As King boils, Cheeks toils as Nets' stately reserve


Maurice Cheeks and Bernard King both have celebrated their 36th birthdays, played in four All-Star games, and are considered potential Hall of Famers. But nearing the end of their professional basketball careers, they have different agendas.

Earlier this month, Cheeks, a free agent, was signed by the New Jersey Nets, who play the Washington Bullets at the Baltimore Arena tonight.

After getting a $600,000 contract buyout from the Atlanta Hawks, he signed with New Jersey for the $140,000 minimum.

In courting Cheeks' services, Nets general manager Willis Reed and head coach Chuck Daly said they hope he will serve the dual role of a backup and mentor to second-year point guard Kenny Anderson, a key player on a young team that made the playoffs last year for the first time since 1987.

Cheeks, who was a quiet but efficient floor leader in Philadelphia for 11 seasons, readily accepted his complementary role.

"I've had my go as far as playing 40 to 45 minutes a night," he said. "I like coming to a team where young guys are going to blossom and be great NBA players.

"I can enjoy sitting there watching and, at the same time, try to enhance their game. Kenny Anderson is going to be one of the better guards in the league, but if I can enhance his game with some of the things I've learned, he'll become a much better player, and that's what I intend to do.

That is in contrast to King, who is mounting his second comeback from knee surgery and has not played since March 1991.

King wants to play as soon as possible, and he wants to start. He was angered when team officials delayed a decision on when he should return, and he got into a shoving match with coach Wes Unseld at practice last Monday.

He will miss tonight's game as part of a four-day suspension. When the suspension is lifted, Unseld will determine King's status. But management appears firmly committed to a youth movement involving forwards Harvey Grant, Larry Stewart and rookies Tom Gugliotta and Don MacLean.

NOTES: The Nets have given a three-year contract extension to Reed, who became the team's front office boss in 1989. . . New Jersey also is anxious to lock up leading scorer Drazen Petrovic. "Some people criticized us for losing [forward] Terry Mills to Detroit," said Reed. "We want to go on record that "Petro" is an important part of our future."

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