To call Washington Wizards hopeful Gerard King a sleeper may seem a bit unfair. After all, the 6-foot-10 forward was a member of the San Antonio Spurs' NBA championship team last season. Sure, he played only a minute in two games of the NBA Finals, but he still has a ring coming to him.
He just hopes it gets delivered to an address in the Washington area.
"I'm still trying to show people I can play," said King, 26. "I played four years in college, a year in the CBA, two years overseas and last year I didn't play that much. There are a lot of unanswered questions about whether I can play, [whether] I can hold my own. I know I'm capable. I just have to put everything together and just hope things fall my way."
So far, King has shown the Wizards coaches and his teammates that he can play. Unless he suddenly starts tripping over himself and throwing passes to the other team, or gets outrebounded routinely by players no taller than Muggsy Bogues, King appears to have a roster spot locked up.
"He knows how to play," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said. "He doesn't try to do anything he's not capable of doing. Overall, he's had a solid camp. He plays the way we want him to play."
King would back up power forwards Aaron Williams and Michael Smith and play some at center. Should Lorenzo Williams, who is recovering from offseason knee surgery, open the season on the injured list as expected, King likely would take his spot on the active roster.
If Aaron Williams continues to be slowed by back spasms, King's role would increase. King will be the first power forward off the bench in Thursday's preseason game in Cleveland because Aaron Williams is not scheduled to make the trip.
"Gerard's working hard trying to earn a spot and in my opinion he deserves one," forward Juwan Howard said. "He's a very solid player. He does all the things right. He stays within his strengths. We can use a guy who's solid, can rebound and can score."
As recently as this summer, King thought he had found a home with the Spurs. Then they signed free agent forward Samaki Walker.
With Aaron Williams the only power forward under contract at the time, King figured his best chance to remain in the NBA was with the Wizards, so he accepted their invitation to come to training camp. Days later, Washington signed Smith, but King nonetheless has carved himself a place with the team.
In Washington's 88-84 preseason victory over the Los Angeles Lakers last Wednesday, he had nine points and seven rebounds. In the team's public scrimmage at MCI Center last Friday, King scored 14 points and had four rebounds.
"I'm working hard because I know this is a great situation," King said. "I would love to be here. If I don't make the team I'd be disappointed but I won't hang my head. I'm laying it all out there every day."
King's ascension in the preseason seems to be an extension of his overall progress. After starring for Italy's Fontanafredda Sienna for two seasons, King was selected to play for the U.S. national team at the world championships in Athens in 1998. The former Nicholls State standout started for the bronze medal team made up of CBA and European league players. They were fill-ins for NBA players who were removed from the team amid labor turmoil.
Once NBA play resumed after the lockout, King earned a spot with the Spurs and filled in when Will Perdue was injured. However, when Perdue returned, King rarely got off the bench. His practice time proved valuable, though, because he refined his game against David Robinson and Tim Duncan, the best big-men tandem in the NBA.
"Every single day you learned so much from guys like that," said King, who played in 19 regular season and eight postseason games with the Spurs. "Tim, he's so good. David, it's his knowledge. He's still a great player and he helps you with other things, like how to prepare yourself and how to take care of your body. . . .
"The whole season was a tremendous experience for me. I hope it's the same way here."
Wizards Note: Guard Mitch Richmond (strained right hamstring), center Ike Austin (strained left hip flexor), forward Aaron Williams (back spasms), forward Randell Jackson (hip pointer) and forward Lorenzo Williams (knee surgery) will not travel to Cleveland for Thursday's preseason game, Heard said.