You Gotta Know When to Hold Em

Know when to fold em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
- Kenny Rogers, The Gambler

It's trade season and that means every single rumor in the league involves the Lakers. Every. Single. One. Some of them are predictable retreads....others are pure speculation.

But some of these rumors have legs. Almost all of the ones that do involve the guy many of us assume is the most valuable asset the Lakers are willing to trade: D'Angelo Russell.


And it makes sense.

  • Russell is a proven NBA starter.
  • He's still only 27.
  • He makes less than $20m

He probably won't be missed by fans either - his nonchalant demeanor and consistent inconsistency have been the subjects of much ire. So, yeah...if the Lakers are going to make a move, Russell would almost certainly be at the middle of it.

But should he? After all, he's a proven NBA starter, he's still only 27, and he makes less than $20m. He's also been available - playing in 40 of the Lakers 44 games so far this season (not the highest bar, but it matters). He's also the best 3pt shooter on the team. By far. That really matters on a team that struggles from distance. In addition:

And's not all roses:

  • Russell is in 4 of the Lakers' 10 worst lineups in terms of plus/minus too
  • Being one of the better players on a .500 team isn't a huge flex - we're still talking about a .500 team. Their winning percentage when he starts (.545) is still only good enough for the 9th seed in the West
  • Plus/minus can be a fickle stat - it often says more about the matchup than the impact

Looking at what the Lakers have with Russell is only half the picture, the other half is what they have without him. And it's not much. Any move involving Russell must necessarily return a starting caliber ballhandler/playmaker:

  • Gabe Vincent appears to be NAILING his impression of Kendrick Nunn...he won't be available until late-Feb, if he's even available at all. Plus he's never really been a full-time starter; it's hard to say how he might perform in that role
  • Austin Reaves is very effective as a play-making wing, but he's not a starting ballhandler.
  • Lebron James can still run an offense, but he's 30-effing-9 years old

Lebron James

Segue to main trade target at this point: Dejounte Murray. He, too is a proven NBA starter and he, too is still only 27 and he, too makes less than $20m. Murray has good size, is a good on-ball defender, and can stretch the floor. He's also been available - playing in all 43 Hawks games this season. But there are a few buts...

Dejounte Murray

In all fairness, he's also playing next to Trae Young, which could be a bit inhibiting. He'd have to defer to LBJ on the Lakers, but would probably have more freedom than he does now.

So what does this all mean?

  • D'Angelo Russell is probably more effective than some fans are willing to accept. He's far from untouchable, but the Lakers can't afford to simply give him away.
  • Dejounte Murray is probably not as effective as some fans want to believe. He addresses some issues, but not so many that you give up a lot to get him.

As with most trades, this and any deal involving Russell will have to come down to additional compensation. The Lakers don't have a ton of draft capital to trade. Giving it up for what may well be a lateral move (or even a slight improvement) and taking on salary may not be the best move. If that's what it takes to bring in a guy like Murray, the Lakers need to take Kenny's advice and RUN!