Grade for Lakers trading D’Angelo Russell? A+

June 21, 2017

Several new outlets have reported that the Lakers have traded guard D’Angelo Russell and center Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for center Brooke Lopez and the #27 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Ignore the whining and crying of some Russell-attached fans in the local media and the sheer ignorance of others in the national media who are criticizing the Lakers for this trade. This is a brilliant trade. A total home run and the Lakers deserve an A+ grade for it.

The only caveat being that this grade can change if this trade is somehow just the first step in some potentially horrible mega-trade in the immediate future.

Let’s break it all down.

Benefit #1 - It’s math, stupid.

Dumping Timofey Mozgov’s salary is the biggest victory in this trade and its importance cannot be overstated.

The Mozgov contract, offered by the thankfully removed regime of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, had 3 years and $48 million dollars remaining on it. That debacle, along with the absurd 3 years and $54 million dollars remaining for similarly marginal veteran forward Luol Deng, had the Lakers severely handcuffed in this salary cap world. That’s $102 million over the next three years to two players that you don’t even envision in the rotation of your future team.

Further, while using the “stretch provision” after this upcoming season might make sense for one of those two huge contracts (essentially taking a salary cap hit over 5 years instead of two), having to deal with both that way would still not leave enough room for 2 max contracts (or 3 large deals if you could maneuver a Bosh-Wade-James to the Heat type scenario).

In short, without dealing with these albatrosses, there would be no way to seriously rebuild the team through free agent acquisitions. Anyone who does not understand this basic fact is incapable of grasping how desperate the Lakers situation was and thus will fail to appreciate this trade.

Obviously finding a trading partner who might be willing to take a long-term salary cap hit for one of these clearly overpriced players would be challenging. Getting such a deal would almost certainly require the Lakers to give up an asset just for the dumping benefit. In that sense, the Lakers were extremely fortunate that Brooklyn, who has clearly given up on winning in the short run, was willing to oblige (and still give them some serious value in return).

Needless to say, the actual loss of Mozgov’s potential services on the court for the Lakers is only the smallest of considerations in this deal. The Lakers win big by losing him.

Benefit #2: Lopez has a large expiring contract and is the best player in the trade

Of course the Lakers had to take on salary to dump Mozgov’s monstrosity, and that came in the form of acquiring center Brooke Lopez, who will earn $22.6 million this upcoming season. Importantly however, it is the final year of his contract and he will be off the books by the summer of 2018. This will free up the Lakers to make really significant acquisitions in the free agent market.

But aside from those critical monetary facts, Lopez is also still a damn good player who averaged 20.5 points shooting 34.6% from 3 and 47.4% overall. He made almost as many 3s last year as Russell and will fit nicely in Walton’s offense as a stretch 5. There is little reason to doubt that his on-court value in 2017-18 will exceed that of Russell and Mozgov combined. Lopez is, at least right now, just a better player than either of them and if he plays well this season, and is willing to reduce his salary in future seasons, he could potentially have a role in the Lakers future.

Benefit #3 - Another pick to play with

Additionally, the Lakers received the 27th pick in the NBA Draft from Brooklyn. This asset may be used on a nice young player or may yet be packaged in a deal for Paul George or a move up the Draft. In either case, it is a valuable commodity that provides even more flexibility.

The Cost: D-Loading is sent packing

The only truly meaningful asset that the Lakers gave up in this deal was D’Angelo Russell. Now, if you genuine believe Russell was showing massive upside and improvement these past two years and was on his way to being a superstar, then even the substantial benefits outlined above will not be enough for you. You will curse the Lakers for prematurely giving up this promising young stud.

But for the rest of us who were using our senses in a rational way, Russell was not passing the eyeball test for greatness. The Lakers clearly agreed and were willing to part ways.

To understand why Russell was expendable enough to be traded, we need to look at the history.

Russell was the surprise 2nd pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Though many at the time had assumed the Lakers would take highly-touted Duke center, Jahlil Okafor, the Lakers Jim Buss-led management saw Russell’s smooth shooting stroke and court vision and was convinced that he was their point guard of the future. Unfortunately it was not at all clear whether Russell thought of himself as a point guard. Further, though Russell indeed had a stylish flair, he was just an “average” athlete who seemed to play at a deliberate pace and had a reputation for playing little defense on an average college team.

