The Los Angeles Lakers’ decision to move D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets in order to get salary cap relief from Timofey Mozgov’s contract was nothing if not controversial. According Lakers head coach Luke Walton during an appearance on “The Lowe Post Podcast,” it also wasn’t easy.
"It was hard for multiple reasons. Just his talent alone, he's a second-year player and he averaged like 16-6-5 this year. Then you get to know the players and you work with them day in and day out and you're sitting in there watching film and he's with your assistant coaches, so the relationship and the bold builds,” Walton told Zach Lowe. “Part of why I love coaching so much is to see the growth in young players and to see them figure stuff out.”
Walton said Russell was starting the process of figuring stuff out.
“I thought was going to be a big part of our future here. Obviously, that isn't the case now, but trades are always tough,” Walton said. “But at the same, you're around this game long enough, you realize there's a huge business side to it and you get used to it.”
Walton clearly still wants the best for Russell, and he had a simple message for him when he called the young point guard after the trade.
“I said 'Look, I hope you end being an All-Star and come back kicking our butts. I really do.'“ Walton said. “I hope he gets it and it works out for him well, but you have to move on because now we got other guys and it's just the way our business goes. I wish him the best and hope that he has a long, successful career. It's always tough when you make trades like that.”
Russell is a promising young point guard who showed flashes of incredible promise, and it’s not outlandish to predict Walton will get his wished-for ass-kicking.
That potential led to a lot of drama following the Russell trade, but plenty of other headlines and attention concerned Lakers president of basketball operations seeming to imply that Russell wasn’t a leader or a player that others wanted to play with.
Walton said he didn’t see Johnson’s comments that way.
"I don't take it like that. People always ask me what it's like working with Magic and Rob. I love working with Magic and Rob. I say it's awesome. Now that's taking a shot at Jimmy and Mitch. To me, it's the same idea. I'm complimenting who I'm with now. I'm not saying I didn't like working with these guys or whatever it was.
“I think it gets tricky with that. People love playing with Lonzo. That's not saying people didn't like playing with D'Angelo. Lonzo plays a style of ball that is very unique in today's NBA. As a player, I'd rather play with Lonzo, too, because he's going to throw me the ball every single time. He doesn't give a damn if he scores two points or 35 points. He just wants to play and make the right pass."
Walton is right. Not everyone praising Ball is throwing shade at Russell. the two players have totally different skill sets, mentalities, and personalities. To call them different isn’t an insult to one, it’s just a statement of reality.
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.