NBA free agency will begin on Sunday and the rumor mill has been spinning since the end of the Finals. With Kyrie Irving likely headed to Brooklyn to play for the Nets, D’Angelo Russell might have to find a new home. Russell was shipped out of Los Angeles after his relationship with Magic Johnson and the team soured but with LeBron James and Anthony Davis now present with the Lakers, would it make sense for the All-Star to reunite with his former club?
The Washington Post's Ben Golliver and Andrew Sharp of the Open Floor podcast discuss Russell’s free agency options.
(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Andrew Sharp: Adrian Wojnarowski said he thinks one focus for the Lakers will be the point guard position and they can get involved with D'Angelo Russell. He said Russell would have an open mind to return to Los Angeles. So what do you think of that Ben? You're not the world's biggest D'Angelo fan but to me it makes some sense. If they can't get Kawhi Leonard and if they can't get Kyrie Irving, what do you think of that idea?
Ben Golliver: I think D'Angelo Russell and his people should go back and watch any highlights of LeBron James over the last 15 years to get a sense for what his role would be on the team. Because this guy seems to love dribbling the ball and stepping into mid-range jumpers off balance late in games and trying to play the hero and his job is going to be to stand in the corner and watch LeBron do whatever LeBron wants to do.
So I think from a basketball fit standpoint, it'd be terrible for him now. I think that some of the drama from the Lakers—they're already trying to mend those fences and Magic Johnson said a few things these last couple days about ‘hey you know he's a different man. He's grown’. I mean right on schedule for Magic, so I appreciate that from him. I just think he'd have better opportunities elsewhere. I think that he should be viewing himself as not a number one guy but a solid number two guy— just because his skills demand that he has the basketball. So that would be my number one concern.
I think Tobias Harris was the one recently who said style of play is what matters to him. He wants to play in a situation where there's ball movement, getting up and down, and he can kind of show what he does. That was a very intelligent answer from him and it thoughtful. It's like he's kind of put the entire process and ranked everything and said here's what I need to do to be the happiest and most successful. And I think for D'Angelo Russell, if he doesn't get all the touches like he had in Brooklyn, he is not going to be happy. He understands what he has to do and he can sneak onto an All-Star team and start to generate some of this buzz. Being kind of demoted to like a third wheel within a super team, I don't think he has the personality for that and I don't think his trajectory should be limited by that kind of a hiccup mid career.
Sharp: So to play devil's advocate there, I do think he would have the ball in his hands a lot with LeBron and Anthony Davis. I mean Anthony Davis is a frontcourt player. LeBron is going to be coasting through long stretches of next year's regular season I would expect. If you care about being like a mega star there's no better platform. Like 20 minutes ago we were talking about maybe Phoenix or maybe Minnesota or maybe Boston—like if D'Angelo Russell goes to be the third wheel on a team that's going to be on national television probably 75 times next season like that's a big opportunity for what he wants to be off the court and like who he wants to be as a superstar—which I'm sure is part of the appeal. My thing is this is really only plausible if the Nets do sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving because D'Angelo is a restricted free agent.
And so like the timing on the Laker side would be pretty complicated, I imagine because the Nets can then match and tie up that cap space and it would leave the Lakers in a really tricky spot.
Golliver: LeBron’s usage rate was 32 last year. Anthony Davis’s usage rate was 30 last year. So I'm looking around saying all right it all sounds well and good if these guys are going to sacrifice a little bit but they're not going to be sacrificing that much.
And I also think the dynamic you've described with D’Angelo Russell to me—what a perfect scapegoat right? Like who's getting blamed if it doesn't work? You could already write the column right now when they lose in the second round of the playoffs—“D'Angelo Russell wasn't ready”. So I don't know if I were him. Like trust your gut instincts which probably tells you you were very happy to leave L.A. There was a reason for that. Some of the same dysfunction on the organization is still there even though there's two new megastars in the picture. And you know try to do something on your own terms. I don't really think I need to give him this speech by the way. I think he already thinks this way.
Sharp: Yeah. Well and as much as we want to make fun of Magic because he does deserve to be mocked for how transparently he stabbed D'Angelo in the back on the way out of L.A. I do think he's right, D’Angelo Russell is more mature now than he was two or three years ago when he was on the Lakers.
Golliver: Wasn't he right when he criticized him too.?
Sharp: Yeah, it's a very low bar for D'Angelo. He was right but it was like a level of honesty that you almost never see from NBA executive. And I think Magic just should have been more diplomatic about it on the way out. It was kind of like tacky.
Golliver: I hear you. He said some things that he probably shouldn't have said but you know that's been sort of his forte here the last couple of years. Just being too real, a little too honest with everybody.
Sharp:Laughs. Get him in front of a microphone and problems happened.