1992 draft.
Nash and Gugliotta's agent, Richard Howell, of Atlanta, were reportedly negotiating by phone yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
Judging, however, by their previous talks, Nash is expected to offer Gugliotta a contract ranging from six to eight years, with the player's option to be released after three years.
Using $1.25 million as a starting figure and then adding annual 30 percent increments ($375,000), a six-year deal would be worth $13.1 million and an average of $2.19 million. An additional year would raise the total to $16.6 million and a $2.38 million average.
Gugliotta had rejected Nash's original five-year offer of $10.7 million shortly after the draft. In July, the Bullets exceeded the $14 million team salary cap after having to match the New York Knicks' six-year, $17.1 million offer to restricted free-agent forward Harvey Grant.
This left Nash with only a $780,000 slot vacated by unsigned guard-forward Ledell Eackles as a possible contract hole for Gugliotta, which Howell also rejected. Gugliotta then explored offers from teams in Italy, Spain and Greece, but ultimately decided he would prefer launching his pro career in the NBA.
Howell said he would accept "fair market value" for Gugliotta 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 six-year package worth $16.775 million, or an average of $2.75 million. Williams, represented by former Terp Len Elmore, has balked at Sacramento's offer of a long-term contract worth $2 million a year.
Even if Gugliotta soon agrees to terms, he still must undergo a team medical examination and will likely miss the Bullets' opening exhibition game against the defending champion Chicago Bulls in St. Petersburg, Fla., tomorrow night. The Bullets conclude their work at Shepherd College this morning.
In winning his King appeal, Nash has erased the Bullets' two major preseason questions. Last week, he traded recalcitrant and overweight forward John Williams to the Los Angeles Clippers for rookie forward Don MacLean and reserve center William Bedford, who was quickly waived.
When Gugliotta arrives, he will become the third 1992 draft choice to join the Bullets roster, joining guard Brent Price, the second-round pick from Oklahoma, and MacLean, a first-round selection (19th overall) of Detroit, who was then traded to Washington via Los Angeles.
NOTES: All-Star guard Michael Adams (11-for-15), with 24 points and five steals, was the show-stopper in the Bullets public intrasquad scrimmage at Shepherd College last night. Grant flashed several new moves in scoring 20 points, and Greg Foster, bidding for a starting frontcourt job, made eight of 11 shots and grabbed six rebounds. . . . Coach Wes Unseld got a scare when Pervis Ellison fell to the floor, holding his left knee. But it was only a slight bruise. G LaBradford Smith was benched by a pulled hamstring.