The Washington Bullets, in dire need of an experienced ball handler, acquired former Maryland all-America John Lucas from Golden State yesterday for two second-round draft choices, one in 1982 and another in 1984.
Lucas, 6-foot-3 and one of the National Basketball Association's premier playmakers, went through a tumultuous season of missed games and practices last year and the Warriors decided not to exercise an option in his contract, thus making him a free agent.
He signed a five-year $1.5 million offer sheet from the Utah Jazz Oct. 7. Under the NBA's right of first refusal, the Warriors had 15 days, or until this Thursday, to match the offer or lose Lucas without compensation. They completed plans for the deal with the Bullets early yesterday, matched the Utah offer and then made the trade. The Bullets are now responsible for fulfilling the terms of Lucas' contract.
"I'm pumped up," said Lucas, who will be 28 on Oct. 31. "When I heard of the trade I was at my sister's house in Silver Spring and I just ran outside and kept on running, I was so happy. I consider this my home and I always wanted to play here."
"We've been interested in John for as long as he's been in the league," said Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry, "but we never had a need for him -- until now. Once Kevin (Porter) went down, we needed Lucas and he was out there and available."
The Bullets had built most of their offense around Porter, but he tore his Achilles' tendon 10 days ago and will miss the entire season. That left the Bullets with rookie Frank Johnson as their starting playmaker, a situation Ferry and Coach Gene Shue preferred to avoid.
"We just needed some experience at that spot," Ferry said. "K.P.'s injury necessitated that. If we had an experienced team, we probably would have been comfortable with Frank, but with all of the changes we've made, we need experience at that spot."
The Bullets are hoping Lucas will have signed his contract in time to practice with the team today and play in Wednesday's exhibition game against Cleveland in Salisbury, Md.
"We made the trade because we're trying to do whatever possible to build a winner here without going completely bad in the process," Ferry said.
The Bullets don't have a No. 1 draft pick in 1982, but still have two second-round picks that year from prior trades with San Antonio and Houston. They have two first-round picks and three second-round picks in 1983. Both of the second-round picks going to Golden State are the Bullets' own.
Ferry said two second-round picks were not a high price to pay for Lucas. "Second-round picks are more valuable for trades than the actual picks, anyway," he said. "We know we got a good player in Lucas. I don't think there's any question at all about his ability. We did all the checking we could about his other problems and I certainly hope they are over. I think his chances of succeeding here are greater than they are anywhere else."
Lucas had an up and down year last season, playing brilliantly at times and disappearing at others. He averaged 8.4 points and seven assists in 66 games, his lowest scoring average ever and his worst season for assists since his rookie year with Houston in 1976-77.
Lucas missed four games without being excused in the first four months of the season, and after being lectured, fined and suspended, Lucas became more dependable. That lasted a month. He then missed two more games and the Warriors gave up on him.
Lucas' behavior was a mystery because he had been a model athlete from his high school days in Durham, N.C., through college at Maryland and in his professional career with Houston and Golden State.
After he sought professional help in the offseason, it was discovered that Lucas was suffering from depression, a condition which caused him to act irrationally at times. Lucas visited a psychiatrist regularly, and says now his problem is under control. "They found out what was wrong, and I'm okay now," he said.
"He got professional help and the problem was solved," said David Falk, Lucas' Washington attorney. "What happened to John could have happened to anyone, but his story has a happy ending.