King practices Unseld still mum

BOWIE — BOWIE -- Bernard King participated in a two-hour practic with the Washington Bullets without incident yesterday, but coach Wes Unseld again indicated he was not prepared to make a decision to reactivate or waive the forward, who has been inactive since undergoing knee surgery in September 1991.

A decision, however, could come after practice at Bowie State today, when King, 36, was expected to engage in his first back-to-back workouts, which would help determine how well his surgery-scarred knee reacts to stress.


Unseld, who closed yesterday's practice -- King's first since ending a four-day suspension for "conduct detrimental to the team" -- tried to deflect questions about the veteran's future.

Unseld said he had to address more pressing problems and strongly was considering changes in the starting lineup and overall strategy after watching his team lose 15 of its past 19 games to drop to 11-25.


King, who drew the suspension after requesting an immediate decision by the Bullets and then clashing with Unseld at practice Jan. 11 when his demands went unheeded, refused to be interviewed yesterday.

NBA chief counsel Joel Litvin has urged the Bullets to act promptly in resolving the matter, but did not set a deadline, despite pressure from NBA Players Association executive director Charles Grantham.

If the Bullets choose to retain King, the club would need to cut one of its 12 players. It also would maintain King's $2.5 million salary slot for next season, even if it does not re-sign him for his option year.

But general manager John Nash reiterated yesterday that the salary cap, which jumps from $14.5 million to $15 million next season, never has been a consideration in determining King's status.

"We plan on being under the cap next year, and, if that's the case, we could not use Bernard's salary anyway," said Nash.

Nash has indicated strongly that the Bullets will be better served by giving King's potential playing time to young forwards Tom Gugliotta, Harvey Grant, Larry Stewart and Don MacLean. But it will fall to Unseld to make the ultimate decision.

Yesterday, however, Unseld seemed preoccupied with juggling his roster.

He apparently experimented with Grant at shooting guard, replaced Gugliotta at small forward with Buck Johnson and made a starter of reserve center Charles Jones, with Pervis Ellison at power forward.


It was likely that the main casualty of the new starting lineup would be shooting guard Rex Chapman, whose offensive skills have failed to offset his defensive shortcomings.

Tuesday night, Chapman repeatedly was burned by Indiana guard Reggie Miller, who scored 25 points in the Pacers' 116-96 romp.

Unseld also might have determined that No. 1 draft pick Gugliotta, who has shot only 37 percent from the field in averaging 9.6 points the past five games, would benefit from coming off the bench.

Eastern Conference coaches have elected to play small forwards against Gugliotta, 6 feet 10, with good results.

Unseld has encouraged Gugliotta to post up his shorter defenders, but that remains a learning process for the former North Carolina State star.

Gugliotta said yesterday that he has not hit "the wall," a problem common to NBA rookies once they finish playing what amounts to a full college season.


"Mentally and physically, I feel fine," he said. "It's just that my role on the team has to change.

vTC "Earlier, I was getting a lot of shots in transition. But we just haven't been running that much lately. I've been looking to get more shots out of the post, but that is where Pervis is more effective, and if too many guys are posting up, it stalls the offense."

NOTES: Former Bullets G Darrell Walker, who was cut by the Detroit Pistons last month, observed yesterday's practice. Walker, who remains a close friend of King, with whom he played in New York and Washington, is a resident of Little Rock, Ark. He attended an Arkansas constituency party for President Clinton last night.