It has been an up-and-down rollercoaster ride in D’Angelo Russell’s short return to the purple and gold. At the start, he fit in like he never left now in the NBA Playoffs, Los Angeles Lakers fans are getting glimpses into why he was shipped off in the first place.
Some players in this league shrink when the lights are the brightest, and even though Russell’s extroverted personality seems anything but shy, he has been a timid version of himself on the court lately. So much so that his shot has almost become unrecognizable to the point of being broken beyond repair in a pressure postseason setting.
He is supposed to be the spacer on the floor the Lakers have been missing who can hit a dagger 3-pointer at a moment’s notice. Yet in big moments, he has deferred to a much more confident and younger player, Austin Reaves, who has quickly developed into the outside closer that gets buckets when the Lakers need it in crunch time.
In Russell’s most recent press conference, he passive-aggressively complained about his role,
"“I’m a basketball player, you can’t keep saying point guard. Basketball player with this team, not really a point guard role.”"
Basically, refusing to be called a point guard, by the media.
Whatever label he wants to put in his position is irrelevant to the fact that he is just not putting the ball in the basket at this point.
For Lakers fans, Russell’s fragile emotional psyche is nothing new to be perplexed about. His public indiscretions of ratting out teammate Nick Young is what initially damaged his reputation and sent him packing out of Los Angeles.
The only way for him to shake that label of being mentally weak and making questionable decisions was for him to play well in his return. It was a golden opportunity for him on a national stage to show how he has grown and matured away from the bright lights of Hollywood.
When he was first acquired after the trade deadline, it had seemed like he had done just that, and he was returning to Tinseltown at the perfect moment in his career. He and the Lakers both needed each other to get where they wanted to be, reunited and it felt so good.
However, after a weak couple of playoff games on both ends of the floor, it seems like if he doesn’t wake up, he could be hitting the snooze button all the way to the fifth franchise in his career. That is a major disappointment for a player who was once flagged as the best Lakers point guard since Magic Johnson coming out of college.
Rusell’s self-given nickname, D-Loading, references him as a work in progress, loading up to become the star he sees himself as. However, when a computer can’t get passed the loading screen, that means something is critically wrong with its internal systems, a strong metaphor for what could also be wrong with him.
At this point, the only thing that D’lo is doing well on the court has been being a secondary playmaker because he is not confident in his shot at all. When his shot is not falling, he might as well be called D’Angelo Russell Westbrook without the athleticism and tenacity the latter portion of that name implies.
All this considered, a D’Angelo Russell extension may not be in the cards for the Lakers.
In a basketball universe with plenty of other options to fill an off-ball shooter role, it would be smart to let Russell test the open market this summer instead of rushing to re-sign him. The Lakers should instead prioritize locking up Austin Reaves who has proven himself all season to be a player that should stick around for a long time, and then fill out the backcourt with a cheaper capable veteran.
The Lakers would even be better off taking a chance on the enigmatic Kyrie Irving, who is also likely to switch teams because at least they know he will always be able to shoot and score when he is available. If Russell is going to stir up similar locker-room drama in terms of being unhappy with his role on the team, then they would be better off with a player who has already proven to be championship-caliber playing with the King, and that’s Irving.
Russell still has plenty of opportunity to make himself indispensable to this version of the Lakers, but it is time to put up or shut up. For example, when shooting 9 for 28 to open a series, maybe it is not the best moment to complain about a role on offense.
For the right price, it would absolutely make sense to bring back a player with D’Lo’s skillset. When he is playing well, he is an ideal fit playing alongside the Lakers’ two stars.
But he has suggested in the past that he is looking to get paid well with his next contract, so it would seem like both of their best options would be elsewhere.