LANDOVER -- Bernard King may prove -- as he did in 1987 -- that he can recover from knee surgery after sitting out for more than an entire season. But for the members of the Washington Bullets, King's release Thursday was the best move for the rebuilding team.
A team whose future is geared toward the development of younger players -- 10 of the 13 players on the roster have four or less years of NBA experience -- the Bullets decided to stick to their master plan by releasing King, 36.
After the Bullets didn't reactivate him last week, King got into a shoving match with coach Wes Unseld during practice. The team suspended him for four days after the Jan. 14 incident.
"The way he came back, the way he reacted [with Unseld], it was a distraction," forward Harvey Grant said. "I'm glad they made the decision, and I'm glad that we can just go out now and think about basketball."
One of the players who could have been affected by King's return was forward Don MacLean, who is averaging 5.6 minutes. The 6-foot-10 rookie out of UCLA felt making the decision quickly was in the team's best interest.
"Bernard's a great player, and we definitely could have used him," MacLean said. "But it's important for any team to have a direction. "I think this team or any team -- if you're in one direction and somebody comes in and changes it -- it can cause problems."
King's $2.5 million contract for this season is guaranteed by the Bullets, who also must pay him $500,000 for next season. His $2.5 million remains on the salary cap this season, but it will be removed next season. That will give the team room to maneuver for trades and to sign draft picks.
"We let management worry about those things," center Pervis Ellison said. "Management brings in the best people that they can. The only thing I'm concerned about are the players here in this locker room."
Bullets general manager John Nash could not be reached for comment.
King, who entered the NBA in 1977 as a member of the New Jersey Nets, has averaged 23.1 points while playing for five teams in his 13 seasons. An All-Star during the 1984-85 season when he averaged 32.9 points, King missed nearly two seasons after having reconstructive knee surgery in 1985.
After playing the last six games of the 1986-87 season for the Knicks, King signed with the Bullets and returned to the All-Star Game in 1990-91, when he averaged 28.4 points in 64 games. He underwent surgery to remove cartilage from his knee Sept. 6, 1991, and did not play for the Bullets again.
"We looked at where we wanted to go and how we wanted to get there," Unseld said. "I didn't want to sit and watch him not get the time he deserved in the twilight of his career."
NOTES: Ellison was fined $3,500 and Rik Smits of the Indiana Pacers $1,000 by NBA vice president for operations Rod Thorn yesterday for an incident in Tuesday's game. Ellison was fined for throwing a punch at Smits, who was fined for shoving Ellison.