Just under two years ago, the Los Angeles Lakers traded former No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell and the $48 million due to Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange the expiring contract of Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
The trade was the first step in the front office’s master plan to sign two max free agents, but Lakers president of basketball operations said there was an underlying reason as to why he was dealing Russell just two years into his career shortly after the trade was made.
“D’Angelo is an excellent player,” Johnson said during Lonzo Ball’s introductory press conference in 2017. “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.”
Two years later, Russell is not only an All-Star, but he’s also the leader of the playoff-bound Brooklyn Nets, who by all accounts seem to enjoy playing with him. On Friday, Russell will have the opportunity to lead the Nets to a win over the Lakers and officially eliminate his former team from playoff contention.
Poetry in motion.
The Nets were able to beat the Lakers in December despite the fact that Los Angeles had a relatively healthy roster. This time around, the Lakers will be missing a handful of their key players.
In addition to Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, who have been shut down for the remainder of the season, Josh Hart will sit out of Friday’s contest with Brooklyn.
LeBron James is set to play after sitting out two of the last three games, but that might not mean anything considering who his supporting cast is. Unless Kentavious Caldwell-Pope goes supernova from behind the arc again, tonight could be a disappointing welcome home for the Lakers after a week-long road trip.
At the very least, their former lottery pick eliminating them from the playoffs is a fitting conclusion to an NBA season that has been equivalent of this play, with Russell being the one dishing out the cup check this time:
Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. PST on Spectrum SportsNet.
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