So what made the Lakers give up on this high pick in just two years? A number of factors:

On the court, Russell was just okay overall. Last year he improved from a disappointing first season and, on a terrible team, averaged 15.6 points and 4.8 assists in 28.7 minutes per game shooting 35.2% from 3 and 40.5% overall (a slight decline). Russell unquestionably had some flashy moments and proved he has the ability to score points in the NBA for a long time. But he also had some pretty disappointing performances as well, filled with inconsistent shooting, effort, and playmaking while being terrible on defense. Mostly though, it was the fact that he just wasn’t what the Lakers needed him to be and he wasn’t making enough progress in that area.

Second, Russell failed to mesh well with either of his head coaches over two seasons, Byron Scott or Luke Walton. Although “old-school disciplinarian” Scott and “new-school player friendly” Walton seemed to be very different personalities, both expressed similar concerns about Russell’s maturity, work ethic, and ability to lead. While Scott was dismissed in 2016, in part because he couldn’t get along with Russell, Walton is in the 2nd year of a five year contract and is not likely to be fired any time soon. Notably, there is little reason to believe Walton had any objection to this trade and reports have suggested he felt that as recently as this past month Russell had not developed to his liking.

Third, Russell failed to materialize as a leader for his teammates, with many feeling he was not mature. There was the infamous incident when he publicly revealed on social media that teammate Nick Young was cheating on his fiancé, contributing to major internal strife within the team. Additionally, to the surprise of the Lakers, Russell informed the media that he didn’t really prefer to play as the team facilitating point guard they drafted him to be, but instead thought of himself more as a scorer. While certainly he can score, there are many more athletic guards and wings in the league, and the Lakers plan on picking one or more up in free agency.

Finally, with the Lakers likely to bring in local hero and highly hyped PG Lonzo Ball with this year’s 2nd pick, there was a real question as to whether Russell could blend well with the new talent. On the surface, with Russell’s agreed-upon transition to play the 2-guard, it seemed like a fit was possible. Nonetheless, Russell raised eyebrows in the off-season by “liking” a tweet that said drafting Ball would be “crazy” since they already had Russell. Undoubtedly little actions like that were closely observed by Lakers President Magic Johnson, GM Rob Pelinka, and head coach Luke Walton, who ultimately seem to have concluded after numerous conversations with Russell this summer that he was not mature enough to embrace the new dynamic.

But despite all of this, the Lakers wouldn’t just give up Russell unless they got a fair return. Did they? Oh yeah, unless you had unrealistic expectations. Remember, as high as Russell’s fans in the media were on him, this did not translate at all to NBA executives, none of whom were interested in trading even a late lottery pick for the supposed “future star.”


To reiterate, the Lakers deserve an A+ for this trade. They traded a devastatingly bad contract in return for an expiring one, allowing for necessary cap flexibility to obtain free agents in the near future. Additionally, Brook Lopez is the best player in the trade. Further, they received a first round pick that will either help build their roster with young talent or will be a crucial ingredient in a larger trade. These are all major victories for the Lakers.

Certainly the loss of Russell is nothing to dismiss, yet neither should his value be exaggerated. For those who believe that Russell is the second-coming of Chris Paul or James Harden, they will hardly be convinced that this was a good move by the new front office. Time will tell if they are right. For those of us who have always had concerns about Russell’s deficiencies and believe he will likely be a solid role player in the very competitive NBA guard market, we will happily move on to a brighter future.

Now the Lakers just need to not over-complicate things. Cut the draft games and just pick the uniquely talented PG Lonzo Ball with the 2nd pick, who many correctly think has far more upside than Russell, and who actually is a point guard. Ball pretty much does everything better than Russell already, except work out of the pick and roll (which he may develop), and he plays at a much faster pace. Watching Ball push the rock and lead the Lakers offense will be infinitely more fun. If they can also swing getting Paul George without losing the 2nd pick or Ingram, so much the better.

But let there be no doubt, the Lakers are now finally truly beginning the climb back to NBA relevance. For all the young fans (and journalists) out there who have gotten used to the losing of the last five years and started to think of it as "normal" in any way, I suspect you will be re-introduced to real Lakers basketball. This organization had no history of sustained losing before this disastrous Jim Buss era. From the way it seems so far, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have no desire to make you tolerate that nonsense for much longer.

Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for

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