To call D’Angelo Russell one of the most polarizing Los Angeles Lakers draft selections in recent memory would be like calling LaVar Ball slightly outspoken. The opinion on Russell has always been in the air for the Lakers and their fans, but those days are now over.
In comes Lonzo Ball, set to take the franchise in a new direction as the new face of Lakers basketball. It’s been a bumpy three seasons for the purple and gold, hitting the hardest of days under Byron Scott while Julius Randle recovered from breaking his leg on opening day.
Russell didn’t immediately deliver for the Lakers as many, organization included, had hoped. Luke Walton and Brandon Ingram’s arrival was supposed to help turn things around after another down season, but the franchise only marginally improved.
During all of that whispers continued swirling that several people within the Lakers organization were’t thrilled with Russell, and in both the Mitch Kupchak and Magic Johnson regimes. That led to a pretty loud roar in the days leading up to D’Angelo being traded led by Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.
Ding initially reported that some within the Lakers organization felt Russell was an aloof know-it-all. Apparently that’s the case, with Russell being shipped to the Brooklyn Nets and Magic Johnson throwing some legitimate shade on Russell during Lonzo’s introductory press conference:
Magic Johnson on D’Angelo Russell: "We want to thank him for what he did for us. But what I needed was a leader.” Full quote: pic.twitter.com/3FhPthOpN1— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) June 23, 2017
But the chopping down of Russell didn’t start there Friday. Ding once again laid out the information he had now that D’Angelo was officially out and Lonzo officially in (via Bleacher Report, emphasis mine)
The cool confidence is there; it's just not self-aggrandizing the way it runs like ice through Russell's veins. Perhaps it's because he's the oldest of the three Ball brothers, or perhaps it's because there's no room for an epic ego next to his father, but Ball looks like a grownup at 19—and he is proud of it.
The conclusion of Ding’s column went back to attacking Russell, with a little alley-oop from Kobe Bryant (via Bleacher Report, emphasis mine):
This is Lonzo Ball's story now, and it's as simple as team and family—because when sports is at its best, one is a lot like the other.
Hearing Ball so matter of factly and sincerely state how he wants to make Brandon Ingram better—"I feel he's going to be a superstar in this league"—felt surprisingly warm despite its simplicity.
That's because it was distinctly different than anything Russell ever said about Ingram…or anything Bryant ever said about Russell.
Having covered this team closely for the last few years, Russell’s said plenty of incredibly complimentary things about Ingram throughout the past year. Here are just a few examples of exactly that:
My interview as well! Russell spoke highly of Ingram. pic.twitter.com/qRQasXcYuw— Oliver Maroney (@OMaroneyNBA) June 23, 2017
And that’s just two random interviews, compared to the endless times he praised Ingram after big games and throughout the season. But those are just minor factual details in the grand scheme of things.
Heck, Ding even got in a few parting shots on Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss:
The Lakers now have a front office guided by the ultimate team player, Magic Johnson, with a spirit of collaboration pervading an office where former general manager Mitch Kupchak's door was always closed and co-owner Jim Buss was never around.
It’s fair to believe there were some legitimate reasons to have character concerns about Russell, and it’s clear the Lakers felt they were serious enough to move on if it meant they could also clear some cap space and gather additional draft prospects.
Knocking him down on the way out was unnecessary, though, and the way in which is done seems almost personal. These aren’t direct facts or complaints, but low-blows disguised by prose.
That chapter in Lakers history is over, though, and it might be best for everyone to enjoy the clean slate that comes with it. Clearly there’s some negative vibes all around.