John Nash wasn't kidding.

The Washington Bullets' new general manager said he was going to move quickly to try to improve the club. And yesterday he did just that, dealing two-time all-star guard Jeff Malone and the Bullets' No. 2 draft pick in 1991 to Sacramento in return for forward-center Pervis Ellison.

Malone was then sent to Utah by the Kings, along with their second-round pick in Wednesday's draft, for guard Bobby Hansen, center Eric Leckner and the Jazz's first- and second-round picks this season.

Malone was connecting in Atlanta to a flight to Starkville, Miss., where he was planning to host a basketball camp for his alma mater, Mississippi State, when he got a message at the ticket counter.

"I saw {Utah player personnel director} Scott Layden's name on it," Malone said by telephone from Salt Lake City late last night. "And I said 'It's Utah. Am I dreaming?' I made the call and they told me I had to come as soon as I could."

Malone averaged 24.3 points per game -- tied for ninth-highest in the league -- last season. He averaged 20.2 points in seven seasons with the Bullets, finishing as the franchise's second-leading scorer in history.

A combination of all-star forward Karl Malone inside with Jeff Malone providing a much-needed perimeter game gives Utah, on paper, a potent inside-outside combination -- especially with all-star guard John Stockton's penetration abilities.

"John's one of the best in the game as far as getting the ball where it needs to go," Malone said. "I'm not going to be pressed to score 25 a night. It's great to score 25 a night, but being double-teamed and doing that on a team that's not winning, there's no satisfaction in that."

Ellison, 23, missed 48 games last season with bone spurs and tendinitis in his right foot. The spurs were removed by surgery in September, but tendinitis in his big toe kept him out almost three months -- into late February -- after he played four games early in the season.

Moving to the starting lineup in March, he averaged eight points and five rebounds in 21 games, averaging more than 26 minutes per game.

There are several caveats to this deal.

In obtaining Ellison, the Bullets have made a financial commitment of more than $6.9 million over the next three seasons. Ellison was the first pick overall in last year's draft, and makes first-pick money -- about $1.8 million for the upcoming season. He will be the highest-paid player on the team, ahead of Bernard King ($1.5 million).

Malone, who turns 29 this week, made slightly more than $915,000 last season.

Also, barring further deals, this means a full-time starting role for third-year guard Ledell Eackles. He has always shown flashes of offensive dominance, but the test of defending the league's best off guards often has left Eackles winded.

"I think Ledell is a quality two guard," Bullets Coach Wes Unseld said in an afternoon news conference. "He is not a Jeff Malone. I've got to go back and build him back up."

Last season Malone dropped 10 pounds and came to training camp in the best shape of his career.

"It was quite obvious," Bullets forward Bernard King said in a telephone interview from his New Jersey home, "that, not only was he ready to play, he was ready to accept the leadership responsibilities. He would have been an all-star. He had an all-star season. Jeff Malone is one of the best shooting guards in the league. Period."

"You know I'm going to miss him," guard Darrell Walker said in a telephone interview from Hawaii. "We were like Mutt and Jeff. Sometimes he had the reputation around the league as being kind of soft. But I think he had that George Gervin type of approach. He could score. He was underrated as a defensive player."

"We're very excited," Layden said. "That's a question that doesn't need to be asked. We're getting a great perimeter shooter, a great scorer, and {a player who is} underrated in a lot of other areas. His assist-turnover ratio last year is very good."

The Kings wanted Ellison to spend the summer in Sacramento, Calif., working out. For whatever reason, he hadn't done this by the time he was traded.

"There is a little bit of disappointment in his not working out," Kings Coach Dick Motta said at a news conference. "But that wasn't the main reason. I won't have any sleepless nights over having made this trade. We have had a hard time defining what he was in our offense."

It is the first time in league history that an overall No. 1 pick was dealt after one season.

While some observers wondered if the Kings were trying to pawn off an injured player, the Bullets insist everyone they talked with about Ellison said the 6-foot-10, 225-pounder is healthy.

"The first question that came to mind," Unseld said, "was 'What the heck is wrong with him? What are they doing?' We went through all the scenarios, then you start re-checking old sources. Everybody we talked to said it a matter of circumstance."

All of this is contingent on Ellison and the other players in the deal passing physical examinations. Ellison is expected in Washington today to take that examination.

"A player like Pervis Ellison will enable you to do a lot of things," said Unseld, who like Ellison went to Louisville. "We knew {that} when John bounced this idea off of us two or three days ago. When he said it, it was like, 'What if we could get this guy? How would you feel about it?' I just said 'Whew.' Then I said, 'What do we have to give up?' I liked him in college. I like him a lot."

Indeed, the Washington brass talked a lot about Ellison when the Bullets were in the lottery last season. Perhaps only Bill Russell, Sacramento's general manager at the time, liked Ellison more. And Russell had the first pick in the draft, so he got him. It surprised many, but Ellison was unable to prove himself with all the injury problems.

The Kings, under Motta, changed offensive systems in mid-season, moving from the freelance sets favored by former coach (and current player personnel director) Jerry Reynolds to Motta's beloved two-forward, low-post attack. This also made Ellison tradeable.

The Bullets certainly didn't think a player of Ellison's ability would be available. Guard-for-big men trades are rare in the NBA. And it left them wondering, publicly and privately, just why Sacramento would be willing to part so quickly with one of its building blocks for the future.

"As late as last Thursday," Nash said, "I thought it might be in our best interest to wait. But this thing kind of hatched late in the week, late Thursday, into Friday. We had an opportunity to do some research on Pervis Ellison."

To that end, Unseld checked out Ellison in Louisville in a charity game Saturday night. As the talks heated up, Utah continued its inquiries, but Washington knew that the Jazz wouldn't give up what the Bullets would want from them. Washington was interested in Leckner, but not for Malone.

Here, Sacramento entered the picture, making it known that Ellison was available. With three teams in the equation, Sacramento and Utah began working out the details of their end. The Kings didn't want Malone, but were very interested in Leckner, the 17th pick overall in the 1988 draft.

Malone started off last season at a torrid pace and finished fifth in all-star voting for Eastern Conference guards.

"In the Bullets' recent history," Unseld said, "I don't think anybody has contributed as much to this franchise as Jeff Malone. He has proven over the past six years that he is an all-star player.

"I'm in a position where I'm delighted that we're going to have the opportunity of getting a player like Pervis Ellison, but I'm also truthfully sad because I'm going to miss Jeff, more than most would think. I've probably been as tough on Jeff Malone as any player in my small history of coaching, and he's responded in every professional manner possible."