D’Angelo Russell’s time with the Los Angeles Lakers is over. The era that was supposed to be defined by the dynamic playmaking point guard with the sweet jumper came to an end before it ever began, the Lakers deciding to go in a very different direction in their first summer under the guidance of new president of basketball operations Magic Johnson.
Russell, the kid who eloquently answered actual basketball questions and looked reporters in the eye when discussing pick-and-rolls during his first Las Vegas Summer League, is gone. There’s no ice in veins, no Snapchat jokes left to be had at his expense. The Lakers put themselves against a clock they never had to by giving up on the maligned 21-year-old “know-it-all” guard as he prepared for his third year in the league.
The Lakers have been in trapped in the cellar of the Western Conference for years, and while Julius Randle was supposed to be the first lantern for the purple and gold, it was ultimately the shining star out of Ohio State that took them out of the pitch black depths.
Suddenly, the Lakers had a young guard with a mountain of potential to mold.
Suddenly, the Lakers had hope for the future.
Suddenly, it ended in the scroll of a tweet on June 20, 2017.
D’Angelo wasn’t perfect, nor is anybody or anything. There are enough reports regarding concerns about his maturity from within the Lakers — under both management groups — for there to be some truth there. Whether that means the Lakers needed to trade him for cap space, a rental center and a deep first round draft pick is debatable.
What he definitely was, though, was sporadically brilliant during his two-year tenure with the Lakers. The seven-minute stretches where he looked like the total package point guard, navigating through screens while reading the floor, were enough to stoke the flames of belief in D’Angelo.
For every maddening lazy turnover, there was a perfect pass at the perfect time. For every time it was frustrating that he didn’t drive to the rim, there was the left-elbow jumper that was absolutely wet. The sweet spot that used to be.
Russell has his strengths and weaknesses, as does every young guard. Defense was not his strong suit, but offensively there were few holes in his game. He could post-up smaller guards, space the floor, hit the mid-range jumper, handle the ball as a full-time point guard and dazzle while doing it all.
Maybe he wasn’t the leader the Lakers needed, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a place on the team. It’s impossible to point at a single player currently on the roster as being the leader of the pack, and now what was the apparent ball-and-chain of Russell’s time as a Laker will be likely attached to Lonzo Ball’s ZO2-clad ankle come Thursday.
Russell gave Lakers fans something to look forward to over the past two years, and while the growing pains were evident with him and the entire organization for that matter, it felt like it would be worth the wait. Los Angeles was going to build the right way, develop from within and not cut corners to crawl back into relevancy.
The hourglass on the Lakers’ future was flipped on Tuesday. The hope of landing superstars to fix it all has taken a hold of the front office, throwing the bird in their hand in hopes of catching two in the bush within the next 400 days. Paul George and LeBron James are certainly chirping outside of Magic’s window, but betting on luring them both to Los Angeles in the next year is risky. Incredible rewards often take incredible risks.
Now, instead of letting a core rife with young talent develop at a reasonable pace, everything is on the line heading into the summer of 2018. The Lakers must land two superstars, making Russell the sacrifice as they shoot for the stars in true Lakers fashion once again.
Perhaps it’s only fitting that D’Angelo Russell had a Hollywood ending to his Lakers career. On the day his grandmother passed away Russell decided to play his last game as a Laker. D’Angelo frantically gathered what would be a game-winning three-pointer against the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 9 in the final possession of the game.
The ball bounced off the rim, into the sky, then floated back down through the lace net. Game. The world collectively watched the finale, though they didn’t know it at the time, to Russell’s time wearing purple and gold. While fans tracking the wins and losses groaned in unison, Russell rushed into the crowd to hug his family in attendance after breaking away from his teammates. Mr. Ice In His Veins had struck again, and this time it meant something.