When all the dust clears, 27-year-old point guard D'Angelo Russell remains one of the better point guards in the NBA. One not only capable of scoring from all three levels but who can also make the game easier for his teammates, allowing him to fit the modern mold of point guards as cleanly as possible.
Though fans clamored for Russell to be more aggressive during the 2023 NBA Playoffs, it was clear that Russell — making just his third postseason and first Conference Finals appearance — was just trying to fit in. In fact, there were times when he did just that, capitalizing on his 3-point prowess and basketball IQ.
Nonetheless, timing is everything, and Russell being moved to the bench in the final game of the Los Angeles Lakers‘ season isn't and shouldn't inspire confidence that D'Lo is in a great place ahead of free agency.
Unfortunately for Russell, his playoff history and inability to fully break into the upper echelon of players makes it more than the case of a ‘what can you do for me lately' league, and more of a question of what he truly brings to the table. For the Lakers, the answer may not be enough.
The San Antonio Spurs present an interesting option for D'Angelo Russell with starting point guard Tre Jones set to become a restricted free agent this offseason.
Furthermore, while backup point guard Devonte' Graham could remain in San Antonio, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich would likely have more trust in Russell than Graham. Especially with projected first overall pick Victor Wembanyama set to join the roster in the near future, and Popovich likely wanting an above-average facilitator to be paired with the big man to make his transition to the NBA easier.
Where Russell is more of a patient and balanced playmaker, Graham sizzles and fizzles out, focusing more on his scoring than anyone else's.
Whether or not San Antonio wants to sign him to a lucrative contract, the Spurs' projected cap space ($43.6 million) for the 2023 offseason allows them to avoid the sign-and-trade route that the Los Angeles Lakers would explore with other teams. Or that Russell would likely have to explore with contenders, particularly after the financial restrictions imposed by the most recent collective bargaining agreement.
To that latter point, Russell playing freely and without the expectations of a championship team could allow him to be his best self. In fact, getting D'Lo to play at his optimal level at the most important stage of their rebuild could actually accelerate their timeline.
The Memphis Grizzlies have a huge problem on their hands in superstar Ja Morant, as the young point guard has been interested in maintaining his bad boy image than his responsibilities as the face of the franchise. With that said, though the Grizzlies don't need do anything drastic at this juncture — such as trading Morant — the likelihood of their marquee player being suspended for at some portion of the 2023-24 season is high after his most recent snafu.
With that said, while the Grizzlies have a high-level backup point guard in Tyus Jones, Jones will be on the final year of his contract next season. In preparing for the immediate and far future, signing a player of D'Angelo Russell's caliber could go a long way.
Russell isn't a player that's going to be the top option on a championship team. However, he can fit within the frame of an offense in need of a guard that can run the offense, be a threat from beyond the arc and get into the lane to make plays. His ability to play off-ball helps substantially.
After giving Russell a full offseason to gel with Grizzlies, Memphis could enter the 2023-24 season a bit looser and with a couple more options on hand.
Any deal with Memphis would have to be a sign-and-trade though.
The Grizzlies would likely be reluctant to give up any pieces to a competitor, but a sign-and-trade with the Los Angeles Lakers that sends Russell to Memphis and Steven Adams to the Lakers could be best for all parties.
Los Angeles Lakers
Despite the way that he their season ended, the Los Angeles Lakers themselves are still a pretty good option for D'Angelo Russell.
But with one caveat. By no means should Russell be their top choice.
For one, frankly, there are several options for the Lakers at point guard this offseason. The most notable among them may be Dallas Mavericks point guard Kyrie Irving or Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young. However, Philadelphia 76ers point guard James Harden and Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet are interesting options as well.
In addition, with Russell's inconsistency and unavailability from the time L.A. acquired him to the time their season ended, the simple fact is that they have a chance to upgrade from him.
Nonetheless, if D'Lo has time to figure out his role with the Lakers in the offseason, he should more aggressive offensively and sharper defensively. Whether or not L.A. re-signing Russell would appeal to LeBron James is another question, and the answer would likely lie in the work and conversations that happen behind the scenes.