When Jim Buss was ruining things for the Los Angeles Lakers it was draft time and the decision was this: a 19 year old combo guard from Ohio State who loved himself as much as he loved big game dramatics. Or, seven footer Jahlil Okafor. Traditionally, the Lakers covet big men and have a crop of Hall of Fame players who justify this fetish of theirs. Okafor worked out for the purple and gold but was saddled with the baggage that he didn’t have a motor. On the other hand, the combo guard wowed Jim Buss with his shot, handles and that thing you just cannot teach. Wanting the limelight. D’Angelo Russell had star written all over him.
Two years after the 2015 draft, Jim Buss and D’Angelo Russell were both gone. Buss was gone because he was incompetent but don’t feel sorry for him. He’s somewhere counting the Buss fortune as the Lakers rack up another $200 million in revenue.
Russell was gone because of that same Jim Buss incompetence. Buss overpaid Timofey Mozgov and the Lakers had to then clean up the Jim Buss mess. Because Mozgov is no one’s prize, to make the deal sweet the Lakers had to offer someone young to Brooklyn to make it worthwhile.
What made D’Angelo Russell tradeable was Lonzo Ball. And Russell himself. D-Lo has always had game. He had the flair for the Los Angeles limelight. He loved the town. He loved being a Laker. He had a motor. But he wasn’t mature enough. He played for a hard ass coach in Byron Scott and he played with a hard ass player in Kobe Bryant. Reports would surface from practice that Russell would quack like a duck or Russell would play pranks or Russell thought he was still in college. He was young and another year of school would have served him well. When he was caught up in the Nick Young video scandal almost everyone had enough.
D’Angelo Russell was on the court when Kobe Bryant retired. He even dished the ball to Bryant for Bryant’s last NBA point. And then Russell was gone.
Perhaps, he was halfway in the air on the way to Brooklyn when Magic Johnson slammed Russell as being a poor leader. That was why he was trading him and drafting Lonzo Ball, so Magic said. But, c’mon Earv. Russell was too young to lead anything. He wasn’t traded because of any leadership flaw or because of any video brouhaha or Russell’s immaturity. D’Angelo Russell was traded because the Lakers needed to get rid of Mozgov’s contract and they weren’t giving up Brandon Ingram or Julius Randle.
Russell was sent to Brooklyn and the pick the Lakers received from the Nets in exchange was used to draft Kyle Kuzma. It looked like a Lakers slam dunk.
Except. Russell became a star. He is better than Lonzo Ball and is more consistent and more arrogant than Brandon Ingram. He plays as hard as Julius Randle but isn’t as humble. Russell loves all eyes on him. He wants to take over the game. He wants to be a star and his number two draft slot said he was going to be a star. With less than 3 minutes left in the quarter, he shoots 48%. He makes 41% of his jumpshots, most of which are long range. He has taken 552 three point shots. In January, he averaged 24 points. In February, 26 points. In March, 21 points. A few days ago, in Sacramento he scored 27 points in the 4th quarter to will the Nets to a comeback victory. He’ll be in the playoffs for the first time in his career.
Don’t believe the hype. This is not a D’Angelo Russell comeback. He never went anywhere. He could always shoot the ball. He needed to learn how to play the game and how to mature. He is not particularly explosive or quick and his handles are just okay. He had to learn how a player with his skill can fit in the league. This is his 4th year and as Tracy McGrady recently pointed out that was the year McGrady was first an All-Star. Like D-Lo.
He’s 23 years old. He’s proven Magic Johnson wrong. And he’ll be in the playoffs for a long time to come. Can’t say that about Brandon Ingram now can you?