If the Los Angeles Lakers unceremoniously exiling D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets in order to rid themselves of Timofey Mozgov’s onerous contract wasn’t enough of a slight for the former No. 2 overall pick, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson kicking him on the way out the door should have done the trick.
“D’Angelo is an excellent player,” Johnson told reporters at the Lakers’ practice facility after introducing Russell’s replacement, Lonzo Ball, last year. “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.”
So basically, Johnson implied that Russell wasn’t a leader and that most players wouldn’t want to play with him. And that’s after banishing him to Brooklyn. Ouch.
Such shade would leave most players fuming, but if Russell was upset about the diss, he didn’t show it with his play when the Nets took on the Lakers last year, averaging just 16 points on 35.7 percent shooting while only making two of his 13 3-point attempts over two games.
Russell has been better than that (admittedly low) bar this year, scoring 18 points to go with 6 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 31 games so far for the Nets this season, so will the Lakers’ latest visit to the Barclay’s Center finally be Russell’s “revenge game?”
The Lakers’ defense may have something to say about that, as even after a slight dip from 9th in the league in defensive efficiency to 11th — giving up 107 points per 100 possessions — L.A. is still in the upper half of the league at stopping people.
And John Wall going off for a season-high 40 points on Sunday aside, Ball — the player the Johnson seemed to imply that the Lakers dumped Russell to make room for — has been on a havoc-generating defensive tear of late, leading the Lakers in deflections per game with 3.1 per game in December, while ranking second on the team in contested shots per game with 9.5, which ranks third in the entire league this month.
The Lakers will need Ball and the rest of the team to get their energy up after such a lifeless loss on Sunday, something Ball himself espoused the need for to reporters after the defeat.
“Definitely going to use the rest,” Ball said, citing the Lakers having a day off on Monday. “We’ve got to get a win and end the road trip 2-2.”
Containing Russell and the rest of the Nets’ 11th ranked offense that scores 110.0 points per 100 possessions will be a big part of accomplishing that goal. The complaints about shipping Russell off died down when the front office delivered LeBron James, but the young point guard they bet on in doing so will have to show why Johnson had faith in him if the team wants to end their longest road trip of the season so far with a victory.
We’ll see if they can do it tonight. The Lakers take on the Nets at 4:30 p.m. PST on Spectrum Sportsnet. Enjoy the game everyone.
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