Raptors seal deal on Draft Day for 2003 Laker title

by Adam Small | 6/28/02 5:00am

The NBA Draft is designed such that the worst teams from the year before will get the best addition to their team in the hopes of reversing their fortunes. For the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Clippers, among others, this has become a foxtrot of foolishness in recent memory.

But even when those teams who are rewarded for being the league's punching bags receive a brain fart big enough to have reduced Steven Hawking to the intellectual prowess of George Bush, the cardinal rule is that the reigning NBA Champions should not receive serious help on Draft Day.

They certainly shouldn't need it, and indeed, in the case of our current champions, the scintillating Los Angeles Lakers, they weren't expected to get it, especially without Draft Day genius Jerry West having any input in the war room.

So given these rather simple facts, how do the Lakers pull off draft day magic with the 27th pick and no credible players on their bench?

In case you missed it, the Lakers gave up their pick, power forward Chris Jeffries from Fresno St., who may develop into a sold forward but would be fighting Big Bob Horry for playing time, and Lindsey Hunter to the Toronto Raptors. The same Lindsey Hunter who was playing BEHIND Brian Shaw in the closing weeks of the season and in the playoffs.

What did the Lakers get for in return for this sterling pair? Veteran small forward Tracy Murray, who has a scorer's game but hasn't played more than 25 minutes a game since the 1997-98 season, when he scored 15.1 points per game in only 27 minutes a game. Those are solid numbers.

But that's not all! The Lakers also got the Raptors' top pick, guard Kareem Rush. Rush is a scorer, pure and simple. He can shoot, he can drive and he's got heart. Just witness playing through injury in the Big 12 tournament and the NCAA Tournament this year to raise Missouri to the Elite 8.

All that does is give the Lakers two serious scoring threats off their bench to play minutes behind Kobe and Rick Fox. Given that Fox's offense has vanished -- though a man who's married to Vanessa Williams cannot be attacked by me -- this virtually guarantees that the Lakers will not allow the Sacramento Kings to take them to seven games again. Oh yeah. Rush can also play point guard, and his drive and dish style has to have Big Game Bob Horry drooling in anticipation.

How does this happen? How can a team like the Raptors give up a player as promising as Kareem Rush? Even if the Raptors are sold on Jermaine Jackson as their shooting guard of the future, they are stuck with Alvin Williams and the lovable Chris Childs as their point guards. Don't you have to stick with Rush over that?

Raptors fans can argue that Hunter might thrive with increased minutes, but no one really believes that. Hunter has never been a real point guard, and he is about as unselfish as Bill Gates. Add to this that Hunter looked ready to be sent to the CBA during the playoffs, perhaps even destined to replace "Juwanna-Man" in the WNBA, and his confidence level has to be about as high as Arizona's water level. Not a good recipe for a team that is on the verge of collapse.

I'll admit that Jeffries is a solid prospect and he might turn out to make the Raptors look halfway intelligent in the end of this deal. But wouldn't every fan in Toronto, all 5,000 of them, rather have seen Kareem Rush kill Derek Fisher with a crossover and then feed an ally-oop dunk to Vince Carter?

What this all means is that the Los Angeles Lakers will win a fourth NBA championship next year. And Phil Jackson's name will come BEFORE Red Auerbach's in the NBA record book. And the Toronto Raptors are to blame. Blame Canada indeed.