The Los Angeles Lakers’ decision to trade D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets in search of salary cap relief from Timofey Mozgov’s contract probably isn’t going to stop being debated about any time soon.
Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson made headlines when after the trade he seemed to insinuate that the trade was because Russell wasn’t a leader and players didn’t want to play with him, but he clarified slightly during an appearance on Spectrum Sportsnet Thursday.
“Brooklyn got two really good players. Especially D'Angelo. He's a special talent, and we know one thing that D'Angelo can do: He can score that basketball,” Johnson said, but scoring isn’t all the Lakers wanted from their point guard.
“When I took over, the way I wanted to build the team, I didn't want that. I needed a guy who could get everybody involved and look pass first. It's nothing against D'Angelo or nothing against Timothy [Timofey Mozgov], but we had to move in a different direction,” Johnson said. He also thinks the move is a win-win.
“It's going to work out great for Brooklyn because they got two starters basically, and they can build around an incredible talent in D'Angelo Russell, and we can do the same thing here with our incredible young rookie in Lonzo Ball,” Johnson said.
Now whether you think the Lakers actually had to choose between Ball and Russell or thought they could play together is a separate debate, but the Lakers, for whatever reason, seemed to think they couldn’t.
Russell, like Ball, is a good passer, but it also wasn’t always his first option on the court. That type of mindset can still lead a player towards greatness, but the Lakers have a different stylistic vision for how they want to play.
It’s still possible Russell could have been a part of that, to be sure. The Lakers didn’t think so, however, and whether they’re wrong or right will be a big part of the way this decision gets judged. If Russell becomes a superstar or even just a star and/or the Lakers don’t get any players with their “sacred” cap space, then it’s going to sting.
If their thoughts on Russell ultimately prove correct, or if that cap space leads to their next great team, though? Then fans will be lauding Johnson for this decision for years to come.
All this is to say that it doesn’t really matter what Johnson said about why he made the trade. The fact is that it’s made, and now we have to watch and see how it turns out.
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.