Lakers

Russell Was Meant to Make Return to Lakers

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It has been 2,840 days since the Los Angeles Lakers selected Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Fast-forward 2,800+ days later and the former Laker-turned-Net-turned-Warrior-turned-Timberwolf is back— and the Lakers needed him more than ever.

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Russell, along with new acquisitions Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, has revamped the 2020 bubble champs as they make a late push for a playoff spot, helping raise Lakers title betting odds and ridding Laker fans of what was the past season and a half with Russell Westbrook.

“A lot has happened since I’ve been here, right? I was an All-Star, I went to the playoffs,” Russell said in his introductory press conference a couple days after the trade. “I’ve done a lot of things individually so to come back with that resume, I feel like it only helps the team.”

Almost-Invisible Initial Stint

D-Lo’s first stint with the Lakers was anything but ordinary. His rookie year was vastly overshadowed by it being Kobe’s final season, and in turn, was unable to progress as a rookie on a bottom-feeder team with all of the shots going Kobe’s way. He did see minor improvements in his game going into his second season, seeing an uptick in field-goal attempts, points and assists per game.

The following offseason, however, he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the rights to what was the 27th pick in the draft (Kyle Kuzma).

Russell’s exit seemed… sour. There was that whole Nick Young situation, but President of Basketball Operations for LA at the time, Magic Johnson, felt that he wasn’t a leader or someone that could “make players better” or that “players want to play with.” Comments that would stick with Russell for years after he departed from LA.

Win-Win Situation Ensued

Leaving Los Angeles allowed him to grow, though. He was an All-Star in his second season with Brooklyn, where he played 81 games and led a very young Nets team to the playoffs. The very next season, he was traded again. This time in a trade that involved Kevin Durant, leaving his dynasty in Golden State.

Russell’s time with the Warriors was also very weird. Not only did Stephen Curry play five total games, but he was traded 33 games into the season to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins. Russell’s fit with the Warriors was always in question, so a move was bound to happen one way or another.

Minnesota felt like a sure-fire home for the now five-year vet. Fans welcomed him with open arms and he was able to compete with his close friend and 2015 draft-mate Karl-Anthony Towns.

Just like everywhere else, however, Russell’s time with the Wolves was strange. In nearly three seasons with the franchise, he was only able to start in 157 games due to lingering injuries to his lower body. And with the acquisitions of Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert in recent seasons, his role with the team became less and less defined.

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Unanticipated Return to LA

So on Feb. 8, 2023, Russell was traded to the Lakers in a three-team deal that involved Russell Westbrook and Mike Conley. And this time around, he is ready for everything that’s to come. In his eight years in the league, he has played with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, and now LeBron James. Quite an experience to be able to play with all-time greats like that.

And it has surely changed him.

“I didn’t know that I’d be back in LA, I had an idea I’d be traded… I’ve been traded a few times so when I have a feeling I’m usually right.” Russell said.

Russell may be the best fit with the LeBron and Anthony Davis Lakers. A playmaking guard that can space the floor with his shooting ability, optimize AD in pick and rolls, and play greatly off-ball when LeBron handles it. DLo is also nice to have when there is constant speculation about Davis’ day-to-day game availability.

Not only is the fit great on the court, but Russell is ready for the spotlight and pressure that comes with being a Laker— something he was not prepared for when being drafted by the organization.

Russell was asked about if he wished to be back and what people will see from him compared to his first tenure:

“I never hoped to be back here because I didn’t understand if I could be ready for it and be a part of what [the Lakers] were doing for the future. But I’m here now and I really appreciate being back because I feel like I’m ready for everything that’s about to come – for the team and whatever comes my way.”

2nd Time’s the Charm

In the 13 games he’s played back with the Lakers this season, Russell has averaged 17.1 points and 6.3 assists per game on 47.5/39.8/75.0 shooting splits. Impressively enough, in the 420 total minutes he’s played, he has posted a plus-minus of +116. To say the Lakers are better with him on the floor is an understatement.

After Feb. 9 (the Milwaukee game where the new acquisitions did not play), LAL found themselves with a 25-31 record and as the 13th seed in the Western Conference. Since then, D-Lo and the new additions have propelled the Lakers to a 40-38 record, the No. 7 seed, and sit a half a game behind the highly-coveted fifth and sixth seeds.

Not only has Russell found himself with an important role that fits right into the team, but it seems that he has found a home this time around with Los Angeles. Weeks after being traded, it had been reported that Russell and the Lakers were interested in an extension over the summer. Russell also feels that he can contribute to the organization far beyond this season.

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“D’Angelo Russell very much wanted a second chance in LA… He wants to be the point guard of the future for this organization.”

With Russell a free-agent-to-be this offseason, it is vital that he and the Lakers work out a deal that sets this team up for years to come.

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About Connor Moreno

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