George Lynch was the safe choice, made by Laker General Manager Jerry West after the draft route he had plotted took detours that denied him the players he craved and the trade he was willing to risk.
But Lynch, a 6-7 1/2, 223-pound forward from North Carolina's NCAA championship team, was more than merely a consolation prize for West as the 12th pick in Wednesday's draft.
To the Lakers, the fourth-worst rebounding team in the NBA last season, Lynch carries the promise of 1,097 rebounds in four seasons in a solid program. Considered a diligent worker who progressed each year and averaged 15.7 points and 9.8 rebounds during the Tar Heels' tournament run, Lynch has the potential to inject youth and intensity into a front line West admitted "scares us."
However, Lynch also brings a reputation as a shooter with limited range, created during a college career in which he averaged 12.5 points. West said that failing is balanced by Lynch's determination and predicted, "We won't have any harder worker on the team than him. Every loose ball, he's going to get his hands on it.
"We all have players in the draft who would be our favorites, but we felt the choice was taken," West added. "That's why George Lynch came into focus for us recently.
"We have only three forwards on our team, even if we re-sign A.C. Green (an unrestricted free agent). We think he can do some of the things he did at Carolina. We've had very good luck with Carolina players. This guy's a warrior and he plays the game like it was intended, every night."
Coach Randy Pfund said Lynch, who isn't expected to start next season, is capable of playing small forward or power forward. That will depend in part on whether Green returns. West said the club had made a lucrative offer to Green and he's optimistic that Green--to whom he compared Lynch in their aggressiveness--will return next season.
The Lakers chose Lynch even after learning their leading scorer last season, point guard Sedale Threatt, had exercised his option to become an unrestricted free agent instead of finishing a contract that runs through 1995-96. Seeing no better point guards left--and working on West's conviction that re-signing Threatt won't be difficult--Lynch remained the club's choice.
West wouldn't identify the player he intended to select instead of Lynch, but he acknowledged one trade fell apart when the Detroit Pistons, choosing 10th and 11th, took guards Lindsey Hunter of Jackson State and Allan Houston of Tennessee.
"It doesn't make any difference who it was. He wasn't there," West said.
But Nick Van Exel was there when the Lakers' turn came up in the second round, and they took the 6-1 point guard with the 37th pick. Van Exel averaged 18.3 points and 4.5 assists as a senior, leading the Bearcats to the NCAA's final eight, where they lost in overtime to North Carolina.
"We worked him out and considered him maybe a 12. Frankly, we're very pleasantly surprised that he was available," West said. "The one thing you could question is his shot selection, but he's a very talented kid."
The Lakers were long aware of Lynch's talent, but their interest was renewed after he worked out for the coaching staff at the Inglewood YMCA several weeks ago.
"We were impressed with his size, the fact that he's very close to 6-8, and his strength physically," Pfund said.
"One of the things we talked about, especially after we moved Sam (Perkins, traded to Seattle), is we have to improve in an area that was very tough for us late in the season and that's rebounding. We think this is something he does extremely well and he can help us immediately."
Lynch, who will be 23 in September, said the selection "was a shock to me. I didn't know where I was going to go in the draft.
"I think the Lakers need some rebounding inside and a tough defensive player on the perimeter, and I think I can provide that for them."
West also said the Lakers have extended qualifying offers to restricted free agents Elden Campbell, Duane Cooper, Doug Christie and Tony Smith.