Weakened Bullets to rely on Adams' speed, tenacity

October 07, 1991|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Correspondent

EMMITSBURG -- See the Bullets run. See the Bullets run . . . and run . . . and run.

The Washington Bullets race up and down the floor of the Mount St. Mary's gym at a dizzying pace, with coach Wes Unseld exhorting the offense to run faster and his trapping defense to apply more pressure.

"There is just a lot of movement and pressure, and see what happens," Unseld said.

It is all part of his new scheme to compensate for a lack of defensive muscle and the absence of scoring leader Bernard King, who will miss at least the first month of the season recuperating from knee surgery.

In the middle of everything is Michael Adams, who has returned to the Bullets. On one end of the floor, the guard makes a "no-look" pass for a layup. On the other end, he sneaks behind an unwitting guard to steal the ball and initiate another fast break.

"We couldn't have done those things last year," said general manager John Nash. "We didn't have a point guard quick enough. Now we have Adams racing down the court with Harvey Grant and Pervis Ellison on the wings. We're going to rely on stamina and speed, rather than strength and bulk."

It is interesting that the biggest change in the 1991-92 Bullets is the smallest player on the roster. Adams is listed generously at 5 feet 10 but would have difficulty posting up the Charlotte Hornets' Muggsy Bogues, who is 5-4.

Because of his size, or rather his lack of it, Adams has constantly had to prove himself, dating to his high school days in Hartford, Conn. It is why Boston College was the only Division I school to recruit him, and also why he had to make career detours to such minor-league teams as the Bay State Bombardiers of the Continental Basketball Association and Springfield (Mass.) of the United States Basketball League.

He appeared in only 18 games for the Sacramento Kings his rookie season, 1985-86. The following year, Adams, waived twice, traveled back and forth to play for the Washington Bullets like a man caught in a revolving door.

Traded to the Denver Nuggets in 1987, he finally had an opportunity to direct an offense and prove himself one of the NBA's most effective playmakers.

Everywhere Adams went, he was initially greeted with skepticism. After he left, his former coach inevitably would admit that losing him was a major mistake.

Phil Johnson, his coach in Sacramento, said, "Little guys like Adams have to make an impact right away."

After Denver acquired Adamsfrom the Bullets in exchange for Darrell Walker, Nuggets coach Doug Moe wondered, "What do we want with him?"

His passing skills and hustle were never questioned; his limited shooting range was.

Said Sacramento general manager Jerry Reynolds, who was an assistant coach with the Kings in 1986: "At the time, Michael couldn't make a shot beyond 15 feet. But he went to the CBA and made himself into a great outside shooter. That opened up everything for him.

"Now, when I talk about Michael, I remember what a tough competitor he was and know it was a mistake to cut him. You've got to find a way to keep guys who want to play in this league as much as he does."

Those thoughts were echoed by former Bullets coach Kevin Loughery, now coach of the Miami Heat.

In his first life with the Bullets, Adams was forced to play behind Ennis Whatley and Frank Johnson. In June 1987, Washington drafted Bogues and simply couldn't accommodate two undersized point guards.

When Loughery was fired in 1987, he admitted trading Adams was his biggest mistake. "Michael was the only true leader on that team," he said.

Adams, 28, now has another chance to lead the Bullets after being reacquired from the Nuggets last June in exchange for a 1991 lottery pick.

"I don't like dwelling on the past, and I can't fault anyone for tradingme" he said.

"Obviously, I'm a much better player now than I was with the Bullets five years ago. "When I moved to Denver, I got a lot more playing time and a chance to show my skills. It's not easy for TC small man to get a chance in the NBA. You've really got to have some one believing in what can you do."

Adams blossomed as the centerpiece of Moe's motion offense, then ran wild for the Nuggets last season in Paul Westhead's helter-skelter style, averaging 26.5 points, averaging 10.5 assists and hitting a league-high 167 three-point shots.

"It was fun, but we didn't win many games" Adams said. "At 28, I guess the Nuggets looked at me as getting old. They want to go with kids, like Chris Jackson and [rookie] Mark Macon. But being back here is just fine with me."

NOTES: Free agent Corey Gaines, who has had brief trials with New Jersey, Philadelphia and Denver, continues to strengthen his bid to make the Bullets as Adams' backup at the point. He averaged 8.1 points and 9.3 assists in 10 games for the Nuggets last season. . . . Unseld has reduced his workouts to 1-a-day. "I can't keep pushing my 4 big guys," he said. "I just don't have enough of them to practice hard twice a day.". . . John Williams is still missing.

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