The Lakers acquired the draft rights to Kareem Rush, a 6-foot-6 guard from Missouri, and veteran shooter Tracy Murray on Wednesday night in a deal that sent guard Lindsey Hunter and the rights to their own draft pick to the Toronto Raptors.
Through the draft-day trade, the Lakers hoped to broaden their perimeter game (Murray), develop a big guard in the style of Ron Harper while getting younger and quicker in their backcourt (Rush), and also to gain the long-term financial pliancy to retain their own key free agent (Devean George).
Murray, who has played for five teams--the Raptors twice--can be a free agent after next season. Hunter could have earned as much as $8.1 million over the next two seasons, a potential hindrance alongside a pending multiyear offer to George.
"If anything, this allows us to more vigorously pursue Devean," Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak said, "providing us some flexibility down the road."
On draft day last year, faced with pending foot surgery for Derek Fisher, Kupchak worked most of the night trying to acquire Hunter, completing the trade with the Milwaukee Bucks the following day. In the days leading to this draft, Kupchak found the Raptors, who had their own back-court issues. Guard Alvin Williams has undergone three recent surgeries, according to Kupchak.
With the 20th pick, the Raptors took Rush, who averaged 19.8 points and made 40.5% of his three-point attempts in his junior season, his last with the Tigers. In their first-round spot at No. 27, the Lakers selected Fresno State forward Chris Jefferies, who was packaged with Hunter.
Hunter, who played well early for the Lakers when Fisher was recovering from surgery and late in chasing guards Tony Parker and Mike Bibby in the playoffs, was unavailable for comment. His father, Lindsey Sr., reached in Jackson, Miss., said, "That's good. He wants to play. He wants to contribute."
Murray, a 6-foot-7 small forward who will turn 31 in July, is a career 39.1% three-point shooter. He grew up in Glendora and attended Glendora High and UCLA. Hindered by hip pain for about two years, Murray had surgery April 3 to repair cartilage damage and shave bone spurs on the right side. He said Wednesday night that he expected to be healthy before the start of training camp.
"This is a dream come true," Murray said. "My dream wasn't accomplished until right now. Now, from here, let's go get No. 4."
Rush averaged 18.9 points in three seasons at Missouri. Asked why he made the deal, Kupchak smiled and said, "Kareem. Kareem's always been good to us here. We've been very fortunate with Kareems. With one Kareem, anyway."
He called this Kareem "an incredible talent" with NBA size and a dynamic game, particularly on offense. He scored at Missouri from the perimeter and as a slasher to the rim.
"We know he can score," Kupchak said. "That's probably the hardest thing to find at this level.
"We know when he puts his mind to it he can defend as well."
Rush's younger brother, JaRon, once was a player with similar potential at UCLA. He sat out much of his sophomore year, however, because of allegations of past improprieties. Hounded by those and personal problems, he made himself eligible for the 2000 draft but wasn't drafted. He has since played in the satellite leagues.
The Lakers likely will bring Kareem Rush along slowly. Kobe Bryant is their starter at shooting guard, and they expect to re-sign free agent Brian Shaw. Also, Coach Phil Jackson has little use for rookies, even talented ones.
Though he'd seen little, if any, of Rush, Jackson said he appreciated his size, and was willing to wait for Rush to develop.
"The name itself conjures up something because of the association here, with UCLA and basketball," Jackson said. "This young man, we think we're making a move in an experimental way, to find out if he's going to fit with this basketball club, and if he has the ability to learn and to mature. There's no better ground than right here, with this team, a group of veteran players....
"We have enough networks out there in the college ranks to feel assured that we got a player that's going to stay around the NBA and play in the NBA and he's going to contribute."
The Lakers were not able to fill their need in the front court.
"We didn't get everything covered," Jackson said. "But we feel really comfortable with the fact that we've improved what we went out to improve, and that's team speed in the backcourt and our overall team speed. We have some young players we think can develop in that area.
"Obviously the one space we still have as a question mark is a legitimate backup, seven-foot center to back up Shaquille [O'Neal]. That's been a problem we've had to face for a couple years."