D’Angelo Russell making a triumphant return to the Los Angeles Lakers has gained steam recently and has reached a point where even the guy who
ran Russell out of L.A. and trashed him on his way out traded Russell to the Brooklyn Nets — and has since stepped down from his post to tweet more — was asked to comment on the possibility.
“He’s better now,” Johnson told The Athletic on Monday night, tapping his right temple with an index finger as he stood in a parking lot outside the NBA Awards at the Santa Monica Airport. “He’s a different player. He’s more mature.”
Wild that as time passes, a young athlete would get better at his sport and/or more mature as he aged. Not a single soul could’ve seen this coming.
This isn’t to say that Russell didn’t have plenty of room to grow, by the way. Even he has admitted the role his own maturation has played in the success he’s enjoyed in Brooklyn. But at the time, Johnson made it seem like Russell was incapable of such growth and development, especially as a leader.
Still, Johnson said (correctly, by the way) that Russell probably shouldn’t be the Lakers’ first option, so long as someone like Kawhi Leonard is on the market. But once his and other superstars’ decisions are made, Johnson says the Lakers should really consider Russell:
If not? That’s when Johnson says the Lakers should look Russell’s way — “after the super-superstar” options are off the board.
“Now he’s ready,” Johnson said. “He’s much more mature. I said the only thing, he was immature back then. He could always score, but the guys would never play with him because of what he did (with the Young video). But now all those guys are gone and he’s on another level now.”
It sounds like some within the Lakers agree, because Zach Lowe of ESPN reported on Tuesday morning that “there is at least a kernel of truth to the Lakers’ interest in a reunion” with Russell, and over the weekend we learned that Russell has some level of interest in a return now that Johnson is gone.
Russell makes a ton of sense for the Lakers, and especially on the offensive side of the court. He can space the floor while he operates off-ball and would be absolutely deadly in pick-and-roll situations with either Anthony Davis or LeBron James as the screener. He would have to improve defensively, obviously, but there are the makings of a really good fit there.
A Russell return would also present the opportunity for him to throw his share of shade at Johnson for how things went down when he was sent to Brooklyn. Him being traded was one thing. The Lakers moved Mozgov’s contract (thus opening the door for this return, ironically) and added an asset or two along the way, too.
What never sat will with me, though, was Johnson feeling the need to also dump on the then 21-year-old he was trading away. Johnson’s comments were Danny Ainge-esque, and were fired in the direction of a player who couldn’t defend himself against them. That Russell might have the opportunity to spoon-feed Johnson his own crow would be a pretty magnificent cherry on top of the sundae of failure that Johnson’s time as an executive was.