With free agency less than a week away, the Los Angeles Lakers are currently sifting through the different options that will be available to them on June 30 to fill out the roster around LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kyle Kuzma.
The realistic options if the Lakers want to pursue true max-level players include Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, and Kemba Walker.
One other option that seems to be picking up some steam is D’Angelo Russell, which is a bit surprising considering the Lakers traded him to the Brooklyn Nets just two years ago. Russell is a restricted free agent, but with the Nets pursuing Irving and Kevin Durant, they may end up making him unrestricted.
Magic Johnson — the man who traded Russell – is no longer the team’s president of basketball operations after stepping down at the end of the 2018-19 NBA season. In another surprise, Johnson recently said that he would be in favor of Los Angeles reuniting with Russell, according to Bill Oram of The Athletic:
“He’s better now,” Johnson told The Athletic on Monday night, tapping his right temple with an index finger as he stood in a parking lot outside the NBA Awards at the Santa Monica Airport. “He’s a different player. He’s more mature.”
Johnson cited Russell’s lack of maturity as the reason he traded him in the first place with it coming on the heels of an incident with former teammate Nick Young. Russell is now 23 years old and Johnson admits he has seen some growth in his maturity since being traded, according to Oram:
“Now he’s ready,” Johnson said. “He’s much more mature. I said the only thing, he was immature back then. He could always score, but the guys would never play with him because of what he did (with the Young video). But now all those guys are gone and he’s on another level now.”
Before Irving became a realistic possibility for the Nets, Russell was expected to sign a max contract to return to the Nets. If the Nets don’t re-sign him, it is unknown what other suitors Russell will have so the Lakers may be able to get him for less than the max. That would allow them to preserve cap space for other role players as well.
On the court, Russell is coming off the best season of his four-year career. He averaged 21.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists while shooting 43.4% from the field and 36.9% from three-point range. All of those marks were career-highs, leading to him being named an All-Star for the first time.
If Russell is the free agent the Lakers land, then that could catapult Los Angeles into being the favorite to win the 2020 NBA Finals.