We still don’t know if the Los Angeles Lakers will actually have max cap space to use on a star free agent this summer, or exactly how much cap space they will have, but if they can clear enough room, it’s seeming more and more like a reunion with D’Angelo Russell might actually be a possibility.
The Lakers, of course, traded Russell away after his sophomore season, using him as an asset to entice the Brooklyn Nets to take on Timofey Mozgov’s gargantuan contract. If that exiling wasn’t embarrassing enough for a former No. 2 overall pick, then-Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson kicked him on his way out the door, saying that Russell wasn’t “a leader” in a fairly classless and unusual display for an NBA executive.
Before recently, that type of exit made it seem... unlikely... that Russell, now an All-Star free agent, would want to sign on for a second tour of duty in L.A. But in the latest — and most definitive — breadcrumb suggesting that might not be the case, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report revealed that Johnson’s exit may have pried open the door for a Russell return:
Russell’s breakup with the Lakers wasn’t pretty, but it’s difficult to hold grudges in this league. With Johnson gone, some close to Russell have indicated he may be open to the idea if Brooklyn isn’t in the picture.
Russell’s max would be around $27 million, per Pincus, meaning that even if the Lakers can’t find a third team to take on Jemerrio Jones, Isaac Bonga and Moe Wagner to help them clear enough cap space for a third, full max slot (around $32 million), then if Davis waived his trade kicker, they could clear enough room to give Russell his smaller max.
Now, the hurdle there is that Davis has given no indication he will waive his kicker, but to be fair, the Lakers haven’t asked him to, and Davis has no incentive to say he will until the Lakers show him they can make good use of that space. Theoretically, his stance could change.
And hey, we already know he’s a fan of Russell’s on some level, because he at just followed him on Instagram on Friday:
Now, NBA players follow each other on Instagram all the time. But the timing is... interesting... in conjunction with Pincus’ report. When you combine them all with one of Russell’s recent Twitter likes, we’re starting to get some fun free agency speculation fodder:
Could all this be adding up to the Lakers using Russell to clear the cap space to... sign Russell?
Now, drama and fun storylines from his return aside, the biggest question is: Is Russell a target that actually makes sense for the Lakers? I would argue yes. The team’s biggest need right now is at point guard, and Russell would ease the ball-handling and creation burden on LeBron James — and to some degree, Davis — as well as providing a knock-down shooter to space the floor for them when he’s away from the ball.
The Lakers would still have a lot of holes to fill afterwards, and Russell is by no means a guarantee to return yet, but I think at the very least we can all agree that this would be the funniest possible free agency outcome for the Lakers. I mean, just imagine the stuff Magic Johnson would tweet!
We’ll see if this comes to pass — and if the Lakers can clear the cap space to make it happen in conjunction with Brooklyn walking away from Russell — in the weeks to come. The only sure thing right now is that July is going to be wild.