The Los Angeles Laker traded D’Angelo Russell, Timofey Mosgov and a draft pick to the Brooklyn Nets at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 regular season. Trade talks were already active regarding the 20-year-old Russell, but after the storied “snitching” incident involving his then teammate, Nick Young, the Lakers almost needed to do so to keep the team morale at a healthy level.
Can’t have ‘no snitches in the locker room.
The Nets and the Lakers were both playing some the worst basketball in the NBA, but Russell going to the Nets seemed like it could be more of a positive than a negative for him. Never in a million years would you have thought Russell would ascend to an all-star caliber, franchise point guard over the course of a season. Sadly for the Lakers, that’s what happened and amidst current issues, they’ve definitely lost this trade.
This reminds me of when the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets for three-point specialist Kevin Martin and another budding, but not yet proven Jeremy Lamb.
Spending my life in OKC, I was a huge Thunder fan. Harden was traded in 2012, so I was only 20 years old, not a journalist, and still chasing basketball dreams of my own in college. That explained, there was no real drama surrounding the reasoning behind that trade. It was a money thing and at the time, keeping Serge Ibaka seemed like the smarter decision. What the Thunder didn’t know is that Ibaka’s career would plateau, while Harden’s would skyrocket once given his own team.
That’s where Oklahoma City can sympathize with Los Angeles. They know how this feels. Nearly the same thing happened to them seven years ago. Russell averaged 21.1 points, 7.0 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game during the 2018-2019 regular season. He also played 81 games and started all of them. In his last season with the Lakers, the 2016-2017 season, Russell averaged 15.6 points, 4.8 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game. The numbers only tell half of the story. Russell has undoubtedly taken a leadership role with the Nets, while the Lakers still, two full seasons later, are still on a search for a leader outside of Lebron James. Lonzo Ball hasn’t been consistently healthy enough to reach his full potential as a player or a leader. Rajon Rondo is a leader, but his best production is in his past. D’Angelo Russell is precisely what the Lakers need right now.
Oklahoma City had a gold mine of talent, still a long way from reaching their full potential. They went to the finals behind their young stars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Harden. Imagine what they would have achieved by now. Would the Golden State Warriors dynasty even happen? The entire NBA would be different if that core stuck together. All three; Durant, Harden, and Westbrook have won an MVP, while Harden is a serious contender to repeat this season.
Russell was indicted by Magic Johnson and the Lakers franchise as someone who wasn’t a leader. That’s a slap in the face of any real man out there. Most of us like to identify ourselves as leaders. So it dug deep for him. At just 22 years old, in his fourth season, one can only imagine where his ceiling is. This breakout season could be what jump-starts a Hall of Fame career, and it makes one think; did Los Angeles give up on their 20-year old point guard too early, in defense of an NBA veteran past his prime?