Ronald Murray, a throw-in to a deal last year, has been a steal for Seattle
As if in a daydream come true, Sonics guard Ronald Murray found himself dribbling toward Latrell Sprewell, then stepped back and launched a 13-foot jumper that rolled around the rim before falling through at the buzzer for an 89-87 win at Minnesota on Nov. 11. Murray had long awaited such a moment, yet he reacted by silently raising a clenched fist as if he'd done this kind of thing before. "A lot of you have never heard of him," Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders told reporters. "But you better learn who he is. He's for real."
After playing only 62 minutes as a rookie last year, Murray was sixth in the league in scoring at week's end, averaging 23.1 points on 48.6% shooting while leading Seattle to a 6-2 start despite the absence of star Ray Allen (ankle surgery) and No. 12 draft choice Nick Collison (out for the season after shoulder surgery). None of this was expected from a player thrown in to balance the salaries in the Allen-for- Gary Payton swap last February, though Sonics G.M. Rick Sund had a hint that he might be getting a bonus. "The night of the trade," recalls Sund, " Ray Allen pulled me aside and said, 'I want you to know something: The kid Murray is really good.' "
Ronald (Flip) Murray—so nicknamed by a childhood friend after the Bernie Mac character in the film Above the Rim—was a Philadelphia Public League star at Strawberry Mansion High before his career was derailed by academic difficulties. Sidelined for all but eight games as a senior, he was unable to make good on a letter of intent to UMass because he fell 30 points short of the mandatory 820 SAT score. Over the next three years he attended Meridian (Miss.) Community College and Philadelphia Community College but was ineligible for two of those seasons. "People would see me at home and say, 'Flip's not going nowhere,' " recalls Murray, 24. "I just took it all in, never said anything about it and tried to work harder."
Murray spent his final two years at Shaw University in Raleigh, where as a senior he averaged 23.5 points and 6.2 assists to earn Division II Player of the Year honors. Bucks G.M. Ernie Grunfeld picked him 42nd and signed him to a partially guaranteed three-year contract—rare security for a second-rounder—yet mere was no room for him in Milwaukee's crowded backcourt. "During games I would sit on the baseline so I wouldn't be distracted," said Murray, who earns $563,679. "I had a better view from there, and I learned a lot from watching how people get open, how they get their shots off, how they get into the rhythm of the game."
The 6'4" Murray knows where he's going on the court and has the explosiveness to get there. He can finish in traffic, bury a three off the dribble or break down a defense and dish off; his Iversonian crossover dribble with either hand is the stuff of legend in Philadelphia. After he lit up Grizzlies point guard Earl Watson for 59 points in two games during the LA summer league, the Seattle coaching staff unanimously agreed that Murray should start alongside Brent Barry when Allen and Antonio Daniels suffered preseason injuries.
The Payton trade was initially so unpopular in Seattle that Sund and team president Wally Walker were assigned bodyguards for the next home game. Now it's clear that it was a steal: When Allen returns to the lineup next month, Murray can play the point or come off the bench and fill either guard spot. Murray agrees with those who say it's too soon to tell how good he is. "You can't judge me right now," he says, "because you haven't seen my A game yet."
Master Plan in Memphis
Will a Star Be Eager to Head West-ward?
In his 18 months on the job Grizzlies president Jerry West has turned a woeful roster into one of the league's deepest, steered the team clear of the luxury tax and helped the franchise set a record for wins (28), which it will likely surpass this season. But the clock is ticking fast: League sources say that while West earns more than $7 million annually and is the NBA's highest-paid executive, he'll retire at age 68 rather than extend his four-year deal.
Memphis's fortunes are bound to improve: Coach Hubie Brown, one of the best teachers in the NBA, is molding 11 players who each have fewer than five years experience, including forward Pau Gasol and swingman Mike Miller, both recent Rookies of the Year. West has been acquiring young talent to make a major trade down the road; in the first round of the June draft he took point guard Troy Bell and shooting guard Dahntay Jones even though he's well-stocked at each position. "We need a great player," says West.