Free agent forward Bernard King, who averaged 32.9 points a game for the New York Knicks three years ago in his most recent productive NBA season, said yesterday he became a member of the Washington Bullets "the moment" he signed an offer sheet with the team Friday night.

But King, 30, and the Bullets still have to wait out and wade through the NBA's regulations regarding free agency and first refusal rights before King officially joins all-stars Moses Malone and Jeff Malone on what could be Washington's most promising pro basketball team in years.

According to league sources, the offer sheet that King, who played only six games last season because of ligament and cartilage damage in his right knee, signed in New York at about 7 p.m. Friday is for two years at a salary somewhere between $900,000 and $1.2 million per year. The offer is said to be totally guaranteed, meaning King would be paid regardless of how often he performed for Washington.

NBA rules stipulate that New York has 15 days from the time the offer sheet was delivered to decide whether to exercise its right of first refusal, and retain King's services. Recently, the team signed Detroit Pistons forward Sidney Green to an offer sheet, which indicated to King that the Knicks were no longer interested in him. League sources say the Knicks have not included King in their plans for this season.

"I'm very excited, we're right there," he said of the Bullets, his potential new club. "Paper can't play basketball but when you look at things we match up with anyone -- and by that I mean the upper echelon of the league."

"I have my family and friends here," King said in a telephone conversation from his home in New Jersey. "I fulfilled a dream to play for the {Knicks}. I love basketball and I want to play; if they didn't want me, fine. My thoughts started to turn elsewhere."

Knicks General Manager Al Bianchi was en route to Houston for an exhibition game and could not be reached for comment but King said that the team would not match the Bullets' offer. Washington General Manager Bob Ferry said that the matter could come down to "what the Knicks' philosophy is about their team. Do they consider themselves rebuilding or do they want to win as many games as they can now? They have a new regime in, you don't know what they're trying to accomplish."

In most cases involving a player of King's stature, the team holding the right of first refusal does match the offer, and then tries to work out some sort of compensation for the player in question, or make a trade. But King's agent, Bob Woolf, said yesterday that situation likely would not exist with King since there is a no-trade clause in his contract.

Often the team presenting the offer sheet is dealing from less than a position of strength, because the original team wants and needs the player. In the case of King, the Knicks have said that he didn't fit into their plans and that they were going to use his salary from 1986-87 (an estimated $874,000) to acquire another player such as Green.

Of a possible trade, Woolf said, "The only place we'll go is Washington."

King, the NBA's leading scorer during the 1984-85 season, concurred. "The Washington Bullets wanted Bernard King and Bernard King wants the Washington Bullets," he said. "Kevin Loughery was my first professional coach and I'd love to be reunited with him and any team that has Moses Malone has an opportunity to be something special."

Loughery was hesitant to discuss what King would mean to his team. If he does join the Bullets, the coach would face questions of how to best deploy two low post players like Malone and King, along with guard Jeff Malone.

"Good players have always had the ability to play together, to do whatever they're called upon to do," Loughery said. " You can never have too many players that you can go to in the low post when things get tough."

King averaged 22.7 points in playing the final six games of last season with New York. By playing well in those games, giving New York some much-needed scoring, King strengthened his bargaining position going into his free agency, when others felt the Knicks could have controlled the procedure by merely holding him out of the meaningless games. Observers felt the Knicks' corporate management was upset that King often stayed away from the team's games and practices during his lengthy rehabilitation, when he might have been a positive influence on young players such as Patrick Ewing. He had surgery in March 1985.

"I played in New York for three years and every time I stepped onto the court I gave 100 percent; both the fans and management appreciated and respected that," he said. "They knew my work ethic and they knew that I was doing whatever it took to come back at 100 percent. If that meant not being at games or at practices so I could focus on rehab, at exercising, at working out my knee, I had management's support 100 percent."

King said that while many clubs called him and Woolf about his services, his choice came down to two teams, Washington and Boston. Both teams brought him in for physicals last week, the Celtics on Wednesday, Washington the following day. King reportedly passed both. However, in their discussions, the Celtics balked at fully guaranteeing any offer to King, something the Bullets were apparently willing to do.

The Celtics were said to be leery of King because, while his right knee was structurally sound, they had some questions as to whether he'd be able to play a lot.

"I looked at teams that would give me the opportunity to win the championship," King said. "The Washington Bullets certainly have that chance."