Almost exactly two years ago today, the Los Angeles Lakers traded former No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell — then just two years into his career — to get out of Timofey Mozgov’s colossal contract.
The trade was met with heavy criticism at the time because of the low return — Brook Lopez and the No. 27 pick — and although the pick would ultimately be used to draft Kyle Kuzma, a rising star in his own right, the cap space they opened up for an All-Star free agent still hasn’t been used, and they let Lopez walk the following summer. This summer, that could all change, and Russell could be the promised second All-Star free agent the Lakers used him to clear cap space for.
During Tuesday’s “Woj and Lowe Free Agency Special” on ESPN, NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski said the Lakers are targeting the 23-year-old All-Star in free agency — so much so that they’re reportedly hoping another target of theirs, Kyrie Irving, signs with Russell’s current team, forcing him into unrestricted free agency:
“It is a legitimate scenario, Zach. The Lakers now, at this point, are rooting for Kyrie Irving to go to Brooklyn because then Brooklyn renounces D’Angelo Russell, who’s a restricted free agent. He becomes unrestricted and then the Lakers could sign Russell as their third star in L.A. and they get back a much more mature, polished player who’s been an All-Star, who’s put a team into the postseason.”
Oh, how the turn tables.
Wojnarowski even went as far as to say that Russell has emerged as the Lakers’ “top target” during an earlier appearance on SportsCenter:
Does this mean Russell is headed back to Los Angeles? Not quite.
While there is reportedly some level of interest from Russell’s side now that Magic Johnson is gone, the two parties would have to agree on a number. As it stands, the Lakers are projected to have roughly $23.8 million in cap space, which is over $3 million short of Russell’s max. Even if Russell signs for slightly less than his max, that leaves them with little cap space to fill out their roster.
However, if the Lakers can find takers for the contracts of Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones and Davis waives his trade kicker, that number could climb to $33.8 million, enough to offer Russell a contract worth over $20 million and sign another starter for around $10 million.
Russell, James, Davis, Kuzma and a solid role player? Sign me up.