The New York Knicks apparently are interested in obtaining guard Frank Johnson from the Bullets, but Washington General Manager Bob Ferry said last night that he was not actively trying to trade Johnson.
Sources say the Knicks would like to talk about obtaining Johnson in exchange for cash and possibly another player, perhaps guard Butch Carter.
Talk of such a deal surfaced about eight days ago but Ferry was reluctant to deal with another Atlantic Division team, sources indicated. That led to speculation that Johnson might be dealt to Houston, in need of a guard since John Lucas' departure. Now it has been learned the Knicks still are interested in Johnson.
Johnson's agent, Bill Pollack, said he has talked to the Bullets about his client.
"There are 23 starting point guards in the league and I think Frank Johnson is one of them," Pollack said yesterday. "There's no reason for the Bullets to change what they are doing (a three-guard rotation), but why not give Frank another chance somewhere else? They owe him that much. What I'm doing is making sure that people around the league know that Frank's demotion has nothing to do with his play."
Now in his fourth year in the NBA, Johnson is earning $232,000 this season and will earn $255,000 in 1985-86, a tidy sum for the fourth guard in a three-guard rotation.
According to sources familiar with the Knicks' interest, New York would pay the Bullets $300,000 up front, plus the deferred payment portion of Johnson's contract, approximately $150,000. If the Bullets were so inclined, they probably could have Carter, who doesn't play much either, but supposedly doesn't earn as much as Johnson.
"This is the first I've heard of any of this," the Bullets' owner, Abe Pollin, said yesterday. Any trade talks would "go through" Ferry or Coach Gene Shue, he said, and Ferry and Shue "would come and talk to me about it. If the Knicks have proposed a deal and Bob Ferry doesn't want to do it, it probably won't get done."
Ferry said last night, "There have been no talks with the Knicks. I haven't spoken with them since the preseason . . . I am not actively trying to trade Frank."
The Knicks' executive vice president, Dave DeBusschere, was unavailable to comment yesterday.
A trade clearly would benefit Johnson's career, but not the Bullets, which is why Ferry and Shue have hesitated. Johnson is averaging just under nine points a game and has played well, although he hadn't played in five games before Saturday night's 121-113 loss to Detroit.
During the six games Nov. 24-Dec. 8, he averaged nearly 16 points on 53 percent shooting.
His problem has been the team's other guards. Gus Williams has played well and Jeff Malone is its best long-range shooter. After that, Dudley Bradley gets the nod from Shue because of his defense.
"I'm not set in concrete as far as who plays," Shue said. "I'm just going with what I think will work for us. Gus and Jeff are playing terrific and, after that, you go with your best defense, because teams like Milwaukee with Sidney Moncrief and Boston with Dennis Johnson will take advantage of you down low, if you try guarding them with smaller players."
"I've become thankful for practice," Johnson said. "It's like I said before: There's no reason to jerk me or Jeff or Dudley around, putting us in or out. I've gotten the support of people like Gus and Jeff Ruland. They're behind me and are telling me to be patient. That helps a lot."
Johnson said he is ready to do whatever it takes to get back on the court, even if it means playing for Coach Hubie Brown of the Knicks.
"The thing is that he communicates," Johnson said. "I could handle his yelling and screaming. It's when someone doesn't say anything that you wonder what's going on."
Shue said he wants Johnson to stay with the Bullets and hopes that he takes his teammates' advice. "Frank's been terrific, absolutely terrific," Shue said. "And it's a long season. Hell, yes, I want him to stay with us. Most definitely."