When Kevin Loughery was fired as head coach of the Washington Bullets in the winter of 1988, he was asked whether he had any major regrets about the way he had handled the team.
"My biggest mistake was trading Michael Adams," Loughery said. "He was the only true leader I had."
Now Adams, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound point guard, who was waived twice by the Bullets before being traded in 1987 to the Denver Nuggets with forward Jay Vincent for guard Darrell Walker and forward Mark Alarie, will get another chance to play for the Bullets.
Yesterday, Washington reacquired Adams from Denver in exchange for the Bullets' eighth pick in the June 26 draft. The Nuggets also gave the Bullets the 19th choice in the first round, along with future draft considerations.
"I was shocked when they called and told me I was traded here," Adams said. "Actually, I was delighted because I live five minutes away from here [in Mitchellville], and I know some people in the organization, so I feel comfortable with it.
"I played with John Williams before and I met Pervis [Ellison] a couple of weeks ago and, surprisingly, I'm going to be playing with him," Adams said. "Harvey [Grant] had a great year, and we all know what Bernard [King] can do. Hopefully, we can put the puzzle together and win some ballgames.
"It's like going to the farm system and coming back up," Adams said. "It makes me feel like a first-round draft pick this day."
The deal began to take shape in Chicago last week, when Bullets general manager John Nash conferred with Nuggets counterpart Bernie Bickerstaff at the NBA's tryout camp for draft prospects.
Nash balked at swapping the eighth pick for Adams but agreed after Bickerstaff relinquished his 19th selection.
"With our own pick at No. 4 and Washington's eighth pick, we figure to get two good, young players," said Bickerstaff, trying to rebuild the Nuggets after they finished with the league's worst record (20-62) last season.
"Michael has been one of the real positives here the past four years," Bickerstaff said. "He's got tremendous mental toughness a little guy who won't back down. He can score, and he can distribute the ball. But this was a great opportunity for us to improve our team."
The Bullets, who have missed the playoffs the past two years, needed a point guard. Nash said he could not fill that need in the draft.
Top-rated guard Kenny Anderson of Georgia Tech is earmarked to be one of the top three players selected, probably by the Sacramento Kings, who have the third choice. And the Bullets were uncertain whether Greg Anthony of Nevada-Las Vegas, who figures to be available as the eighth choice, would solve their backcourt problems.
Anthony auditioned for Bullets coach Wes Unseld in Washington last week, as did two centers -- New Mexico's 7-foot-1 Luc Longley and Stanley Roberts, a 7-footer who played in Spain last season after playing a year at Louisiana State.
But after weighing matters, Nash and Unseld agreed that a legitimate floor leader was their prime need.
In recent years, Muggsy Bogues, Walker and Haywoode Workman have been found wanting, for various reasons.
"I sat down with our coaching staff, and we rated all the talent in the league," Nash said. "We all had Adams listed among the top 10 point guards in the NBA."
Adams, 28, who blossomed in Denver after being given a free hand to run the offense by Doug Moe, then Paul Westhead, finished sixth in the league in scoring (26.5 points a game) last season and third in assists (10.5), behind the Utah Jazz's John Stockton and the Los Angeles Lakers' Magic Johnson.
"I think arguably we have the best running point guard in basketball," Nash said.
Adams said: "Nobody is going to run that much [as much as Westhead's team]. But I'm always a guy who's in shape, so I'm not concerned that much because I can hold my own."
Adams provides the Bullets with an additional offensive weapon. He is also one of the league's premier three-point shooters, an area in which the Bullets have been lacking.
Last year alone, Adams made 167 three-pointers. That is six fewer than the Bullets have totaled in the past four seasons combined.
With Adams running the motion offense, Unseld can use 1990-91 point guard Walker, a defensive specialist and strong rebounder, as a swing man in the backcourt.
Workman, who was a pleasant surprise after coming over from the Continental Basketball Association, probably will find less pressure in a reserve role. Acquiring Adams will allow the Bullets to test shooting guard Ledell Eackles' trade value.
The Bullets probably will seek a shooting guard with their 19th selection. Rodney Monroe of North Carolina State or LaBradford Smith of Louisville might be available.
As in most trades, the salary cap was a consideration. But the Bullets, who remain more than $1.5 million under the cap, can find room for Adams who had signed a six-year deal with Denver worth $7.55 million a year ago.
He will earn $1.275 million this season and will move up to $1.52 million in the option year of 1996-97.
Although Loughery admired Adams' aggressiveness and leadership abilities, he became expendable when the Bullets made another small guard, Bogues of Dunbar and Wake Forest, their No. 1 pick in 1987. Having two small guards was too much of a luxury.
Adams became a crowd favorite in Denver with his flamboyant fast-break style and the shot-put launching of his three-point shots.
He had three solid years under Moe but almost doubled his career scoring average last season as the point man in Westhead's racehorse offense.
Unless Anderson survives until the Nuggets get a shot at him with their No. 4 pick in the draft, Westhead probably will shift Chris Jackson, a former LSU star, to the point this season.
Bickerstaff indicated he might not be finished dealing.
"What I want to do with No. 8 is listen," he said. "There are some teams positioned behind us that may want a particular player. We may be able to parlay this into something else at, say, 11."
"We are talking," Bickerstaff said. "Doc Rivers makes sense in terms of a matchup situation with Chris, Todd [Lichti] and Reggie [Williams]. Michael and Chris weren't a good match."
Nevertheless, Bickerstaff said he would be comfortable heading into the draft with the fourth and eighth draft choices.
"There are three players we like at No. 4 -- Dikembe Mutombo, Doug Smith and Steve Smith," he said. "Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony, Mark Macon, Luc Longley -- they all could be there at No. 8. We'd take two of those players."