With a 111-106 loss to D’Angelo Russell and the Brooklyn Nets, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were officially eliminated from playoff contention for a sixth consecutive season.
As the former No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Russell’s 21 points and 13 assists eliminated the team that traded him after just his second season in Los Angeles.
Considering the circumstances, it was poetic justice for Russell and his supporters. However, the 23-year-old remained focused on the team’s goal of making the playoffs.
“It sounds good on paper, but at the end of the day, we’re not playing them,” Russell said of being the team to effectively end the Lakers’ season. “We’re not competing against them for seeding. Just the win is good enough.”
The Nets currently have a two-game lead on the Miami Heat for the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. And in just Russell’s fourth season, he has come a long way and recently made his first All-Star appearance as Victor Oladipo’s injury replacement.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton, who coached Russell during the 2016-17 NBA season, believes the game is ‘starting to slow down’ for his former point guard.
While the Lakers ultimately signed James in free agency, they have been and will continue to be criticized for trading Russell.
As Russell is set to make his first playoff appearance, there is pressure on Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka.
With an unexpected lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and $38 million in salary cap space, the Lakers have options but need to properly construct a winning roster around James.