Everything about D’Angelo Russell’s situation toward the start of 2024 pointed toward him being traded before the deadline. He was sitting out injured after slumping in December, his contract was already very tradeable and the Lakers were being increasingly linked to Dejounte Murray.
His response to the situation has been to play the best basketball of his time in Los Angeles and possibly his career as a whole. Including some early games to shake off the rust, Russell has averaged 22.9 points and 6.6 assists per game while shooting 51.3% from the field, 46.6% from the 3-point line and 81.8% at the line in the month of January.
For a typically streaky player, this isn’t a shocking development. But the timing of it has been very important and has potentially changed the Lakers’ approach to the trade deadline.
On a recent episode of the HoopsHype podcast, Jovan Buha of The Athletic reported that Russell’s recent play has made the Lakers rethink how much they value Russell.
“The level that D’Angelo Russell has played at has made them (Lakers) rethink things a little bit as far as the caliber of player they’d be willing to give him up for.”
Perhaps that isn’t the report some Lakers fans were hoping for, but at least the Lakers are adjusting course. As much as some fans may want to keep Russell — myself amongst them — there aren’t many logical arguments to do so.
Most of that boils down to his contract. With a player option next season, it’s always been a contract for the Lakers to trade, as Buha further laid out in the podcast.
D’Angelo, because of his player option, they’re in a situation where if he’s opting in, that’s basically because he has no market and his play has worsened over the season, or he doesn’t have a lot of interest. If he continues to play the way he has and he opts out, and there’s competition for his services, you’d have to give him a pay raise. From a cap sheet management standpoint, trading Russell makes more sense.
Now, though, it’ll be a matter of how the other NBA teams value him and if that also has risen in the last month. As things stand, the most recent reports are that the Hawks did not have interest in him, which likely won’t change. But if a third team grows more interested in him after this stretch, then that could help facilitate the deal and get them past this sticking point.
Consider this another variable thrown into the mix as the Lakers look to navigate the coming months and the deadline as a whole.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.