The Lakers traded Nick Van Exel to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night, ending a frenzied draft day that included six players being picked or moved and ending the sometimes-difficult, sometimes-thrilling, never-dull five-year relationship with their all-star point guard.
The deal that brought Nebraska guard Tyronn Lue, the No. 23 selection, and reserve power forward Tony Battie from Denver came about 9 p.m., after the draft had concluded and the Lakers had already traded second-round pick Toby Bailey of UCLA to the Phoenix Suns for future considerations and kept their two other choices, Minnesota’s Sam Jacobson and Cincinnati’s Ruben Patterson. It not only allowed the Lakers to sever ties with Van Exel, as they had hoped to do since almost immediately after the loss to the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference finals, but also add a point guard for the future they had coveted in the draft anyway.
Whether the Nuggets ever see Van Exel is another matter. Not surprised to be traded since he had accepted such a move as inevitable several weeks ago, but taken aback to be going to the lowly Nuggets because they had not been mentioned in the many rumors, he began to weigh his options Wednesday night after being informed of the deal.
“I wouldn’t rule out not reporting,” said his agent, James Bryant. “But he hasn’t made that decision.
“It’s possible. No decision has been made yet. Nick’s going to take a day or two to consider it, and to see whatever other moves they [the Nuggets] might make.”
Jerry West, the Lakers’ executive vice president, asked about the possibility of Van Exel refusing to report:
“It doesn’t make any difference. He is traded. I don’t think any of us want to be held hostage in a deal.
“I really like Nick Van Exel a lot. But I just think a change of scenery will be good for everyone. . . . It’s a lot of things. It’s just a feeling internally sometimes you get that maybe you say the faces aren’t good together.”
A feeling of bad chemistry.
“I really don’t want to get into that aspect of it right now,” Coach Del Harris said.
If the breaking up comes with emotions exposed, it’s only fitting. Van Exel turned from a second-round pick who played with little financial security as a rookie to an all-star who had made strides on the court. He also went from team leader to someone who clashed with Harris and, most recently, someone who at least a few teammates wondered if he had quit early during the conference finals.
That likely wrote his out-bound ticket once and for all, for it was an opinion that stretched upstairs. One solution, which probably would have suited Van Exel and certainly delighted the Lakers, was the proposed trade with the Magic that collapsed early in the draft when the Sacramento Kings took Florida point guard Jason Williams at No. 7.
It might have fizzled anyway because Orlando, also searching for a point guard, had apparently decided it would draft Williams and keep him, but there was no question he was the player the Lakers truly wanted to replace Van Exel. Getting Lue instead turned out to be a nice fallback.
The Lakers had targeted the speedy Nebraska product, coming out after his junior season, for their first-round pick at 26, but were also realistic that chances were not good he would last that long. The Nuggets were the hurdle all along, especially when they did not get Mike Bibby at the outset.
Lue was the third-best point guard in the draft, behind Bibby and Williams, though not necessarily in that order. He could have the same standing with the Lakers--behind Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant, who may got another opportunity to become a primary ballhandler--but is held in high enough regard that he is expected to contend for minutes.
Jacobson, from Minnesota, is also for depth, at shooting guard and small forward, but brings the potential to become the consistent outside shooter the Lakers still need. Blessed with good size at 6-6 and 220 pounds and the strength to match, he also handles the ball and has athleticism, earning the comparison to Rex Chapman from one scout.
Patterson was acquired with the 31st pick, an insurance move in case Rick Fox leaves as a free agent. Patterson--like new teammate Corie Blount and Van Exel from Cincinnati--can defend small forwards and shooting guards, but his best asset is his energy.
“No one plays harder than him,” said a front-office executive from another team.
“The energizer bunny,” said another.
The Lakers got Bailey at 45, a move that would have kept the hometown favorite from Loyola High and UCLA in Southern California, but the pick was apparently for the Suns all along.
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* Tyronn Lue: The Nuggets made Lue, a guard from Nebraska, the 23rd pick in the first round of the draft. He left the Cornhuskers after his junior season in which he averaged 21.2 points and 4.3 rebounds. Jerry West said the Lakers wanted to draft Lue with their 26th pick in the first round, but Denver got him first.
* Sam Jacobson: Jacobson led the Minnesota Gophers with 18.2 points as a senior and helped them to the NIT title. The 6-foot-6, 215-pounder finished fifth on Minnesota’s all-time scoring list with 1,709 points, five more than former NBA player Kevin McHale.
* Ruben Patterson: Patterson, 6-foot-6 and 227 pounds, averaged 16.5 points playing only 19 games for Cincinnati. He missed the season’s first 14 games while serving a suspension imposed by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits.
* Tony Battie: Battie, a 6-11, 230-pound center/forward, was selected in the first round (fifth overall) last year by the Nuggets. He averaged 8.4 points and 5.4 rebounds in 65 games but was pushed around by stronger foes.