D’Angelo Russell has been a mainstay in NBA trade rumors since the second he waived his no-trade clause to re-sign with the Lakers this summer, but as the Feb. 8 trade deadline approaches, he’s made a compelling case to remain in Los Angeles.
As veteran NBA insider Marc Stein noted in his latest Substack dispatch, Russell “has averaged 27.5 points and 6.4 assists per game while shooting 52.3% percent from the field and 54.2% from the 3-point line” in his eight games since returning to the starting lineup. More importantly, that production has contributed to winning, as the team is 6-2 since that move with Russell carrying an increased offensive load.
The first indication that Russell’s production may have paused the team from shopping him in exchange for upgrades came from Jovan Buha of The Athletic, who said this week that the Lakers had started to “rethink things” when it came to moving Russell. Stein was even more definitive in his latest Substack column, reporting that talks between the Lakers and Hawks centered on Dejounte Murray are all but dormant:
League sources say that there has been little-to-no trade dialogue in recent days between the Hawks and the Lakers when it comes to former All-Star Dejounte Murray.
Trade talks tend to be fluid this time of year and can be easily sparked up again, but one source briefed on the talks termed the idea of Murray landing with the Lakers before the deadline, as of this Sunday, as “unrealistic.”
Calling the deal “unrealistic” is certainly the strongest pushback to this much-rumored transaction since such whispers and reports started. As Stein noted, it’s always possible the pressure of the deadline rekindles things, but for right now, he doesn’t make that scenario sound very likely:
In previous talks between the teams, Atlanta had been resistant to the inclusion of Russell unless a third team could be found to take on his contract, with the 27-year-old possessing an $18.6 million player option for next season.
The Lakers were initially said to be willing to package Russell with a first-round pick in 2029 and a first-round pick swap in exchange for Murray — with Austin Reaves completely off limits. That pursuit appears to have been dialed back some with Russell playing so well.
We won’t know for certain what will happen until the deadline. But given how up-and-down and public these talks have become — combined with the tenor of this latest report — it certainly seems more likely than not that this deal won’t get done.
As my friend Anthony Irwin frequently notes, the deals the Lakers actually make in the Pelinka era are often the ones we hear the least about, and from what the sticking points are to updated offers, we’ve certainly heard A LOT of public negotiating on this one:
I'm hearing the Lakers are not moving on from Dejounte Murray talks per se, but are involving pieces of that trade (D'lo, JHS, '29 pick, etc.) in their conversations with teams in ways they weren't before as they look at other options. More here: https://t.co/GXeE8xXT1O pic.twitter.com/AvMJ1uPALZ— Anthony F. Irwin (@AnthonyIrwinLA) January 26, 2024
Also, with Russell playing this well, it’s not crazy to think the Lakers may be really facing a dilemma here. He’s a better shooter than Murray, both historically and this season, and while Murray may decide to start playing defense again if he’s a Laker, is that gamble on possible two-way upside enough to commit a first-round pick and a pick swap to his four-year, $114 million extension that hasn’t even started yet? When the team could potentially have three tradeable picks to make upgrades on 2024 draft night? It’s worth at least deliberating about, right? Do we know Murray is better than Russell? That he’ll fit better next to LeBron? That he’ll focus on playmaking for Anthony Davis as often as Russell does? It’s at least worth asking the questions.
Does any of this mean I think Russell should be untouchable? Of course not. He’s a good, but flawed, player. So is Murray, though, and it’s worth at least considering whether or not Murray could be even enough of a theoretical upgrade to justify the cost it may take to acquire him. And it sounds like that’s exactly what the Lakers will be doing until Feb. 8.