Going into free agency, there was a possibility that the Los Angeles Lakers would walk away from D’Angelo Russell.
Russell was one of their best players during the regular season, but had his ups and downs in the playoffs. Russell’s play cratered in the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets and eventually was benched in favor of Dennis Schroder.
Despite his poor performance, the Lakers re-signed him to a modest two-year deal in free agency. Even though his addition was met with mixed reactions from the fan base, bringing him back certainly raises the ceiling for this roster.
Los Angeles also signed Gabe Vincent, who could eat into Russell’s role, but Darvin Ham confirmed that Russell would be the team’s starting point guard.
“He’s been great with his communication all summer,” Ham said during a press conference on Thursday. Especially when he’s gotten back in the market around the guys. Just seeing the workouts, the little pickup games, how he’s talking, he’s vocal, he’s encouraging the new guys. He’s talking through things with Bron and AD. They had a couple of workouts together, just the three of those guys.
“A lot was made about the way things finished against Denver and whatnot. At the end of the day, we don’t get to where we got to without D’Angelo Russell. He’s our starting point guard. He’s our starting point guard. I’m going to encourage him to be assertive, he’s a highly intelligent basketball player who’s coming back with a chip on his shoulder. He chose us, we believe in him and he’s one of those guys who has a ton of pride and passion about not only his individual performance, but those of his teammates as well. He’s one of the biggest supporters of his teammates. I look for all of that in D-Lo. He’s another one who’s going to have an outstanding season.”
Rob Pelinka echoed Ham’s comments and said the organization still believes he can be an impactful player for them.
“I’ll just add to that,” Pelinka started. “I remember Darvin and I sitting in our exit meeting with D’Angelo and it was coming off the emotional Western Conference finals, you lose to the champions and he didn’t get a chance to play as much in that series. We said listen ‘from the time the trade happened until the end of the Denver series, let’s look at it as a great honeymoon.’ You can go on a honeymoon with your significant other and you can have 13 incredible days, perfect days. And then lunch on the 14th day isn’t as good as you want it to be, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t an incredible trip.
“We want to keep the bigger picture with him of he came here, he impacted our season in a huge way, led us into the playoffs, beat the defending champions in the Warriors…I will say, his offseason has been quitely really impressive. He’s really carried himself with confidence, spirit. He’s been a vocal leader on the court and kind of the workouts are going on with his teammates. It looks like he was very intentional too with taking care of his body and adding a little bit of shoulder strength. I think you guys will see he’s bumping guys off their line, getting into his fadeaway package. D’Angelo’s in a really good headspace.”
Having Russell start is probably the correct move considering his familiarity with the playbook and his on-court chemistry with the other projected starters. While Vincent could step in to handle lead guard duties at any moment, it sounds like it’s Russell’s job to lose.
D’Angelo Russell was focused on bringing fun back to team after mid-season trade
Russell was an absolute crowd pleaser when he was traded back to Los Angeles and he admitted that one of his goals was to bring fun back to the Lakers.
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