D’Angelo Russell is reaching the high-point of his career thus far while the Los Angeles Lakers find new lows to reach seemingly every week or so. He’s about to play in his first All-Star Game and his Brooklyn Nets are on track to make the playoffs. When asked about what has helped him make the leap he has, Russell pointed to the team that traded him in a salary dump.
Russell has been watching how this season has gone for the remaining members of the young core and is thankful he was sent away, as he tells Leo Sepkowitz of Bleacher Report:
Meanwhile, an even bigger story is unfolding in Los Angeles, Russell’s old home. In recent weeks, it’s become clear that the Lakers are willing to trade any and all of their young players to New Orleans for Anthony Davis. Endless speculation—and torment for the youngsters like Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma—will culminate one way or another in just a few hours at the deadline’s buzzer. Russell was once part of the Lakers’ young core; today, he seems fortunate not to be.
“I can’t imagine what they’re trying to block out,” Russell says. Later, he adds: “If [the Lakers] didn’t let me go then, they were gonna let me go now, and I’d be going through what they’re going through. Best thing that happened in my career.”
In the piece, Russell spoke at length about the ways he’s matured this season, pointing to his preparation and readiness night, night out. At the time of his trade, there were concerns he’d never understand such things, as Magic Johnson alluded to when he spoke about the leadership qualities he saw from Lonzo Ball compared to what
he’d learned about in talks with Byron Scott seen from Russell.
It’s almost like giving up on a top-two draft pick with legitimate NBA talent as if he was a finished product physically and mentally in order to move a contract they didn’t immediately have to at the time was a tad short-sighted. Russell’s not the only Lakers reject blossoming outside of L.A., either.
While Russell is on his way to his first All-Star Game, Julius Randle is averaging just under 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Everyone from the Los Angeles Clippers is raving about how thrilled they are to have landed Ivica Zubac. You sensing a theme here?
The good news is: The Lakers definitely weren’t just desperately working to trade the entire young core at the trade deadline, oh, wait — Russell mentioned that, himself, didn’t he?
In complete fairness, trading for Anthony Davis is not the same thing as using a top-two pick to shed salary, but this trend of giving up on players before their second contract is growing tiresome all the same.
It’s great to see Russell living up to his potential, though I’d obviously rather have been able to watch him do so as a Laker. If you listen to him (and notice the stalled growth of the young core still in place), that probably was always impossible — which doesn’t say much about the organization he left behind.