When D’Angelo Russell was dealt from the Lakers six years ago, it was anything but a clean divorce. Much of the messiness came from the Lakers side with the coaching staff throwing him under the bus well after his departure and the front office, in the form of Magic Johnson, declaring they needed someone who was a leader, implying Russell was not that.
The irony of the situation was that it was Russell who took the high road when reacting to those comments. And as Russell led the Nets to the playoffs in an All-Star season, the comments from Magic felt more and more off base.
Coming full circle on the whole matter was that it was D’Lo who came into the Lakers last season and was a big part in turning the vibes around and leading the Lakers without LeBron James on a postseason push. In short, Russell got the last laugh on the situation.
And while he’s never really addressed those comments in his return, he did make a remark about them recently on an episode of his podcast, The Backyard Podcast. D’Lo mentioned how getting that label of someone who wasn’t a leader is a stereotype he’s had to fight his whole career.
“I remember Magic Johnson was like ‘We need a leader’ or something like that. And I was already a natural leader. Like that was just already me and I didn’t even know I was. After I got away from that, I was like ‘Damn, that’s really me. Everything that he said, I’m actually doing that.’ I started realizing my teammates did want to play with me. I did make guys around me better. I did lead guys off the floor and help them get their s— together routine-wise, diet, sleep, whatever. I was actually that guy. But he created this stereotype that I wasn’t this guy so then I was fighting that my whole career.”
Even in the moment of the trade, Magic’s comments felt unfair. This isn’t a situation where hindsight is 20/20 or Russell became something he wasn’t. The Lakers traded D’Lo to offload Timofey Mozgov’s contract and open up cap space, effectively, while receiving a pick and an expiring contract back. They didn’t make a deal to bring in a leader; Magic just simply kicked Russell on his way out for little reason.
This is why D’Lo’s redemption tour has been fun to watch. He was pretty unfairly cast out and scapegoated as part of one of the lowlights of Magic’s tenure, an impressive feat considering his impromptu resignation is also included.
Russell won’t say it, but he has been vindicated for unfair criticisms and stereotypes. It’s unfortunate it took so long but it’s fortunate D’Lo has found success despite that.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.