LANDOVER -- Once upon a time, Michael Adams would have paid the Washington Bullets to play for them.
The Bullets cut Adams, who lives in Mitchellville, twice in 1986 before he caught on, giving the team a spark off the bench with his lightning quick moves and fearless three-point shooting.
However, the Bullets gave up on Adams, throwing him as an afterthought into a package with the long-forgotten Jay Vincent to Denver for Darrell Walker and Mark Alarie.
Operating in the helter-skelter systems of Nuggets coaches Doug Moe and Paul Westhead, Adams saw his game explode, as he finished last season as the NBA's sixth-leading scorer (26.5) and third-leading assist man (10.5).
In a classic case of not appreciating what one has until it is gone, the Bullets brought the 5-foot-10 guard home yesterday, trading their first-round choice (the eighth overall) in the June 26 NBA draft.
"I was shocked," Adams said after being acquired along with Denver's second opening-round pick (the 19th overall). "I had no idea that I was going to be traded. But I'm glad it was here, because I already live here."
"Having been in the league for 27 years, the senior guy in the league, I have made a few mistakes," said Bullets owner Abe Pollin.
"One of the major mistakes I made was letting Michael get away. One of the happiest things is that sometimes you get a chance to correct those mistakes."
The Bullets' interest in Adams, 28, had little to do with sentimentality, but more in moving the 31-51 team closer to the playoffs.
"We think that we can make the playoffs next season with Michael Adams on our roster," said general manager John Nash.
Nash said the team had looked at three players -- Nevada-Las Vegas point guard Greg Anthony, former Louisiana State center Stanley Roberts and New Mexico center Luc Longley -- as their likely choices at the eighth slot.
In the organizational evaluation of the three players, Nash said the consensus was that none of the three appeared to be capable of making an immediate contribution.
"We like all three and all three have a chance to be stars, but we didn't believe that they could help us as much as Michael Adams," said Nash.
By contrast, Nash said Adams --who is the NBA's all-time leader in three-pointers attempted and made, and owns a 79-game streak of hitting at least one three-pointer -- was the kind of veteran spark the Bullets needed to be competitive.
"With the young players we have, we needed someone who could give us leadership and Michael's that kind of guy," said Nash.
Adams' presence will indeed force coach Wes Unseld to make some fundamental decisions about how the club will operate next season.
Namely, Unseld, who is vacationing in the Bahamas, will need to decide whether to pair Adams and Walker in the backcourt, or to use Walker as a third guard off the bench and go with John Williams at the second guard slot.
Also, Adams, who is one of the NBA's fastest players from foul line to foul line, will almost certainly bring a fast-paced game to the Bullets, who haven't run since the Gus Williams era.
"Wes has said that he will adapt to whatever the personnel dictates," said Nash. "We may have the best running front court in basketball and Michael will certainly help us exploit that."