The new form of the U.S. Football League began to take shape yesterday when the owners of the Houston Gamblers and New Jersey Generals announced a merger that brings star quarterback Jim Kelly to the New York market and leaves uncertain the future of Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie. It also puts Flutie, Kelly and Herschel Walker on the same team, for the moment.

Steve Ross, who recently purchased the Gamblers from Jerry Argovitz, and New Jersey owner Donald Trump will be comanaging general partners of the merged team, which will keep the Generals nickname. Trump did not deny reports that Gamblers Coach Jack Pardee would remain with the team and the contracts of Walt Michaels and his staff would not be extended.

The Generals will try to get fall dates at Giants Stadium in 1986, but the NFL's Jets and Giants also play there, so there is a strong possibility that the Generals could end up in Shea Stadium. Argovitz will be the team's director of operations.

At a news conference in New York, Trump said Kelly was one of the three best quarterbacks in pro football and indicated that Flutie, who was hailed as the USFL's savior when he signed early this year, would be traded. Trump said two groups of investors near Boston, where Flutie grew up, are interested in fielding a USFL team built around the ex-Boston College star.

Flutie was unavailable for comment, but Bob Woolf, his Boston-based attorney who negotiated a six-year, $8.3 million guaranteed contract with Trump, said Trump is obligated to pay Flutie's contract if his new team defaults.

The USFL recently completed its third -- and final -- spring season with some of its 14 teams unable to meet payrolls and television ratings at an all-time low. But yesterday's merger, which in effect kept Kelly from jumping to the NFL, and Oakland's decision to exercise an option to pay $500,000 to retain wide receiver Anthony Carter, are indications that those owners expect at least eight to 10 franchises to be viable when the USFL is scheduled to resume play in 1986.