The Lakers securing the number two pick in the 2017 draft is helpful for the new regime of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. Johnson and Pelinka get to begin the new front office administration from a position of strength. The coveted local kid Lonzo Ball may fall right into the Lakers lap like a broken asteroid and even if he doesn’t, and Ball and his annoying father get to sell Boston green, then combo guard Markelle Fultz or rim attacker and defender De’Aaron Fox will be in the Lakers backcourt as a NBA starter.
Fultz, Ball or Fox will push D’Angelo Russell into point guard obscurity. Fultz is the scorer, Fox is quick to the rim and can guard anyone, and Ball is the gifted passer and playmaker. All three will serve the Lakers well because the Lakers are desperate for an athlete at that position to match up against the dominant point guards in the West. No one is imagining or daring to say out loud that Ball or Fox or Fultz at 19 have the ability to go up against Steph Curry or James Harden or Russell Westbrook and come out on top. They will be learning. But they will also be given room to grow and mistakes will be tolerated, if not expected.
Russell on the other hand is being squeezed. What was good for the Lakers on Tuesday night was bad for D’Angelo Russell. Had the pick eluded the Lakers grasp and fallen into the 76ers lap, Russell then would have been secure, he still would have a place.
What is his place now?
Immediately after the lottery, calls were made to the Lakers about trades for Russell and that surprises no one. General Managers have to explore all opportunities even if that means assessing the mood of Magic Johnson. Rob Pelinka may be the Lakers GM but Magic is running the show.
Magic has two options.
1. Keep Russell in Los Angeles. Continue with his development. After the All-Star break, Russell slid over to shooting guard as Nick Young remained on the bench. Russell is a natural scorer from behind the perimeter and even though he has talent posting up that is not necessarily the offense that Luke Walton wants to run. Magic can continue the Russell as a shooting guard narrative or even use Russell as the back up point ala Lou Williams.
2. Trade him for a veteran like Paul George. Russell won’t be enough to sweeten the pot. He’d have to add Brandon Ingram or maybe Julius Randle. The Lakers can sustain losing a couple of young guys because they have three picks in the 2017 draft that will bestow upon them young players. Russell wasn’t so exceptional that in two years he is simply untouchable. He’s had his ups and downs and the ebb and flow of maturity and focus made Russell a work in progress. He is better than he was as a rookie but he still has a ways to go. Yes, there is talent there. Whether he can put it all together and be consistent, particularly on the defensive end where he is particularly lazy, is a much harder question to answer.
Contrary to the optics, letting Russell go isn’t a Lakers failure if he is being used to acquire veteran talent. Then the drafting of Russell, despite the criticism that Kristaps Porzingis was better, was worthwhile but only if he nets the Lakers something they didn’t have the ability to get on their own.
The purpose of acquiring young talent is to develop them for your future or to flip them for stars. If two years of D’Angelo, the good and the bad, means someone better is coming in, not as a savior but just to give the Lakers skill, experience and confidence then the D’Angelo Russell draft pick of 2015 was a Lakers win. He helped the Lakers get to this point and only time will tell if the Lakers helped him.
photo via llananba