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What if D’Angelo Russell was never traded by the Lakers?

Nets, D'Angelo Russell

D’Angelo Russell faced the high expectations that come from being a member of the Los Angeles Lakers from the moment the team selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Unfortunately, the pressure only got worse during the two season he spent in Los Angeles. Of course, he only made things worse with his shenanigans concerning now former teammate Nick Young.

However, two years after the Lakers traded Russell to the Brooklyn Nets, the Lakers are a mess and he’s thriving on the east coast. Given the current situations, would things be different if the Lakers stuck with Russell?

With that in mind, I doubt anything would be different for the Lakers if Russell was still on the roster. And I don’t blame Russell for that, despite his flaws.

Maturity Issues

Russell’s behavior in the locker room deserved criticism. He earned every bit of ire his teammates gave him. However, the truth goes a bit deeper. Russell entered the league as an immature 19-year-old kid. That’s right – a kid. That doesn’t mean Russell shouldn’t have been held accountable for his actions. It does mean that he’s guilty of the poor decision-making that many young men and women are guilty of on a regular basis. The Lakers could have handled the situation much differently, especially since it was clear that Young was not in the team’s long-term plans.

What if the Lakers made more of an effort to shield him from the scrutiny that comes from being a young star in Los Angeles? What if the Lakers’ front office and coaching staff exhibited leadership in the Russell-Young situation instead of letting it spin out of control both in the media and locker room. Russell showed immaturity; the Lakers showed worse. Two years later, the situation is no better in Los Angeles, despite a different cast of characters.

Russell’s Growth

Russell’s numbers stayed relatively the same during his rookie season. However, he established himself as a key player on the roster and earned the starting point guard role for the Nets. Russell played a full season for the first time since his rookie year and started 81 games. He earned his first All-Star honors with career highs in points and assists per game, as well as field goal and three-points percentage. It took some time, but Russell developed into a legitimate star.

The big question surrounding Russell is could he have grown under the leadership of former team president of basketball operation Magic Johnson? What about under head coach Luke Walton? Considering the lack of development we’ve seen in Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, both high draft picks, it’s uncertain. It’s also worth noting that both Russell and former Lakers forward Julius Randle put together outstanding years with their new teams.

Sources recently told several news outlets that Johnson believed the current coaching staff couldn’t develop young players. There’s truth to that. LeBron James joined a young, talented roster almost a year ago. Injuries played a major role in the lack of progression, but the Lakers underachieved this season. There is far too much raw talent on this roster to win only 35 games. The Lakers have largely failed to develop their young talent. Meanwhile, two years in another organization turned Russell into an all-star.

What if the Lakers never traded Russell?

The Lakers traded Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft. It was a deal that had to be done for the Lakers to rid themselves of Mozgov’s horrid contract. However, they lucked out, because the 27th pick became Kyle Kuzma.

If the Lakers keep Russell, they don’t get Kuzma, and they still would be dealing with Mozgov’s contract. That’s one less young star and a crippling contract the Lakers would have on the roster. It’s not a given that Russell would have been able to put mistakes behind him, or if the local media would let him. Ball and Ingram’s lack of consistent development also serve as cautionary tales for how well the Lakers were developing them.

Moreover, given the Lakers’ willingness to trade its young talent for a bonafide star, there’s a good chance the Lakers would have traded him anyways. Russell acknowledged that earlier this season in an interview with Bleacher Report:

“If [the Lakers] didn’t let me go then, they were gonna let me go now, and I’d be going through what they’re going through. Best thing that happened in my career.”

Considering everything that happened with the Lakers in the last three months, Russell has a point. He’s likely better off in Brooklyn.