Heading into the Western Conference Finals, it seemed like the Los Angeles Lakers making a strong push to re-sign guard D’Angelo Russell was assured, however, those expectations may have changed in a major way over the last couple of weeks.
For much of the first half of the 2022-2023 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers struggled. They had difficulty finding their identity under new head coach Darvin Ham, and the roster seemed like a bad mix.
In the weeks leading up to the February NBA trade deadline, the organization made a slew of trades and gave their roster a midseason facelift. While that is often a risky proposition, the new look Los Angeles Lakers proved to be a new recipe for success.
One key element of the team’s resurgence late in the season and into the NBA Playoffs was Minnesota Timberwolves point guard D’Angelo Russell. He was acquired in the blockbuster three-way trade that sent Russell Westbrook to the Utah Jazz, and he ended up being a far better fit for the team than the one-time NBA MVP ever was.
The impending free agent only further solidified his value during their first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies and the upset of the Golden State Warriors in the semifinals. However, he has become a hindrance during the conference finals against the Denver Nuggets.
Los Angeles Lakers record (’22-’23): 43-39
While he consistently scored double-digit points in the first 12 games of the playoffs, he has struggled against the Nuggets and peaked with a 10-point showing in Game 2. He has also been a defensive liability. It has led to speculation that he could possibly be benched with their season now on the line as they face a 3-0 deficit into Game 4 tonight.
On Monday, The Athletic NBA reporter Sam Amick wrote about Russell’s problems, the dilemma it has caused for the Los Angeles Lakers, and he made the case for how the guard’s free agent situation has gotten far more complicated.
“There’s a strong argument to be made that Russell should have lost his starting job early on in this series, as it was quickly evident the Nuggets’ plan of attacking him on the defensive end was sparking their historically good offense. Add in the fact that Russell has been unable to provide the scoring punch that made him such a good fit in these past few months, and it’s been the kind of unmitigated disaster that will likely make free-agency discussions with the Lakers far more complicated than most had expected just a few weeks ago.”– Sam Amick
D’Angelo Russell made $31 million this season, and at only 27, it is unlikely he will be willing to take any sort of pay cut in the offseason. Making matters worse is Austin Reaves has become a key player for them in 2023 and his own impending free agency means paying him will be a greater priority for the Los Angeles Lakers this summer.
The organization will have some tough decisions to make this offseason.