Nick Van Exel: Drafted to Extend Showtime
After putting the Cincinnati Bearcats back on the basketball map with a trip to the Final Four in 1992 , Nick Van Exel was tapped by the Los Angeles Lakers to carry on the Showtime era.
With Magic Johnson, Pat Riley and James Worthy out of the picture, the Lakers picked Van Exel in the second pick of the 1993 NBA Draft to serve as one of the centerpieces of their rebuilding effort.
During his first season in Los Angeles, Van Exel and the Lakers won just 33 games and the team missed the playoff for just the fourth time in franchise history. After Los Angeles drafted Eddie Jones, another guard, they made the playoffs over the next two seasons making it to the second round in 1995. They were bounced by the Houston Rockets in the first round in 1996.
In 1995, Van Exel became the last Laker to score at the old Boston Garden when he sank a three pointer to propel Los Angeles to a win. In the playoffs that season, Van Exel came up big again behind the three-point arc. In game five against the San Antonio Spurs, he hit a trey to force overtime and then struck again to win the game. The Spurs went on to win the series in six games.
By the start of the 1996 season, the spotlight in the Great Western Forum was no longer primarily on Van Exel. The Lakers made a draft-day deal to get Kobe Bryant on the same day they also drafted Derek Fisher. Los Angeles also made a big splash in the free agency market when they signed Shaquille O’Neal. With the new crew in place, the Lakers reached the second round in 1997 and the conference finals in 1998.
However Van Exel was traded to the Denver Nuggets following the season after a run-ins with teammates and head coach Del Harris.
During his five seasons in the purple and gold, Van Exel averaged 14.9 points per game as well as 7.3 assists per game and finishing in the top ten in the NBA in that later category twice.