D’Angelo Russell was traded by the Los Angeles Lakers along with Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Brook Lopez and the No. 27 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft. For the Lakers, this trade was about clearing cap space in pursuit of Paul George. But for the Nets, Russell is a real prize.
Russell’s stint in L.A. was very up-and-down after dealing with inconsistent play, and infamously, a bad interaction with Nick Young in which he accidentally revealed too much of his personal life.
In his sophomore season, Russell averaged 16 points on 41 percent shooting, five assists, and four rebounds. In many stretches, he was the team’s best player, even though his development was stalled a bit in the Byron Scott era.
The Lakers weren’t building around Russell anymore
Attention is shifting in L.A. to Brandon Ingram, a promising rookie who was also selected No. 2 overall in 2016. Now the offseason is drawing focus on adding starpower in Paul George, and, maybe in the future, LeBron James. The Lakers weren’t going to be Russell’s team anymore. He was going to be a redundant piece with a higher-upside Lonzo Ball likely on the way whether he was on the roster or not. Fitting the two together wasn’t on the to-do list, either.
The slow rebuild wasn’t going to happen for the Lakers anymore, and so now instead of heading a group of youths on the West Coast, Russell is set to reinvent himself in Brooklyn.
Russell is now the centerpiece of the Nets rebuild.
Brooklyn has been a basketball mess for a few years now, having given most of its assets away for a failed Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett experiment. Now they get to develop a relatively untapped No. 2 overall pick while unloading an in-his-prime Brook Lopez. This is the restart the Nets wanted, and all subsequent moves will be made with Russell in mind.
He can play through his faults without fear of benching, struggle without caring about the win and loss columns, and grow with a young core. 24-year-old Spencer Dinwiddie had run on this roster along with 22-year-olds Caris LaVert and Isaiah Whitehead. This roster has all the room Russell needs to figure out how to bring his game to the next level.
If Russell improves, Brooklyn could become free-agent-landing city
While the Nets don’t have many assets of value, including few draft picks, they have money. The only long-term bills they invested are in the recently acquired Mozgov, meaning they should have cap space to sign whoever is interested in playing just outside Manhattan.
It will take time, and more than just Russell, but it’s easy to see how a player of his talents could change the outlook of what is an undesirable basketball program. Brooklyn is his city now.