The Lakers drafted D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick just two years ago, but the team fell out of love with Russell’s game and presence. That led to Los Angeles trading him to Brooklyn prior to the 2017 draft, in a deal designed to get out from under the ill-advised Timofey Mozgov contract while also clearing up a spot for Lonzo Ball.
Why the Lakers were so willing to give up on Russell, though, is a bit less clear. He’s certainly a flawed player, but he’s only about a year and a half older than Ball, and on the surface would seem to have a similar set of positives, as a big lead guard with a feel for the game. Sure, there was the time he accidentally exposed that Nick Young was cheating on Iggy Azalea, which apparently turned plenty of people in the locker room against him. But, think about that last sentence, and then think about whether that seems like a reasonable reason to tag a young player as a problem.
Still, he’s certainly no longer the Lakers problem, which didn’t stop Magic Johnson from taking a few veiled shots at Russell on his way out the door:
“D’Angelo is an excellent player,” the Lakers president of basketball operations said on Friday when the team introduced second overall pick Lonzo Ball. “He has the talent to be an All-Star. We want to thank him for what he did for us.
“But what I needed was a leader. I needed somebody also that can make the other players better and also [somebody] that players want to play with.”
Russell, for his part, doesn’t seem to care what Johnson has to say:
“It is good to be here,” Russell said at the Nets practice facility in Brooklyn. “Can’t really control that, what they say, I’m gone. So it’s the past. I am here now. It’s irrelevant, honestly.”
He elaborated further:
“Wherever they put me, I am going to take advantage of it to the fullest and that’s me being the leader right away,” Russell said when asked if he sees an opportunity to be a leader in Brooklyn. “I am looking forward to the challenge. You saying my leadership is being questioned, this is an opportunity to make the best out of it.”
That’s exactly what he should say, whether or not the criticism was warranted to begin with. And while it’s true that the Lakers probably wouldn’t have traded him if he was fulfilling all his prospect promise, it’s also true that Magic Johnson doesn’t yet have a track record of sound personnel decisions.
Frankly, this seems like the ideal change of scenery scenario, and in the NBA, where team structure, role, and fit play so much more into a player’s success than, say, baseball, it might really work out for Russell.